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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Female Narcissist

This article comes from the website of Dr. Irene Matiatos (article reprinted with the kind permission of the author):

The Female Narcissist
by Irene Matiatos, Ph.D.

February 16, 2002

Abusive behavior in men or women can be a function of many underlying issues. Personality disorders or their milder counterparts (i.e., “traits” or “features”) are one underlying etiology. This article tries to help the reader understand the mindset of the female with NPD or with narcissistic features.

Like her narcissistic male counterpart, this lady harbors deeply held and undisputed irrational underlying beliefs that affect her feelings and behavior. Most of these beliefs are never questioned and are only dimly realized, if they are realized at all. While we all harbor irrational beliefs, those with personality disorders harbor belief systems that are deeply embedded and intertwined.

A Real Charmer

Dana is an extremely pretty 23-year old young lady. A delight on the surface, she has an uncanny knack of presenting herself extremely well to the target audience she wants to impress. She has a corresponding almost magical ability to make people feel verrrry good. She can WOW you! You’ll be gushing (or panting if you’re a guy), and there just isn’t anything you wouldn’t do to please her. She will continue to reward your good behavior as long as she needs you. After all, it is very hard work to be “on” so much of the time.

If she’s accomplished her mission and you are no longer useful, she spends less and less energy being perfectly charming and engaging. In most cases Dana has no real desire to be disrespectful, but as she “relaxes,” becoming more “herself,” she becomes quiet or mildly disrespectful.

A Typical Narcissist

The problem is that the only person Dana cares about is Dana. You are no more than the object who provides her with whatever it is she wants and needs: love, admiration, money, encouragement, support, etc. While she pretends to care, and indeed wants to care, the reality is that she doesn’t care. Her world starts and stops with herself. She hides that fact pretty well from most people; especially those who are consistently meaningful to her (i.e., parents, husband, siblings, boss, etc.). Most of these individuals would be shocked to hear this, and in fact would think you’re crazy!

Dana is typical as pretty female narcissists go. She relies on her beauty and her charm. She feels good about herself as long as she “has it over” anybody she considers “the competition.”

Few Real Friends

Parents are parents and too often love unconditionally, but friends and acquaintances don’t. As a result, while new people Dana meets like her, the more they got to know her, the less interested they are in her company. Except, of course, for the young men, most of whom vie for her attention.

Other than a childhood best friend with virtually non-existent self esteem, there are no friends. There are acquaintances and those who share her environment as well as the many men who surrounded her – all of whom she refers to as “friends,” but there really are no friends.

She explains this deficit by rationalizing that her peers disappoint her in one way or another. This one uses drugs, that one you can’t trust, the other one is jealous of her, etc. There is virtually no recognition that the reason people who are not related to her or have no sexual interest in her do not like her given how she treats them!

I’m The Best!

Dana is not content unless she feels she has it over her peers, especially female peers. She believes she has the prettiest face, the nicest hair, and the best figure – which she flaunts with her form-fitting, sexy, and hip wardrobe. She is always well-dressed, even when lounging around. “Studied cool” describes her style. While giving the impression of having thrown together any old top and pair of jeans, the trained eye can discern the hours and hours spent trying the outfits on, making up to appear not made up, etc.

Every asset she has, she flaunts. One weekend, invited to spend a weekend with some new friends at their family’s home in a poor section of a neighboring town, she found reason to make a 30-mile detour to her parents’ upscale, gorgeous home – to show it off – as though announcing her supremacy. Of course, she would never admit that’s why she came home. Her reasons are always framed in wording that casts her in a positive light such as “It’s my dad’s birthday, or, “I have to pick up something important I forgot.” Never an honest reason like, “I wanted to show off the house to intimidate them.”


Jealousy is a huge issue. Her own envy is as cut off from her consciousness as Wisconsin is cut off from the Atlantic Ocean. While she has no clue regarding her pervasive jealousy, it is sadly evident to the sensitive observer.

One year Dana didn’t get her cousin a Birthday present. While Stephanie routinely bought Dana beautiful and expensive gifts, Dana couldn’t say why she didn’t get Stephanie anything. When pressed, annoyed, she provided a series of senseless answers. “I made a deal with my friends that we were not to exchange gifts.” “Did you made that arrangement with Stephanie?” “No, but I’m not getting any gifts. We’re going to lunch. I’ll pay.” Not only did she not end up paying, Stephanie paid for both Dana as well as for Dana’s boyfriend!

