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"It must be great being a female pedophile!": The nature of public perceptions about female teacher sex offenders

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Abstract

Although female sex offenders have received increased scholarly attention in recent years, and have also gained widespread media attention, minimal research has focused specifically on public perceptions of their behavior. This study explores the nature of public perceptions of a group of offenders on which the media often focus—female teachers who assault adolescent male students—by examining reader comments posted on five Huffington Post articles published from November 2010 to November 2013. Using a thematic coding methodology to analyze over 900 online comments, we found that most comments recognize a current double standard in the sentencing process for female teacher sex offenders compared to their male counterparts. Comments also rely on traditional sexual scripts and/or gender role expectations to either acknowledge or deny a victim’s presence. Contrary to existing research that examined public perceptions and found that more punitive attitudes were expressed toward male sex offenders, these results suggest that the public believes in equality in sentencing for all sex offenders, regardless of gender. These results also confirm prior studies that find that the public perceives adolescent male victims of rape by older women “lucky.”
https://doi.org/10.1177/1741659016674044
Crime Media Culture
2018, Vol. 14(1) 61 –79
© The Author(s) 2016
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DOI: 10.1177/1741659016674044
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“It must be great being a female
pedophile!”: The nature of public
perceptions about female teacher
sex offenders
Emma Zack, John T Lang and Danielle Dirks
Occidental College, USA
Abstract
Although female sex offenders have received increased scholarly attention in recent years, and
have also gained widespread media attention, minimal research has focused specifically on public
perceptions of their behavior. This study explores the nature of public perceptions of a group
of offenders on which the media often focus—female teachers who assault adolescent male
students—by examining reader comments posted on five Huffington Post articles published
from November 2010 to November 2013. Using a thematic coding methodology to analyze over
900 online comments, we found that most comments recognize a current double standard in
the sentencing process for female teacher sex offenders compared to their male counterparts.
Comments also rely on traditional sexual scripts and/or gender role expectations to either
acknowledge or deny a victim’s presence. Contrary to existing research that examined public
perceptions and found that more punitive attitudes were expressed toward male sex offenders,
these results suggest that the public believes in equality in sentencing for all sex offenders,
regardless of gender. These results also confirm prior studies that find that the public perceives
adolescent male victims of rape by older women “lucky.”
Keywords
Equality with a vengeance, female sex offenders, online commenting, media framing, male
victims, rape myths
Input “teacher student sex” into the Huffington Post search engine and a collection of stories,
pictures, and videos about teacher sex offenders will appear, all located in their own subsection
titled, “Teacher Sex Scandals” (see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/teacher-sex/). Oversized
images of teacher sex offenders have descriptive headlines printed directly below each photo.
Seeming interchangeable headlines such as, “Teacher: ‘I Just Can’t Help Wanting These Hot
Young Boys …. And They Want Me’” and, “Teacher Busted for Underage Sex: ‘I Love My Job!’”
Corresponding author:
John T Lang, Department of Sociology, M-26, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA 90041, USA.
Email: lang@oxy.edu
674044CMC0010.1177/1741659016674044Crime, Media, CultureZack et al.
research-article2016
Article
62 CRIME MEDIA CULTURE 14(1)
entice readers to explore further. Of the 28 stories listed on this subsection’s first page, 26 are
about female offenders, most of whose photographs fit white Western beauty standards.1 As the
existence of this subsection suggests, as well as the prevalence of stories on it, stories about
female teacher sex offenders frequently receive media attention.2 In fact, females represent only
10 percent of perpetrators in cases of teacher-student sexual abuse (Chiotti, 2009; Clark-Flory,
2013; Terruso, 2013; Tanner, 2007) even though they represent 76 percent of public school teach-
ers (US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.).3
Google search results reveal a similar trend: when searching “male teacher,” the top hits
refer to the need for more male teachers in education. Stories about female teacher sex offend-
ers dominate results for “female teacher” (Clark-Flory, 2013). In addition to news articles about
female teacher-student sexual relations, they show websites dedicated to ranking the “hottest
female teacher sex offenders.”4 Though Google search results may seem sociologically insignifi-
cant, they actually provide insight into public fascination with young, white, attractive female
teachers who victimize young men.5 The media’s sensationalized and romanticized portrayal of
these women likely affects the public imagination and contributes to the perpetuation of myths
about sex offenders in general (Broussard etal., 1991; Dollar etal., 2004; Dowler, 2006; Galeste
etal., 2012; Plumm etal., 2012; Reid, 2012). Although scholars (Chiotti, 2009; Landor, 2009)
have examined media portrayals of female sex offenders as compared to those of male sex
offenders, sociological research has yet to explore public perceptions by focusing on reader
comments.
Answering a general call for more studies about female sex offenders (Chiotti, 2009; Denov,
2003, 2004; Frei, 2008; Gakhal and Brown, 2011; Greer, 2003; Johansson-Love and Fremouw,
2009; Landor, 2009; Plumm etal., 2012), this study investigates public perceptions about female
teacher sex offenders, a largely neglected area of scholarship. Our analysis addresses reader com-
ments on Huffington Post articles. Previous research has recognized such comment sections as
sources of data rich with public opinions about various issues (Daniels, 2009; Dirks etal., 2015;
Harrison etal., 2010; Hughey, 2012; Hughey and Daniels, 2013; Steinfeldt etal., 2010).
In this article we attempt to examine how online comments reflect public perceptions about
female teacher sex offenders. First, we briefly explore media representations of sex crimes. Second,
we explore if and how the existence of female perpetrators and male victims confronts public
views about gender, sexuality, power, and sexual assault. Following our analysis of publically
accessible comments on the Huffington Post, we find five major themes—punishment, double
standard, body, victim, and consent—that reflect a close connection between media presenta-
tions of female sex offending and the public’s opinions. Despite increased public awareness of
female sex offenders and male sexual abuse victims, our findings help demonstrate the persistent
belief that these crimes are not as harmful as those perpetrated by male teachers against female
students.
Sex offending in the media
Sex crime stories are more prevalent in news media today than they were over 20 years ago, which
is not due to an increase in the number of cases, but arguably to an increase in the number of
cases that are reported (Anderson and Swainson, 2001; Coxell and King, 2002; Dowler, 2006;
Zack et al. 63
Landor, 2009: 86; Soothill and Walby, 1991). However, these stories are more often “sensational”
than they are “serious accounts of these crimes” (Dowler, 2006; Greer, 2003; Soothill and Walby,
1991: 3). Greer (2003: 162) attributes the lack of contextual information in the media’s sensation-
alized construction of sex crime cases to its desire to “incite hysteria” and, in some cases, a moral
panic.6 It is crucial to acknowledge how the media’s sensationalization of sex offenders has influ-
enced public concern, making sex offenders the centralizing feature of modern day moral panics
and ultimately resulting in increasingly punitive social and political responses (Levenson etal.,
2007).
