Although each year nearly 238,000 Americans are sexually assaulted, cases involving female perpetrators rarely make the news. This, despite the fact that an estimated 14% of sexual offenders are women and 6% of their victims are girls.
In the summer of 1962, I was molested by my cabin counselor at a highly respected all-girls camp in upstate New York. It took me 30 years to understand that what took place between my counselor and myself in the dead of night was sexual abuse and—according to New York State statutes—rape in the third degree.
I was 14. She was 28.
In the years since I figured out that my relationship with my counselor didn’t fit the mutual-feelings-expressed-by-two-equal-partners meaning of the word, I’ve researched sexual abuse of girls by women. Many experts consider the outing of female perpetrators to be “the last taboo.”
This is because so few incidents of sexual abuse by females are ever reported. According to Zoe Hilton, a policy advisor for Britain’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, “Professionals in all areas of the system tend to be disbelieving of cases of female sexual abuse.”
What’s more, in a 2013 New York Times article by Julia Hislop, a psychologist and author of Female Sex Offenders: What Therapists, Law Enforcement and Child Protective Services Need to Know, she states that although female sex offenders are not easily identified, “it is important that investigators recognize that females can and do commit serious sex crimes. Their victims can be seriously harmed.”
Yet, our prevailing cultural mythology portrays women as nurturing non-agressors. When a female offender was brought before a judge in Washington State, the judge declared, “Women don’t do things like this,” and dismissed the case. And in therapeutic settings, the disclosure of sexual abuse of girls by women is often delayed. Experts suggest that these clients experience added shame because the offender was female.