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Study Reveals Stark Differences in Survivor Perspectives on Female-Perpetrated Child Sexual Abuse

Taboo Topic Emerges from Shadows as Survivors Share Insights

In a groundbreaking study shedding light on a previously under-recognized issue, survivors of female-perpetrated child sexual abuse (CSA) have come forward to share their perspectives, revealing striking differences compared to male-perpetrated CSA. The study, which captured the views of 212 survivors, underscores the need for greater awareness and support for those affected by female-perpetrated CSA.

Child sexual abuse knows no cultural or socio-economic boundaries, affecting individuals from all walks of life. Yet, societal stereotypes have long perpetuated the image of male perpetrators and female survivors. A meta-analysis of international studies indicates that CSA occurs at rates ranging from 8% to 31% for girls and 3% to 17% for boys. However, data on the sex or gender of perpetrators remains scant, with CSA overwhelmingly linked to male offenders (Hayes & Baker, 2014).

The prevailing gendered sexual scripts in society contribute to this information gap, making it difficult for survivors of female-perpetrated CSA to come forward and receive the support they need. Female sex offenders are often overlooked in healthcare and the justice system, leading to significant underrecognition (Kramer & Bowman, 2011; Mellor & Deering, 2010).

Moreover, children who have experienced female-perpetrated CSA frequently struggle to recognize and disclose such abuse, especially when it occurs within caregiving contexts. This reluctance to report results in a substantial disparity between official statistics and actual prevalence rates, creating what some have called the “ultimate taboo” surrounding CSA by women (Elliot, 1994).

The study, conducted as part of the Independent Commission for the Study of Child Sexual Abuse in Germany, aimed to gather insights from survivors of female-perpetrated CSA and, in some cases, male-perpetrated CSA, regarding differences in abuse experiences and consequences. Participants, with an average age of 46.2 years, highlighted ten distinct categories of differences in female-perpetrated CSA, including a more subtle approach, varying levels of violence, and increased psychological manipulation. They also reported ten categories of different personal consequences, such as decreased belief and support, heightened psychological sequelae, and strained relationships with women.

These findings underscore the urgent need for increased awareness about gender stereotypes in the context of CSA. Recognizing the unique characteristics of female-perpetrated CSA is crucial for prevention efforts and improving the quality of psychosocial and psychotherapeutic care provided to survivors. The study was funded by the German Independent Commission on Child Sexual Abuse (UKASK).

As survivors bravely share their experiences, society must confront the taboo surrounding female-perpetrated CSA and work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all survivors, regardless of the gender of their perpetrators.