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Home arrow Philosophy arrow Sex Crimes and Sex Offenders: Research and Realities
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Female Sex Offenders

CHAPTER OBJECTIVES

  • • Describe the number and characteristics of known female sex offenders.
  • • Compare male and female sex offenders.
  • • Compare/contrast categories of female sex offenders according to different typologies.
  • • Summarize explanations of female sexual abuse.
  • • I dentify and describe assessment and treatment efforts for female sex offenders.
  • • Describe known recidivism rates of female sex offenders.

Female sex offenders are often overlooked. One myth about sex offenders is that they are all male (Center for Sex Offender Management, 2000). One of the goals of this chapter is to dispel this myth by examining the number and characteristics of women who have committed sex crimes. Although male offenders commit the majority of sex crimes, female offenders commit a sizeable portion of them. This chapter presents data on the number of women who have been arrested for rape and other sexual offenses, along with the trend over a recent ten-year period. The characteristics of female sex offenders, including a comparison with male sex offenders, are also discussed.

Over the past decade, there have been many media reports of women who have committed sex crimes. A typical report involves a female teacher who has a sexual relationship with a young male student. For example, Mary Kay Letourneau had a sexual relationship with one of her students who, at the time, was only in the sixth grade. Later she divorced her husband, spent time in prison for her crime, and continued to have contact with the former student. She eventually married him and had two children with him (see Focus Box 7.1 for more information). Since then, many other women have made headlines, including Debra LaFave, for similar behavior. This category of sex offender, teacher/lover, is only one of several categories of female sex offenders that researchers have identified. This chapter discusses typologies created by different researchers. The typologies of two groups of researchers are highlighted, along with brief summaries of other researchers' typologies.

Focus Box 7.1 A Case of a Female Sex Offender: Mary Kay Letourneau

  • 1996: Mary Kay Letourneau was 34 years old and married with four children when her husband found love letters from her student, 12-year-old Vili Fualaau. The relationship between the two had turned sexual. A divorce later occurred, and Mary Kay Letourneau moved to Alaska with the former husband's children.
  • 1997-1998: Mary Kay Letourneau was arrested for her sexual relationship with Fualaau, and she was already pregnant with his daughter, their first child. She was jailed for six months. A month after release, she was caught having sex with Fualaau. This led to a subsequent sentence of seven and a half years in prison at the Washington Corrections Center. She delivered Fualaau's second child, another daughter, while in prison. The daughter was placed with Fualaau's mother.
  • 2002: Fualaau's family sued the Des Moines Police Department for failure to protect Vili Fualaau. No damages were awarded to the Fualaau family.
  • 2004 (August 3): Mary Kay Letourneau was 42 years old and was released from prison. Vili Fualaau was 21 years old. His attorney, Scott Stewart, filed a motion to vacate an existing no-contact order, stating, Fualaau "does not fear Mary K. Letourneau" and noted that he is an adult. A friend of Fualaau's reported that he was "relieved that she's out of prison and currently he can't wait to see her."
  • 2005: Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau were married.

Source: (Associated Press, 2005; "Letourneau marries Fualaau amid media circus," 2005)

Much of the initial research on female sex offenders was limited to mental health samples. Therefore, a false belief developed that mental illness caused female sex crimes. Examining other populations of female sex offenders (i.e., non-mental health samples) helped to dispel this belief. Alternate explanations have been proposed for female sex offenders. These explanations are discussed, along with evidence from empirically-based studies.

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of empirically-based information on the assessment and treatment of female sex offenders. As we will present in Chapter 10, all of the assessment tools have been developed for male sex offenders. Assessment guidelines, however, have been suggested for female sex offenders. They will be presented in this chapter. Similarly, formal treatment programs for female sex offenders are lacking because the majority of sex offenders are male. The treatment programs that do exist are discussed.

This chapter also addresses the myth that female sex offenders are merely one-time sex offenders. Although research shows the recidivism rate of female sex offenders is low, studies with longer follow-up periods and improved measures of recidivism reveal higher recidivism rates. These studies are reviewed.

This chapter, therefore, addresses the number and characteristics of known female sex offenders, presents an overview of the typologies of female sex offenders, identifies explanations of female sex offenders, summarizes assessment and treatment programs developed specifically for female sex offenders, and provides an overview of the most recent information about recidivism of female sex offenders. Similar to previous chapters, it is not intended to provide a comprehensive overview of female sex offenders, as several books have been written solely on the topic. The intent, rather, is to provide highlights of the research that provides key details about female sex offenders for the purpose of dispelling myths about them.

 
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