As a number of researchers have noted, societal gender norms differentiate between charac-
terizations of female and male criminality. Therefore, research examining the media’s approach to
sex offenses cannot be applied to both genders (Berrington and Honkatukia, 2002; Brennan and
Vandenberg, 2009; Chesney-Lind, 1989). Gendered stereotypes underpinning female criminality
and women’s low crime rates draw media attention to women’s criminal behavior. While men
who rape do not typically make the news as they conform to the norm that men are violent and
aggressive, sexual crimes committed by women draw public scrutiny because they breach societal
norms about femininity (Jewkes, 2011: 131; Naylor, 1995).
To date, only two studies have focused on the media’s presentation of female sex offenders in
comparison to their male counterparts (Chiotti, 2009; Landor, 2009). These studies reveal a gen-
dered rhetoric in which certain words and phrases appear only in coverage of one gender’s sex
offenses. Landor (2009) revealed that the Australian media referred to the female perpetrators
and their victims as being “lovers” and called their actions “sex,” ignoring circumstances such as
unequal power dynamics. Both Chiotti (2009: 100) and Landor (2009: 90) found that the media
often labeled male sex offenders as “pedophiles, perverts, evil, and/or predatory.” They described
female sex offenders as “vulnerable, lonely, depressed, or heartbroken,” all of which seem to
decrease the female offender’s culpability for her crime. Chiotti’s (2009: 107) study of US mass
media found that the majority of articles involving female perpetrators characterized male victims
as “wanting and willing” participants. This gendered framework likely shapes public perceptions
about their behavior, though research has yet to explicitly make this connection. Because our
focus is female sex offenders, we do not fully consider male sex abusers here though we acknowl-
edge that this is an important issue that should be addressed in its own right.
Public perceptions of female sex offenders
The failure of research to address issues related to female sex offenders may silence or marginalize
the experiences of male victims (Denov, 2004). Put another way, this lack of research “obscures
the reality that not only can males be victims of sexual assault, but also that females can perpe-
trate acts of sexual violence” (Denov, 2003: 303). Research on public perceptions of sex offenders
has focused on reactions to male perpetrators (Gakhal and Brown, 2011). Existing research on
perceptions of female sex offenders is limited to police perceptions, professional responses, and
victim experiences (Denov, 2004), and addresses male victims more than female perpetrators.
Scholars must then recognize how this gap in the literature potentially skews public perceptions
and reinforces the male-ness of the term “sex offender,” which may have negative consequences
for offenders and victims alike (Landor, 2009).
64 CRIME MEDIA CULTURE 14(1)
Traditional sexual scripts
The traditional heterosexual sexual scripts that label males as aggressive perpetrators and females
as passive victims perpetuate the common belief that a woman cannot force a man into sexual
relations (Byers, 1996; Davies and Rogers, 2006: 372; Denov, 2004; Jackson, 1978; Sarrel and
Masters, 1982). Such scripts exclude the image of males as victims of sexual coercion or assault,
which has negative implications for male victims, specifically those whose rapists are female
(Denov, 2004: 4; Lew, 1990). Sarrel and Masters (1982: 118) note that the lack of attention on
men as rape victims has led to the acceptance of the myth that a man cannot maintain an erection
when threatened or assaulted by a woman. They relate this myth to the social cognition that male
victims of sexual assault by female perpetrators could not be suffering the trauma female sexual
assault victims experience and the assignment of much longer prison sentences to male perpetra-
tors than females (Smith etal., 1988: 111).7
Teacher-student scenarios
Although some research has recognized the occurrence of teacher-student sexual contact within
elementary and high schools, few studies have looked exclusively at public perceptions of these
relationships. The few studies that have looked at public perceptions typically focus on male perpe-
trators (Corbett etal., 1993; Graves, 1994). However, three studies address undergraduate students’
perceptions of sexual relations between an adult female and an adolescent male. Broussard etal.
(1991) found that undergraduate students viewed such relations as learning experiences, or “sex
education.” Fromuth etal. (2001) proposed that their respondents were more likely to accept female
teacher-male student relationships because of traditional gendered expectations and sexual scripts
that frame these experiences as status-enhancing. Similarly, Dollar etal. (2004: 98) found that stu-
dents viewed relations between female teachers and male adolescent students as “cool,” most likely
to induce bragging amongst peers and unlikely to evoke psychological harm, dismissing the effect
of the power difference between a teacher and a student. These three studies leave open the ques-
tion as to whether adult respondents would display similar attitudes.
Measuring perceptions via the internet. In early iterations of websites, users simply viewed static
content or downloaded material that website owners made available to them. In many ways this
unidirectional flow of information mimicked traditional media. In modern iterations, however,
many websites have enabled community interaction, content sharing, and collaboration. Some
websites provide static content, but promote public engagement through dynamic, user-gener-
ated comments. This shift from static, owner-generated content to dynamic, user-generated con-
tent represents the social nature of Web 2.0. The digitization of news media and the inclusion of
online forums allowing readers to react anonymously and to facilitate discussion provide ample
data to further insight into public perceptions about female sex offenders (Dirks et al., 2015;
Hughey, 2012; Steinfeldt et al., 2010). Most research that has used online spaces (i.e. blogs,
forums, and comment sections) to examine public discourse has looked at its use as a platform to
express racist attitudes (see Daniels, 2009; Dirks etal., 2015; Glaser etal., 2002; Harrison etal.,
2010; Hughey, 2012; Melican and Dixon, 2008). Scholars argue the digital space offers the ano-
nymity which permits such racist sentiments (Daniels, 2009; Dirks etal., 2015; Hughey, 2012;
Steinfeldt etal., 2010). The current study looks at whether online settings provide similar cover for
Zack et al. 65
gendered discourse in relation to comments on a crime that has been gendered in the public
imagination.
Current study
This study explores the current discourse about female teacher sex offenders by examining reader
comments on five Huffington Post articles. The study’s objectives are twofold: 1) to examine the
nature of public perceptions about female teacher sex offenders; and 2) to explore the effects of
these perceptions. Analyzing online comments about this issue will provide insight into public
perceptions about the legal treatment of female teacher sex offenders and the conceptualization
of “consent” in cases involving female teachers with male students. The results will add to the
literature about female sex offenders and will extend prior research on perceptions of sex offend-
ers that has so far been limited to male perpetrators. Furthermore, this research will highlight the
role of online communication, specifically the comment sections on online news outlets, in dis-
seminating gendered attitudes about female offenders.
