Public Opinion: Gender Differences in Sex Abuse of Children

Table of Contents (Jump to)

1. Introduction

2. Gender Bias

3. Gender Inequality

3. Registering of Sex Offenders

4. Limitations of the Research Approach

5. References

1. Introduction

This dataset is analysed using the principal of thematic analysis. The dataset was extracted from media reports related to the case of a woman who abused her partner’s three-year-old daughter. Thematic analysis is a qualitative analytic method used for analysing or identifying themes across a dataset (Craver, 2014). The process is illustrated in the appendices, adopting the approach used by King and Horrocks (2010).

One of the overarching themes in the analysis of the data relates to public opinion about gender differences in the sexual abuse of children. There are two sub-categories, namely gender bias and gender inequality.

2. Gender Bias

Gender bias can be seen in the few quotes below:

“A group of feminist not too long ago told me women never sexually abuse anyone only men I guess this women and those teachers that have been in the news recently don’t exist”

“This cannot be true! Because feminists are constantly telling us that it is only men who are violent and abusive!”

“It has been kept quiet over the years just how many women abuse children. I’m glad that she is being held accountable.

“Another female paedophile, the myth of all women being gentle is lifted”

“We hear so many stories of “boyfriends” of women being guilty of abusing a child, so this is quite shocking, what is her excuse?

“We live in a gynocentric feminist so society. Had he not done it this way, she would have accused him, he would have been arrested, separated from his child and would never been believed. Ask the thousands of fathers to whom similar things have happened through malicious false accusations. Men a perpetrator. Women are victims. De facto”

Analytic research done by Landor and Eisenchlas (2012) shed some light on gender bias in Australian print-media reports regarding sexual acts. The authors gave two case studies. First, they described the teacher Mary Kay LeTourneau’s marriage to her former student, with whom she had been engaged in a sexual relationship since he was 12 years of age. The headline they use as an example reads: “School lovers tie knot”. The contrasting case advanced by the authors was related to the story of Brisbane teacher Allan Thomas Walters, who was charged with indecency in his dealings with a 13-year-old boy; the example headline reads: “More time for pervert”. The two case studies advanced by the authors are very similar in terms of the age of the victim and the offences committed. However, the media clearly portrayed LeTourneau’s case in a less negative way than Walters’ case. The article uses the comparison appropriately throughout, although the argument presented is unbalanced.

Another example of gender bias was given by Tsopelas et al. (2012), in which a victim of a female perpetrator was not believed when they made allegations to the authorities. This suggests that a higher standard of evidence is required in cases of child sex abuse by female perpetrators. It can be seen on the data transcript that some people were angry that the father had to put the girl through more abuse before enough evidence could be gained.

“My stepmother, a famous person, abused my little brother like this when he was a toddler. To this day, despite my witnessing it and my brother being terrified of her, my father refuses to believe us. If only we too could have planted a camera”

“Another awful thing about this is that with the knowledge that his daughter was being abused in order for him to gather evident the child had to endure another vile attack”

“Its so sad that the faher had to put his daughter through two more violent events in order to get proff but I guess he had no choice.”

“Well done for showing self restraint altho I don’t agree with the way the child was put thu the abuse again in order to abtain more damning evidence”

“Men a perpetrators. Women are victims. De facto”

“…..after just having read bat those poor wretched girls in Rotherham. Authorities there should all be sacked, how can this happen, seriously?

“Reading the comments made I can say that the Father did the right thing 1. He had a recording of what was happening the Child screaming, yelling, crying for Help. That is not enough proof for the Police, that can be classified as Child Abuse only. 2. He had to have actual evidence for the Police, Courts. Of the actual act been committed for his (Partner) to be prosecuted in court in accordance with the law. She could have turned all against him, had he not had that important piece of evidence, so she can be convicted and from now on be classified as a Paedophiler(visual/audio proof).

