Feminist researchers find female sex offenders get slaps on the wrist

Many people have noted the stark difference in the sentences male and female sex offenders receive. Female offenders tend to walk away with probation, time served, or very low jail sentences compared to male offenders. Some have denied this bias, others have ignored, and others have rationalized it as extension of “Patriarchy.”

Ironically, members of the latter group recently published a study about that issue. The study Sex-Based Sentencing: Sentencing Discrepancies Between Male and Female Sex Offenders published in Feminist Criminology confirms that female offenders do indeed receive lesser sentences than male offenders do.

Curiously, the study set out to determine whether the “evil woman” hypothesis is true. The hypothesis is that women face harsher sentences compared to men because they break gender roles. As the researchers Randa Embry and Phillip M. Lyons, Jr. explain:

The current study provides an exploratory analysis of sentencing discrepancies between male and female sex offenders and provides a theoretical rationale for possible discrepancies. Relying on previous theoretical explanations for response to female offenders by the criminal justice system, the current research looks to the chivalry hypothesis, and more specifically, selective chivalry or the “evil woman” hypothesis to explain possible sentencing discrepancies in the current data. (p. 147)

According to the researchers:

When all variables, sex, sentence length, and offense category, were considered, a significant difference was recognized in sentence length, and mean sentence length for men was longer, indicating a harsher penalty for the same or similar offense. Standardized scores for length of sentence with regard to sex offenses in general showed a mean of 8.42 for men as opposed to 7.92 for women. In addition, those specific offenses, which found a significant difference in sentence length, rape, child sexual assault, and forcible sodomy, showed a mean standardized sentence length of 9.38, 7.88, and 9.04 for men, as opposed to 8.83, 7.41, and most notably, 6.23, respectively (Table 2). In no instance were women sentenced to longer or more severe sentences with regard to any sex offense. Furthermore, not all sex offenses are the same. (p. 158)

(On a side note, forcible sodomy featured the highest number of female offenders, and that is because the researchers compiled female-on-male sexual assaults as sodomy.)

So why does this happen? That is the core question, and although the researchers attempt to explain it, their effort falls flat because they rely on feminist theory that in turn ignores why people actually let female sex offenders off.

Even though the researchers list studies citing blameworthiness, the notion that women are less responsible for their actions and have greater chance at rehabilitation, and bounded rationality, the notion that women pose less of a risk to the public, as the cause for the sentencing difference, the researchers reject those explanations. Instead, they argue that it is desire to protect women prompts the sentencing difference:

Women are not sentenced any more harshly than men, and in fact, it appears as if the criminal justice system actually treats women more leniently than men. Although there is no support in the current study for the evil woman hypothesis, it can be argued that the current study reveals evidence lending support to the chivalry hypothesis. […] This leads to the supposition that women, regardless of the departure from social and gender norms committed in concurrence with the offense for which they are being sentenced, continue to be viewed as individuals who should be protected by the justice system. Obviously, as a social institution, the criminal justice system is reluctant to break those social norms and gender roles in response to atypical gendered behavior. (p.158)

That makes no logical sense. If there is research demonstrating that several factors lead to the sentencing difference, why dismiss that evidence and argue that the “chivalry thesis” explains it all?

Worse, the evidence they present contradicts their own theory. Their section titled Gender Differences in Sentencing showed that the sentencing differences lie primarily in how people view women’s risk and rehabilitation chances, along with people’s general perception of women as potentially violent offenders.

Even in their conclusion, the researchers admit that their study is limited and cannot address the different factors that might explain the sentencing difference, yet they nevertheless proclaim:

[…] until more indepth analysis can be conducted, it appears that the chivalry hypothesis is the most appropriate explanation for difference in responses between male and female sex offenders by the criminal justice system. It seems that although women are ready to break barriers in gender roles and social norms, the criminal justice system is reluctant to do the same. (p. 159-160)

That is not the only time the researchers reject or ignore evidence that contradicts whatever theories they wish to present. For example, the researchers declared:

The lack of attention to female sex offenders in sentencing research can most clearly be understood by the fact that there are extremely low numbers of female sex offenders. Although an accurate number of female sex offenders is difficult to ascertain, we can say with certainty that there is a marked difference in the number of female sex offenders compared to male sex offenders. (p. 151)

How can one say with certainty that there is a marked difference in the number of female sex offenders compared to male sex offenders if one admits it is difficult to ascertain how many female sex offenders there are?

Ironically, the sentences following the above quote acknowledge that people underreport female-perpetrated sex offences and that female offenders go unnoticed because both the victims and the general public do not view women’s actions as abusive.

More so, a recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the opposite. According to the CDC study, about 72 percent of males reported women as their abuser, with 37.7 percent listing women as the sole abuser. Similarly, two studies about prison rape found that women committed the majority of sex offences in male and female in both juvenile and adult prisons and jails.

The best anyone can argue is that there are extremely low numbers of female sex offenders reported to law enforcement. No one can claim women rarely commit sex offences because we do not have enough research to prove that and what research we do have suggests the opposite.

Yet despite the slight feminist bias and the low number of female sex offenders, what the researchers could gather shows that women who commit sex offences receive less harsh sentences compared to men, even when women commit the most egregious sex crimes. There is a clear bias at play, and looks like it is a combination of different factors. Contrary to what the researchers claim but what the studies they cited showed, the bias appears to stems from the notion that women are less responsible for their actions and more capable of rehabilitation, although there may be a chivalrous element at play.

If people should take anything from this research, it is that even feminists have to admit that yes, women do get away with rape and sexual assault because they are women.