Methods
To explore public perceptions of female teacher sex offenders, we analyzed publically accessible
comments on the Huffington Post, which we selected as our sole news outlet because of its vast
online readership.8 According to Vinnedge (2013), the Huffington Post has been described as “an
asset to the Internet dialogue that contains stories missing from mainstream news sites.”9 The
Huffington Post is a prominent news source for liberal commentators, and its readership likely
largely identifies as liberal, which comments may reflect.10
The five articles we selected, each published between November 2010 and November 2013,
described a different female teacher sex offender whose victim was a male adolescent student
aged 13–17. All perpetrators had been found guilty at trial and most of the articles described their
sentences. While many articles on the Huffington Post describe cases prior to conviction, this cri-
terion allowed us to measure commenters’ perceptions of punishments. According to the articles,
all perpetrators were under 35 at the time of the crime and appeared white; their photographs
met white Western standards of beauty. We selected female teachers who fit this description as
we expected to find commentary focused on their appearance or in reaction to their transgression
of gendered boundaries (see also Dirks, Heldman, and Zack, 2015). Each article we chose had over
150 reader comments, to allow for a broad range of viewpoints. In the end, we analyzed the
entire corpus of articles, five of them, that met these criteria.
The five articles yielded a variety of comments (n = 7988), with each serving as a unit of analy-
sis. The median amount of total comments was 389, with a range from 190 to 3560. However,
we only chose comments from the main thread (i.e. the comments that display primarily in the
comment section) plus their initial reply, which reduced the total number of comments on each
article.11 Excluding comments located in conversation threads served a practical purpose, and
there is no theoretical basis to believe that these comments are different from those located on
the main comment thread in terms of commentators’ expressed attitudes.
We sampled up to 200 comments on each article, as we expected to reach a saturation point
at 200 comments based on previous research employing a similar methodology (Dirks, Heldman,
66 CRIME MEDIA CULTURE 14(1)
and Zack, 2015). Using the site’s “most faved” tool, we sorted the comments by their popularity
to best reflect public discourse about each story. According to the site’s “Comment Policy,” users
may use the “Fan and Favorite (F&F)” tool to bring the “best” content to the top of the comment
section.12 After comments coded as “irrelevant” were removed, the final dataset included 678
comments.13 We treat these comments as if they represent distinct commenters, although it is
possible that some represent multiple comments by a single commenter; excluding conversation
threads lowers the likelihood of this.
Using thematic coding (Lofland and Lofland, 1995), we conducted a preliminary analysis of the
comments to develop initial themes. To develop the coding schema, we drew from existing litera-
ture identifying common themes found in the media’s representation of female sex offenders (see
Chiotti, 2009; Frei, 2008; Landor, 2009), in addition to the initial reading of the comments. We
coded each comment for the presence of the variables discussed below.14
Punishment
This variable refers to the offender’s punishment, identifying it as either “just” or “unjust” or suggest-
ing an alternate punishment (e.g. “and she got a year in jail? No prison time? F that sentence”).
Double standard
This variable involves mentions of an existing double standard within the judicial process, whereby
courts are more lenient with female offenders than their male counterparts (e.g. “the day needs
to come when women teachers get the same penalties as male teachers get for sleeping with
students”).
Body/physical appearance
This variable measures mentions of the teacher’s physical appearance, perceived attractiveness,
and/or sexual desirability (e.g. “where were these hot teachers when I was in school?”).15
Victim
This variable identifies mentions of the victim. In many instances, the comment describes the vic-
tim’s feelings (e.g. “he got what he wanted”) or emphasizes the victim’s age, to either excuse or
to blame the victim and/or the offender (e.g. “come on … 16 year old boys would do a boulder
or a cardboard box”).
Consent
This variable measures mentions of consent, either describing the teacher-student sexual relations
as consensual or non-consensual (e.g. “300 times is not rape … that’s consensual” and “the sick
minded woman took advantage of them”).
Zack et al. 67
Sex offender
The final variable involves mentions of a “sex offender” label, which researchers such as Landor
(2009) and Chiotti (2009) have identified as being mainly attributed to male sex offenders. Such
labels include predator, pedophile, monster, and sex offender (e.g. “it’s obvious she is mentally ill
and is a predator …”).
In addition to thematic variables, we included measures of neutralization/exacerbation and
tone:
Neutralization/exacerbation
To further understand the discourse surrounding female teacher sex offenders, we coded com-
ments using Brennan and Vandenberg’s (2009) method for examining newspaper stories about
female offenders, which used Sykes and Matza’s (1957) framework for “techniques of neutraliza-
tion.”16 Similar to Brennan and Vandenberg’s (2009) methodology, we coded comments that
lessened or trivialized the offender’s actions or responsibility as “neutralization” (e.g. “11 days in
jail! It must be great being a female pedophile!”) and comments that emphasized the responsibil-
ity or guilt of the offender as “exacerbation” (e.g. “unbelievable, there is no equality, women can
do anything and get away with it”).
Tone
We coded each comment for positive, negative, or neutral/mixed tone. Comments that de-crimi-
nalized the offender’s behavior or offered defense (e.g. “I see no crime committed”), or noted the
offender’s attractiveness and/or sexual desirability (e.g. “where were these hot horny teachers
when I was 17??”) were coded as positive. Comments that unfavorably discussed the offender’s
criminal behavior, offered a harsher punishment, or recognized a double standard within the jus-
tice system were coded as negative (e.g. “I am SICK that she is SICK and only given a 4 year
sentence after wrecking 5 boys lives”). Comments that included both positive and negative con-
tent (e.g. “why is it always the hot ones that are messed up hahahaha”) were coded in the neu-
tral/mixed category.
Results
Narrative analysis
In this section we present a qualitative analysis of our findings using specific comments (i.e. nar-
ratives) to highlight the primary themes (see Table 1). These results are organized in accordance
with the variables discussed in the Methods section, producing five major themes: punishment,
double standard, body, victim, and consent. Within these, we present sub-sections describing the
common attitudes expressed within the larger theme. Additionally, we include measures of tone
and techniques of neutralization to further examine the expression of primary themes within the
comments. All comments are written exactly as they were found online, without the use of “[sic]”
to denote grammatical or spelling errors.
68 CRIME MEDIA CULTURE 14(1)
Punishment
Retribution. Comments in this category discussed the offender’s punishment (n = 300; 44.2%),
often stating the need for a harsher punishment. Of these comments, 79 percent (n = 237) were
coded as expressing a negative tone, and 80 percent (n = 240) were coded for exacerbation.
Accordingly, many comments suggested much longer sentences for the offender. For example,
“29 months? That’s it? Wow, talk about a crooked justice system … this monster should have
gotten 25 to life.” Another example recommended the offender’s execution in saying, “Try 300
years, once for each conviction of rape seems about right … and the first 2 years of it in the elec-
tric chair.” Comments such as these expressed the need for increased punishment, both through
incarceration and through violence, e.g.:
hmmm, we can make that punishment fit the crime better. Give her the 29 months but make
her serve it in a men’s prison. I am sure that she will have had her fill of sex by the time she gets
out of that.
Such commenters called for retribution—rape of the rapist.
Incapacitation
Comments concerning incapacitation not only suggested retribution as a form of punishment,
but also incapacitation, giving long-term sentences to all sex offenders, regardless of gender,
to prevent re-offending. Some comments mentioned harm caused by the offender, saying that
sex offenders should be incarcerated to protect children. As one comment reads: “But this
Table 1. Primary themes found in comments that discuss female teacher sex offenders.
Variable N %
Punishment 300 44.2
Double Standard 213 31.4
Body 87 12.8
Victim 269 39.7
Sex Offender 54 8.0
Consent
Yes 100 14.7
No 70 10.3
Tone
Positive 242 35.7
Negative 400 59.0
Neutral 36 5.3
Techniques of Neutralization
Neutralization 247 36.4
Exacerbation 403 59.4
Neutral 28 4.1
n = 678.
Zack et al. 69
double standard for these sick women is doing nothing but making our children less safe and
enabling child predators. She needs to do much more time for the HARM that she’s caused.”
Because female teacher sexual offenders typically receive lighter sentences than their male
counterparts (Reid, 2012; Simmon, 2012; Terruso, 2013), many commenters recognize a dou-
ble standard in sentencing and believe that these women should receive longer sentences to
protect society.
Double standard
“If she were a man …”. Over 30 percent (n = 213; 31.4%) of all comments referenced an existing
double standard in sentencing between male and female sex offenders. Typical comments of this
variety included, “If a man had done this, he’d get a lot more than 29 months in jail” and, “the
day needs to come when women teachers get the same penalties as men teachers get for sleeping
with students.” The majority of these comments exacerbated her crime (n = 197; 92.5%), declar-
ing the presence of a victim and the need for an increased sentence.
Other comments within this category blamed feminists for this double standard, stating that if
a male sex offender were to receive a “light sentence,” women’s rights groups would be out-
raged. For example:
Feminists are all giving each other pats on the back and laughing, telling each other we get
special treatment and favors in the justice system. Feminism has been exposed. If a man
received 29 months for raping a 13 year old girl, every feminist and women’s rights advocate
would hold press conferences stating how justice was not served.
According to such comments, feminists and women’s rights groups protect female offenders as
zealously as they protect female victims. Another comment reads: “What DOUBLE STANDARD.
Men are not treated equal to women. Will women’s rights advocates hold a press conference to
demand this woman receive the same jail sentence as men?” These comments blame all women—
not just the perpetrators—for this double standard and want equal treatment under the law for
men and women.
Gender stereotypes. Many comments mentioning a double standard in the judicial process identi-
fied gender norms and traditional sexual scripts as drivers of unequal sentencing for female sexual
predators. For example, “Notice that the woman again doesn’t go to jail because you folks think
it’s ok for boys to be abused and you call it learning and a chance to score.” And:
We treat female sex predators lightly because our society doesn’t believe women are sexual
creatures. And I’m sure there are some idiots who would bend over backwards to claim that
the woman was the victim of the boy in this case (Because women are always the victim of
men, never the predator).
These comments reveal an awareness of gender stereotypes, and more specifically the traditional
sexual scripts, that not only impact societal perceptions of female sexual predators, but also treat
women “lightly” in judicial processes. As one comment claims, “Jurors and judges are loathe to
70 CRIME MEDIA CULTURE 14(1)
prosecute females because they think the boy wanted it.” Comments such as this further suggest
an understanding of how gendered perceptions influence lenient sentencing patterns.
Comments also expressed the opposite: describing the existence of a double standard that
should excuse female sexual predators from punishment. For example, “jail time? Seriously? I am
a woman and even I know this would be considered the greatest fantasy for a teenage boy,
letalone every man on earth. Let her go” and, “this woman should not be prosecuted for this,
totally ridiculous … she affected those boys lives for the better, she should be praised!” These
comments also repeated traditional gender roles and sexual scripts.
Body
Comments about the body (n = 87; 12.8%) discussed the offender’s attractiveness and/or sexual
desirability. Such comments included, “[Offender name] must be epic she looks hot to me I hope
they post the vids on the net” or “why are all these female perverts so good looking?” These
comments neutralized the offender’s actions, trivializing the students’ sexual victimization.
Other comments that mentioned the body used the offender’s attractiveness to excuse her sex
offender status. For example, “Outside of her being a teacher … who cares. He’s 17 and she’s 27
and hot … but there’s no real victim here (except maybe the husband) its not like he’s in danger
of being traumatized by the event.” And, “I don’t feel bad the kid polled the hot teacher.”
Because of the offender’s perceived attractiveness, some commenters did not view her sexual
relations with students as negative or as non-consensual. Rather, these comments neutralized the
blameworthiness of the offender and commended the student for having sexual relations with his
“hot teacher.” Other commenters expressed their own attraction to the offender by claiming that
they would have engaged in sexual relations with her when they were the victim’s age. Common
examples include, “where were these hot horny teachers when I was 17?” and, “I would have done
her when I was 16.” Such comments describe these teachers as “hot” and “horny,” using their
appearance, sexuality, and sexual desirability to negate their sex offender status. One commenter
recognized this trend in the comments, stating that: “Because of the way Americans think, it’s not
abuse if she’s pretty … but as a pretty woman it is viewed as no harm, because the victim is a guy.”
Consent
“He is not a child!”. Of the comments that mentioned the victim (n = 269; 39.7%), many claimed
being male and adolescent precluded victimhood. Such comments cited victims’ ability to make
their own decisions about their sexual behavior (e.g. “a 17 year old in college is probably mature
enough to decide if he wants to have sex or not”). Comments also used the victim’s age to argue
that harm was minimal. As one comment reads, “I find it ridiculous that a sexually mature 17 year
old male was harmed by having sex with this woman. He is not a child!” Others suggested the
rape had been a gift, e.g. one commenter who called the relations between a male student and
his female teacher “consensual” and claimed it would result in “valuable sexual experience his
future GF or wife will appreciate.”
“Can’t rape the willing”. In comments that discussed the sexual relations between the teacher
and her student(s), 14.7 percent (n = 100) described their relationship(s) as being “consensual.”
Zack et al. 71
These comments did not validate the student’s victimhood; rather, they described him as a willing
participant (e.g. “as much as I don’t agree with what she did, you can’t rape the willing”). Many
comments of this sort assumed the victim enjoyed the sexual relations, justifying their opinion
with gender norms and traditional sexual scripts. Examples include: “17 year old men … yes men
… and they cried over having sex with a teacher? Omg … I would have cheered … something is
very, very wrong here,” “BS, he was willing and old enough … I am sure she did not rape him,”
and “the guys LOVED it, I am sure. They are men, they loved gettin some from the older woman.”
Because the victims are male, commenters believe they could not, and should not, be hurt by hav-
ing sexual relations with their older, female teachers.