The “problem” was that Stephanie, her peer, had gotten her life together. Also beautiful, she found her calling and was pursing an advanced degree with straight As – a feat Dana couldn’t hope to accomplish. She also had a rich boyfriend who adored her. You get the picture. When asked point-blank if she was jealous of Stephanie, Dana replied too quickly and with an affected laugh, “Jealous of Stephanie? WHAT is there to be jealous about?”

The Price She Pays

Part of the price Dana pays to manipulate others is the exhaustion required to be “on” much of the time. When caught with her vigilant guard down, she is not nice: often impatient, short, arrogant and condescending, reflecting her near chronic bad mood. Shopkeepers, boyfriends who try too hard and all the not-too-important people in her life who will put up with it are the unwitting victims. This is subtle. For example, one day she walked into her compulsively clean mother’s house and saw a leaf on the sparkling floor by her feet. Instead of picking it up, she asked, “What’s that?” Her mother, almost on cue, dropped what she was doing to pick up the leaf by her daughter’s feet.

The Devil in Disguise

The apparent angel is the devil in disguise.

A compulsive liar who needs to mislead to maintain her unblemished facade, Dana is not a mean or cruel person. This young woman really wants to do the right thing. While she derives a measure of immediate satisfaction from her cruelty, when forced to face her behavior, she is not happy she mistreats others. After all, a misbehavior is not in keeping with her perfect image of herself! When reality occasionally hits her and she is confronted with her condescending acts, she becomes upset with herself, often in tears. For a short time. Soon all is forgotten. Time heals or she takes solace in blaming others. When she presents her selectively-presented view, it sounds compelling. Until one realizes nothing ever seems to be her issue. Someone or something else is to blame – or the entire topic is dropped. No matter how much she has vowed to correct these behaviors, she does not. She cannot because she will not.

Why, Why, Why?

She cannot because she chooses not to face the truth about herself. She cannot face that her nature is in fact dark and very imperfect. She cannot face that she is no more special, no more unique, no more perfect than anybody else. Unthinkable! What can she possibly fall back on if she were to simply enjoy her many assets as well as accept and work around the impact of her many deficits?

She believes special rules apply to her, and she is not willing to give these up without a struggle. She’s secretly glad others haven’t figured out how to be as special as she is. Giving up her specialness in unthinkable. It does not feel good.

How, How, How?

Keep in mind that narcissism is a lifelong pattern developing from childhood and believed to have a biological basis. If deception and pretense have provided a lifetime of comforts and esteem supplies, why mess things up? Isn’t it more satisfying to concern herself with gratification in the moment? Why work when you can instead do just enough to get by? Better to spend that energy cultivating one’s external assets and targets. These yield immediate rewards.

After all, the only thing she compromises is herSelf, her integrity, her relationships. All the things she has never known or understood, but thinks she knows well.


With all these issues, the narcisstic woman (or man for that matter) cannot be trusted. They are not trustworthy – unless they are expending energy pretending to be trustworthy. So, at best, their trustworthyness is inconsistent. Like the male abuser, her moods are unpredictable. When frustrated, the energy demands of being “on” are too great. Her frustration slips away from her – and spills onto anybody unfortunate enough to be in the way.

In a Nutshell

To feel whole, a woman like Dana needs to be the center of attention, be the prettiest, the most fortunate, the most talented, the bestest. She cultivates others who will be manipulated by her to admire her, adore her, inflate her, love her, and overlook her pretense, lies and half-truths.

If she is questioned, she distances. This simple yet effective technique invariable affects the codependents in her life. On cue, they lay low and let the issue drop or chase her, thinking they must have done something wrong/ worrying that she won’t want to be with them. Should an admirer truly believe in her specialness and try too hard to win her, they are treated with contempt instead of charity. These people represent that which she despises: only the weak and common permit themselves to be demeaned.

The bottom line is that this very beautiful, very charming (and extremely manipulative) young woman has absolutely no concern for others apart from those who are in a position to provide her with narcissistic supplies.

Does anybody know a Dana? Even worse, have any men out there fallen in love with a Diana? (May God help you…)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Female Offenders online

This article below talks about an another area that is almost never talked about when the discussion comes around to the internet and sexual predators:

Women go online to share child sex-abuse fantasies
By Nina Lakhani

Days before three women are to be sentenced, an IoS investigation suggests thousands may share their interests

Thousands of women appear to be using the internet to share sexual fantasies of abuse involving children.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday found a series of websites that depict female-perpetrated child abuse as “natural, educational and enjoyable” for children.

Users log into online forums to meet other “like-minded” web users and to share personal childhood experiences about sexual acts with adults that they say include mothers, teachers and babysitters. User profiles on one website monitored by the IoS claimed to be those of teachers, doctors and retired grandmothers with an interest in “young girls” and “lesbian incest”.

