Research Finds Sexual Victimization Perpetrated by Women More Common than Previously Known

For Immediate Release November 28, 2016

Media Contact: Noel Alumit, alumit@law.ucla.edu
Office: 310-794-2332

Research Finds Sexual Victimization Perpetrated by Women More Common than Previously Known
A New Journal Article Explores Sexual Victimization by Women

(Los Angeles) — Using U.S. federal agency data, researchers find that female sexual perpetration is more common than previously recognized. The researchers’ findings contradict the common belief that female sexual perpetration is rare.

Sexual victimization by women perpetrators occurs mostly against men and occasionally against women.

The research, published in a paper titled “Sexual Victimization Perpetrated by Women: Federal Data Reveal Surprising Prevalence” was written by Lara Stemple, Director of the UCLA Law School’s Health and Human Rights Law Project, and Williams Institute researchers Andrew Flores and Ilan Meyer and was recently published in Aggression and Violent Behavior.

The researchers suggest that inclusive approaches to understanding sexual victimization are essential to ensuring that professionals responding to sexual victimization address it appropriately. Gender and heterosexist stereotypes, such as the idea that only men are sexual perpetrators and that women are incapable of sexual abuse, interfere with complex understandings of sexual victimization.

“Sexual victimization perpetrated by men remains a serious, ongoing threat,” said Lara Stemple. “Without detracting from this, our research aims to reflect the broader reality that women can also be perpetrators.”

This is the first study to assess the role of women as perpetrators of sexual abuse in large federal data sets, providing more reliable estimates about the prevalence of female sexual perpetration than has been published in the literature to date.

Key findings include:

  • Using data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report finds that women and men reported a nearly equal prevalence of nonconsensual sex in a 12-month period. Females were vastly more likely to have been abused by men. However, the majority of male victims report female perpetrators. The form of nonconsensual sex that men are much more likely to experience than women (namely, being “made to penetrate” someone else)  is frequently perpetrated by women: 79.2 percent of victimized men reported female perpetrators.
  • Heterosexual male victims were much more likely to report non-rape sexual victimization by a female perpetrator in their lifetime (71.4 percent) than were bisexual men (34.2 percent) or gay men (21.4 percent). In contrast, heterosexual women victims were less likely to report such abuse by a female perpetrator in their lifetime (5.3 percent) than were lesbian (14.8 percent) or bisexual (12.5 percent) women victims.
  • Using pooled data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, researchers found that incidents of rape/assault involving at least one female perpetrator were reported in 34.7 percent of incidents involving male victims. Among people reporting rape/sexual assault by a female perpetrator, 57.6 percent of male victims and 41.4 percent of female victims reported that the incident involved an attack whereby the offender hit, knocked down, or otherwise attacked the victim.
  • Among adult prisoners reporting staff sexual victimization, 80.0 percent reported only female perpetrators. Gay and bisexual men and lesbian and bisexual women in prison were 2-3 times more likely to report prison staff sexual victimization than their heterosexual counterparts. Among juveniles reporting staff sexual victimization, 89.3 percent reported only female perpetrators.

The findings compel a rethinking of long-held stereotypes about sexual victimization and gender.  Moving forward, new, inclusive approaches should be used to comprehensively address sexual victimization in all forms. This includes taking into account issues specific to LGBT people, youth, people of color, and incarcerated persons.

Read the Report.

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The Williams Institute, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance.

The Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA School of Law seeks to improve global health by using a framework grounded in international human rights law. Through multi-disciplinary research, training and mentorship, the Project aims to examine the relationship between health and human rights and to foster the next generation of leaders working in this area.

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