THE PRESS, NZ, By TIM HUME, July 1, 2004
Researchers into sexual abuse by girls say female sexual offending is chronically under-reported and specialised rehabilitation programmes are urgently needed.
Findings released yesterday from New Zealand's first study into adolescent female sexual offending reported a "culture of denial" about female sexual offending, which allowed adolescent female abusers to molest young, usually male, victims without repercussion.
If not rehabilitated, female abusers would most likely continue to offend and eventually pose a threat to their own children.
The survey of 400 health, mental health and related professionals identified eight young women in Christchurch currently aged between 12 and 19 who had sexually abused. It identified other female abusers older than 19, who were excluded from the results.
Lead researcher Nikki Evans, from the University of Canterbury's social work department, said there was "an enormous amount of minimisation" surrounding sexual abuse by females, which meant it was usually not reported by victims, families or health professionals.
"People find it really difficult to perceive young women engaging in sexually abusive behaviours; it goes against the idea of women as nurturers," she said.
Research showed many people, including mental health professionals, perceived female sexual offending as not abusive or harmful.
"If a young girl abuses a 12-year-old boy it's seen as an initiation and a positive thing, rather than something traumatic," Evans said.
Researcher Don Mortensen, manager of the STOP Trust, which runs rehabilitation programmes for adult, adolescent and child sexual abusers, said society had been slow to acknowledge that sexual abuse by females was equally as destructive as that perpetrated by men.
STOP commissioned the research as a feasibility study into establishing the country's first rehabilitation programme for adolescent female abusers.
In nearly all of the eight Christchurch cases, the girls' victims were well known to them. Most were siblings or foster siblings. Peers at school and other neighbourhood children they were babysitting were also abused.
"They're abusing within the context of a relationship. We know that sort of abuse is the most difficult context (for the victim)," Evans said.
Their victims were always younger, and typically male. Three abused children aged between one and five years old.
The number of victims for each girl ranged between one and five, although Evans said the true numbers may be higher due to under-reporting.
The girls' average age was now 16 but several had been pre-teens when they started abusing.
None were reported to the youth justice system or referred to specialist treatment programmes.
"That suggests their offending was not prioritised, which reflects the general view in the community," Evans said.
There was a pressing need to treat adolescent female offenders because females who had been sexually abused were more likely to become teenage mothers, she said.