The postings on such sites – assuming they are not posted by men – run counter to the widely held belief that female abusers are either anomalies or feel forced into such depravity by abusive men. Many of the users appear to have easy access to children and describe deriving sexual gratification from sharing their fantasises.

This information agrees with other similar information from a few studies. Female abusers are often able to groom and obtain victims much easier than males because most people do not expect a woman would do such a thing.

The IoS findings are supported by research carried out in a study in Ireland, which found that women were using such websites to justify their feelings as “natural”. Many of the women used the forums, chatrooms and “frequently asked questions” to share tips on how not to get caught – for example, by exploiting situations such as bath time or breastfeeding.

They share many of the same beliefs as men who abuse children: that having sex with a child is educational and children are sexual beings.

An excerpt from one website reads: “If you are a female child lover we want you to know there is nothing wrong with you. The biggest problem is the teachers, therapists, cops, clerics and parents who force their stale morality on the young people in their custody. For children, experiencing sexual pleasure is not damaging at all, they enjoy it … just like we do.” A discussion forum on another website details myriad claims of abuse. “Julie”, 32, wrote: “My first real kiss was from my mom, I was about 6/7, she had been on her own a long time I guess … it was a bit scary, but she was so loving and I just loved the way she held me …” – Read the entire article here

I am trying to locate the study mentioned in the article but have not been successful in finding it yet.

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Md. woman sentenced for severe child abuse

Associated Press
01/08/10 5:49 PM EST

PRINCE FREDERICK, MD. — An 8-year-old girl with scars on most of her body from regular beatings by the woman she used to call “Mommy” confronted her abuser in court Friday, telling her: “I do not think you will be going to heaven.”

The woman, Renee Bowman, is accused of killing the girl’s two older sisters and keeping their bodies in a freezer for months. She was sentenced Friday in Calvert County Circuit Court to 25 years in prison for the abuse of the surviving girl. Bowman, 44, pleaded guilty in September to first-degree child abuse.

She faces a separate trial on murder charges in Montgomery County, where the family lived previously and where her other daughters are believed to have been killed.

All three girls were former foster children adopted from the District of Columbia, and Bowman continued to collect subsidies for all of them from the D.C. government even after the older children were killed.

The surviving girl, who was 8 months old when Bowman became her foster mother, was found wandering around her Lusby neighborhood in a bloodstained nightshirt after escaping through a window in September 2008.

Police searched the home and found the bodies in the freezer, as well as a high-heeled shoe used to beat the youngest. Feces and urine were found in the girl’s bedroom and in a closet because she had been locked in both places, Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura L. Martin said. The child had human bite marks and shoe marks on her body, a piece of her lip was missing, and she had broken bones that improperly healed, Martin said. The girl could not read and authorities found no evidence that she had ever been to school.

The girl, who was dressed neatly in a black and white dress and came to the hearing with the therapist and her foster parents, appeared to shudder and put her head on her foster mother’s shoulder when Bowman was first led into the courtroom. But moments later she laughed loudly after her foster mother whispered something in her ear.

The girl was led out of the courtroom while Martin described the abuse. After she was brought back in, Martin asked her if she wanted to make a statement. Clutching a piece of paper, she walked to the front of the courtroom with her therapist by her side.

“You should never do things to little girls or little boys because God sees you and will put you on the liars list. I do not think you will be going to heaven,” she told Bowman in a barely audible voice. Martin later provided a copy of the statement.

“I’m happy now. I know my math. I read. I am in the first grade. It’s amazing I got that far,” she added. “I have a lot of people who love me.”

Martin said the girl made a point of reading the statement to prove she could read to Bowman, who claimed the girl couldn’t learn.

Before Judge Marjorie L. Clagett handed down the sentence, Bowman apologized to the judge and to the victim.

“I’m very remorseful. I don’t know what happened. I’m very sorry for my actions. … I wish her the best with her family and I’m proud of her,” she said. “Despite what Ms. Martin says, I do have love in my heart for her.”

Bowman claimed she tried to return the girl to the adoption agency after she realized she couldn’t handle her.

Public defender Dorothy Gardner-Hodge, in arguing for a lower sentence, said Bowman was abused as a child and in foster care from an early age. She said her mother and sister both suffer from mental illness and that Bowman suffers from chronic pain and has been treated for breast cancer.

Clagett sentenced Bowman to the maximum sentence allowed because of the horrific nature of the crime. She said she wouldn’t rule out sending her to serve her sentence at the Patuxent Institution, a psychiatric treatment facility that is part of Maryland’s corrections system. However, she said she would need more information before she did so.

