Female-Perpetrated Sexual Violence: A Survey of Survivors of Female-Perpetrated Childhood Sexual Abuse and Adult Sexual Assault

J Interpers Violence. 2022 May;37(9-10):NP6655-NP6675. doi: 10.1177/0886260520967137. Epub 2020 Oct 21.


Individuals who experience female-perpetrated sexual assault (FPSA) are underrepresented in the sexual victimization literature. Much of the existing research on FPSA centers on child welfare-involved families and convicted or incarcerated female sexual offenders, with limited research devoted to victims of FPSA. The current study included a diverse sample of 138 community adults who experienced one or more incident of FPSA, and sought to (a) describe individuals who experienced FPSA, including their overall trauma exposure, (b) describe perpetrator age and relationship to the respondent, (c) explore whether respondents labeled FPSA as sexual assault and disclosed it to others, and (d) examine the prevalence of depressive and posttraumatic symptoms in this population. Of the respondents, 61.6% experienced childhood FPSA, 18.8% experienced adulthood FPSA, and 19.6% experienced both childhood and adulthood FPSA. Survivors of FPSA were highly trauma exposed; 71.7% reported a male-perpetrated victimization, over 90% reported any childhood sexual abuse, over 60% reported any adulthood victimization, 55.1% reported victimizations in both childhood and adulthood, and 78.3% endorsed any revictimization. Perpetrators of FPSA were often known individuals, including friends, family members, babysitters, and romantic partners. Incidents of female perpetrators co-offending with males accounted for only 5.5%-8.5% of FPSA events, contrary to myths about female offending. Incidents of FPSA were often labeled as sexual assault in retrospect, but only 54.3% of respondents ever disclosed an incident of FPSA. Depressive and posttraumatic symptoms were common. Results indicate FPSA is typically perpetrated by individuals acting alone who are known to and close to the victim. Incidents of FPSA may not be labeled as sexual abuse or assault at the time of the event, are not frequently disclosed, and may carry long-term mental health consequences for survivors. Significant research efforts are needed to better identify and help these underrecognized, highly trauma burdened survivors of violence.

Keywords: Female perpetrator; child abuse; child sexual abuse; female offender; sexual abuse; sexual assault; sexual victimization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual* / psychology
  • Crime Victims* / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Offenses*
  • Spouse Abuse*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors