What is it about?

Research has highlighted for decades that a noteworthy proportion of men in the general population (i.e., 'community males') engage in illegal sexual behaviours with female victims but go unapprehended. Similarly, we know that many men report an interest in breaking sexual offending laws under the right circumstances; for example, if they could be assured that they would be not caught. This has led to the development of several successful initiatives to reduce men's propensity towards sexual offending and violence against women, which have received positive academic evaluations. These initiatives tend to work by tackling the known 'risk factors' for men's sexual offending behaviours – those factors that have been shown to increase men's likelihood of engaging in illegal sexual behaviours, which have been examined across several large-scale studies with men internationally. Interestingly, despite the well-established fact that some women in the general population also engage in sexual crimes (albeit at a lower rate than their male counterparts), there have been relatively few robust studies that have assessed the prevalence of community females' interest in breaking sexual offending laws with male victims. Likewise, there have been no comprehensive assessments of the risk factors associated with community females' tendency towards engaging in illegal sexual behaviours with men. This void in academic understanding means that there have been no effective interventions designed for women who report an interest in committing a sexual crime and thus may be at risk of actually offending. Our study provides one of the first large-scale scientific assessments of community females' interest in violating sexual offending laws against men. It also offers an insight into the psychological risk factors associated with the pro-offending attitudes of community females who report that they could engage in sexual offending behaviours against male victims. Our findings were validated across three standalone studies (comprising 555 participants overall) and highlighted that between 26.9% and 44.0% of community females display at least some interest in perpetrating a sexual crime against a male victim. Though this rate is substantially lower than the recorded rate for men, it does suggest that approximately 1-in-3 women in the general population may be at risk of engaging in sexual offending behaviours under the correct circumstances. Follow-up analyses showed that there were various psychological risk factors associated with the pro-offending attitudes of this minority group, including an interest in violent sexual activities, a tendency to endorse male rape myths (i.e., false beliefs about male victims of sexual assault and rape), and high rates of sexual preoccupation (i.e., an abnormally intense interest in sex). Based on our findings, we suggest that professionals should consider developing harm prevention initiatives for community females who display an interest in committing sexual crimes, to reduce their risk of actually offending. We further advise researchers to conduct more evaluations of women in the general population who report a tendency towards illegal sexual behaviours so to ensure that these preventative measures tackle all known risk factors.

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Why is it important?

Sexual offending costs the economy millions each year and has untold negative outcomes for victims, their families and friends, and wider society. Whilst there are numerous preventative measures in place to help reduce the re-offending risk of women who have been charged with breaking sexual offending laws, there have been no effective initiatives designed to tackle the pro-offending attitudes of women in the general population who have not committed a sexual crime but who may do under the correct circumstances. By highlighting the prevalence of, and psychological risk factors associated with, community females' interest in illegal sexual behaviours, our findings encourage professionals to reflect on this issue and develop more effective strategies to better manage sexual offending in the community.

Perspectives

By demonstrating that a notable proportion of community females possess positive attitudes towards committing sexual crimes, I hope that our article catalyses follow-up research into sexual harm prevention and encourages academics, policymakers, and wider professionals to consider more current (ineffective) approaches to tackling female sexual offending.

Mr Samuel T. Hales
University of Kent

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This page is a summary of: Do community females display a propensity towards sexual aggression? An empirical assessment of prevalence and psychological predictors, Psychology Crime and Law, November 2021, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/1068316x.2021.1999948.
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