Clagett said the system failed the girl, but told Bowman: “You were her mother. You were meant to protect her and nurture her, and all that happened was just the opposite.”

Mother Pleads Guilty to Killing Daughter Seven Years Later
She was a mother who nearly got away with murder–for killing her own child. But, good police work in Huntington has now lead to a conviction in Florida.

Reporter: Carrie Cline
Email Address:

She was a mother who nearly got away with murder–for killing her own child. But, good police work in Huntington has now lead to a conviction in Florida. It’s a story we first brought you nearly five years ago. Now, Amanda Butler is headed to prison for up to 45 years.

Amanda Butler barely spoke a word in this Jacksonville, Florida courtroom after accepting a plea bargain. The now 29-year-old has plead guilty to second degree murder punishable by up to 45 years in prison for killing her two-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, more than seven years ago.

For more than a year, Cheyenne’s death went unexplained after numerous mysterious seizures that eventually lead to her death. Doctors suspected foul play–police believed Butler was smothering her baby to get attention. But, they didn’t have the evidence to prove it until she tried it again–this time in a hospital room at Cabell Huntington Hospital.

“The prosecutor got an order from a judge to tape Butler and security watched that tape around the clock and they caught her,” said Sgt. Kendra Beckett.

Sgt. Beckett worked that case. She says the hospital’s diligence in following a hunch lead to a charge of child abuse and saved baby Ryley’s life. After a long legal fight in Florida, prosecutors there were able to use the same surveillance video to force a guilty plea in Cheyenne’s death.

“It’s thrilling! It was a great way to start the new year and bring closure to this case for everyone involved all the way around,” said Sgt. Beckett.

Butler was diagnosed with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy — a disorder that prompts parents to harm their children to get attention for themselves. She served one year in prison for the child abuse charge related to smothering Ryley. In the case of Cheyenne, police say she was trying to prompt the Navy to send her husband back home from a deployment.

03:56 11/6/2009

November 6th 2009

An Anna, Texas woman has been convicted of sexual assault involving her daughter even though she was never accused of molesting the child.

A Collin County jury found Michelle Lynn Smith, 42, (pictured left) guilty of three counts of aggravated sexual assault because she allowed her husband to repeatedly abuse the preschool child, said Crystal Levonius, lead prosecutor in the case.

“She knew what he was and what he liked,” Levonius said. “She continually gave him access to her.”

Each count carries 70 years in prison and will run consecutively. Smith will have to serve 90 years of the 210-year sentence before she will be eligible for parole.

“I don’t believe Ms. Smith ever wanted the little girl to be abused,” said Thomas D’Amore, Smith’s defense attorney. “There was never any evidence presented that she intended or aided it.”

Levonius disagreed, saying that Smith knew Glen Bracy was a registered sex offender when she met him and was warned by a therapist not to marry him.

Smith ignored the warning and married Bracy on Jan, 26, 2002.

At the time, Bracy already had two prior convictions for child molestation. In California, he was found guilty of molesting a deaf and mute child, Levonius said.

In 1995, he was convicted in Collin County of indecency with a child by sexual contact and sentenced to five years in prison. He was on parole for that conviction when he met Smith. Their daughter was born in 2002, the same year they married.

Levonius said the family would sleep together naked, and that Bracy began molesting his daughter before her second birthday.

The child reported the abuse in 2007, when she was 4 years old. She told officials that “Michelle” would watch as the sexual abuse took place, court documents show.

When he was arrested, Bracy confessed to sexually abusing his daughter “up to 50 times.” Bracy, now 42, is serving five life sentences for aggravated sexual assault.

Levonius thinks Smith’s conviction on the same charges sets a precedent for Collin County and sends a message to other mothers who allow their children to be sexually abused.

“You’re going to be held accountable if you help sex offenders get access to your child,” she said.

Levonius said the girl is now in a much happier place.

Five weeks after being placed in foster care, the child “initially denied having a family other than her foster family,” court records show.

The child, who is now 7, has been adopted.

“Although she grew in Michelle Smith’s womb, she’s grown in the heart of her new mother,” Levonius said. “She’s with a family that loves her and protects her.”

She also calls the child a hero for reporting the abuse. At the time, Michelle Smith had given birth to a second daughter, who was 4 months old when both children were removed from the home.

“By speaking out, she was able to protect her younger sister,” Levonius said. “She’s a hero because I have no doubt that the 4-month-old would have been in store for the same life.”

Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

3 in 4 B.C. boys on street sexually exploited by women

The Vancouver Sun, Gerry Bellett, Canwest News Service, Tuesday, May 27, 2008

VANCOUVER – Canada’s largest study into the sexual exploitation of street kids and runaways has shattered some myths about who the abusers might be – with the most surprising finding being that many are women seeking sex with young males.