3. Gender Inequality

Gender inequality is the second sub-category. Geddes, Tyson, and McGreal (2012) discovered that female teachers who have committed sexual acts with a student are punished more leniently compared to male counterparts. The study also found that participants showed significantly more anger towards male teachers who commit such acts. However, the sample size of the study was not equally distributed: although the author randomly sent out the questionnaire to 250 female students and 250 male students, out of 130 respondents, 86 were female and 44 were male. Geddes, Tyson and McGreal (2012) believed a sample size of more than 30 participants was large enough to obtain significant values, based on a test run on the violation assumption using analysis of variance. However, it is important to achieve a gender-balanced sample size to study gender bias. Gender inequality can be found in the following comments:

“As usual not naming this monster, but a guy doing this would have his picture and name plastered all over the media”

“Why isn’t she being named, if it was a bloke his name would be plastered everywhere for what he did”

“This woman is a common filthy pedophile and must go to jail, as men go to jail. Anything other than jail would serve as proof there are not equal rights between the genders”

“2Guaranteed this woman will not do jail I don’t care what that judge said, however if the roles were reserved this would be another matter” “Who recalls the push for laws where women would be allowed to have the police run back ground check on potential partners. Do man get this right? If not why not?”

Angelides (2008) discusses another aspect of gender inequality in child sex-abuse cases. The author presented two examples involving a teacher-student relationship. One involved Karen Ellis, a 37-year-old teacher who committed sexual offences with a child under the age of 16. She was sentenced for six months. On the other hand, tennis coach Gavin Hopper pleaded guilty of having a sexual relationship with his 14-year-old student and was jailed for two years and three months. On the basis of this comparison of two similar situations Angelides (2008) presents a very good argument regarding the principal of gender equality in the sentencing of offenders.

While judges have shown some leniency towards female perpetrators, comments from the data seem to express a wish to see harsh punishment for sex offenders. For example:

“A nice long sentence I hope”

“I’d lock her in solitary confinement and feed her food under the door and weld it up so she could not be released.”

“Jail this pedophile for life”

“This woman is a common filthy pedophile and must go to jail, as men go to jail.

“Hope the horrible woman is jailed for a long time.

“It’s the other prisoners who could be her real punishment”

“VILE WOMAN THROW THE BOOK AT HER”

Statistics have shown that sex-offender treatment programmes have a small but positive effect on sex offenders (Craissati, South, & Bierer, 2009). However, in some patriarchal cultures such as in India, harsher punishments are meted to stop violence against women (Gill, & Harrison, 2013). Gill and Harrison (2013) discussed both punitive options and the kinds of treatment that are available for sex offenders in relation to the sexual violence issue in India. The punitive options are demonstrably based on the human-rights principle regarding the death penalty. Gill and Harrison (2013) believed that harsh punishment might not be the best approach to sex offences in the justice system in India. Sex-offender treatment programmes might be a better strategy.

Declining moral standards is another overarching theme. Males were dominantly viewed as perpetrators of child sex abuse in the 1980s, with females appearing almost exclusively as victims (Tsopelas, Tsetsou, Ntounas and Douzenis, 2012). Current literature is paying more attention to the role of female sexual abusers. This cultural shift was due to the increasing of the proportion of female sex offenders in all sexual-assault arrests from 1% in 1994 to 8% in 1997 (Vandiver and Walker, 2002). Below are the illustrative quotes from the data that show public disappointment about declining moral values in society:

“Britain in the 21st century”

“What the hell is wrong with people. Why would you harm an innocent child?”

“What has gone so wrong in our world when so much of this is happening?”

