The Sexual Abuse by Women of Children and Teenagers
Summary of UK TV programme - Panorama - BBC1 - 10 pm Monday 6th October 1997
The sexual abuse of children by women was once thought to be so rare it could be ignored.
In this programme the victims tell a different story.
This was a vivid and horrific programme in which the victims of sexual abuse by women told disturbing stories of emotional and physical damage:
It was acknowledged that the scale and nature of these attacks had been severely underestimated and there were examples of women using excessive force with implements such as chair legs and cutlery.
- Rape and attempted murder of a 12 year old boy by a 19 year old girl
- Rape and abuse of a 12 year old boy over a two year period by a 28 year old mother of four
- Rape and abuse of boys by their mother
- Rape and abuse of girls by their mother
- Women taking a lead role in pornographic violence and abuse
- Children abused by nuns
- Children abused at playgroup
- Boy abused by lesbians
A surprising 86% of survivors of sexual abuse were not believed when they said the abuser was a woman.
Many myths were exposed, such as the one that women only sexually abused when coerced by men - they in fact played the lead part. Also the myth that women are incapable of cruelty - what was shown was beyond belief.
But despite the seriousness of these offences, women generally escaped custodial sentences.
The programme claimed that:
- Women commit 25% of all child sexual abuse
- 250,000 children in UK have been sexually abused by women
People find it difficult to believe
The issue strikes at the core of what women perceive themselves to be:
- The whole view of women is of nurturers, carers, protectors - people who do anything to look after children
- The crime seems so unnatural it offends against all instincts, so society is reluctant to even associate women with sexual abuse
- It's easier to think that it's men - men the enemy, somehow - but it can't be women - it's one thing women can't do
Society excuses female abusers
What tends to happen is that the female sexual abuser is excused in some way.
- "She must have been misguided", or it was a "chronicled affair". We wouldn't have said that about a man. And what happens is that the sentences are more lenient.
- The judges might even think "Well a woman really couldn't have done this - it must have been a mistake".
- And they usually get probation or they walk free. A man doing that would be locked up.
- their testimony shatters the myth that women only sexually abuse if coerced by men.
Women are seen as victims
Women are seen as victims rather than enemies or perpetrators of any abuse.
- Women in our society have been portrayed as victims, but somewhere within their victimisation they have learned that to abuse children gave them a sense of power, control, agency, and therefore they use the abuse of children to gain those things.
Disbelief the biggest trauma
- The biggest trauma for some victims is disbelief. A survey of 127 survivors by the children's charity Kidscape showed 86% were not believed at first when they named a woman as their abuser.
- The fact that we are not expecting women in our society to do this - not expecting that women our society do this actually has profound effects on the victims, often making the experience go on much longer than it would have done in other cases, but also making them feel more stigmatised, more different, more betrayed, more powerless.
More traumatic to be sexually abused by a woman
- It was more traumatic to be sexually abused by a woman - children feel more betrayed, they feel very angry, they feel the woman should have cared for them, should have loved them instead of abusing them.
Violent and sadistic attacks
- The violence that often accompanies the abuse is unexpected of a woman.
- Victims often report excessive force equivalent to if not greater than that of a man.
- Women are supposed to be the gentler sex, women are supposed to be incapable of cruelty in a sense
- Many of the abusers have been very sadistic - cruelty that is almost unimaginable.
- Half the women in a recent survey of 50 convicted female sexual abusers said they derived sadistic pleasure from inflicting pain on victims.
Across the board
The research showed neither class nor age were barriers to their behaviour. We can't make assumptions about the type of woman who will sexually abuse a child - sexual abuse is committed by:
- Women of any age from young teenagers to grandmothers
- Women from any class - from women who barely had a house to live in during their life to women with very large houses.
- Women from any level of education - women who can barely read and write to women who've got degrees.
Female abusers acquire positions of trust
- Some children aren't just at risk from the people they live with; they are vulnerable targets when they leave their homes.
- Out in the community female sexual abusers can manoeuvre with even more ease than men into positions of trust with authority over lost of children.
- Some of those abused become eternal victims and never recover from that.
- Other children will mask their confusions and go into adulthood and never really be able to sustain relationships, or have very distorted relationships because of their enormous confusions.
- And there are other children who will go on to hurt not only other children in their own childhood but in adulthood.
The need for more work
- There's very very little being done to look at the issue of female sexual abuse. We have no programmes in this country that are aimed at working with female sexual offenders specifically. Quite a lot of professionals are picking up women offenders now. What they're not doing is having the resources to help them deal with these women offenders. It's because so many professionals are now getting to pick up women offenders that we are now getting to realise some of the extent of the problem throughout the country.
- Few abusers ever volunteer their guilt, and behind closed doors it is difficult to prove. A woman's traditional role in the home as a mother often puts her above suspicion, and medical evidence is hard to obtain. But as more and more of women's victims come forward and speak out they may just force us to face up to the ultimate taboo.
Click here to see the full transcript
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