Other comments suggested that a female could not perpetrate rape because of male biological
functions. Some comments stated that the crime is different when a woman is the perpetrator
(e.g. “the crime isn’t the same as a man raping a girl by forcible compulsion. You will not find a
case where the boy was not willing”). Other comments specifically mentioned the male reproduc-
tive organ to explain why the female teachers did not rape their male students. Examples include:
“Unless she drugged him with Viagra there was no rape involved … 300 times? The male repro-
ductive organ doesn’t work even once if it is afraid.” And:
If it was that traumatic, the kid couldn’t have maintained an erection. No such thing as rape
(I’m talking vaginal intercourse here) of a male by a female … everyone in their heart of hearts
knows this is true (at least all the male readers do).
Such comments reveal the myths commenters hold about female/male biological features
and the common gendered tropes that frame rape as an act that can only involve female
victims.
Victim blaming. Some comments actually accused the victim of ruining the teacher’s life, claim-
ing that the victim should receive blame for being aware of, and consenting to, the sexual activ-
ity. For example, “Have you no conscience or shame? This woman did nothing to you that you
didn’t ask for … you boys just ruined this woman’s life and sent her to jail for four years. How
can you sleep at night?” Comments such as this placed the victim at fault for “asking for it.”
Some comments asserted that the victim took advantage of his teacher. As one comment sug-
gests, “… which leads to the possibility that they took advantage of her as she did of them.”
Other comments accused the victims of seeking money by going to trial (e.g. “the kids got what
they wanted. Claiming depression is just scamming for money. Its all adult consensual”), and
still others denied the victim’s status as a “victim,” saying that he is no more a victim than the
teacher, e.g.:
man I hate it when they say the ‘victim’ – this kid is 16 years old and horny as a dog and he
gets an opportunity to have sex with a decent looking woman and you call him a victim?
PLEASE … he is not more a victim than she is!
All of these examples reveal commenters’ inability to view the male student as a “victim”; rather,
he is lucky for “getting what he wanted” by engaging in sexual relations with his attractive
teacher.
72 CRIME MEDIA CULTURE 14(1)
No consent
Abuse of power. Only 10.3 percent (n = 70) of all comments described the teacher-student sexual
relations as “non-consensual.” Of that 10 percent, virtually all (n = 69; 98.6 percent) applied
blame to the perpetrator and not the victim. Most of these mentioned the teacher’s position of
authority and, consequently, her abuse of power (e.g. “These boys are young, emotionally and
mentally and there is no excuse for an adult to put them in that position, especially an adult with
a position of authority … such as a teacher”). Many comments discussing the rapist’s position of
authority described her actions as a destruction of trust—regardless of the “hot teacher” male
fantasy—that has damaging consequences for the victim. Examples include:
What is wrong though is any person who has direct authority/responsibility over another hav-
ing sex with that person. You can’t reasonably separate the control/consent issues. Teacher/
student. Boss/employee, officer/enlisted. She shouldn’t feel bad about having sex with the guy,
she should regret violating her responsibility as an educator.
And:
Becoming sexually involved with an authority figure can be extremely traumatizing. Even if they
could legally have sex, that doesn’t mean that the boys truly had a choice in the matter. What
if they felt coerced? What if only one of them felt coerced? That’s still tragic.
These comments portray an opposing perception of female teacher sex offenders to those dis-
cussed above: because they are teachers and hold an authoritative position over their victims, they
should not be engaging in sexual relations with their students. Further, because they occupy this
position of authority and trust, teacher-student sexual relations can never be consensual (e.g.
“what if they felt coerced?”).
“Predator, monster, pedophile”. Only eight percent (n = 54) of comments used described the
offender with a sex offender label such as predator, pedophile, or monster. Such comments
included: “she is a pedophile plain and simple and will re-offend. Just because she is a woman
doesn’t mean the same rules should apply” and “she is a predator as much as any of these guys
out there doing the same thing to girls.” Prior research has shown that mass media typically
reserve these labels for male sex offenders (Chiotti, 2009; Landor, 2009). Yet these comments
show a small number people considering sex offending as genderless.
Discussion
The majority of all comments condemn offenders’ behavior, with most describing the offender in
a negative tone and recommending punishment equal to that of men. Of the almost half (44.2%)
who focused on the offender’s punishment, most either expressed disapproval of a sentence the
commenter considered too light or specifically called for a heavier sentence. A substantial minority
of comments overall (31.4%) identified a double standard in the sentencing process that treats
female offenders more leniently than their male counterparts. This finding demonstrates public
Zack et al. 73
recognition of the gender role stereotypes that fuel gender inequalities within the judicial process.
Commenters who identified the double standard (31.4%) were also likely to identify traditional
sexual scripts and gender norms as drivers of the double standard. These findings challenge prior
studies that suggest the public largely favor inequality in sentencing in which male sex offenders
receive a more punitive punishment than their female counterparts (Levenson etal., 2007; Smith
etal., 1988) and that people do not recognize that courts treat female sexual offending differently
from male offending (Denov, 2004). At the same time, most commenters (92%) did not apply
sexual offender labels to the perpetrator, which aligns with other research about the gendered use
of these terms in the media (Chiotti, 2009; Landor, 2009).
The calls for punishments of female sex offenders to be on a par with those of male sex offend-
ers demonstrate a concept called “equality with a vengeance” (Lahey, 1985). Smart (2003: 162)
sums up this position thus: “If women want equality they must have it in full, and so some femi-
nists want women to be sent in their droves to dirty, violent and overcrowded prisons for long
periods of time.” Equal treatment, however, may not be fair treatment, as women experience
different social, political, and economic circumstances to their male counterparts (Chesney-Lind,
1989; Covington and Bloom, 2003; Heidensohn, 1986). These comments discuss a double stand-
ard in sentencing whereby women should receive the same treatment under the law as men,
illustrating a common reaction to the light treatment of female offenders (Reid, 2012; Simmon,
2012). Although we could not determine commenters’ genders, comments from men’s rights
activists, who readily accused women’s rights groups of applauding the justice system for its
favoritism of female offenders, reveal the desire for women to receive the same harsh punishment
as convicted male teacher sex offenders.
Whereas calls for greater punishment suggest commenters’ recognition that a serious crime
has occurred, commenters who showed this recognition typically had little to say about the victim.
Those who reference the victim typically perpetuate victim-blaming rhetoric or deny victimization
through reliance on sexual scripts. Such comments demonstrate the perception that Byers (1996)
discusses in her review of the literature on sexual scripts. She describes the traditional, hetero-
sexual sexual script as follows:
[The traditional sexual script] depicts men as “oversexed” and women as “undersexed.” As
such, men are described as having strong sexual needs, being obsessed with sex, being highly
motivated to engage in sexual activity, and willing to exploit or pursue any sexual opportunity
made available by a woman. (Byers, 1996: 9)
Over 35 percent of comments repeat this script by neutralizing the offender’s behavior and con-
gratulating the victim for engaging in sexual relations with his “hot” teacher. They describe the
students as succumbing to the sexual opportunities their teachers provide. Evidence suggests this
societal construction of masculinity can extend to a case where a 30-year-old female teacher
raped her 13-year-old student and defined it as a “learning experience” (Broussard etal., 1991;
Dollar etal., 2004).