“Some people say it was always so, but I don’t believe that at all. I think it’s an epidemic now”

“I remember my childhood as being safe and secure. Parents were always there for me. I wish it could be the same for all children. What a horrible world we live in”

“Something is clearly wrong in this godforsaken world we live in”

3. Registering of Sex Offenders

One further overarching theme is related to legislation. Registering of child sex abusers is practised by many Western countries such as the USA and the United Kingdom. The general public tend to want sex offenders to be put on a register in order to protect the general public. But other find this labelling could create a barrier to sex offenders reintegrating with society (Bollinger, Seidler, & Kemp, 2012). The study by Bollinger, Seidler and Kemp (2012) found an interesting result: people with children wanted more punitive approaches towards sexual offenders, even when not fully aware of the purpose of a register. A few relevant quotes are shown below:

“I hope she’s put on the domestic abuse register”

The attacker has, IMO, no right to anonymity”

“so she can be convicted and from now on be classified as a Paedophiler”

“Around here we are starting to name and shame people that don’t pick up their dog mess YET they don’t name or shame these disgusting vile people? We have right to know who she is.

However, some quotes suggest perpetrators should not be named, in order to protect their victims:

“The anonymity of the perp is to protect the identity of the child, not the perp. As a victim of sexual abuse there is an automatic protection of identity”

The problem with naming and shaming is that if the perpetrator of the abuse is known to people in the area, the little girl would also be identified by association which is often best avoided”

4. Limitations of the Research Approach

Thematic analysis is a popular method widely used in qualitative research (Braun & Clarke, 2013). However, this qualitative method can be subject to the personal bias of researchers (Vaismoradi, Turunen, Bondas, 2013) as well as the researcher’s grounding in epistemological philosophy. Hence, it is important to take the philosophical perspective into account when choosing the design for the study.

5. References

Angelides, S. (2008). ‘Sexual offences against “children” and the question of judicial gender bias.’ Australian Feminist Studies, 23(57), 359-373. Doi: 10.1080/08164640802233302

Bollinger, J., Seidler, K., & Kemp, R. (2012). ‘Who thinks what about child protection: Community perceptions and awareness of child protection strategies and their effectiveness for reducing sexual reoffending.’ Sexual Abuse in Australia and New Zealand, 4(4), 33-40. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=4f62b2c7-f642-47e6-b828-1f128e44c525%40sessionmgr4001&hid=4213

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Craissati, J., South, R., & Bierer, K. (2009). ‘Exploring the effectiveness of community sex offender treatment in relation to risk and re-offending.’ Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 20(6), 769*784. Doi: 10.1080/14789940903174105

Craver, G.A. (2014). ‘Not just for beginners – A review of successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners.’ The Qualitative Report, 19 (review 16), 1-4. Retrieved from http://www.nova.edu.ssss/QR/QR19/craver16.pdf

Geddes, R.A., Tyson, G.R., & McGreal (2012). ‘Gender bias in the education system: Perceptions of teacher-student sexual relationships.’ Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 1-11. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com

Gill, A.K., & Harrison, K. (2013). ‘Sentencing sex offenders in India: Retributive justice versus sex offender treatment programmes and restorative justice approaches.’ International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, 8(2), 166-181. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=7&sid=bf077283-9215-4735-9500-dad6353ad5fc%40sessionmgr4001&hid=4213

King, N., & Horrocks, C. (2010). Interviews in qualitative research. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Landor, R.V., & Eisenchlas, S.A. (2012). ‘“Coming clean” on Duty of Care: Australian print media’s representation of male versus female sex offenders in institutional contexts.’ Sexuality & Culture, 16, 486-502. Doi: 10.1007/s12119-012-9134-5.

Tsopelas, C., Tsetsou, S., Ntounas, P., & Douzenis, A. (2012). ‘Female perpetrators of sexual abuse of minors: what are the consequences for the victims?’ International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 35(4), 305-310. Doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2012.04.003

Vandiver, D.M., & Walker, J.T. (2002). ‘Female sex offenders: An overview and analysis of 40 cases.’ Criminal Justice Review, 27(2), 284-300. Retrieved from http://cjr.sagepub.com/content/27/2/284

Vaismoradi, M., Turunen, H., Bondas, T. (2013). ‘Content analysis and thematic analysis: Implications for conducting a qualitative descriptive study.’ Nursing and Health Sciences, 15, 398-405. Doi: 10.1111/nhs.12048