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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 5, No. 2
June 2000

Do We Treat Female Sexual Offenders Differently?

Some women sexually abuse children. Although intellectually we may know this to be true, many of us find it hard to believe that a woman would harm a child in this way. Yet the impulse to give women the benefit of the doubt may affect how we conduct ourselves professionally.

In 1988, researchers Hetherton and Beardsall conducted a study to examine whether the gender of a perpetrator of child sexual abuse influenced child protection professionals. Both female and male social workers and police officers participated in the study.

What they found was that social workers and police officers were more likely to minimize reports of child sexual abuse when the alleged perpetrator was female. Even when the abuse was substantiated, the professionals participating in the study considered it less appropriate to register the incident as a case of child sexual abuse if the perpetrator was female.

These findings suggest that child welfare agencies and individual workers should closely examine their attitudes and practices when working on cases in which the alleged sexual offender is female.


Hetherton, J. & Beardsall, L. (1988). Decisions and attitudes concerning child sexual abuse: Does the gender of the perpetrator make a difference to child protection professionals? Child Abuse & Neglect, 22(12), 1265-1283.

2000 Jordan Institute for Families