Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Child sexual abusers sometimes female

Child sexual abusers sometimes female
By Kathleen Dugan
Lebanon Daily News - June 14, 2005

Recent headlines have prompted discussions concerning perpetrators of child sexual abuse. When talking about the perpetrators the gender term "he" is often automatically used and sometimes the idea of female perpetrators is dismissed as irrelevant.

It is true that the majority of perpetrators are males but females do also sexually abuse children. Linda Crockett, author of "The Deepest Wound: How a Journey to El Salvador Led to Healing from Mother-Daughter Incest" is concerned that dismissing female perpetrators in discussions will only serve to keep victims silent and prevent parents from taking precautions when using female caregivers for their children. She would like to see such dismissals counteracted with information about female perpetrated sexual abuse.

Researchers have found as few as 4 percent to as many as 20 percent of sexual abuse victims have been abused by females. The discrepancies have been explained by the differences in populations studied, differences in the words or definitions used in the individual studies and underreporting by victims. Victims of female perpetrated abuse are more likely to suffer in silence.

In our society the idea of women as nurturing, caring and maternal has created the myth that women don't commit sexual abuse. Allegations of female perpetrated sexual abuse have been dismissed or not taken seriously in justice systems as well as child protective service agencies. In the article "Female Perpetration of Child Sexual Abuse: An Overview of the Problem" by Lisa Lipshires. found at www.movingforward.org , she cites incidents where female perpetrators have not made it into the justice system or have not been prosecuted because of the idea that women are incapable of such abuse. Our current focus on males as the perpetrators of sexual violence and the belief that sexual abuse by females is improbable keeps victims silent.

Sexual abuse by women often starts under the guise of care taking; fondling a child's genitals as part of bathing and application of medication to the genitals; insertion of suppositories and enemas can also be used for sexual gratification on the part of the abuser. Frequent use of enemas and humiliating inspections of genital cleanliness are often reported by victims of female perpetrators. For female victims the abuse can be violent and brutal.

Crockett has been contacted by many survivors of mother-daughter incest after her book was published and many of the women said that the abuse they suffered was very violent. Sixty-five percent of the women in a study by Bobbie Rosencrans ("The Last Secret: Daughters Abused by Mothers") revealed that the abuse by their mothers was of a violent nature. Abuse of boys is often done in a seductive manner and may be gentler but it is still harmful.

Victims of female sexual abuse perpetrators deal with many of the same issues as victims of male perpetrators. Feelings of shame and guilt, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse are common. For male survivors of female abuse the shame and guilt can be intensified by the idea that sexual contact is the fault of the male. They may also be confused that an act that was abusive may be defined as a rite of passage by society.

For female victims there may be issues regarding gender identity and a strong hatred of their own femaleness. For both genders abuse by mothers creates issues with boundaries and safe touch since the mother is often the primary caregiver. Children who are sexually abused by a mother are denied the developmental needs of nurturing touches and parental bonding that involves learning to separate from the parent. The impact of female perpetrated abuse is traumatic for the survivor.

Research on the topic of female perpetrators of sexual abuse continues. While there may not be definitive numbers to prove the scope of the problem, we do know that females do sexually abuse children. That knowledge makes it imperative that we have discussions and training about the subject so that children will be better protected and victims will be able to speak out. According to Linda Crockett, "It is so important for survivors who have done some healing to start sharing stories because it is healing and shows a pathway for others."

For more information or counseling services, contact SARCC at 272-5308. Linda Crockett's book can be found at www.amazon.com or by contacting the Samaritan Counseling Center at 560-9969. Crockett also offers workshops on female sexual abuse and can be reached at the Samaritan Counseling Center.

Dugan is assistant director of the Sexual Assault Resource & Counseling Center of Lebanon County (SARCC).

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