“Some youth in each gender were exploited by women with more than three out of four (79 per cent) sexually exploited males reporting exchanging sex for money or goods with a female,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, associate professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia and principal investigator for the study conducted by Vancouver’s McCreary Centre Society.

“I must admit it wasn’t something we were expecting.”

The results were drawn from interviews with 1,845 youth – some as young as 12 – in surveys taken across the province between 2000 and 2006.

The stereotypical model of the child being abused – a teenage female being sexually abused by a male – was wrong, said Saewyc.

Sexual exploitation is defined as youth under 19 trading sexual activities for money, drugs, gifts, food, services, shelter, transportation or anything similar.

This can include work in brothels, escort services, pornography and Internet sex but it also includes what’s described as “survival sex,” where a child provides sex in exchange for a place to sleep, a meal or a ride.

It found one in every three of children living on the street have been sexually abused although many didn’t seem aware that they had been exploited, said Saewyc.

“It’s a shocking number. The law is clear: any adult who has sex with children for any form of consideration is exploiting them and it’s illegal,” she said.

The study found 94 per cent of females reported they had been sexually exploited by men.

But the study found that young males were being preyed upon by sexual predators of both sexes, yet the social systems in place to deter and prevent sexual predation were only designed to help females and the criminal justice system wasn’t concerned with what was happening to young males.

“Women seeking young men and boys offer transportation or other things and some go to nightclubs and bars where they can pick up under-age youth. And a certain percentage have been picked up by couples,” she said.

Saewyc said it was indicative of the prevailing myths about sexual abuse that the rehabilitation program for persons arrested by police for attempting to buy sexual favours on the street was called “John School”.

“I think it’s time we had a Jane School. There should be an equal opportunity school for women predators,” she said.

“Part of the challenge is that young males are not seen as being exploited because they are not coming to the attention of the police and the police aren’t out there picking up the perpetrators. The system is set up to handle the sexual exploitation of young women, not young men,” she said.

Community research associate Jayson Anderson said most of the programs to deal with sexual exploitation were designed by women for women. “There’s really nothing out there for males. So we need programs for young boys,” he said.

The study showed that the following youth were most likely to suffer from sexual predation:

– those who were lesbian, gay or bisexual

– Aboriginals

– those with physical or mental health issues

– those who had been abused by family members

– youth that had been in government care.

© Vancouver Sun 2008

Female Perpetration of Child Sexual Abuse: An Overview of the Problem – Moving Forward – Lisa Lipshires – July 1994

Female Perpetration of Child Sexual Abuse: An Overview of the Problem

Moving Forward Newsjournal, Vol.2, Number 6, July / August 1994, By Lisa Lipshires

Seven years ago, a client of Massachusetts psychologist Marcia Turner said something that shocked her. The woman, who had been sexually abused throughout her own childhood and was living in a house with other adults and their children, said, “The little three-year-old girl in my household is coming on to me, and wants me to have sex with her. I think I will, because I know that I will be gentle and kind to her, and it’s inevitable that she is going to be abused.”

Although Turner had previously counseled male sex offenders, she had never encountered a woman who wanted to sexually abuse a child. Alarmed, she consulted other therapists, but none had ever encountered — or even heard of — female sex offenders. Turner realized that “this is something we need to look at,” and decided to make female perpetrators of child sexual abuse the focus of her practice.

Betsy K., a survivor of sexual abuse by her father, realized five years ago that she had also been sexually abused by her mother. As she was confronting the abuse, other women in her area who had been sexually abused by their mothers were starting to deal openly with their experiences. “It was something that people were just barely beginning to talk about,” Betsy recalled. Nonetheless, she and the other women formed a weekly self-help group for women survivors of female-perpetrated sexual abuse.

Betsy K. and Marcia Turner are part of a small, growing number of people confronting the issue of female-perpetrated child sexual abuse. Many feel they are fighting an uphill battle against societal denial and cultural stereotypes of women and men.

Societal Denial

In her 1993 doctoral dissertation, “Female Sex Offenders: Societal Avoidance of Comprehending the Phenomenon of Women Who Sexually Abuse Children” (University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, MI), Boston psychologist Laurie Goldman analyzed the ways society minimizes the scope and impact of sexual abuse by women.

Goldman initially planned to conduct in-depth research of female perpetrators. To that end, she distributed 315 letters to therapists and clinics, took out an advertisement in a major newspaper, and contacted several clinicians who treated sex offenders. She also placed 10 poster advertisements in highly visible locations. Her eight-month search yielded only one woman who was willing to discuss what she had done. Goldman knew from reliable sources that female offenders were being treated, but clinic administrators insisted that no such women were under their care.

