In Puritan America, a married woman’s illicit affair with a minister landed her in jail. After her release, Hester Prynne was sentenced to forever wear a big red “A” on her dress. 

Nearly 375 years later, the U.S. continues to be scandalized, tantalized and perplexed by sex, especially about sex offenders. Tough on crime, we’re still struggling to learn: 

  • Why domestic violence and incest are so under-reported by victims? 
  • Why most people think every sexual offender is a serial rapist? 
  • Why, even among therapists, many continue to believe sex-offenders to be untreatable? 
  • Why supervision after offenders’ release tends to-wards punitive rather than restorative? 

It’s time to bring the subject of sex crime out of the dark ages, time to help victims shed the shame and trauma of their experience. It’s also time to allow offenders an opportunity to show they can change, make amends and start to earn back trust and acceptance from society.

Are Women Exempt from the Sex Offenders Label?

Are Women Exempt from the Sex Offenders Label?

First, it is likely, very likely, that most sexual crimes are committed by men. Nonetheless, the number of such crimes committed by females is increasing, most certainly because more attention is being paid to that reality.

According to a New York Times column earlier this year, women are much less likely to offend against strangers than men. That's not to say that men attack more strangers than those familiar to him. They don't. But the ratio of strangers assaulted is much higher for men than women. Women typically do not commit serial sexual crimes against different people, nor do they exhibit a sexual preference to children (pedophilia) as men do.

Here's a link to that article, by Julia Hislop, a licensed clinical psychologist, and author of two books about female sex offenders. 

Her recommendations mirror those I've been trumpeting for years: Look at the bias in our law enforcement, and judicial agencies, for example, because stereotypes continue to diminish the chances of interrupting a pattern of crime not being reported. Rape, for example, has traditionally meant "forced vaginal intercourse". Hislop's conclusion: with that interpretation, women might be ignored as perpetrators of rape.

In terms of treatment for female offenders, I found over the years that women's motivation for the sexual offense was distinct from men. Just the fact that many more (as a percentage) women have been sexually molested than men, suggests that recovery from such a history, and interrupting that inter-generational trend, would call for different strategies for them.


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