A mother of a four-year-old-boy gives him a bath. At one point she grabs his penis and washes it with a kind of fierceness. We have to wash carefully under your foreskin, she reminds him. She spends about five minutes washing his penis. The boy giggles and enjoys the experience. His penis becomes erect. He feels peculiar when his mother touches his private part, but doesnt know what that means. Neither the mother nor the boy thinks of this as sexual abuse. She does it every time she bathes him.

The mother feels guilty because, in order to save money, she didnt circumcise her son when he was younger. This guilt propels her to pay considerable attention to washing under his foreskin. Although she is not acting out of sexual desire, her behavior is sexually inappropriate. The ultimate result is that the boy grows up to be a man who prefers masturbation over sexual intercourse. All women to him are mothers who will cross his sexual boundaries. All women arouse his castration fear.

Studies and observations by experts seem to confirm that sexual abuse of children by females is rising, at least In England. Detectives at Scotland Yard’s Paedophile Unit reported an “increased prevalence” of female offenders. But police sources said that estimating the number of pedophiles in the UK was problematic, since the vast majority of such cases are not reported. Indeed, the topic of female sexual abuse of children is largely hidden under a shroud of secrecy. We do not like to think of mothers or women as sexual abusers. The case described above is a case in point. Many lay people would say this is just a mother being a mother. But if a father bathed his daughter and spent 5 minutes washing her vagina, it would definitely be seen as sexual abuse.

Researchers at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation (LFF), a child protection charity in the UK that focuses on British female sex offenders, maintains that female child sex abuse is more widespread than people suspect. Studies by LFF confirmed that a “fair proportion” of child abusers are women. Donald Findlater, Director of Research, noted that up to 20% of 320,000 suspected UK pedophiles were women. He stressed, however, that these are only the cases that are reported.

Experts divide female sex offenders into three categories. One category, which we often read about in the news, is the young female (often a teacher) who is attracted to sex with an adolescent boy. Such women are often not attracted to men their own age and find an adolescent boy appealing because he is less threatening. These women want to be in control of the sexual relationship and get off on lapping up a juveniles innocence. They may also get off on seducing a virginal young man.

Another category of female child sex abusers are mothers who abuse their own daughters. Such mothers generally have narcissistic personalities and regard their daughters as rivals. A narcissistic mother may have a need for admiration and an exaggerated sense of self-importance that leads to jealousy of her daughter. Thank of the childrens story, Snow White, in which the queen is jealous of Snow White and orders her to be killed.

An associated category constitutes mothers who molest their own children; they are sometimes referred to as mother molesters and, according to one report, comprise a significant proportion of female child sex offenders. The article cited research that contended women are 4.5 times more likely to offend against their biological child than men, as well as other children in their care. Often such women have been abused themselves as children and are viewed as acting out an addiction.

Yet another category is passive women who sexually abuse a child, usually their own child, while under the influence of a male pedophile. Such women are not pedophiles themselves but are influenced to act that way by a dominant male figure in their lives. Often that figure is someone close to them, such as a boyfriend.

According to a study in Advances in Clinical Child Psychology, 40-80% of child sex offenders have themselves been victims of sexual abuse. Since they were sexually abused as children and the experience seemed normal, they often feel little guilt about abusing a child later on when they are an adult. This statistic covers all perpetrators, male and female.

And then again, most experts point out the double standard in the way male and female sexual abusers are viewed. “In society, it used to be that with a 13- or 14-year-old male, if his first sexual experience involved a 25-year-old girl who may well have taken advantage of him, his male counterparts may say, ‘Hey, you lucked out,’” noted Dr. Richard Gartner. “It was almost seen as a rite of passage. That’s the only group that later recalls such experiences as ‘lucking out.’ You don’t find that in females. Today, that kind of behavior is regarded as sexual assault.”

This is another reason why female sexual abuse of children is under reported. Gartner goes on to emphasize the often disguised nature of the problem. “Adults can be very clever,” said Gartner. “With female assault of boys, children, the abuse can often happen in the guise of something dealing with cleanliness, like during bathing. There seems to be very little [in society] out there for a boy to feel like his betrayal is validated.” Because of this double standard, boys are much less likely to think of themselves as sexually abused and much less able or willing to report it. Often they are laughed at by police if they report it. However, it is because of this double standard that a boy who is sexually abused becomes confused about the abuse and later confused about his sexuality. He may find himself attracted to children when he becomes an adult, without any understanding of why he has such attractions. His sexual development remains stunted.

Clearly, there needs to be more research on female sexual abusers and the victims of female sexual abuse so that we can have a deeper understanding of this growing problem