In addition, within 48 hours of having been hung, all of her posters had been removed. Unable to obtain subjects for her study, Goldman decided to focus on the societal denial that makes female perpetrators such an elusive population.

Goldman discovered that denial of female perpetration is woven into the very systems meant to protect children. She learned that one of her new female clients had previously disclosed that she had sexually abused a nephew, but the Massachusetts child protection agency had not referred the case to the Attorney General’s office. In fact, Goldman’s client subsequently admitted that she had abused two other children since her first disclosure.

This treatment of the problem by the State of Massachusetts is not unique.

In the State of Washington, for example, one human services professional reported that when an accused female offender was brought before a judge, the judge declared, “women don’t do things like this,” and dismissed the case. In another case, a New England prison warden told Goldman that she had only one woman in her system who had been convicted of child sexual abuse because “public sentiment did not allow for such charges to be brought to trial in her conservative state.”

This comes as no surprise to Gail Ryan, facilitator of the Kemp Center’s Perpetrator Prevention Project in Denver. She has found that female adolescent sex offenders “are much less likely than male adolescent offenders to be caught or charged.”

Iowa State University sociologist Craig Allen, who conducted a study Of 75 men and 65 women who had been convicted of sexually abusing a child, refers to this process as a form of societal “gate keeping.” By the time female offenders could be referred to a therapist for treatment, he writes in Women and Men Who Sexually Abuse Children: A Comparative Analysis (Brandon, VT: Safer Society Press, 1991), “only those women would be left whose behaviors were so deviant” that their abusiveness could not be denied “at any of the preceding ‘gates’in the system.” Allen’s gate keeping hypothesis could account for why female perpetrators appear so rarely in therapists’case studies and why, when they do, they are generally described as psychotic or otherwise severely disturbed.

Ruth Matthews, a St. Paul psychologist who has worked with 50 adolescent and 70 adult female sex offenders, says another major reason why adult female perpetrators are rarely seen in treatment is that many are mothers. In such cases, she says, dependent children are generally reluctant to turn in their mothers.

If children — whose disclosures still provide the primary means of reporting offenders — are being abused by mothers who are single parents or who carry out the abuse with male partners, disclosure would cause them to be removed from their homes and placed in foster care. By contrast, when there is an offending father and a non-offending mother, a child’s disclosure would not mean “as much of a loss,” says Matthews. “They still will have their home, they still will have a parent, and their family will stay intact.”

Prevalence of Abuse by Females

If children seldom disclose, and if female abusers are often winnowed out of investigations and court proceedings, how much female perpetration is actually going on? Because of the hidden nature of child sexual abuse and because of problems with the way in which child abuse data are collected, nobody can provide a definitive answer to this question.

There are two main sources of information on the extent of child sexual abuse: data gathered by state child protective agencies and retrospective studies that seek to determine the percentage of adults who were sexually abused as children.

Two retrospective studies of adult populations are frequently quoted by researchers and child advocates. The Los Angeles Times survey, conducted in 1985, found that seven percent of the abuse reported by male and female participants in the study was perpetrated by women. Sociologist Diana Russell’s 1978 San Francisco-based study revealed that four percent of the women who reported having been abused indicated that the perpetrators were female.

The Times survey and the Russell study were based on a random selection of participants. Other retrospective studies focusing on narrower populations have found much higher rates of female perpetration, although some of these findings have yet to be replicated. In a 1981 study, 60 percent of 412 male and 10 percent of 540 female undergraduate psychology students at the University of Washington who recalled childhood sexual contact with a post-pubescent person at least five years older than themselves said their abusers were female. (Fritz, G., Stoll, K., and Wagner, N. “A Comparison of Males and Females Who Were Sexually Molested as Children,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 1981, vol. 7,54-59.)

In another study, doctors at a New Jersey medical clinic found that 11 out of 25 teenage males who revealed that they had been sexually molested named females (ages 16 to 36) as their assailants. These perpetrators were “usually acquaintances of the victims — most often a neighbor, baby-sitter, or other trusted adolescent or young adult.” (Johnson, R., and Shrier, D. “Past Sexual Victimization by Females of Male Patients in an Adolescent Medicine Clinic Population,” American Journal Of Psychiatry, 1987, vol. 144,650-662.)

Finally, a study of 582 college men found that up to 78 percent of those abused as children had been abused by females. ( Fromuth, M., and Burkhart, B. “Childhood Sexual Victimization Among College Men: Definitions and Methodological Issues,” Violence and Victim, 1987, vol. 2, no. 4, 241-253.)

