Recidivism among Female Child Molesters

By Bader, Shannon M.; Welsh, Robert et al. | Violence and Victims, May 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Recidivism among Female Child Molesters


Bader, Shannon M., Welsh, Robert, Scalora, Mario J., Violence and Victims


During recent years, research about female sexual offender recidivism rates using official criminal justice records has increased. Although informative, rearrest or conviction rates may be insufficient for this population. This study examines two potential outcome measures for accurately studying recidivism among 57 female sexual offenders; a criminal recidivism measure based on formal legal charges and a reported recidivism measure based on child welfare reports. Based on the criminal recidivism outcome measure, 10 (17.5%) women were charged for a subsequent sexual crime. The broader reported recidivism measure identified six additional women with subsequent contact with police or child welfare agencies for sexually inappropriate behaviors. There were no significant differences found between the 41 nonrecidivists and the 16 recidivists. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords : child sexual abuse ; adult female perpetrators ; recidivism ; child welfare agencies

Despite a growing body of literature on female child molesters, few studies have focused on recidivism among this unique population ( Johansson-Love & Fremouw, 2006 ; Vandiver & Kercher, 2004 ). Of the studies that do incorporate recidivistic female sex offenders in their sample, they make up such a small percentage that little is known about them as a group (Hanson, Harris, Scott, & Helmus, 2007). The use of risk assessment to guide treatment and address risk factors most related to recidivism has continually been encouraged among male sexual offenders ( Hanson & Harris, 2000 ; Hart, 2007 ; Heilbrun, 1997 ; Poels, 2007 ). However, in order to provide this same risk-relevant treatment to female sexual offenders, clinicians must first understand what proportion of females sexually reoffend. Consequently, accurate measurement of sexual recidivism among women is needed.

A review of the literature with male sex offenders shows that recidivism research relies heavily on information maintained by the criminal justice system, such as arrests, charges, and conviction data for new sexual offenses. Although informative, this conservative methodology underrepresents the true recidivism rate of male sex offenders ( Abel et al., 1987 ; Langevin et al., 2004). Given the public and professional proclivity to minimize the severity of female perpetrated sex crimes (see Becker, Hall, & Stinson, 2001 ; Broussard, Wagner, & Kazelskis, 1991 ; Denov, 2001 ; Struve, 1990), there is reason to believe that using the same methods for women will provide less accurate results than with male sex offenders. It is our conjecture that obtaining sexual recidivism data for female offenders may require a different data collection strategy than with male sexual offenders.

Broadly, this study attempts to contribute to the research on recidivistic female child molesters by evaluating whether widening the scope of recidivism data collection beyond criminal justice records (arrests, charges, and convictions) reliably improves identification of female sexual offender recidivism. To do this, the search was expanded to include reports made to Child Protective Services (CPS) and reports from local law enforcement agencies that did not lead to arrests.

Outcome Measures for Male Sexual Offenders

Methods for obtaining sexual recidivism rates for male child molesters are varied ( Doren, 2002 ; Hanson & Bussière, 1998 ; Langevin et al., 2004; Rice, Harris, Lang, & Cormier, 2006 ). The most common approach to measuring sexual recidivistic behavior in male sex offenders has been reconviction rates. According to Hanson and Bussière's (1998) review, 84% of research studies examining sexual recidivism rates among male offenders counted the number of individuals who were reconvicted for a sexual offense. Because of the level of evidence needed for criminal justice proceedings, the use of reconviction rates as an outcome measure portrays some level of confidence about the veracity of the allegations. …

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