It's about as sordid as a story can get: Jaycee Lee Dugard, then 11 years old, kidnapped and kept as a sex slave in a backyard for 18 years, bears her captor's two children. The alleged perpetrators of the crime are convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, both charged with 29 counts of kidnapping, rape, and lewd acts with a minor. When trying to process the story, it's easy to want to believe that Nancy Garrido was also held captive by her husband, and was forced to participate in his disturbed sexual behavior. How could a woman willingly participate in the rape of a child?
Dr. Michelle Golland, a licensed clinical psychologist, says Nancy Garrido's actions are more common than most of us would like to believe. Nancy herself was probably sexually abused as a child, explains Dr. Golland, and her relationship with her husband and their control over Jaycee Dugard let her "identify herself as the aggressor. She herself is in control as she reenacts the crimes that she endured as a child." There's also the possibility, says Golland, that Nancy was unable to have children of her own. According to reports, Phillip Garrido has claimed that his two daughters by Jaycee slept inside the main house. This would create a severely disturbed "nuclear family," with Nancy as "mother," all the while still being able to act out her sadistic fantasies with her husband.
How Phillip and Nancy met is yet another telling piece of the puzzle. Phillip Garrido, serving a 50-year sentence in a Leavenworth prison for rape and kidnapping, begins a relationship with Nancy, who was at the prison visiting a relative. "She knew his crimes. She was a pretty disturbed personality herself," says Dr. Golland.
When it comes to criminal behavior, women are not immune. A 2007 report by the Center for Sex Offender Management says that one half of sex offender therapy programs provide services to females. Approximately 3,800 adult women and 2,700 adolescent girl offenders were receiving sex offender therapy services in 2007 -- a number that's nearly doubled in two years.
"We have to understand that abuse is not relegated to males," says Dr. Golland, "that these things develop in a woman as much as in men. Only then can we give victims the support they need to report the trauma and seek help in their healing."
Characteristics of female sex offenders:
- They are women between the ages of 22-33 years of age.
- They have experienced sexual abuse as children or teens, and can have victimization histories at twice the rate of men who sexually offend.
- They have a history of alcohol and/or drug abuse.
- The majority are not mentally ill, but may experience depression or personality disorders.
- A majority are employed in professional jobs.
- They have difficulties in intimate relationships, or an absence of intimate relationships.
Victims of female sex offenders:
- A high percentage of victims are in the family, or the perpetrator is close to the victim -- friend, teacher, coach, sitter, or clergy.
- Victims are both boys and girls -- with a slightly higher number of girls.
- Younger children, under the age of 12, are more often victims of women over the age of 30.
- Children between the ages of 13-17 are often the victims of women who are between the ages of 18 to 25 years of age.
- Women do not tend to show a "victim age preference" in the same manner that male sex offenders do.
Categories of female sex offenders:
- Teacher/Lover: At the time of their offending, these women are often struggling with peer relationships. They perceive themselves as having romantic or sexually mentoring "relationships" with underaged adolescent victims of their sexual preference, and therefore, do not consider what they are doing to be wrong or criminal in nature.
- Predisposed: Histories of incestuous sexual victimization, psychological difficulties, and deviant sexual fantasies are common among these women, who generally act alone in their offending. They tend to victimize their own children or other young children within their families or those they have close access to.
- Male-Coerced: These women tend to be passive and dependent individuals with histories of sexual abuse and relationship difficulties. Fearing abandonment, they are pressured by male partners to commit sex offenses, often against their own children.
Dr. Golland is a USC graduate and a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY#16974). She works with adults, teens and is an expert in the field of marriage and relationships. Dr. Golland has given her expert advice on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, ABC, and Fox News. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two wonderfully exhausting children.