The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Coercion and Trauma Among Female Sexual Offenders with Co-Defendants

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 1:30 PM
Nautilus 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Poco D. Kernsmith, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Sheryl Pimlott Kubiak, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Roger M. Kernsmith, PhD, Associate Professor, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI
Kimberly Bender, MA, Doctoral Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background and Purpose:  Females represent between 1% and 6% of the sex offenser nationally, though victimization studies indicate this may underestimate the rates of female-perpetrated sexual violence. The population has been largely understudied, but research indicates mental health and substance abuse issues similar to other criminal populations.  Research indicates high levels of prior victimization of the female offenders. In addition, women are more likely to participate in sex offenses with a male co-perpetrator, while males typically act without an accomplice, perhaps indicating coercion. However, others have found similar motivational schema in women as they have in male perpetrators leading to inquiry into cognitive distortions that may be present for both men and women.  The goal of the research is to examine the rates of co-offending among male and female sexual offenders, as well as to examine the correlates of co-offending, in order to inform prevention and intervention with female sexual offenders.

Methods:  A survey was conducted with incarcerated female sexual offenders in one Midwestern state.  Surveying was conducted in the only correctional facility housing females in the state.  A total of 60 useable surveys were completed, approximately 75% of the total population of female sexual offenders.  A sample of male sex offenders was surveyed as a comparison.  As the number of incarcerated male offenders is much higher, sampling was done to approximate the size of the sample.  Surveys were administered to 69 male sexual offenders.  The survey included offense characteristics, as well as assessing adult and childhood traumatic exposure, mental illness, and cognitive distortions. 

Results:  Females (90%) were significantly more likely than males (68%) to have offended against children under the age of 18.  Over half of the female respondents reported a co-offender for the current offense, compared to 16% of males.  Of those females who reported a co-offender, 75% reported that the co-offender instigated the abuse and 15% reported both initiated.  Nearly two-thirds reported being pressured to participate in the abuse.  Among males, 75% reported to pressure to participate in the abuse.  Co-offending was found to be more common when the victim was female.  Childhood trauma, particularly parental abandonment or substance abuse, was related to co-offending.  Physical, sexual and emotional child abuse victimization was related to being pressured to participate in abuse.  Severe intimate partner violence victimization was associated with co-offending.  All forms of intimate partner violence were associated to being pressured.  Mental illness, substance abuse, and levels cognitive distortion showed no relationship to co-offending.

Discussion and Implications:  The research indicates that female sexual co-offending is common and may be related to coercion on the part of a male partner.  High correlations with adult and childhood trauma may indicate an important need for treatment of female offenders.  The discussion will explore avenues for trauma informed intervention with sexual offenders and prevention of recidivism.