‘Lucky Boy!’; Public Perceptions of Child Sexual Offending Committed by Women

AuthorPaula Bradbury,Elena Martellozzo
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/25166069211060091
Published date01 October 2021
Date01 October 2021
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
‘Lucky Boy!’; Public
Perceptions of Child
Sexual Offending
Committed by Women
Paula Bradbury1 and Elena Martellozzo1
Abstract
This exploratory study addresses the existing gaps on the public perceptions of
child sexual offending committed by women. Using thematic analysis, the study
extracted, coded and analysed the comments (N = 1,651) made by the gen-
eral public to nine Daily Mail online newspaper articles published from 2018 to
2019, reporting the sentencing decisions of female sex offenders, who have been
charged and found guilty with the offence of sexual activity with a child. From
those comments, 170 coded themes were identified, and this amounted to 3,394
coded incidences. Unlike previous research, this study cross-examines public
responses to different typologies of offending behaviour; teachers, mothers, same
sex offenders, co-offenders and finally those who offended for financial gain. The
impact of these typologies was analysed through key descriptive case variables,
which were quantitively evaluated against the prominent themes that emerged.
It found that while people demand equal sentencing decisions between male and
female child sex offenders, this is limited by public perception when the abuser
is an attractive female and, as a result, perceived as less harmful to the child, who
is not seen no longer as a victim but as a ‘Lucky Boy’. Such preconceptions fuel
shame, social stigma and stereotyping towards sexual exposure and prevents
victims to disclose their abuse and achieve closure and justice.
Keywords
Female sexual offending, child sexual abuse, public perception, media framing,
gender and crime
Original Article
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
4(2) 160–178, 2021
2021 Rajiv Gandhi National
University of Law
Reprints and permissions:
in.sagepub.com/journals-permissions-india
DOI: 10.1177/25166069211060091
journals.sagepub.com/home/vvj
1 Criminology, Middlesex University, The Burroughs, London, UK.
Corresponding author:
Elena Martellozzo, Criminology, Middlesex University, The Burroughs, London NW4 4BT, UK.
E-mail: e.martellozzo@mdx.ac.uk
Bradbury and Martellozzo 161
Introduction
The number of studies examining ‘real-world’ human responses to controversial
issues such as female child sexual abuse and the perception of harm caused to
child victims, is still a relatively neglected area of scholarship. The aim of this
research is to identify public perceptions towards the female offenders reported in
the nine articles and to understand the extent to which the mass media may frame
and influence the responses of readers and their perception of deviancy and
harmfulness. One of the most restated assumptions concerning child sexual abuse
contends that men carry out the vast majority of, though not all, abuse. Furthermore,
the cultural taboo surrounding sexual abuse by women would make it more
unlikely that children would report such crimes.2 This taboo is integrated by
childcare professionals who considered that ‘whilst child sexual abuse perpetrated
by females … [was] a serious issue warranting investigation, a number advocated
decisions [that] suggested they did not consider female-perpetrated abuse to be as
serious as male-perpetrated abuse’.3
With such a small percentage of child sexual abuse cases being attributed to
women, it is assumed that women are less likely to commit this crime against
children. Many ascribe this to women’s instinctive feminine protectiveness. In
more recent years, female sexual offending is no longer a hidden social taboo that
can be ignored and the media have certainly contributed to unmasking such crime.
Stories of women who sexually offend against children often make the front pages
of British newspapers with sensationalizing and titillating headlines such as ‘…
sex sessions with 15-year-old boy’, ‘…insanely perky boobs’ and ‘What boy
would turn down such an attractive offer?’ These headlines are supported by
images which either reflect young attractive women extracted from their selfies
published on Facebook or Instagram, or worse for wear unattractive images taken
by press photographers outside the court. Both types of portrayal sell papers that
can be seen in the popularity of search engine results with 52,100,000 hits for
Female sex offender on Google alone.
There has been a substantial amount of research conducted into the phenomenon
of online commenting in relation to news articles.4 However, an area of research
which is lacking attention is the analysis into audience response to media messages
relating to female sexual offending and how these responses are shaped by the
media itself. It is one of the aims of this paper to fill those gaps.
Overall, crime and its relationship with the media receives a large degree of
attention, as our world becomes ever more immersed online. The omnipresence of
mass media reaches out to everyone, of any age, through multiple digital platforms,
2 B. Corby, A. Doig & V. Roberts, Inquiries Into Child Abuse, 20 J. Soc. Wel. Fam. L. 377 (1998).
3 J. Hetherton & L. Beardsall, Decisions and Attitudes Concerning Child Sexual Abuse: Does the
Gender of the Perpetrator make a Difference to Child Protection Professionals? 22 Child Abuse
Negl. 1265 (1998).
4 D. Dirks, C. Heldman & E. Zack, ‘She’s White and She’s Hot, so She Can’t be Guilty’: Female
Criminality, Penal Spectatorship, and White Protectionism, 18 Contemp. Justice Rev. 160 (2015); R.
Fredheim, A. Moore, J. Naughton, Anonymity and Online Commenting: An Empirical Study, SSRN J.
(2015); E. Zack, J. T. Lang & D. Dirks, ‘It Must Be Great Being a Female Pedophile!’: The Nature of
Public Perceptions about Female Teacher Sex Offenders, 14 Crime Media Cult. 61 (2018).

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