Comments that praise the victim for fulfilling the male “hot teacher” fantasy and portray them
as “lucky,” as well as those claiming it is impossible to induce tumescence in an unwilling partici-
pant, perpetuate rape myths about men. Scholars have warned that the media’s portrayal of
female sex offenders perpetuates these myths (Broussard et al., 1991; Chiotti, 2009; Denov,
74 CRIME MEDIA CULTURE 14(1)
2003; Dollar etal., 2004; Frei, 2008; Reid, 2012). Although over half of all comments expressed
exacerbation and a negative tone, these comments were mainly directed at the offender’s punish-
ment, as opposed to the victim. Only 10 percent of all comments believed that the teacher and
the student engaged in non-consensual relations, recognizing the power dynamic between the
teacher and student. The other 90 percent of comments ignored this power dynamic and either
neutralized the relations or focused on the offender’s punishment. These narratives further sup-
port the notion that men cannot be rape victims, specifically when involving a female perpetrator,
and even further, that they should be blamed for their circumstances.
Implications
This study fills an important void in the existing research on both media depictions and public
perceptions of female sex offenders. While media glamorizes and romanticizes female sex offend-
ing and consequently diminishes the offenders’ blameworthiness (Reid, 2012), the effect of that
glamorization has not been studied directly. By looking at online comments, we examine a very
close connection between media presentations of female sex offending and the public’s opinions.
It is, then, crucial to understand public perceptions of female sex offenders and their punishments,
as they influence policy makers, criminal law, victim reporting practices, and mental health profes-
sionals (Denov, 2003: 313).
The most pressing implications of these findings illustrate the need for more research on soci-
etal perceptions of female sex offenders and responses to male victimization. These implications
are especially pertinent in light of widespread media attention on female sexual offending and the
digitization of news media that has made these stories increasingly available to the public. It is
even more important to recognize that men account for 10 percent of all sexual assault, sexual
abuse, and rape victims in the United States (RAINN, 2009). However, due to gender role expecta-
tions, traditional sexual scripts, lack of treatment, and fear of disbelief (Davies and Rogers, 2006;
Kassing and Prieto, 2003: 455; Mezey and King, 1989), male rape is often underreported and
victims often face immense stigma when they do choose to report their victimization. These find-
ings illuminate how male rape victims are silenced and stigmatized, and sometimes even con-
gratulated, within today’s rape culture. Given the new anti-rape movement underway, the
comments that frame the victim as “lucky” for being victimized are deeply troubling and merit
future investigation.
Limitations and future research
The limitations of this study warrant some caution when trying to generalize from its results.
Primarily, we collected the data exclusively from one online news outlet. Although the results do
provide insight into public perceptions of female teacher sex offenders, they may not be generaliz-
able to other news sources. For example, the Huffington Post exists as a liberal news source and
therefore may primarily attract liberal commentary or individuals with similarly founded socio-
political perceptions. Future research may want to explore a more conservative news outlet to
compare differences in discourse. Also, this study focused on a small, select group of white female
offenders who were chosen for their adherence to conventional Western beauty standards and
definitive status in the sentencing process. Selecting only five stories strictly based on these criteria
Zack et al. 75
further limits the generalizability of our findings. Though it is not clear if a content analysis of
comments on stories about women who do not fit these conventional beauty standards, identify
as non-white, or engage in sexual relations with a female student would yield different results, it
is possible.
Based on prior research that included a comparative analysis between female sex offenders
and male sex offenders in the media (Chiotti, 2009; Landor, 2009), we suspect that a compara-
tive analysis would show that comments on stories about female teacher sex offenders are
different to those on stories about male teacher sex offenders. A methodological problem a
researcher would face—which we faced ourselves in designing the current study—is that few
articles depict male teacher sex offenders, and the level of violence those articles depict is
extreme.17 Future research that examines this comparison may be valuable in understanding
how public perceptions differ and may also support previous findings about gendered dis-
course in media framing of these individuals. Lastly, a future project might analyze both news
stories and comments to examine how media framing of female teacher sex offenders directly
affects public perceptions.
Conclusion
Though the media’s portrayal of female sex offenders is undoubtedly sensationalized, these results
show that, by giving these offenders increased media attention and thus placing them into public
view, the media has given the public an understanding that: 1) women can be sexual predators;
2) men can be victims of sexual abuse; and 3) there is a disparity in sentencing between female
and male sex offenders. However, change is coming slowly. Comments suggest that the glamori-
zation of female teacher-student sexual relations, the trivialization of male victimization, and the
idea that these crimes are not as harmful as those perpetrated by male teachers against female
students all persist.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Notes
1. Our use of the term “white Western beauty standards” draws on Kwan and Trautner (2009: 49), who
write that standards of beauty in contemporary Western societies “embrace youth and privilege white-
ness as embodied in fair skin, eye color, and hair texture.”
2. The Huffington Post is one of many online and print publications whose coverage of female teacher sex
offenders overshadows that of their male counterparts (Chiotti, 2009; Reid, 2012).
3. According to Chiotti (2009: 89), female sex offenders account for 45 percent of all media publications
about sex offenders in general, yet they represent only 10 percent of case-report research and between
20 and 40 percent of self-report studies.
4. See, for example: Teacher Appreciation Week: 25 Hottest Sex Offenders (http://www.gunaxin.com/
teacher-appreciation-week-25-hottest-sex-offenders/7531) and Hot for Teacher 2010: The 42 Sexiest
Female Sex Offenders (http://coed.com/2010/10/26/hot-for-teacher-2010-the-40-sexiest-female-sex-
offenders/).
5. Drawing upon Denov (2004), we acknowledge the problematic nature of using the term “victim”
throughout this paper. Lew (1990) found that feminists, clinicians, and victims alike have taken issue
76 CRIME MEDIA CULTURE 14(1)
with the term, arguing that it “denotes powerlessness, hopelessness, and vulnerability” (Denov, 2004:
8). We recognize that this term fails to sufficiently portray experiences of sexual abuse, but use it
throughout for consistency.
6. A “moral panic” describes a “condition, episode, person, or group of persons which merge to become
defined as a threat to societal values and interests” (Cohen, 1972: 9).
7. To be certain, there is an enormous field of research that has critiqued traditional heterosexual sexual
scripts that position male sexuality as inherently aggressive and pursuant and in binary opposition to
women’s sexuality as passive and compliant. There is also an increasingly emerging literature which
extends beyond this one common male rape myth.
