Increased awareness of the female offender
Female offenders are rare, but they do exist. Nearly half of the respondents in the NetClean 2016 Report, 47.5 per cent, said that they worked on cases involving female offenders during 2015. However, the vast majority of the police officers reported that it only makes up a very small number of investigations.
The small number of female offenders reported makes it difficult to plot a trend, however from the comments received from the police officers it is clear that there is an increased awareness of the existence of female offenders. We asked three experts with experience of working with female offenders to comment on the findings, and they had three quite different outlooks:
“Female offenders are more prevalent than people think”
Michael Bourke, Ph.D., Chief, Behavioral Analysis Unit, United States Marshals Service.
Female offenders are more prevalent than people think – some studies estimate that more than 20 per cent of sexual abuse occurs at the hands of women. While there are some differences in how women go about gaining access to victims and the grooming techniques they use, males and females can have identical motivational pathways. Like men, women can be paedophilic, sadistic, cognitively slow, or have personality disorders that may influence their decision to abuse children.
However, as a society we have a hard time believing that females offend because we tend to see them as maternal, nurturing, and protective. As a result, women fall out of the system at every step. Women are less likely to be detected, less likely to be arrested, less likely to be charged in court and less likely to be convicted of a crime against a child.
This is also the reason behind the old and discounted belief that female offenders are always induced by men. They are not. We have worked on a number of cases where women are acting on their own – writing stories, producing and uploading sexually explicit material, and sexually abusing children. Female offenders open up doors for much needed research.
“More cases where females actively take part in the abuse”
Jim Cole, Special Agent and Section Chief, Victim Identification, Homeland Security Investigations, Cyber Crimes Center, Child Exploitation Investigations Unit, USA.
The number of female offenders is increasing in the investigations that we deal with. We are seeing more cases where females actively take part in the abuse, and we have also seen some cases with female offenders acting on their own. However, female offenders make out a very small percentage of the cases. Offenders are overwhelmingly male. Most commonly there is also a male counterpart involved in the cases, in some circumstances driving the abuse.
It is too early to say whether the increase is an issue of more visibility and awareness, or whether the number of female offenders is actually increasing. Or indeed if women are starting to act more on their own. This is something that we are looking into, but there is still much that we don’t know.
“Many people just don’t see women as potential offenders”
Kevin Lawes, retired from Homeland Security
Kevin worked with internet crimes against children for nearly twenty years, eleven of those online undercover and has worked on some big cases with female offenders
There is very little data on female sex offenders, and many people just don’t see women as potential offenders. I have worked on several high profile cases involving women, and there are a number of female offenders out there, but I don’t think that there are many and I don’t think that it is increasing. I think if it was, we would come across it more often, and the truth is we rarely do. However, whenever there is a case, it always makes big headlines.
Females are not always induced by a male, but in the vast majority of cases they are. However, that they are rare does not mean that we should not look for them. It is important to look for the unusual and not just discount the woman because it is hard to imagine a woman being involved.