2000 : WHAT IS TODAY'S MOST IMPORTANT UNREPORTED STORY?

[ print ]

Archaeologist, Professor of the Prehistory of Humanity, University of Vienna; Author, The Artificial Ape
The sexual abuse of children by women

While I was writing about libidinousness among female primates for my book The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture, a friend told me that she had been sexually abused by her mother. My research had helped her cut through the cultural myth that only men could be sexually violent. Since then five more people have told me that as children they were sexually abused by females (not all by their own mother — adult relatives and unrelated persons figure too). A seventh person believes she may have been abused by a female, but her memory is clouded by later abuse by a male. The seven come from a range of social and ethnic backgrounds; three are men and four are women. None of them has had any form of memory-tweaking therapy, such as hypnotic regression. Indeed only two of the seven have mentioned their abuse to a doctor or therapist (as compared with two out of the three people I know who were abused by males).

Each abused child grew up in ignorance of others, in a culture in which their kind of story was not told. As with abuse by males, the psychological effects are profound and long-term. The ability to name what happened is thus won with difficulty and has come only recently to each of the victims I know: maturity and parenthood, supportive friends, and the simple realization that it can actually happen, have all played a part.

Whatever its biological and cultural antecedents — poor parent-infant bonding, the urge to control and dominate, repression, hidden traditions of perversion, etc. — the truth of abuse by males has only recently been accepted, and the extent of it probably remains underestimated. By contrast, abuse by females is almost totally unreported outside specialist clinical literature. Successful criminal prosecutions, rare enough for the former, are almost unheard of for the latter except where they comprise part of more unusual psychopathic crimes (such as the torture and murder of children). But there is nothing inherently implausible about there being as many female as male paedophiles in any given human community. That women paedophiles have been a systemic part of recent social reality is, in my view, today's most important unreported story.