Skip to main content

The New Portrayal of Female Child Sexual Offenders in the Print Media: A Qualitative Content Analysis


The mass media has the ability to shape public opinion on child sexual offenders. To date, research has found that offenses committed by female child sexual offenders have been portrayed in the media with undertones of sympathy and romanticization. With the apparent shift in gender roles toward gender egalitarianism, the aim of the present study was to obtain an up-to-date understanding of how female child sexual offenders are portrayed in the print media across western countries. The study utilized newspaper articles involving female child sexual offenders, published in English across western countries from 2012 to 2016 (N = 35 articles). A qualitative content analysis revealed two major themes: female child sexual offenders are dangerous and they are accountable for their actions. The findings of the current study are positive and shed light on the potential advancement of the reporting of female child sexual offenders in the print media at an international level.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. In the most recent study, a sampling frame from 2000 to 2010 was used (Hayes and Baker 2014). In turn, there was no overlap between Hayes and Baker’s (2014) sampling frame and the one used in the current study.

  2. While the term “child sex offender” or “child sexual offender” could have been utilized, it would have been impractical to examine all newspaper reports (most on male child sexual offenders), internationally, over a 5-year period.

  3. As the literature concerning gender roles changing away from traditional values has predominantly focused on research in western countries, articles from non-western countries were not included.

  4. The offender’s age at the time of the newspaper publication is provided here rather than the offender’s age at the time of offense because the newspaper articles most consistently provided the offender’s age at time of publication. While most articles indicated when the crime occurred, there was not enough information provided to establish the offender’s exact age at the time of offense. Most crimes had, however, occurred within the past 5 years of the newspaper’s publication.

  5. An average victim age cannot be provided as many articles did not provide the age of the victim. Rather, these articles indicated the child as a “baby”, “toddler” or “teenager”. In contrast to the offender’s age, the articles mainly reported on the victim’s age at the time of the offense, rather than their age at the time of the newspaper publication.


  • Altheide, D. L. (1987). Reflections: Ethnographic content analysis. Qualitative Sociology. doi:10.1007/BF00988269.

    Google Scholar 

  • Altheide, D. L., & Schneider, C. J. (2012). Qualitative media analysis. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barlow, C. (2016). Sketching women in court: The visual construction of co-accused women in court drawings. Feminist Legal Studies. doi:10.1007/s10691-016-9310-3.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berkeley Media Studies Group. (2003). Distracted by drama: How California newspapers portray intimate partner violence. Resource document. Accessed March 1, 2017.

  • Boroughs, D. S. (2004). Female sexual abusers of children. Children and Youth Services Review. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2004.02.007.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cheit, R. E. (2003). What hysteria? A systematic study of newspaper coverage of accused child molesters. Child Abuse and Neglect. doi:10.1016/S0145-2134(03)00108-X.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chiotti, J. M. (2009). The “illusive” female sex offender: A quantitative content analysis of media exposure. Doctoral dissertation. Washington State University. Accessed October 23, 2017.

  • Christensen, L. S., Sharman, S. J., & Powell, M. B. (2016). Identifying the characteristics of child sexual abuse cases that exit the criminal justice system before the forensic interview. International Journal of Police Science & Management. doi:10.1177/1461355716641973.

    Google Scholar 

  • Clements, H., Dawson, D. L., & Das Nair, R. (2014). Female-perpetrated sexual abuse: A review of victim and professional perspectives. Journal of Sexual Aggression. doi:10.1080/13552600.2013.798690.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cole, E. E., & Daniel, J. H. E. (2005). Featuring females: Feminist analyses of media. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Cortoni, F., Babchishin, K. M., & Rat, C. (2016). The proportion of sexual offenders who are female is higher than thought: A meta-analysis. Criminal Justice and Behavior. doi:10.1177/0093854816658923.

    Google Scholar 

  • Denov, M. S. (2003). The myth of innocence: Sexual scripts and the recognition of child sexual abuse by female perpetrators. Journal of Sex Research. doi:10.1080/00224490309552195.

    Google Scholar 

  • Denov, M. S. (2004). The long-term effects of child sexual abuse by female perpetrators: A qualitative study of male and female victims. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi:10.1177/0886260504269093.

