- The effects of child sexual abuse by a woman can be just as devastating as that perpetrated by men.
- There are three major categories of female child molesters.
- Some who have been molested by a female perpetrator don't consider themselves victims.
When we think of child sexual abuse (CSA) we usually think of a male adult molesting a child. But this isn’t the only form of CSA that exists.
We now know that there is a high incidence of older children molesting younger ones, as well as adult females molesting children. In this article, using information from my latest book, Freedom at Last, Healing the Shame of Childhood Sexual Abuse, we will focus on the sexual abuse of children by female offenders.
You may not consider yourself a victim of childhood sexual abuse if the person who molested you was female. This can be the case for several reasons.
First of all, we typically don’t think of women as sexual offenders. We think of them as nurturers and caretakers, not someone who would deliberately hurt or use a child in this way. But in fact, some women play on this perception by masking their inappropriate behavior to appear to be caretaking activities such as bathing, dressing, or comforting a child. This can make it very difficult for a child to understand that he or she is actually being sexually abused.
Women who sexually abuse children can include relatives such as mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers. They may also include teachers, babysitters, childcare workers, coaches, camp counselors, scout leaders, etc. One research study showed that a majority of female offenders were family members who tended to abuse within their role as caretakers; 25 percent were babysitters, teachers, or daycare workers (Ruden, et al., 1995, p969).
Female perpetrators molest both male and female children, as well as adolescents. According to the findings of a major U.S. study, 40 percent of men who were sexually abused in childhood reported that their abuser was female. In comparison, the rate was 6 percent for women.
Categories of Female Abusers
The first category of female child molesters is one researchers have termed as “predisposed molesters.” Women in this group often experienced extensive physical and sexual abuse by caregivers, often display significant pathologies, and may have addictive personalities.
A similar category—the “mother molester”—can comprise a significant proportion of female child sex offenders. Research has routinely indicated that women are 4-5 times more likely to offend against their biological child, as well as other children in their care.
Two explanations for this are that some mothers see their female child or adolescent as a threat to their relationship with their spouse, and, in the case where the victim is a male, they use their child to fulfill their emotional and sexual needs by making him play the role of a substitute partner. This type of molester is more inclined than other types to use violence, have deviant sexual fantasies, and display deviant sexual behavior.
The second most common category of female child molesters involves women who are in a position of power over children, such as teachers. In the past twenty years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of teachers who have been charged or convicted for sexual abuse of a student (the Mary Kay Le Tourneau case being the most widely publicized).
This typology—the teacher/lover/heterosexual nurturer—describes female offenders, typically in their 30s, who sexually abuse adolescent boys within the context of an acquaintance or position-of-trust relationship. These women are less likely to report having experienced severe child maltreatment themselves; instead, their sexual abuse behaviors often result from a dysfunctional adult relationship and attachment deficits. They often do not view their behavior as abusive or recognize its inappropriate nature and they are often driven by a need for intimacy and as a way to compensate for unmet needs.
A third category of female molesters is those who are coerced into sexual offending. Compared to men, female offenders are more likely to commit sexual assault with another person. Studies of convicted female sex offenders show that about 50 percent committed their offenses with someone else, often their dating partner. Those who are coerced into sexual offending are typically motivated by fear and dependence upon the co-offender, and they tend to report a history of childhood sexual and physical abuse.
The Effects of Sexual Abuse Perpetrated by a Female.
Victimization by female offenders can have results just as devastating as victimization by male offenders, including:
- shame and guilt
- low self-esteem
- problems with sexual functioning
- avoidance of sex
- sexual compulsivity
- substance abuse
In addition, research has found that those who have been sexually abused by women may have the same or even greater negative consequences as individuals abused by males. The abuse is rarely revealed by the victim, as they may believe that they are in a relationship with the adult and fear losing it.
In some cases, sexual abuse by a woman goes unreported by boys because they consider sex with an older female as a “rite of passage.” For example, male adolescents who are sexually abused by a female teacher often feel as if they weren’t abused at all, but that they willingly got involved sexually with the teacher. When the abuse is finally discovered, many of these former victims will insist that, in fact, they felt they were the instigators of the sexual relationships.
But whether the youth felt he was abused or not, the truth is that sexual involvement with adults is harmful to children and adolescents. At their age, they are simply not capable of making a free choice when it comes to sex with an adult.
Even when a male victim does report the offense, they are frequently met with a response that assumes no real harm was done. But the truth is, many young men who become involved with an older female later suffer from significant problems, including hyper-sexuality, aggression against women, and difficulty trusting others.
If you suspect that you may have been sexually abused by a female, whether it was a relative, a babysitter or other caretaker, or a female teacher or coach, I urge you to reach out for help from a psychotherapist or a support group.
Engel, Beverly. (2023). Freedom at Last: Healing the Shame of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Guilford, CONN: Prometheus Books.
Dube, S.R., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28 (5): 430-438.