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Decisions and Attitudes Concerning Child Sexual Abuse: Does the Gender of the Perpetrator Make a Difference to Child Protection Professionals?

NCJ Number
Child Abuse and Neglect Volume: 22 Issue: 12 Dated: December 1998 Pages: 1265-1283
J Hetherton; L Beardsall
Date Published
19 pages
This study examined the attitudes and decisions of 65 social workers and 65 police officers who investigate cases of alleged child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom, with emphasis on the impact of the gender of the alleged perpetrator.
The research focused on whether child protection investigators were as likely to take a case seriously if it had been perpetrated by a female rather than a male, and on whether decisions related to female-perpetrated abuse were predicted by participants' sex-role perceptions of women and their attitudes toward women's sexualized behavior toward children. The participants reviewed vignettes depicting four hypothetical cases of child sexual abuse in which the perpetrator was either male or female. Results revealed that all participant groups considered case registration and imprisonment of the perpetrator more appropriate following male-perpetrated rather than female-perpetrated sexual abuse. Male social workers also considered social services involvement and investigation as more appropriate following male-perpetrated rather than female-perpetrated abuse. In addition, a substantial number of decisions concerning female-perpetrated abuse were predicted by participants' attitudes. Findings suggested that victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by a woman may be less likely to receive protection than victims of male-perpetrated abuse, and that professionals' practices may inadvertently be perpetuating the attitude that child sexual abuse by females is rare or less harmful than abuse carried out by males. Tables and 27 references (Author abstract modified)