Researchers do not know why some studies uncover a higher rate of female perpetration than others, but The National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse ( NRCCSA ) asserts that because of a lack of standardization in reporting and inconsistencies in research methods and definitions of sexual abuse, “the firm statistics everyone desires” on the prevalence of abuse “simply are not available.” ( NRCCSA News, May-June 1992, vol. 1, no. 1.)

The inconsistencies noted by the NRCCSA can be found in the other main source of data on child sexual abuse: yearly reports from the 50 states’child protective agencies. The American Humane Association which was responsible for gathering these data from 1973 through 1987, found that approximately 20 percent of substantiated cases of child sexual abuse during that time period had been perpetrated by females. (Information on perpetrator gender is not available for 1988-1992; data eventually will be available for 1993 and subsequent years.) However, not all states require the gender of perpetrators to be included in their reports. Thus, says John Fluke, Director of Research and Program Analysis for the American Humane Association, there are inherent difficulties in getting good information, given the fact that we’re working with 50 different systems of information development.”

Another difficulty, as University of New Hampshire sociologist David Finkelhor notes in Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory and Research (New York: The Free Press, 1984), is that the “child abuse that is mandated for reporting in most states is only child abuse committed by parents and other caretakers.” As a result, abuse perpetrated by children, adolescents, and unrelated adults or strangers is unlikely to appear in yearly reports; a sizeable proportion of sexual abuse committed by males and females is therefore generally not recorded.

Improvements are being made in this regard. Last year the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, which has been collecting national data since 1988, began to ask states to include perpetrator gender in their reports.

Range of Abuse

The abuse that females perpetrate can range from subtle, non-contact forms such as exhibitionism and voyeurism to overt sexual touching and/or penetration. In his study of offenders, sociologist Craig Allen found that both genders engaged in a range of abusive behavior. Therapist Marcia Turner says that her clients have claimed to “digitally penetrate, orally stimulate, insert things into kids, and have kids do things to them like. .. stimulate their genitals.”

Other therapists, including those specializing in male survivors of sexual abuse, have noticed an apparent pattern in clients’ reports of female-perpetrated abuse. Minneapolis psychologist Peter Dimock has counseled 400 to 500 male survivors of sexual abuse since 1980. He found that, for the 25 percent who recall being abused by a female, most experienced the abuse as subtle or seductive. Very often, Dimock says, if the female abuser is in a parental or caretaking role, she will perpetrate the abuse “under the guise of caretaking, where it has involved putting medication on the child’s genitals, inserting suppositories or enemas,” or she will make an excuse to expose her body to the boy, “clearly with an intent to arouse, but, again, under the guise of normalized behavior.”

Nic Hunter, a psychologist from St. Paul, author of Abused Boys: The Neglected Victim of Sexual Abuse, and editor of The Sexually Abused Male, Volumes I and II (all from Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1990), has also found in his work with hundreds of male survivors that approximately 25
percent were sexually abused by females and that in general, the abuse was “very covert in that it was disguised as something other than a sexual contact.” Dimock adds that female abusers frequently treat their victims like romantic partners, taking them on “date-like outings.”

Not all survivors or victims report that sexual abuse by females was subtle or covert. Of the 93 women who perpetrated in Michigan therapist Bobbie Rosencrans’recent four-year study of survivors of maternal incest, 65 percent reported that their abuse had been violent. Karen K., a survivor of maternal incest from Washington State who edits the newsletter S.O.F.I.E.(Survivors of Female Incest Emerge!), has read nearly 500 letters from survivors in the past 18 months. She feels that “women are more creative and more brutal in their abuse.”

Abuse After effects

Therapist Bobbie Rosencrans’ research on 93 female and nine male survivors of maternal incest ( Rosencrans had originally planned to study female survivors only, but nine men asked to be included as well.) is the most comprehensive study to date of survivors of female perpetrators. Rosencrans found among her study participants many of the reactions shared by survivors of male-perpetrated abuse: depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and high rates of eating disorders and substance abuse. She also found, when she asked her participants what they would want the public to know about maternal incest, a nearly universal wish to tell society that “this really happens.”

Gender Identity Issues

One of the most common reactions to female-perpetrated abuse is shame about gender identity. Phyllis E, who was sexually abused by both her mother and her father, remembers feeling a deep disgust for her mother’s body — a disgust that carried over into a hatred of her own female self. “I couldn’t stand my own body for years,” she says. “I couldn’t understand how men could stand women’s bodies.”

