According to research discussed in this article, female sex offenders tend to have mental health issues equal to that of women who have committed other violent crimes (the sex offenses used in this study included rape, non-consensual sex, sexual assault, and sexual molestation). In addition, the rates of mental health problems as compared to a control group were significantly higher. From the article:
“However, the figures differ widely from the control group. Incidences of psychosis were 16 times higher amongst the sex offenders than the control group, drug abuse 23 times higher. According to the research team, the results indicate that women suspected or convicted of sexual offences should undergo routine psychiatric examination, something which, at present, is not done.”
The article notes that previous research has not shown higher levels of mental health problems for male sex offenders. Having worked with both male and female offenders, I am not surprised by this finding. Without making any comment on whether the mental health issues present are mitigating in terms of the offending behavior, in my experience female offenders by and large do have a significantly higher number of mental health issues, as compared with male offenders. It seems reasonable that this general trend would also apply to this specific class of offender. Female offenders not only tend to have more mental health difficulties, they also utilize mental health services far more than their male counterparts. Part of this may be the types of mental health issues typically present in the female offender population, part of this may be that mental health services are less stigmatizing in the female offender population, and part of this difference is likely due to other factors as well. In general, the differences in the prison culture at female prisons versus male prisons are fascinating. In addition to the differences in the usage of mental health services (as well as the need for crisis services due to self-injurious behavior, or “crises” that turn out to be not-quite crisis level), there are a number of other dynamics that are really interesting. Sounds like a great future blog post topic!