8. Since its inception in 2005, the Huffington Post has received over 260 million comments from its com-
munity of readers (Landers, 2013).
9. Each month the site attracts more than 40 million unique visitors, 500 million page views, and 3 million
comments about political, social, economic, and cultural issues (Vinnedge, 2013).
10. The Huffington Post was created as an outlet for liberal commentary in response to their conservative
counterpart, The Drudge Report (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2013).
11. We were unable to verify the number of comments on each article that only included comments on the
main thread, as articles only displayed the total number of comments.
12. According to its “Comment Policy,” all comments posted on the Huffington Post are human moderated.
More information about the Huffington Post’s “Comment Policy” is available at: http://www.huffing-
tonpost.com/faq/#moderation.
13. Comments coded as “irrelevant” did not reference the news story, the offender, and/or the victim in a
direct or indirect way (e.g. “men are not organized”).
14. All authors discussed the coding scheme and went over several examples that served as test cases for all
of us to discuss. After resolving any discrepancies in opinion, and following the best practices of previous
scholarship, the primary author coded all statements independently.
15. Dirks, Heldman, and Zack (2015) also uses this variable to examine commenters’ perceptions of female
offenders on Mugshots.com.
16. In drawing on Sykes and Matza’s (1957) “techniques of neutralization” to direct their discussion, Bren-
nan and Vandenberg (2009: 153) used the following seven themes to measure neutralization in news-
print articles about female offenders: overall favorable tone, denial of responsibility, denial of injury,
denial of victim, appeal to higher loyalty, condemnation of the condemners, and reformation through
disengagement. To measure exacerbation, the themes included: overall unfavorable tone, guilt attrib-
uted, real injury, real victim, self-interest, praise for the condemners, and no hope for reformation.
17. According to a basic count, the Huffington Post has published 18 stories about female teacher sex
offenders, compared to six stories about their male counterparts, within the past two years.
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Author biographies
Emma Zack graduated from Occidental College in 2014, where her academic interests included criminology,
punishment, race and the prison industrial complex, and perceptions of female offenders. She is currently
working as a Case Analyst at the Innocence Project in New York City.
John T Lang, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Occidental College.
Danielle Dirks, PhD, is a Sociologist, Professor, and author. Her research and teaching interests are concerned
with fundamental questions about justice and inequality in society.
... These perceptions reinforce the existence of a reactive society, suggesting action is only required when it reaches an arbitrary threshold, rather than acknowledging the legitimacy of the victimhood (Zedner, 2007). De-escalation that promotes myths of sexual expectations or an ideal sexual outcome (Zack et al., 2018), proposes that the negative connotations associated with sexual offending are lessened or absent when gender roles are reversed, with data emphasising the complexity of the relationship between an 'ideal offender' and male experiences of victimisation from female sexual violence. ...
... The nature and extent of sexual and gendered expectations placed on men and women further influenced the application of 'ideal' status on and its acceptance of both victims and offenders, as well as users' perceptions of each, respectively (Christie, 1986). Consistent with the extant literature, the findings of this study identified the sexualisation of female offenders, based on their physical appearance and culpability, representing significant 'recognition barriers' (Landor, 2009;Landor and Eisenchlas, 2012: p. 489;Zack et al., 2018). These barriers were evident in commentary that described female offending as a hyper-sexual fantasy, reflecting a social complacency with female sexual offenders, but an immediate, if not targeted, rejection of male victims. ...
... These barriers were evident in commentary that described female offending as a hyper-sexual fantasy, reflecting a social complacency with female sexual offenders, but an immediate, if not targeted, rejection of male victims. The complacency shown towards female offenders stems from the apparent romanticisation of female sexual acts and violence, where physical beauty (or lack thereof) is an indicator and/or measure of harm, rather than offenders' actions (Landor and Eisenchlas, 2012;Hayes and Baker, 2014;Zack et al., 2018). The current findings confirm the prior literature, as several users either sexualised female offending or considered victimisation a 'lucky break', revealing online perceptions in particular lack maturity when addressing male victims of female-perpetrated sexual violence. ...
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In the era of #metoo, conversations regarding rape and sexual violence have received increased attention in mainstream media, giving voice to some of the many victims impacted by sexual assault. Despite the significant social upheaval this movement has given credence to, male victims of female-perpetrated sexual assault remain largely absent from Australian media. Adherence to strict representations of masculinity and femininity, often reinforced on social media, has resulted in cultural omission and problematic characterisations of both offenders and victims. International research has examined socially-constructed, gendered perceptions; however, Australian literature remains limited. This study examined what factors influence perceptions of male victims of female-perpetrated sexual violence, evaluated through Christie’s (1986) Ideal Victim/Offender framework. This mixed-method study analysed social media users’ comments on incidents of female-perpetrated sexual assault on men, presented in 28 Facebook posts, across 13 popular Australian newspapers. The findings identified a tendency of users to question victims’ masculinity, downplay harms experienced by male victims, or deny victimisation entirely. Furthermore, women were typecast as ‘fragile nurturers’ who did not have the capacity to offend, rejecting the possibility of male victims. Conclusions highlight the need for further Australian-based research and practical support, as male victims are more than simply an online myth.
... Female-perpetrated sexual abuse involving teachers is fetishized. In an analysis of comments on news articles reporting teacher-perpetrated sexual abuse, more than 35% of comments on FPSA neutralized the offender's behavior and congratulated male victims for engaging in sexual relations with his "hot" teacher (Zack et al., 2018). As research has previously indicated, these comments described the students as succumbing to the sexual opportunities their teachers provide, leading to justifying abuse between an adult and child as a "learning experience" (see Broussard et al., 1991;Dollar et al., 2004 for a discussion on perceptions of sexual abuse involving male victims as a learning experience). ...
... Relatedly, only 10% of all comments recognized the power dynamic between the teacher and student and indicated that the sexual interaction was non-consensual. The remainder of the comments either ignored or neutralized the authority position of the teacher demonstrating the particularly sexualized narratives that surround teacher-perpetrated abuse by women (Zack et al., 2018). ...
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Child sexual abuse is often perceived differently based on characteristics of the victim and the perpetrator. However, unknown is whether variations in perceptions occur when the relationship to and gender of the victim are manipulated—particularly when the offender is a woman. The current study sought to explore whether authority role (neighbor, teacher, family, or clergy) and victim gender affect perceived outcomes for the victim. A factorial vignette design was used to randomly assign participants to one of eight conditions, and a series of analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were conducted to assess differences in perceived victim outcomes for the vignettes. Results showed significant differences for authority role, victim gender, and the interactions between authority and victim gender for nearly all dependent variables. Respondents recognized that the scenarios presented were damaging and harmful; however, certain authority positions (i.e., teachers) were sexualized leading to diminished perceptions of negative outcomes, particularly for male victims.
... Evidence concerning the low reporting rate for female child sex abuse only perpetuates the myth that it is a less serious problem and that it is subtle, gentle, and ''harmless'' (Hetherton, 1999;Gakhal and Brown, 2011;Frei, 2008). Gender biases that are prevalent in society, such as women being innocent, nurturing, incapable of such atrocities, nonaggressive, and innocuous, underscore the importance of education on child sexual abuse issues (Kasl, 1990;Zack et al., 2018). ...
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Educator sexual misconduct is a serious problem in the United States (U.S.), with a 2004 Department of Education report estimating that 9.6% of K-12 students in the U.S. had experienced either verbal, visual, or physical educator misconduct at some point during their school career. However, since that report almost 20 years ago, there have been few large-scale studies examining the extent of the problem. As such, the current study, which uses a large sample from recent high school graduates in four U.S. states, offers updated data on the nature and scope of sexual misconduct in educational settings. Overall, 11.7% of the 6632 participants reported having experienced at least one form of educator sexual misconduct during Grades K-12, with 11% reporting sexual comments and less than 1% reporting other forms of sexual misconduct (e.g., receiving sexual photos/messages, being kissed, touched sexually, or engaging in sexual intercourse/oral sex). Those who reported misconduct showed significantly more difficulties in current psychosocial functioning than those who did not report educator misconduct. Academic teachers most often perpetrated the abuse (63%), followed by coaches and gym teachers (20%). Educators who engaged in sexual misconduct were primarily male (85%), whereas students who reported experiencing educator misconduct were primarily female (72%). Rates of disclosure to authorities were very low (4%) and some sexual grooming behaviors like gift giving (12%) and showing special attention (29%) were reported. These findings will be discussed as they pertain to the prevention of sexual misconduct within educational settings.
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Factors such as cultural norms and stereotypes influence how child sexual abuse (CSA) is perceived in relation to gender of the offender and perceptions of responsibility and harm in Puerto Rico. Finkelhor and Browne's traumagenic dynamics model served as the theoretical framework for the investigation because it addresses four key factors related to the experience of CSA victims. A total of 525 people living in Puerto Rico participated in the study. They were asked to read a hypothetical case of CSA by a teacher with a minor student and answer related questions. Point‐biserial correlational analyses were used to assess the influence of gender of the offender on perceptions of CSA. Results of the study indicated the male offender was attributed more responsibility and harm for the offence. Both male and female minor victims were identified by participants as partly responsible for the offence. Male and female offenders were identified as victims. Findings of this study could help to improve understanding of cultural differences in perceptions of CSA cases and its consequences.
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Studies indicated that people tend to consider female-perpetrated sexual abuse (FPSA) less serious and damaging than male-perpetrated abuse (MPSA) and the possible roles of gender stereotypes on attitudes to minimize FPSA. This study aimed to explore the role of gender stereotypes and sexuality myths on the attitudes toward FPSA among professionals. A secondary aim was to explore the role of training and experience with child sexual abuse (CSA) cases on the attitudes toward FPSA. The sample consisted of Turkish professionals ( N = 502), including mental health/social, health, and justice workers. The participants were recruited via a face-to-face online survey. The results of one-way ANOVAs showed that females and mental health/social workers were more likely to consider FPSA as a serious problem and believe the negative impact of abuse. A five-step hierarchical multiple regression analysis demonstrated that the experience with FPSA cases, belief in gender stereotypes, and myths about female sexuality accounted for 21.7% of the variance in the attitudes toward FPSA. Although the level of professional minimization of FPSA is above average, the influential roles of gender stereotypes and sexual myths on the attitudes toward FPSA exist among professionals. Our findings supported the necessity of additional training addressing gender stereotypes and sexual myths. Future studies should also be conducted with different populations and other influential possible factors on the attitudes toward FPSA.
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Attitudes towards individuals with sexual convictions is an area with growing research interest, but the effects of such attitudes on professional judgments is largely unexplored. What is known from the existing literature is that attitudes guide the interpretation of sexual crime related information, which cascade into potential biased or heuristically driven judgments. In this study we recruited samples of both students ( n = 341) and forensic professionals ( n = 186) to explore whether attitudes towards individuals with sexual convictions predicted risk judgments of hypothetical sexual offense scenarios, and whether this relationship is moderated by professional status or perpetrator characteristics. Forensic professionals expressed more positive attitudes overall, but the significant effect of attitudes on risk judgments was consistent between participant groups and was not moderated by perpetrator age or sex. We suggest that relying on attitudes as a basis for risk judgments opens the door to incorrect (and potentially dangerous) decision-making and discuss our data in terms of their potential clinical implications. An open-access preprint of this work is available at https://psyarxiv.com/rjt5h/ .
Chapter
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Knowledge about women who have committed sexual offences is developing and attitudes continue to change. There is a growing recognition of the prevalence of trauma in the lives of women in custody—the nature, prevalence and impact of which is explored here. This chapter examines what is known about the characteristics, prior experiences and needs of women convicted of sexual offences, drawing on the authors’ clinical experience. Areas where empirical evidence and knowledge remain scarce are highlighted. The model of trauma training implemented across the Women’s Prison Estate in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service is briefly described, and the chapter summarises the move towards working individually with women convicted of sexual offences, in a compassion focused, strengths-based and trauma-informed way.
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The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
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Despite mainstream criminology’s burgeoning interest in issues of race, class, and gender, very little scholarship has examined whiteness and its attendant privileges in understanding public discourse on criminal offenders. This paper examines the role of penal spectatorship as a discursive mechanism by which white, female offenders are protected in public spaces by virtue of their racial and gender identity. Using a content analysis of comments posted on the mug shot images of white women on a popular ‘mug shot website,’ we find that these women are viewed as victims of circumstance deserving of empathy and redemption rather than as criminals. We offer ‘white protectionism’ as a means by which whites extend privilege and protection to other whites who transverse the boundaries of whiteness through criminality to guard against ‘deviant’ or ‘criminal’ designations. These findings add to our understandings of penal spectatorship as yet another tool of white supremacy operating in the Post-Civil Rights era of mass incarceration.
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Two popular explanations for rape exist in our culture - rape as motivated by either sex or by power. The present study investigated participants' beliefs about rape motivation in the context of both female and male rape. College students were administered a version of Feild's (1978) Attitudes Toward Rape (ATR) scale, which incorporates beliefs about rape motivation. A Three-Factor ANOVA revealed two significant main effects but no significant interactions. Findings showed that participants believed both female and male rape to be motivated by sex to a greater extent than by power. In addition, men endorsed the view that rape is motivated by both sex and power to a greater extent than women. The implications of these findings for beliefs about both female and male sexual violence, particularly in the context of recent controversial evolutionary debates about the psychology of sexual violence and motivation for rape (e.g., Thornhill 2000) are discussed.
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