Tom, a therapist and survivor of abuse by three females, including his mother, has also felt a deep confusion about his gender identity. Along with subjecting Tom to unnecessary enemas, masturbating him in the bathtub, and making him sleep in her bed and watch her dress, his mother perpetrated against him a type of behavior that Indiana therapist Christine Lawson refers to as “perversive abuse.” Perversive abuse, Lawson writes in “Mother-Son Sexual Abuse: Rare or Underreported? A Critique of the Research” (Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 17, no. 2) is abuse of a child’s sexuality and “may include behavior such as forcing the boy to wear female clothing … and generally discouraging the child’s identification with males.” Tom says that “until I was five, I hadn’t the foggiest notion that I wasn’t a girl.”

Psychologist Mic Hunter says that the societal belief that “when sexual contact takes place” between a male and female, “the male is responsible for it” can place an extra sense of shame and responsibility on boy victims of female perpetrators. There is also the cultural myth, exemplified by movies such as “Summer of ’42,” “Men Don’t Leave,” and “My Tutor,” that sexual contact between an adult female and a young boy is a desirable initiation into manhood. Hunter has witnessed this during training sessions at the offices of various district attorneys. Often, he says, “there will be a female attorney on staff who is trying to prosecute a female perpetrator [of a male victim], and the male attorneys will say, ‘Look, we’re not going to waste the taxpayers’ dollars on this. This is every man’s fantasy.'”

Rick S., a survivor of maternal incest as well as sexual abuse by a female nurse, confirms that he struggled to accept that what was done to him was inappropriate and wrong. “I adored my mother,” Rick says, “and she doted on me, especially in the early years.” When Rick got to high school, he says, “I felt like I was unfaithful to her if I thought of going out with a girl.”

He had “no idea that you were supposed to grow up and develop and learn.” He saw his peers growing up and finding age-appropriate dates, and wondered what they had that he didn’t.

Confronting Gender Stereotypes

A widespread societal belief that female-perpetrated sexual abuse is improbable — particularly if the abuser was one’s mother — has made it especially difficult for survivors of female abusers to disclose their experiences and has left them with perhaps an even deeper sense of isolation. Remarkably, though 81 percent of the women in Rosencrans’ study were currently in therapy, only three percent had revealed to their therapists that their mothers had abused them sexually.

Karen K. remembers believing for years that she was the only survivor of mother-daughter incest. “I felt completely isolated and alone with who my perpetrator was,” Karen says. In response to Rosencrans’ study (Safer Society Press, 1994), one woman wrote, “I’ve never met anyone who was sexually abused by their mother. I didn’t know that 93 other people existed.”

Betsy K. believes that the sexual abuse of daughters by mothers is even more taboo than the sexual abuse of sons. Between mothers and sons, Betsy says, “People would believe, probably, that there was some sort of sexual contact, though they might not look at it as abuse.” But in our homophobic culture, “females sexually abusing females — Oh God, nobody, nobody wants to believe that. I think it’s as hard to believe, or close to as hard to believe, as ritual abuse … It doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

Moving Past Secrecy and Shame

It was liberating for Betsy, in a survivors’ march and rally several years ago, to carry a sign: “Mothers Can Be Abusers, Too.” She and other survivors of maternal incest glued photographs of their Mothers onto the sign, and Betsy held it up while she recounted the story of her mother’s abuse. Betsy spoke so loudly, one woman later told her, that she had heard her from nearly a quarter of a mile away and she had to stop and listen.

Months later, a stranger approached Betsy at a workshop and said she saw Betsy’s sign at the march and that it had really helped her to reveal, for the first time, that she had also been sexually abused by her mother. “It was very moving,” Betsy says. “I’ll never forget that. It speaks to survivors helping survivors … I think we can, as a community, really heal each other.”

Lisa Lipshires is a freelance writer and human services professional.

Suggested Reading

Allen, Craig (1991). Women and Men Who Sexually Abuse Children: A Comparative Analysis. Brandon, VT: The Safer Society Press.

Evert, Kathy (1987). When You’re Ready. A Woman’s Healing from Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse by Her Mother. Walnut Creek, CA: Launch Press.

Kelley, Susan J., et al. (1993). Sexual Abuse of Children in Day Care. Child Abuse & Neglect vol. 17,71-89.

Lawson, Christine (1993). Mother-Son Sexual Abuse: Rare or Under-reported? A Critique of the Research. Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 17, no. 2.

Middlebrook, Diane Wood (1991). Anne Sexton: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. (Note: Anne Sexton’s daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, disclosed in Middlebrook’s biography that her mother had sexually abused her.)

Female Perpetration of Child Sexual Abuse: An Overview of the Problem – Moving Forward – Lisa Lipshires – July 1994.