Sexual offending by women is surprisingly common, claims US study

By Christian Jarrett

A team of US researchers led by Lara Stemple at the UCLA School of Law has analysed data from several large federal crime victimisation surveys and they say their findings show that sexual offences by women against male and female victims are surprisingly common. Writing in Aggression and Violent Behaviour the researchers stress that they are in no way intending to minimise the human cost of sexual violence perpetrated by men. But they say their results are “sufficiently robust so as to compel a rethinking of long-held stereotypes about sexual victimisation and gender”.

Stemple’s team begin by pointing to data from thousands of people collected for the Center For Disease Control’s “National Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence Survey”. In 2011, for example, this survey showed that equal numbers of men and women reported being forced into non-consensual sex (either raped themselves or forced to penetrate someone else). Extrapolated to the US as a whole, this would represent 1.9 million victims among each sex during the preceding 12 months.

There are similar findings for sex of victim in the 2010 survey, the researchers said, and that year, the survey also included detail on the sex of offender. To illustrate the prevalence of female offending, the researchers highlighted the number of men who reported being forced by a woman to penetrate her. The survey estimated that nearly 4.5 million men in the US had at some time in their lives been forced to penetrate another person, and crucially, that in 79.2 per cent of cases the perpetrator forcing the sexual act was a woman.

Another survey the researchers looked at was the National Crime Victimisation Survey, pooling the data from 2010 to 2013. This showed that female perpetrators (without a male accomplice) were reported in 28 per cent of rape or sexual assault cases against men and 4.1 per cent of such cases against female victims.

Data from prisons collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics is equally surprising. Among female prisoners who have been the victims of sexual offences during their incarceration, they far more often report the offender to be another female inmate than a male member of staff. Indeed, contrary to stereotypes, another survey found that women prison inmates were more than three times as likely to be sexually victimised by another women inmate as compared with male prisoners’ risk of sexual victimisation by another male prisoner (bi-sexual women were at highest risk). For boys and men who are incarcerated, the prison data also show that they are overwhelmingly more likely to be sexually victimised by female staff than male staff.

National surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau are also revealing. A 2012 study asked respondents whether they had ever forced someone to have sex against their will: of those who said they had, 43.6 per cent were female (compared with 56.4 per cent of men).

Stemple’s team also considered data from college samples. Most recently, a 2014 study of 284 men and boys in college found that 43 reported having been sexually coerced, mostly unwanted sexual intercourse, with 95 per cent of the perpetrators reported as being female. An earlier survey obtained anecdotal descriptions of sexual violence from perpetrators. One woman described how she “locked the room door that we were in. I kissed and touched him. I removed his shirt and unzipped his pants. He asked me stop. I didn’t. Then I sat on top of him.”

Taken together, the researchers say that the data challenge the one-dimensional stereotype of women as only passive and harmless. Facing up to the reality of the prevalence of female sex offences actually serves feminist goals, they argue, citing another scholar who wrote that to be fully recognised, women must be “heard in all possible forms, whether in compassion, in protest or in violence”. The results also challenge stereotypes about men, they added, such as that they have “an insatiable desire for sex”, and they challenge rape myths such as that it is impossible for “a big strong man to be raped by a woman” (which the majority of students endorsed as true in a recent survey).

Moreover, it is only by recognising the reality of female sexual offending that the needs of those who offend can be properly addressed. “Female perpetration [of sexual aggression] is frequently intertwined with women’s past experience of their own victimisation”, the researchers said. For instance, evidence suggests that female offenders “have often experienced severe childhood sexual abuse themselves.”

Finally, the “culture of denial” about female sexual offending means that most female offenders are not convicted, and when they are, they receive lighter sentences, Stemple and her colleagues said. Male victims may feel pressure to interpret their victimisation experiences in a way consistent with masculine ideals, “such as the idea that men should relish any available opportunity for sex.” Meanwhile, “heterosexist” assumptions (that sexual violence is only ever perpetrated by men, usually against women) mean that lesbian and bisexual victims of female sexual aggression are “invisible to professionals”.

It’s also commonly assumed that female offenders nearly always co-offend with a male accomplice, the researchers noted, but while it is true that co-offending is more common among female offenders, data suggest they are still more likely to abuse alone.

“We call for feminist approaches – expansively interpreted – to challenge these stereotypes, making room to consider women who are abusive, power seeking, and sexually aggressive, while taking into account the troubled background many such women possess,” the researchers concluded. “Those victimised by women are doubly harmed when we fail to treat their abuse as worthy of concern.”

Sexual victimization perpetrated by women: Federal data reveal surprising prevalence

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

23 thoughts on “Sexual offending by women is surprisingly common, claims US study”

  1. Why do the new approaches have to be feminist approaches? Are we now so ideologically straightjacketed that we cannot even consider that there might be another useful and valid point of view? This axiomatic genuflection to feminist orthodoxy in the social sciences is now past the point of being ridiculous; it’s genuinely worrying. Are these researchers blinkered or frightened?

