Psychopathic states of mind

This model - of a violent psychic intrusion of a past experience into the present, such that the former victim of trauma now becomes a perpetrator, while feeling herself to be the child victim - is well described by Anna Freud’s (1936) notion of identification with the aggressor. It is like a force, a vortex of feelings, that threatens to overwhelm the person, who may, like Phoenix, resort to violence, or imagine a violent scene, in order to try and restore a kind of peace, and free themselves of overwhelming and unbearable emotions. Someone in this state of mind cannot conceive of the mind of the other in empathic terms. I would consider it a ‘psychopathic state of mind' that comes and goes, rather than a psychopathic personality disorder. This transient state of mind is associated with not caring, not knowing, not wanting to think or being able to connect thoughts and feelings, actions and consequences, self and other. In this state it is impossible to make the kinds of links essential for symbolic functioning and to distinguish between fantasy and reality. This state of mind can enable acts of sadism, violence, sexual abuse or even murder.

Female child sexual abuse

Sexual abuse of children was, historically, considered to be a crime perpetrated solely by men. Although the majority of convicted sex offenders against children are male, there is growing recognition that female sex offenders exist and that the true prevalence rates are difficult to estimate given the reluctance of victims to report them.

The impact of female sexual abuse on children is destructive and significant, as shown in the following poem, written by a survivor of female sexual abuse at age 14.

Untitled poem (written 1974)

It was a dying night

I lay in my bed

And waited

Silently waited

Not a step I heard

No voices

When silence entered my room

Did I hear?

Did I tremble?

Still I lay

I lay

All alone

A blue cloak she had

The silence

To hide me in

And carry away

Like one carries a child

Did anyone hear?

Do our hearts remember?

No storm was there that night

Just a moon

Far in a distance

So red

But blue

Was the bosom of the silence

Where I lay

Carried away

To the night

So stormy

To the mountains

And a house

Windows facing the North

There she laid me

Facing the North

Her cloak all over

Her blue cloak

All over me

I sang a song

A song of the unspoken years

Lost in the unknown

Who was crying?

Was it me?

Or the trees?

With the longing known

So great

Only by the ocean

Far out in the North

That moment

The sky

So dark

The clouds

Like the souls of the birds

Gone long ago

(Lea Gctu, 2018)

The greater shame of abuse by a female, and the fear of being disbelieved, often inhibits reporting. Despite this, we can estimate that the male-to-female ratio of sexual offenders is 1:20. However, while only 4-5% of all reported sexual offenders (Cortoni & Hanson 2005; Cortoni et al., 2009) arc female, self-reports by victims indicate far higher rates. The 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that 83% of victims of sexual offences do not report their crimes. The actual extent of the problem is even more difficult to determine than it is for male offenders.

Pathways to sexual offending

Recent research identified that female sexual offenders followed three main ‘pathways’, or trajectories, to offending. While one of these pathways was found to be similar to that previously reported in male sexual offenders, the others were unique to women (Gannon, Rose & Ward, 2008). This outlines how certain factors causing women to start, and then to continue, offending against children differ from those that underpin sexual offending by males. In particular, this research highlighted the existence of a Directed-Coerced Pathway (i.e. women whose sexual abuse is directed specifically by males and maintained via coercion and intimidation). The model also identified another pathway, which was not male coerced, termed the Implicit Disorganised Pathway. The women on this pathway did not appear to set out specifically to sexually offend, but upon making contact with a victim and experiencing sexual arousal or emotional loneliness offended impulsively. Those pathways that did not involve men coercing women to offend are most difficult for society to accept, as the popular conception of female sexual abuse is that it could only take place under male coercion.

Other classifications of female sexual offenders include the following:

  • • Male Coercion;
  • • Teacher Lover;
  • • Adolescent Girls;
  • • Incestuous Abuse within the Family;
  • • Female Pedophiles - acting alone or with partners;
  • • Sexual Violence within Intimate Partner Relationships.
  • (Saradjian, 1996)
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