Female Sex Offenders

Steven Gaskell, Psy.D. Female Sex Offender Evaluations, Female Sex Offenders, Sex Offender Recidivism, Sex Offender Risk Assessment, Sex Offenders 0 Comments

Female Sex Offenders - Forensic Psychologist - Expert Evaluations

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Steven Gaskell, Psy.D.

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Dr. Steven Gaskell is a forensic psychologist who performs a wide range of forensic psychological services including the assessment of sex offenders and comprehensive sex offender risk assessments.  Much less is known about female sex offenders than male sex offenders.  This post is an effort to summarize the research pertaining to female sexual offending and exploring the prevalence, predisposing factors, recidivism rates, and static and dynamic risk factors.  It also looks at the ACE and LSI-R.

Research on Female Sex Offenders

The assessment of female sex offenders, as with males, is predominately driven by the need to establish the likelihood of future recurrences of sexual offending behavior and to identify interventions that would reduce their risk of recidivism. It is crucial that the risk assessment of female sex offenders needs to be based on empirically validated approaches. There is currently a limited empirical foundation from which evaluators can use to improve the validity of their assessments of female sex offenders.

Female sex offendersThe accumulating evidence suggests that female sex offenders have particular vulnerabilities that are linked to their sexually offending behavior. Specifically, social and psychological alienation, along with extensive histories of victimization, are particularly common among female sexual offenders. For these women, it is likely that their offending is related to early experiences of severe physical and sexual abuse in combination with biological (e.g., genetic factors; Quinsey, Skilling, Lalumière, & Craig, 2004) and social learning variables

Women are less likely than men to be involved in any type of crime and this is also true with sexual offenses. Female sex offenders comprise only 2% to 5% of sex offenders in the criminal justice system and about 2% of sex offenders on public registries in the United States. Cortoni & Hanson (2005) reviewed research on female sex offending and concluded that females commit between 4% and 5% of all sex offenses. They also looked at the recidivism base rates of 380 female offenders and found a sexual recidivism rate of 1% with a 5 year follow-up period.   Cortoni, Hanson & Coach (2009) found that women comprised 8.7% of non-rape sexual offenders in the United States.

A large proportion of identified female sexual offenders commit their offense in the company of a male co-offender, whether coerced or accompanied by the male. Coerced female sexual offenders are commonly regarded as holding non-assertive and extremely dependent characteristics (Gannon & Rose, 2008). Women who co-offend with men could be prone towards more general criminality.

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Sandler & Freeman (2009) studied a sample of 1466 females convicted of a sexual offense in New York State and explored offending prior to the commission of the offenders’ first sexual offense, the rates of recidivism following their first sexual offense conviction, and factors associated with the likelihood of sexual recidivism. Results showed the recidivism rates of female sex offenders were lower than those of male sex offenders for all types of recidivism studied (any re-arrest, felony re-arrest, violent and violent sexual felony re-arrest, and sexual re-arrest).  Several significant differences were found between the group of female sex offenders who sexually re-offended and the group who did not, including crime of first sexual conviction and measures of prior offending. It was found that 50% of males and 27.6% of females who were charged with a sexual offense were ultimately convicted. Females comprised 1.8% of all the sexually related convictions. It was found that 2.2% of the women were re-arrested for a sexual offense (1.9% reconvicted), compared to 6.3% of the women being re-arrested for violent (including violent sexual) felony. The 5 year re-arrest rate for women of 1.8% compares to 10 to 15% re-arrest rated in research on male sex offenders. Variables associated with sexual offense recidivism included: Prior conviction (misdemeanor), Prior conviction (felony), Prior drug conviction, Promoting/patronizing prostitution of a minor (first sex offense); More prior child victim convictions; and More prior misdemeanor convictions, and Increased offender age (for promoting/prostitution offense only). Each additional child victim conviction an offender had prior to her first sexual offense conviction raised the odds of her sexually recidivating by 144%, each additional misdemeanor conviction an offender had prior to her first sexual offense conviction raised the odds of her sexually recidivating by 14%, and for each year older an offender was at the time of her first sexual offense event, the odds of her sexually recidivating increased by 4%.

Cortoni, Hanson, and Coache (2010) conducted an updated meta-analytic review of the recidivism rates of female sex offenders based on the results of 10 recidivism studies with an aggregated total of 2490 female sex offenders. The studies were conducted in the USA, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. The average follow-up time was 6.5 years. Recidivism was defined as a new charge, conviction, or reincarceration for a sexual offense. Including an outlier study, the weighted observed sexual recidivism rate was 3.19 percent (aggregated estimates 1.2 to 2.4% vs 1.0 to 1.28%). This compares to large samples of male sex offenders who have recidivism rates between 12 and 15 percent for sexual re-offending. Most female sexual offenders are not convicted of any new crimes, and of those who are, they are 10 times more likely to be reconvicted for a nonsexual crime than a sexual crime.