  2. Given it was a feminist approach (thank you Mary Koss) that tried to define female on male rape out of existence, why should we use a feminist approach to female perpetration, when the feminist approach is the one that was used to protect rapists?

  3. Why the call at the end “for feminist approaches” to consider this issue? Why not support research that doesn’t take it as a premise that all evil stems from patriarchy (a/k/a men)? A fair-minded approach seems more in order.

    1. The patriarchy does not mean “men”. It is a way of structuring society with men held up as the head of the household, with the right to have the final say in all decisions, and consequently to take charge in all areas of society.

      Patriarchal ideas that have led us to the point where sexual violence perpetuated by women is seen as very unlikely. Presenting women as weak is what has caused this problem. Infantalising and stereotyping women as weak has harmed men as well as women. That doesn’t change the fact that we live in a patriarchal society (which holds up men as inherently superior to women). If we consider “the patriarchy” as a single entity you could say their opression of women has unintentionally backfired. Though I make this point with utmost sympathy to all victims of sexual violence where women were the aggressor.

      A feminist approach is required so that we acknowledge that the opression of women is what has led to this violence commited against all genders by women. If we acknowledge women are just as capable as men at all things, good and bad, we can go some way to combatting this problem.

      I would interested to know if, like domestic violence, a man is just as likely as a woman to have have been sexually assaulted but one gender experiences more serious and repeated assualts (in the case of DV women experience substantionally worse violence). I believe it can be an important distinction that we should not lose sight of. Previously anti-feminists have used DV stats to undermine the belief that DV affects women more than men even though male victims of DV experience less severe and sustained abuse, crucially they are less likely to die as a result.

      More concerning is the extrememly high rates of people admitting to rape, around 50% for both genders? That is really, really shocking. Clearly general education about coercion and consent needs to be upped immediately.

      1. “A feminist approach is required so that we acknowledge that the opression of women is what has led to this violence commited against all genders by women.”

        No. That’s no more valid than saying that a Marxist approach is required, so that we acknowledge that it’s the oppression of the proletariat that has led to this violence.

        What is required, is a liberation from the intellectual, moral and imaginative straightjacket that feminism has become.

      2. “A feminist approach is required so that we acknowledge that the opression of women is what has led to this violence commited against all genders by women”

        So, according to your feminist logic, men commit violence because they are the oppressor, yet women commit violence because they are oppressed? Laughable, and precisely why ideology such as this needs to be kept OUT of science.

      3. The name feminist is a sexist and bigoted term. Either one is Egalitarian or one is a bigot. There has never existed and is no Patriarchy. That is a religious creed of feminist. And all of your statements are only partially true or simply dead wrong because you have been lied to about the facts.

        What has existed is an evolutionary co-dependency wherein males and females both were subjected to harsh environments in which men were expected to be meat shields for women. Women raised the boys to be men while the men were out hunting, and they raised the girls to raise boys to be men – for the security and protection of women. When a woman walked out of the cave, pointed at the beach, and said,”Boys, I want a condo!” It was a final decision and men died in the mines to get the coal, steel, and stone so they could die in the process of building the civilization she wanted for her conveniences; Because: “When mamma ain’t happy, nobody is happy”. However, mamma being unhappy is nothing compared to Grandma being unhappy, because when grandma is unhappy, every mamma is unhappy, and everyone becomes nobody. Every man knows instinctively never to piss off another man’s wife, because there will be hell to pay for both. This isn’t because of the mythical patriarchy – it is because women have never not been in charge.

        What is specifically required is a scientific approach which will deny the feminist religion and its creeds admittance or meaning. It will deal with facts. Something I have discovered that atheist, feminists, and fundamentalists equally ignore when it is inconvenient to their belief.

      4. One point to consider is how to get abusers to seek help. The article mentions that we need to consider a woman’s childhood abuse as a factor in her later behaviour. I agree, and for a few reasons. While we can condemn the behaviour, we want the woman to feel comfortable seeking help without judgment from others.

        Perhaps surprisingly for feminists, the same applies to male agressors. I’ll take myself as an example of how silencing men through checking their privilege and mansplaining etc. can psychologically prevent him from learning how to assert himself in a healthy manner faced with an agressive woman. As a child, I did suffer severe emotional abuse from my father and sexual from my babysitter and neighbour. Fearing that my father might blame me if he found out, I kept it a tight secret. This allowed my babysitter to go on for over a year.

        In young adulthood, a woman begged, pouted, nagged me to spend the night at her place though she didn’t want sex. I’d never learnt how to defend my boundaries in a healthy manner so I just suffered a panic attack. Add to that that feminist societal influences taught me as a man that I should check my privilege and sympathize with female oppression, so I’d especially never leant to assert myself against an agressive woman (think mansplaining). The fact that I was white and she black didn’t help matters either from the standpoint of societal messaging. I didn’t want to come across as racist. I politely resisted but she just upped the pressure until my fight or flight response made me feel physically sick and emotionally paralysed. She was physically attractive and I was a physically (even if not mentally() healthy heterosexual male, si that had nothing to do with my nit wanting to spend the bight at her place. It had to di with my acute awareness of never having learnt to protect my boundaries. I usually refused to mert a woman alone and especially in private but had let my guard don for her. I held a certain prejudice that a Muslim woman would keep a certain boundary from me and that made me trust her.

        Never having learnt how to defend against a woman in this situation, utterly confused, and then thinking that the thing she’d fear or hate the most would be for me to violate her boundaries, I made an unwanted sexual advance towards her hoping she’d push me away and let me go. She pushed me away but as soon as I broke off to leave, she begged me to spend the night again. To escape the sickening feeling of the panic attack, I acquiesced. The next morning, she begged me till I promised to return that evening. Feeling the need to keep a promise, I returned to suffer the sane cycle daily for a week.

        On the Saturday morning, I left to clean my home. In spite of my discouragements, she followed me home to help me clean. That evening, she refused to return to her home without me.

        Still not knowing how to respond, I did the same as the previous days and made a sexual advance hoping to scare her away. She gently resisted as before but still didn’t show any interest in leaving.

        Convinced she must have a limit, I removed her pants then mine then our underwear and then started to spread her legs when she gently said her first words:. Please don’t rape me.’

        I recoiled, threw my clothes back on, stormed out of my apartment, and reached the nearest intersection on foot before she caught up to me. Tears flowing, I told her we were in an unhealthy relationship and that we needed to end it.

        She crying apologized and begged me to walk her home. Now feeling guilty, I went home, locked the door, and walked her home where she again begged me to spend the night. Emotionally exhausted, I agreed again.

        The next night, same cycle at her home. I again made an unwanted sexual advance after she wouldn’t let me leave but this time, she didn’t resist. On noticing this, I had a disturbing thought. After over a week of this psychological sparring and becoming increasingly unstable, I considered raping her as the ultimate way to make her hate or at least fear me and so finally let me go. I didn’t even fear prison and was even semi-suicidal by that time. What prevented me from raping her was the fear of hurting her. I also thought how it could backfire severely if I got her pregnant or if she then decided to escalate to a sexual relationship afterwards as a result of the rape, Yes, in my state of mind at the time, I feared escalating the relationship more than I did prison or suicide.

        That’s how I came to realize the truth of the maxim that rape is about rage, and it scared me that I could actually have had that thought.

        Seeing how she wasn’t resisting this time and not wanting to rape her, I broke off before removing any of her clothes and returned to the entrance to get my shoes. Suddenly, she, now crying, came over to hug me, kiss me, and even grope me. I first resisted but she wouldn’t let. Emotionally exhausted after over a week of daily psychological sparring, I gave in just to escape the constant panic attacks.

        In hindsight, I don’t believe that she wanted sex anymore than I did. I made sexual advances based on the idea that a woman fears or hates that more than anything else and not knowing how else to respond to her. I presume she made an unwanted sexual advance towards me based on the idea that my sexual advances towards her were genuine, that I wanted to leave because she wasn’t giving me sex, and that giving me sex would make me stay.

        If course the opposite happened. My worst nightmare had just materialized as I entered a sexually abusive relationship again.
        Being in a sexual relationship with her also made me feel more obligated towards her. That just made it even easier for her to pressure me to stay and harder for me to leave.

        I slowly learnt to resist, but the more I did, the more she upped the pressure. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

        Now imagine for a moment that she’d reported me for sexual assault. I probably would then have been subjected to the Duluth model of therapy, teaching me how my behaviour stemmed from misogyny and tge oatruarchy and that I needed to learn to respect women’s boundaries more. It would have ironically totally overlooked the fact that a source of my behaviour was my ignorance of how to defend my boundaries and assert myself in a healthy manner. In fact, the Duluth model would have had the exact opposite offect of shaming me into even greater submissiveness and make me even more vulnerable to female abrasion and as a result even mire dangerous to a woman as a result of my knowing even less how to defend myself against her.

        After being coerced into a dysfunctional marriage with the woman above that ended in divorce and a suicide attempt on my part followed by alcoholism and then replaced by compulsive sexual behaviours. I just concluded that I’d just become a womanizer (the male equivalent of a slut for those who don’t know the term) after my divorce for reasons I couldn’t understand, that it was my fault,, that I needed to stop, and I felt great shame at my inability to stop my compulsive sexual behaviour. That shame made me keep it a deep secret as I feared people might dismiss it as just healthy sexuality not understanding that I was acting compulsively.