    Google Scholar 

  • Doucet, A., & Lee, R. (2014). Fathering, feminism (s), gender, and sexualities: Connections, tensions, and new pathways. Journal of Family Theory and Review. doi:10.1111/jftr.12051.

    Google Scholar 

  • Elliott, M. (1994). Female sexual abuse of children. New York, NY: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fine-Davis, M. (2016). Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in Ireland. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Geddes, R. A., Tyson, G. A., & McGreal, S. (2013). Gender bias in the education system: Perceptions of teacher–student sexual relationships. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law. doi:10.1080/13218719.2012.72842.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hayes, S., & Baker, B. (2014). Female sex offenders and pariah femininities: Rewriting the sexual scripts. Journal of Criminology. doi:10.1155/2014/414525.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hetherton, J. (1999). The idealization of women: Its role in the minimization of child sexual abuse by females. Child Abuse and Neglect. doi:10.1016/S0145-2134(98)00119-7.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kalders, A., Inkster, H., & Britt, E. (1997). Females who offend sexually against children in New Zealand. Journal of Sexual Aggression. doi:10.1080/13552609708413266.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lam, K. (2014). Factors associated with adolescents’ disclosure of sexual abuse experiences in Hong Kong. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse. doi:10.1080/10538712.2014.950398.

    Google Scholar 

  • Landor, R. V. (2009). Double standards? Representation of male vs. female sex offenders in the Australian media. Griffith Working Papers in Pragmatics and Intercultural Communication, 2(2), 84–93.

    Google Scholar 

  • Landor, R. V., & Eisenchlas, S. A. (2012). “Coming clean” on duty of care: Australian print media’s representation of male versus female sex offenders in institutional contexts. Sexuality and Culture. doi:10.1007/s12119-012-9134-5.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leclerc, B., & Wortley, R. (2015). Predictors of victim disclosure in child sexual abuse: Additional evidence from a sample of incarcerated adult sex offenders. Child Abuse and Neglect. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.03.003.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mathis, J. L. (1972). Clear thinking about sexual deviations. New Boston, IL: Nelson Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Matthews, J. K., Mathews, R., & Speltz, K. (1991). Female sexual offenders: A typology. In M. Q. Patton (Ed.), Family sexual abuse: Frontline research and evaluation (pp. 199–219). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Meyers, M. (1996). News coverage of violence against women: Engendering blame. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peter, T. (2008). Exploring taboos: Comparing male-and female-perpetrated child sexual abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi:10.1177/0886260508322194.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quinn, J. F., Forsyth, C. J., & Mullen-Quinn, C. (2004). Societal reaction to sex offenders: A review of the origins and results of the myths surrounding their crimes and treatment amenability. Deviant Behavior. doi:10.1080/01639620490431147.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sandler, J., & Freeman, N. J. (2011). Female sex offenders and the criminal justice system: A comparison of arrests and outcomes. Journal of Sexual Aggression. doi:10.1080/13552600.2010.537380.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snyder, H. N. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident, and offender characteristics. Resource document. National Incident Based Reporting System, U.S. Department of Justice. Accessed March 1, 2017.

  • Tewksbury, R., & Lees, M. B. (2007). Perceptions of punishment: How registered sex offenders view registries. Crime and Delinquency. doi:10.1177/0011128706286915.

    Google Scholar 

  • Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Gentile, B. (2012). Increases in individualistic words and phrases in American books. Public Library of Science. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040181.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zack, E., Lang, J. T., & Dirks, D. (2016). “It must be great being a female pedophile!”: The nature of public perceptions about female teacher sex offenders. Crime, Media, Culture. doi:10.1177/1741659016674044.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The author would like to thank Ms. Katelyn Jansen for her invaluable assistance throughout the course of this project.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Larissa S. Christensen.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by the author.

Informed Consent

For this type of study formal consent was not required.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Christensen, L.S. The New Portrayal of Female Child Sexual Offenders in the Print Media: A Qualitative Content Analysis. Sexuality & Culture 22, 176–189 (2018).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: