Female Sexual Offenders and Judicial Decision-making

Background: Research examining female sexual offending is limited, and the profile of this unique offender group is not well understood. Female sexual offending has largely been identified as a rare occurrence, typically perpetrated in the context of an unhealthy relationship with a paraphilic male counterpart. Given recent changes in law and minimum sentences for sexual offences—particularly in relation to child pornography and child luring offences—it remains unknown how this has impacted sentencing of female offenders charged with sexual offences.
Objectives: The goal of this study is to better understand female offenders convicted of sexual offences and their offence characteristics. Additionally, it seeks to identify patterns in judges’ decision-making with respect to aggravating and mitigating factors that impact sentencing decisions.
Methods: A sample of 26 judges’ sentencing decisions between 2000 and 2017 were obtained to investigate the Canadian female sexual offender (FSO) as she enters the justice system.
Results: In the study sample, high rates of psychopathology and childhood trauma were important features of this offender group. Offences tended to occur over extended periods, with a male co-offender, and with a young victim that was well known to the offender. Aggravating factors related to the vulnerability of the victim, abuse of power, and lack of insight. Mitigating factors related to accepting responsibility and a desire for self-change. Offenders were generally sentenced for two to five years, with ancillary orders intended to track and restrict further offending, rather than foster rehabilitation.
Discussion: Gaining a better understanding of Canadian FSO population is the first step toward improving rehabilitation and prevention.

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