        That behaviour also exposed me to at least one sexual assault by a woman (who forced unprotected sex after we’d agreed to protected, and which made me worry about STI’s). She’d so taken me by surprise that I didn’t even have time to think about an appropriate reaction. I first resisted but she actively countered it. My strangest reaction was to scan around me to determine whether my rolling her off of me and off the narrow bed could risk her hitting her head against a small table next to the bed and so injure herself given how her noncooperation could cause her to lose her balance. I found that to be an odd concern while a stranger was forcing unprotected sex onto me. It was over before I even had time to decide how best to react

        One occasion led me to sexually assault a woman. When she’d barged into my hotel room abroad and refused to leave until I paid her for sex, I tried to push her out while being careful to not injure her, but she just barged right back in. Not knowing what else to do, I agreed, paid, and angrily had rough sex with her. She made an angry comment and left and I felt guilty about it afterwards. The laws of probabilities that come with compulsive promiscuity I suppose.

        I kept my compulsive sexual behaciours a tight secret out of shame until it got so out of hand I finally had to find the courage to seek a therapist. Since I found a therapist of my own initiative, I was able to find someone focused on addressing the behaviour and its source. Addressing that combined with participation in a 12-step group finally helped me learn how to manage my trauma in a healthier manner.

        Had a judge ever forced me into state therapy, I would probably have been subjected to the Duluth model that would have been more concerned with promoting an ideology rather than focusing on actual therapy.

        By the way, U don’t excuse my past behaviours. I.n just pointing out that they traced their soured to something other that a patriarchy or misogyny that feminist ideas like the Duluth model fail to address.

  4. It’s been gynocentric feminist approaches to the issue of sexual violence that’s hidden the true prevalence of female sexual offenders in the first place. Case in point:

    equal numbers of men and women reported being forced into non-consensual sex (either raped themselves or forced to penetrate someone else)

    Being forced to penetrate is rape. The reason it’s be treated as just some other unwanted sexual contact not as bad as rape is due to the efforts of feminist Mary Koss who said women forcing men into sex isn’t as serious as men forcing women into sex

    Even here:

    …to be fully recognized, women must be “heard in all possible forms, whether in compassion, in protest or in violence”…Female perpetration [of sexual aggression] is frequently intertwined with women’s past experience of their own victimization…Female offenders have often experienced severe childhood sexual abuse themselves.

    This gives the impression that a feminist approach to female predators would focus more on how female rapists are really victims themselves and just need support and compassion. Already there seems to be so much more sympathy and empathy shown towards female sexual offenders over their victims, especially if the victim is male

    A feminist approach isn’t needed to recognize that female predators are as depraved as male predators and that male victims of them are as important female victims of males

  5. Perhaps a “Gender Blind” approach as opposed to a “Feminist”

  6. “while taking into account the troubled background many such women possess,” the researchers concluded. “Those victimised by women are doubly harmed when we fail to treat their abuse as worthy of concern.”

    Even at our best, we can’t tear our eyes away from the story of women as victim. In an article about male victimization by women, this is the conclusion to be drawn.
    The reality is that nothing changes until women step down from their pedestal and men from their white horses. Nothing changes until we learn compassion for men.
    And feminism, whose beating heart is pure gynocentrism, is having none of that.

  7. This isn’t “surprising” at all. Women are taught from birth that there are no consequences for their actions.

    1. That’s it. Women scarcely have to worry about what they do because in most cases they won’t be held responsible. In a very real sense women have utter freedom and almost no problems.

      1. Whilst I can empathise with your chagrin utter freedom and almost no problems is not accurate in any way about any group of people, particularly all over half of the human population.

  8. It is imperative that you do NOT use a feminist approach to follow up these findings, unless you want a result which is unscientific and skewed by ideology.

    Feminism has a clear history which is based in Marxism and seeing the gender and wider society through the lens of class conflict. This kind of thinking is inappropriate for doing any kind of scientific exploration.

  9. Sexual offending by women is hardly surprising. It’s only “surprising” if you’re a bigot and hypocrite or a gynocrat.”Women don’t do .”nuffin”

  10. The article states that we must consider how the female abuser’s childhoood abuse contributes to their behaviour in adulthood. I absolutely agree. That said, we should apply the same scientific standards to male abusers too rather than assume that their childhood abuse plays no role in their later behaviour and that we must attribute it to ‘the patriarchy.’

    Instead of a feminist approach, we should adopt a scientific approach while adapting therapy to the religious and other influences of the patient.

    I think it particularly harmful to deny the impact of childhood abuse on male perpetrators too.

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