Downplaying female abuse

Last week I posted about the statistics from a UK abuse support organization. The numbers showed that ChildLine received more calls from children, predominantly boys, reporting sexual abuse at the hands of women, predominantly mothers. The numbers demonstrated that while the reporting of female-perpetrated abuse to authorities and law enforcement maybe be low, the actual rate of abuse is much higher. When considered with the recent arrests of three alleged pedophiles, two of whom are female and were the only ones alleged to have abused children, this can paint a very frightening picture that no adult can be trusted.

This, of course, is hardly true. Most people do not abuse children. Even though it is possible that virtually anyone could or will if in the right (or more appropriately, wrong) circumstances, the fact that most people are not child abusers should never be forgotten. It would be terrible for people to create a scenario in which every woman is considered untrustworthy based on the acts of a handful of women.

That said, I expected to see an article or two basically downplaying the ChildLine numbers and shifting the blame and responsibility off female pedophiles onto males. It took less than a week:

An expert on female sex offenders has warned against parents becoming “hyper-vigilant” in response to recent high-profile child abuse cases.

Dr Theresa Gannon – senior lecturer in forensic psychology at the University of Kent – says society risks coming to a standstill if people become so cautious they feel unable to trust anybody with their children.

“I think these high-profile cases do highlight the need to watch out for people regardless of gender but what we don’t want to get into is a situation where both males and females are vilified, because hyper-vigilancy like that would bring society to a standstill.”

The latter statement is rather curious. It reads as if Gannon thinks it is perfectly acceptable to vilify males and be hyper-vigilant against them, but not females. It stands in contrast to the numbers reported by ChildLine. It also stands in contrast to the reaction virtually any accusations involving male pedophiles or rapists conjures. There are hosts of articles about the evils of masculinity and maleness, articles about how “rape culture” drives men to rape women, articles about how people need to be wary of the men in their children’s lives, etc. At no point does one see psychologists dissuade this sort of thing. More often than not they are part it, quite frequently sharing their opinions about the untrustworthiness of males, despite the fact that the vast majority of men are not abusers or rapists.

It is difficult to imagine that if any other organization reported a 132 percent rise in unsolicited complaints about male abusers that anyone would rush to make a statement downplaying the important of those numbers.

Gannon goes on to explain her logic:

A contributor of many important publications about sex offenders, Dr Gannon recently interviewed 22 female paedophiles to try to understand how and why they abuse children.

She said: “We found that although females hold some key similarities to male sexual abusers, there are also some key differences.

“For instance, more than half of the women I spoke to worked in unison with a male offender. You rarely have men working with other men in this way.

“That was interesting because people think that if you leave a child with a male you should be extra vigilant, but less so if there is also a woman present.

“Obviously having a woman there does not necessarily mean a child is safe, so it’s just about being aware.

“Knowing these key differences is crucial for raising public awareness of female-perpetrated sexual abuse so it can be reported to the appropriate authorities.”

Interviewing 22 women convicted of child abuse is hardly substantive analysis. It bears to keep in mind that these are women who were arrested, charged and convicted (or plead guilty to lesser charges). That is a typically rare thing. The majority of victims of female pedophiles and abusers never report their abuse, so in a way using women who are serving time as the barometer for the typical behavior of female child abusers makes very little sense, particularly when one considers this:

Dr Gannon said: “It was totally up to the women who took part in my interviews whether they wanted to speak to me or not, but a lot of them just wanted to tell someone their story.

“A lot were in denial, others blamed it on a male who was also involved and others agreed that they had committed an awful crime.”

What convicted pedophile would not jump at the chance to present herself as a victim and gain attention? How convenient is it for women who rape to claim the man made them do it when the very people studying them already assume that?  What is the likelihood that these women who admit they acted on the own volition when it is possible such an admission could put their plea agreements in jeopardy or potentially result in new charges being filed, such as perjury charges?

One must keep in mind that professionals like Gannon draw their conclusions based on information from women who do not want to go to prison, do not want to receive longer sentences and women who likely perceive themselves as victims. In other words, telling professionals like Gannon that men made them do it benefits those female abusers.

It is simply amazing that on the heels of self-reported numbers that anyone would seek to downplay female abuse or try to shift the blame to men. The key factor that is worth noting is that ChildLine’s numbers are rather specific in terms of who the perpetrators are. One would think that if the majority of the cases of abuse reported to the organization involved women abusing only or mostly with men the children likely would have mentioned that at some point or have been asked about it. The fact that we do not see those numbers does not mean it is not possible that women are abusing predominantly at the behest of men, but it rather convincingly suggests that, like with male abusers, female abusers tend to act alone.

The importance of what those children reported cannot and should not be downplayed. This does not mean that people should react with the same insanity with which they respond to male abusers (which is itself completely overblown and preposterous), but that people should take these numbers as a sign that the notion women are less likely to abuse or are inherently safe is patently false. They are no more dangerous and yet no more safer than men.

10 thoughts on “Downplaying female abuse

  1. I think a large part of the cause of the cover-up of female abusers is the misogynistic idea pushed upon us that women are “natural care-givers.” That women “naturally” want children and are “naturally” better with children than men. That is just preposterous. Some people indeed are more instinctual and natural with children than others, but that’s not gender-based. Since the culture assumes that women naturally know what to do with kids, no to very little time is spent teaching parents what it means to be a good parent, how to parent, etc… They assume that it doesn’t matter if the men know, because the women will naturally take care of it.

    I call it the cult of motherhood. People pretty much worship the ground mothers walk on. If you criticize your mother, you’re met with angry glares and accusations of being a bad person yourself.

    Equality isn’t just about the good things; it’s also about the bad. Equality means admitting that women are just as likely to do evil things as men are.

  2. Her article does read better than the other one. It does not come across as downplaying female abusers in the way the other article does. That said, I still think it is most unwise to draw conclusions about the behavior of female abusers based on comments made by the few who were reported or caught. They represent a very small fraction of the women who actually abuse and in many cases those women have gotten deals for their testimony against their male accomplices, so they may not be inclined to necessarily tell the truth about their actual level of willingness to commit child rape..

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  5. What about the women who weren’t coerced by a man?

    There is also the problem that if you come forward, there are people who will think you are an abuser too. I was on a training course two years ago and the trainer said “It’s a known fact that people who are abused go on to become abusers themselves because they don’t know any different”. I immediately said it wasn’t true and she argued with me that it was. Only 1/3 go on to become abusers. My abuser was abused as a child and even as a child who was being abused, I thought “I will be the one to break this cycle. It stops with me”.

    I tried to tell the trainer that the reason that organisations such as Childline exist is because adults who were abused as children spoke out to protect other children. She dismissed this with a wave of her hand after just telling us not to stereotype people. I lived in fear that I would be outed as a survivor as she would automatically assume I was abusing my service users when nothing could be further from the truth. Someone told me of a case of a care worker who had been sexually abusing an old lady with dementia and he was caught in the act by one of his colleagues. I was asked what I would’ve done. I said he was lucky that I wasn’t the care worker who found him, because once I started hitting him, I wouldn’t be able to stop.

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