To a safer place? Victims of sexual abuse by females and their disclosures to professionals

Child Abuse Negl. 2003 Jan;27(1):47-61. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(02)00509-4.


Objective: To explore the experiences of victims of female sex offenders with regard to disclosing sexual abuse to a professional, and importantly, the impact of professional responses on victims.

Method: The data were derived from one-to-one semi-structured interviews with 14 (7 males, 7 females) victims of child sexual abuse by female perpetrators. Victims ranged in age from 23 to 59 years and were recruited through professional referrals or through poster advertisements in counseling services. Participants responded to questions on their family background, experience(s) of sexual abuse, experience(s) disclosing the sexual abuse to a professional, and the impact of professional responses.

Results: The majority of victims reported sexual abuse by their mothers. The average age of onset of the sexual abuse was age 5, lasting, on average, 6 years. Five participants reported experiencing severe, moderate and mild sexual abuse, four reported experiencing both severe and mild sexual abuse and five reported experiencing moderate and mild sexual abuse. The findings underscore the significance of professional intervention in relation to victim disclosures of sexual abuse by females. Professional responses to disclosures, whether positive or negative, appeared to have a crucial impact on the well-being of victims. Supportive professional responses including the acknowledgment and validation of victims' experiences of sexual abuse appeared to mitigate the negative effects of the abuse. In contrast, unsupportive responses where professionals minimized, or disbelieved victims' allegations of sexual abuse appeared to exacerbate the negative effects of the sexual abuse, ultimately inciting secondary victimization.

Conclusion: The study highlights the need for the development and implementation of professional training initiatives to sensitize professionals to the issue of female sex offending and the intervention needs of victims. Failure to do so could have negative consequences for victims sexually abused by females.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Counseling
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Sex Factors
  • Truth Disclosure*