Gavin, Helen (2009) “Mummy wouldn’t do that” the perception and construction of the female child sex abuser. In: Evil, Women and the Feminine, 1-3 May 2009, Budapest, Hungary. (Unpublished)
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Despite their evolving role in society, the perception of women is still subject to stereotyping; the female offender is no exception (Herzog & Oreg, 2008). Female offenders are seen as either victims of crime and oppression themselves, or as evil diversions from “normal” womanly behaviour. This is true of female sex offenders, women accused and convicted of child sex abuse are more likely to be seen as victims of abuse themselves.
Women’s perceived natural role is as the caregivers, the nurturers in society, and women who step outside of these persona are viewed with either suspicion, distaste or ignorance (see Yoder, 2003). In addition, a sex offender, particularly an abuser of children, who is also female, is regarded with disbelief, coupled with a range of conflicting assessments of her character and behaviour. A worrying outcome of this perception is that many sex crimes committed by women may remain unreported, due to society’s view of such women and their victims. The image that is brought to mind by the term “sexual predator” is predominantly male. The term “child sex offender” will probably lead to a representation of a perpetrator who is an older stranger, with uncontrollable sexual urges, innately evil, and male, with predominantly female victims (Gavin, 2005). People who abuse children sexually are often familiar to the child, in a position of trust and/or authority, and this is no different for female abusers. However, the victim, once he or she is able to discuss what has happened, will often not be believed, or, for teenage boys, told that they are lucky to be sexually initiated this way. Society, particularly male society, still perceives sex between an underage boy and an older woman as an accomplishment. Shoop (1997) suggests that female sex offenders are more likely to receive suspended sentences, whereas male offenders receive long custodial sentences. He suggests that it is difficult for people to accept that sentences should be the same for both sexes, even though the destructive nature of the behaviour may be the same. This means that there may be differentially imposed sentencing and an implicit distinction between male and female child sex offenders in either the mind of the public or the judiciary. What is clear is that the damage to the victim is the same, and may even be worse in the cases of female offenders/male victims, as the victims are less likely to be believed. Male victims of female abusers suffer twice, once at the hands of the abuser, and once at the hands of those they tell, but who do not believe them (Shoop, 2007). The recognition of female perpetrators of child sex abuse is impeded by the perception of women as incapable of such acts. Why is such perception persistent in the face of information to the contrary? This research uses a social constructivist approach to examining perceptions of female sexual abusers, to try to determine the answer to why we think mummy wouldn’t do that

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