Warning: This article contains extremely graphic sexual content that may not be appropriate for all readers.
In the United States, women constitute a small fraction of total crime offenders, approximately 5% of burglary suspects to about 30% of fraud and forgery offenders. So what? Women commit crimes, too, but that isn’t newsworthy, is it? After all, not nearly as often as men…
There are unexplored caverns of depravity where the scales become more balanced and women find themselves successful criminals: sex crimes and human-trafficking. Despite this, researchers barely study this phenomenon, therefore media and society still portray women as the victims and men as the perpetrators, virtually always.
Perpetrators — Human-Trafficking
Female criminals are disproportionately outnumbered by male criminals except in cases of human-trafficking, when the perpetrators’ genders become pretty equal. In regions of the world where human-trafficking is the highest, women are actually the majority of offenders. The following chart shows the four regions with the highest number of human-trafficking cases, broken down by the sex of the offender:
Further, female perpetrators are underrepresented in the UNDOC’s report since in certain countries, women caught in these investigations, to thwart punishment, can claim to have been victims themselves in the past (possibly the only crime where that defense is admissible). And since we assume that traffickers are male, we don’t as easily find what we aren’t looking for. Women are also more likely to take advantage of covert ways to engage in human-trafficking — like using technology or crypto-currencies — therefore are not caught as often by law enforcement.
Why are women so successful at human-trafficking? It’s a complex question, but it comes down to trust. Consider Jeffrey Epstein’s child sex–trafficking ring. Court records show that Ghislaine Maxwell and other women played a crucial role. Not only did they participate in the sexual assault of girls, but they were essential for the purpose of obtaining the victims. They still have escaped persecution. While Epstein’s case shortly dominated the headlines, there was also this case in early 2019, when Smallville actress Allison Mack pleaded guilty to human-trafficking charges. She used the front of a “female mentorship program” to recruit vulnerable women before exploiting the victims for sex slavery and forced labor, going so far as to physically brand those she called her slaves‘ pelvic areas with a cauterizing pen.
One of her victims, known as Nicole, testified against her, claiming that Mack blindfolded her; drove her to an unknown location; and tied her, naked, to a table. Then a person she had not known was there performed a sex act on her while she was questioned her about her sexual history.
Victims and their traffickers need some level of trust. Since women are often seen as the compassionate and gentler beings, trusting women becomes the easier task. And a lot of ladies are cashing in on it. According to a 2009 U.N. report, women are the main profiteers of human-trafficking worldwide.
This study, which explored 10 years of sex-trafficking in Russia, gives understanding to how women are able to leverage sex stereotypes and have a wider array of ways to participate than their male counterparts, as well as design the overall system of sex-trafficking to benefit the female perpetrators.
Predators — Female Rapists
A survey done by California Coalition Against Sexual Assault revealed that one in three lesbians admitted to being sexually assaulted by another female. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control then completed its own national survey, and the results were surprising. Men were just as likely to be victims of sexual assault over the course of one year and, in 79% of cases, reported a woman as the perpetrator. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showed that in 58% of cases, when a woman sexually assaulted a man, she used violence (and 41% of the time when it’s a female-on-female sexual assault).
The BJS also looked at rape in U.S. prisons, and its findings were even more startling. According to BJS data, a woman is much more likely to be sexually assaulted by another female inmate than by male staff and also more likely than men are in male prisons, shattering the stereotype of prison rape being a male-on-male scenario. Even more disturbing is that in nearly every case of a minor (regardless of sex) being sexually assaulted in a juvenile detention facility, the perpetrator was female.
Though research into this area is rare, Miranda Alison, a professor at Warwick University in England, studied and interviewed female rapists in combat zones and argues that the women were more violent than their male peers, especially as rape perpetrators, “to compete for status and recognition in a traditionally patriarchal context.”
This Time article also explored the concept of female rapists in war zones and found that in these not so rare instances, the victim was more likely to experience permanent physical and psychological damage. The article also goes into depth on how a female rapes: “‘Some take sticks or a banana, others take a bottle or knives,’ a U.N. employee explains. Her close friend’s daughter was violated repeatedly by a woman with a carrot who wanted ‘to spoil her body.'”
A young woman shares her experience after being attacked by a group in the Congo:
While the men cut maize and dug out cassava roots, the women removed Valerie’s clothes and started to touch her. They used their hands and sticks “like animals,” Valerie recalls. The first time she was raped by an unidentified armed man, at age 15, she was left to bear her assailant’s child, but this time, her uterus was destroyed. Valerie will never give birth again and no man will marry her as a result.
“It is an unforgettable wound,” Valerie says. “Male rape is everywhere, but when it’s women, it’s incomprehensible. It’s like a curse.”
Female rapists often go unreported since victims have a harder time comprehending what has happened to them as being defined as rape. (The FBI only recently changed its definition of rape — from something that could only happen to women by men — in 2013).
Stephanie Trilling, a manager at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, says the “first hurdle is simply understanding the assault as rape. Since this scenario is rarely portrayed in the media or in educational programming, it can be especially challenging to identify their experience as violence.” She goes on to state, “Many people have a difficult time believing that a woman could be capable of inflicting violence on another person.”
Pedophiles — Ignoring the Evidence
Most research regarding pedophilia admits that female pedophiles are underrepresented because of the stigma of female offenders. Society believes women to be innately nurturing, therefore we give them greater and easier access to very young children who cannot report their abuse.
Take for instance the former Degrassi actor Jason Dickens and his wife, Dylan McEwen. In 2016, Toronto law enforcement executed a search warrant on their home and found over 25,000 images and 111 videos containing child pornography. Dylan McEwen performed in many of these videos, including giving fellatio to a toddler in one and licking the same child’s anus in another. Two years later, McEwen pleaded guilty to child pornography and sexual assault charges and was sentenced to six years in prison. Judge Kathleen Caldwell refused to label her a sex offender, however, claiming that women cannot be pedophiles.
As pointed out by journalist Anna Dorn, not only is court sentencing much more lenient for female pedophiles, but attractive female sex offenders find the courts more merciful than their less attractive peers. Dorn also asserts, “what’s likely to be described as rape or sexual abuse when the victim is female turns into a ‘relationship‘ or ‘romp‘” when the offender is female. In some cases, the victim has even been forced to pay child support for a baby conceived when being statutorily raped. In the case of Hermesmann v. Steyer, the courts ruled that even though the child was conceived by criminal rape (Steyer was only 12 years old), that won’t impact a decision in civil court. Subsequently, he lost his appeal.
Instead of being horrified by these events, the public perception of female pedophiles is so skewed that we have internet listicles like “10 Hottest Female Sex Offenders” — or the comments on this Fox News article about a 6th-grade teacher that molested a student while making an even younger child watch. The top comment remains: “Pretty sure these boys are ruined for life….. *coughsurecough*”
Human-trafficking, sexual assault, and pedophilia are not issues where women are exclusively the victim, rarely the perpetrator. In fact, the more research that is done on this taboo area, the more we see quite the contrary. Not only are women statistically more likely to commit these crimes than any other, but men are victimized at greater rates than previously thought.
There is still a huge gap when it comes to scholarly research and studies regarding female perpetrators. Until more effort is made, victims will continue to be delegitimatized.