29 thoughts on “Feminist researchers find female sex offenders get slaps on the wrist

  1. How interesting, not only did the evil woman hypothesis fail but they proved women get lesser punishments. Wonder if they expected that?

  2. Archy, the premise of their researcher was testing whether female offenders receive harsher sentences than male offenders. It does not appear that they accepted that theory, only that they wanted to test it.

  3. @TS
    “…the premise of their researcher was testing whether female offenders receive harsher sentences than male offenders. It does not appear that they accepted that theory, only that they wanted to test it.”

    I have yet to read the article, but typically researchers state the hypothesis that they believe to be true, then test it with the hope of proving it is true. So if they stated that they were testing the “evil woman” hypothesis and this meant that women received harsher sentences than men, then that is most likely what they believed. Had they been more neutral about it, they might have stated their hypothesis by saying they were testing to see if there is a difference in sentencing men and women without stating the direction of that difference.

  4. @TDOM: It’s the other way around. You state what you think is true then you try to prove that it isn’t. Which they in this case succeeded in.

  5. @JE,
    “It’s the other way around. You state what you think is true then you try to prove that it isn’t.”

    Not exactly. Researchers state what they belive is true (the research hypothesis), Next they design a study that can prove that it isn’t true. But only in rare instances would they ever hope to prove this. What they are trying to prove is that the research hypothesis is true, but in order to do this, the study must be capable of proving that it is not true. to accomplish this, the reaserchers will state a “null” hypothesis. The study will then attempt to disprove that null hypothesis so that the research hypothesis can be accepted.

    In this case the research hypothesis is that there is a differences in sentencing according to sex and that the difference is that women receive harsher sentences than men. The null hypothesis would be that there is no difference in sentencing of men and women. The researches proved that the null hypothesis was not true and that these is a difference in sentencing between men and women. However, that difference was the opposite of what they expected.

  6. I remeber reading this study a short while back while I was searching for studies on prevalency of female perpetrators of sexual ause and rape. I actually exclaimed out loud “no shit!” when I read this sentence in the abstract:

    Statistical analyses reveal a significant difference in sentence length between men and women, but not in the expected direction.

    Now, this can of course be interpreted as not expected if one believe in the null-hypothesis and as TS says it doesn’t rule out that these researchers set out to disprove the evil woman theory.
    However, we have this on page 150 (my emphasis):

    However, it can be argued that the most compelling case for the selective chiv-
    alry hypothesis or evil woman theory stems from the examination of more specific
    behaviors as they apply to traditional gender roles. Unfortunately, those studies that
    examine sentencing differences between male and female offenders have typically
    found little to no support for the theory
    (Farnsworth & Teske, 1995; Mustard, 2001;
    Rodriguez et al., 2006; Steffensmeier, Kramer, & Streifel, 1993).


    That choice of words at least to me suggest that the authors initially believed the evil woman theory/hypothesis.

  7. Tamen, I would agree except the researchers seem to favor the “chivalry” theory. That makes me think that they disagreed with the “evil woman” hypothesis.

  8. So women appear more capable of rehabilitation.

    Gee, I wonder why that is? Could it by any chance have something to do with everybody’s willingness to excuse women’s crimes or even blame them on other people’s failings?
    I really think this supposed “superior capability of rehabilitation” should not just be accepted as some inherent difference between the sexes. Without more information we should assume it’s another example of sexual discrimination. I realize, the researchers did not make a statement about this, though the justice system clearly does and that should have been studied at least a little.

  9. Toysoldier,

    I guess we’ll just have to disagree about this matter of little practical importance. However, I can’t help but to put in another reason for my understanding:

    Although there has been extensive research addressing each of these theoretical explanations, the focus of the current research will be that of selective chivalry or the evil woman thesis that may possess the best opportunity of explaining differences in sentencing based on specific behaviors. As the current research addresses specifically sentencing differences between male and female sex offenders, it will inform our empirical understanding of the elective chivalry thesis, and by extension, the chivalry hypothesis.

    The sentence emphasized by me above suggest even more that they at some point thought the selective chivalry or the evil woman thesis (selective chivalry seem to just be another name for the evil woman theory*) may hold the best opportunity to explain any sentencing differences between male and female offenders. I assume that they by the term “current research” means their own study.

    To the researchers’ credit, yes it does seem like they favour the chivalry theory in the end, but I suspect that is only after they got an for them unexpected empirical results which were incompatible with the hypothesis they originally though were most likely (selective chivalry/evil woman). So in the end what I think of what their initial belief is not that important since they did the right thing and adjusted their belief towards the hypothesis best supported by the empirical data (or rather at another hypothesis than the one which was disproven by the empirical data).

    * I found this description of selective chivalry in the study:

    The concept of selective chivalry, or the evil woman thesis, works contrary to the
    chivalry hypothesis by attempting to explain transgressions of traditional gender roles
    and responses to them. Selective chivalry posits that those who break the traditional
    gender roles would be given harsher sanctions than one would normally expect from
    the chivalry hypothesis (Rodriguez et al., 2006).

  10. Feckless: Please don’t let that stop you from posting your analysis of that study. I for one find it interesting to read several people’s take on a subject.

  11. Oh I am going to post but I get that strange “you stole that one vibe” from that. More than usual. I also did not read the above and I hope my reply will go in a different direction. Also the pressure to get this done. I am a lazy git recently….

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  20. I know this for a fact.My x wife molested my daughter at 4 years old .She is now 8. No one believes her .I have some video that is hard to see but you know things are going on that shouildnt be. I clled children services they dont believe me nor do the plolice. I just feel like Im fighting a losing battle I dont know what else to do.I alled children service 3 times and still nothing.

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