The mere fact of specifying “female pedophile” in news stories tells you everything you need to know about our culture’s blindness to women who abuse. Marie Black, a Norwich, UK woman recently found to be at the center of one of the most disturbing Paedophile (brit term for pedophile) rings in recent history, is a prime example.
Thirty-four-year-old Black, along with nine others (six of them women) was found guilty of sexually assaulting five children over the course of ten years by the Norwich Crown Court after 19 hours of deliberations. Black herself has been placed at the heart of the group’s activities, and although she denied all 26 offenses, the court found her guilty of all but three counts.
But the case gets interesting in the same way that all women-as-abuser cases do: case prosecutor Angela Rafferty reportedly asked, “Was she a helpless victim of abusive males or was she herself deeply involved with the children's ill treatment?” giving voice to the common assumption that women can only abuse children under the influence of a male.
Common cultural archetypes paint men as natural predators and women who abuse as lonely, misguided or coerced by a masterminding male abuser. Abuse of boys by school teachers is even a standard fantasy that characterizes the victims as “lucky”, something that would be unthinkable were the genders reversed.
As the case unfolded, it emerged that the ring was responsible for extensive abuse over many years, all taking place in and around the accused’s Norwich and London homes. The ten defendants, ranging in age from 30 to 85, denied all charges.
Clinical social workers and sexual abuse experts have always known that true statistics on the extent of abuse perpetrated by women are hard to come by. The double shame of being abused by those we see as nurturers results in victims not reporting their assault. One study found that up to 86% of victims who did report their abuse were not believed, leading to female sexual abuse being far more prevalent than the conviction rates would suggest.
In 2011, The Houston Press published a controversial article titled, 10 Hottest Women on the Texas Sex Offender’s List. The list was criticized for trivializing rape and glamorizing rapists simply because they were women. Presumably, the many two to 16-year-old victims in question, or the 25,000 children assaulted in Texas alone each year didn’t find the experience “hot.” Mary Kay Letourneau, guilty of second degree rape of her 12-year-old student, likewise earned a fair amount of sympathy for claiming to be in love with her victim.
Add this the fact that institutional support is also lacking when it comes to victims of female abuse, and a justice system geared to siding with accused women instead of investigating them, and one wonders at the true extent of the problem. Investigations into Black’s case revealed social workers admitting to repeatedly “tidying up” documents and police who willingly closed a case because the number of allegations was too high to manage, making it “implausible”
With such a heavy cultural focus on women as natural victims and not victimizers, it’s understandable that women like Black can remain undetected for as long as they do. It’s ironically this unwillingness to see female abuse as “plausible” that gave Black and her cohorts the veil of respectability they needed.