ASSESSMENT OF FEMALE SEX OFFENDERS
Establishing empirically-based assessments for female sex offenders is difficult, as the research on female sex offenders is at least 20 years behind that of male sex offenders (Cortoni, 2010). This makes it difficult to establish assessment and treatment approaches, as research has found some differences between male and female sex offenders. Thus, it is safe to assume the assessment approaches for men may not be fully applicable to female sex offenders.
With regard to assessments of female sex offenders, there are no standard assessment tools tailored to the specific needs of women. As will be discussed in Chapter 10, many assessment tools have been developed, yet they are tailored specifically to men and developed from empirically-based research findings from the male sex-offender literature, which may not apply to female sex offenders. Recommendations for conducting assessments of female sex offenders, however, have been made.
Although there are no standard assessment tools, it has been established in the literature that women in the criminal justice system require a gender-based response to meet their needs (Bloom et al., 2003). Research has shown female offenders have different profiles than male offenders, suggesting a need for varying criminal justice policies and responses to female offenders. Incarcerated women are more likely than incarcerated men to have an immediate family member incarcerated. Women are more likely than men to come from a single-parent household. Also, women have high rates of physical abuse and substance abuse in the household and are likely to be in need of physical and mental health services. They also are in need of education and vocational skills. Fewer women were employed at the time of arrest compared to incarcerated men. Seventy percent of incarcerated women have at least one child under the age of 18.
Assessments for female sex offenders should follow accepted practices that have been established in the research literature (Cortoni, 2010). Assessments should examine the following (Craig, Browne, & Beech, 2008):
- • Dispositional factors (e.g., antisocial personality characteristics).
- • Historical factors (e.g., adverse developmental experiences and prior criminal history).
- • Contextual elements (e.g., details and circumstances of the offense).
- • Available support from social networks.
- • Personal life circumstances (e.g., marital and parental status, educational, work, and social functioning).
- • Clinical factors (e.g., mental-health and substance-use issues).
Cortoni (2010) recommends consideration of additional factors, including assessing co-offending, sexuality, cognitions, problematic relationships, and victimization. She also emphasizes the need to assess general antisocial tendencies. With regard to co-offending, she notes that whether the offender willingly participated or was coerced should be examined. Sexuality assessment should include an evaluation of the presence of deviant sexual interests, as these have been found to be significant predictors of recidivism among male sex offenders. For women, they may be significant predictors as well. A history of sexual development should also be assessed, including any history of sexual abuse. All of these may be related to female sex offending and should be taken into consideration.
Cognitions also have been correlated with sexual abuse. Pro-offending attitudes are correlated with core beliefs regarding relationships and children (Beech, Par- rett, Ward, & Fisher, 2009). Denial and minimization-cognitive patterns need to be assessed for women who have committed sex crimes, as this may be critical to the abuse behavior. Also, intimate deficits and problematic relationships are essential to an assessment of female sex offenders (Cortoni, 2010). This is an area that is quite different for women who sexually offend, compared to men who sexually offend. For female offenders, abuse in relationships appears to be common. Researchers have found, for example, that women become overly dependent on the men in their lives (Eldridge & Saradjian, 2000). Researchers also have found that women who sexually offend often lack emotional support from friends and family. Thus, the assessment of women should include an assessment of social and family support (Cortoni, 2010).
With regard to past victimization, the victimization in and of itself may not be a cause of female sex crimes. Rather, it may be more symptomatic of a dysfunctional pattern women have developed. Also, antisocial tendencies should be assessed. It should be noted, however, that not all women who sexually offend present with these symptoms. It is not known at this time to what extent antisocial characteristics play a role in female offending (Blanchette & Brown, 2006).