In order to make a determination of risk of sexual recidivism, one must consider the individual characteristics of the offender that increase or decrease the probability of recidivism. These are referred to as static and dynamic factors. Dynamic risk factors are amenable to change and the elements that are addressed in treatment and in the management of sexual offenders in order to reduce the risk of recidivism. Risk factors may indicate a higher risk of recidivism than other female sex offenders.

Static risk factors for female sex offenders include:

  1. A prior criminal history;
  2. Number of prior convictions;
  3. Number of prior sexual offense arrests;
  4. Number of prior child abuse offenses (non-sexual);
  5. Number of prior drug arrests.

Dynamic risk factors for female sex offenders include:

  1. Denial and minimization of the offending behavior;
  2. Distorted cognitions about the sexual offending and sexual abuse in general;
  3. Problematic relationship (e.g., characterized by abuse) and intimacy deficits;
  4. Use of sex to regulate emotional states or fulfill intimacy needs;
  5. Desire for intimacy with victim or co-defendant;
  6. Wanting revenge or wanting to humiliate;
  7. Antisocial attitudes or attitudes tolerant of sexual offending;
  8. Antisocial associates;
  9. Substance abuse;
  10. Lack of an adequately supportive social network.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) questionnaire and Female Sex Offenders

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study was one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well being.

Levenson, Willis, & Prescott (2014) explored the prevalence of different types of childhood adversity, cumulative experiences of childhood adversity, and relationships between adverse childhood events and offense characteristics in a sample of females (N = 47) in treatment in the United States for committing sexual offenses. Early trauma was measured using the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale (ACE), which assesses the presence or absence of abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual), neglect (emotional and physical), and household dysfunction (domestic violence, divorce, and the presence of a substance-abusing, mentally ill, or incarcerated member of the household). One’s ACE score reflects the total number of adverse childhood experiences endorsed by the individual.

Levenson, et al. found that compared with females in the general population, female sex offenders had more that three times the odds of child sexual abuse, four times the odds of verbal abuse, and more than three times the odds of emotional neglect and having an incarcerated family member. Half of the female sex offenders had been sexually abused as a child. Only 20% endorsed zero adverse childhood experiences (compared with 35% of the general female population) and 41% endorsed four or more (compared with 15% of the general female population). Higher ACE scores were associated with having younger victims. Multiple maltreatments often co-occurred in households with other types of dysfunction, suggesting that many female sex offenders were raised within a disordered social environment by adults with problems of their own who were ill-equipped to protect their daughters from harm.

Risk Assessment Tools – LSI-R and Female Sex Offenders

The Level of Service Inventory–Revised (LSI-R) is a quantitative survey of offender attributes and their situations relevant to level of supervision and treatment decisions. The LSI–R helps predict parole outcome, success in correctional halfway houses, institutional misconducts, and recidivism. The 54 items are based on legal requirements and include relevant factors needed for making decisions about risk and treatment. The LSI-R was designed to assist in the implementation of the least restrictive and least onerous interpretation of a criminal sanction and to identify areas of risk/need that may be addressed to reduce risk and in targeting areas for intervention.

The female normative group is made up of 1414 females who came from a medium security institution for adult women in the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services. Scores can fall into one of four levels of need (raw score range in parenthesis):

Minimum       (0 to 12)

Medium          (13 to 23)

High Medium (24 to 36)

Maximum       (37 or more)

The LSI-R is currently the only structured professional judgement measure to use with females.  The LSI-R can be used with female sex offenders to report their level of risk and level of criminogenic needs.

Violence Risk Assessment – Females

Geraghty and Woodhams (2015) conducted a systematic review of the predictive validity of risk assessment tools currently in use for female offenders including:  Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanction (COMPAS)l; Level of Service Inventory (LSI); Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R); Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (LS/CMI); Level of Service Inventory-Ontario Revision (LSI-OR); Offender Group Reconviction Scale (OGRS); Risk Assessment Scales (RISc); Risk Matrix 2000 Violence Scale (RM2000V); Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG); Historical, Clinical, Risk Management-20 (HCR-20); Child and Adult Taxon Scale-Self-Report (CAT-SR); and the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R).  The review included 15 studies conducted between 1990 and 2013 on the predictive validity of risk assessment tools when administered to female adult offenders.  It was found that LSI, LSI-R, LS/CMI, and LSI-OR assessments generally produced the most accurate estimates of general recidivism risk among female offenders, whereas the least accurate estimates are produced by COMPAS, OGRS, RISc, RM2000V, VRAG, and CAT-SR assessments.  The HCR-20 and PCL-R assessments did not produce especially accurate assessments of violence risk for female offenders.

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