Recidivism rates of female sexual offenders

Research summary
Vol. 11 No. 3
May 2006


How often do female sexual offenders commit new crimes?


Sexual crimes are among the offences that create the most public concern. Although the vast majority of sexual offenders are men, some sexual crimes are committed by women. In 2002, approximately 800 sexual assaults by women were reported to Canadian police (3% of the total sexual offenders that year). There has been considerable research focusing on the recidivism risk of male sexual offenders. This research has identified relevant risk factors, and produced a number of risk scales that are now commonly used to make placement and release decisions with (male) sexual offenders. Female sexual offenders differ from male sexual offenders, however, and are likely to commit their sexual offences with a male accomplice. Consequently, it is important to know the extent to which the risk presented by female sexual offenders is similar to the risk presented by male sexual offenders.


A thorough search was conducted for studies reporting the recidivism rates of female sexual offenders. Six relevant studies were identified (one professional journal publication, two conference presentations, two government reports, and one set of unpublished data). The total sample included follow-up data on 380 female sexual offenders from Canada, the United States, Western Australia and the United Kingdom. The definition of recidivism varied widely. Two studies defined recidivism by new convictions, three based their findings on new arrests, and one study used reports provided by probation officers. The results for sexual, violent, and any recidivism were reported separately.


The observed sexual recidivism rate of the female sexual offenders was very low: 1% after 5 years. The rate of recidivism for any violence (including sexual recidivism) was 6.3%, and the rate for any type of recidivism (violent, non-violent or sexual) was 20.2%. All of these rates were lower than those typically found for male sexual offenders. The five years recidivism rates for male sexual offenders fall in the 10%-15% range for sexual recidivism, 25% for any violent recidivism, and 35%-40% for any recidivism. The number of female sexual recidivists was too small to provide reliable evidence as to the characteristics associated with continued sexual offending. However, one study suggested that sexual recidivists were most likely to be women who offended without a male accomplice against unrelated victims.

Policy Implications

  1. Strategies for managing female sexual offenders should be more concerned with the risk of non-sexual recidivism than sexual recidivism. Their risk for sexual re-offending was extremely low (1%).
  2. The risk assessment procedures developed for predicting sexual recidivism among male sexual offenders are unlikely to be accurate when applied to female sexual offenders.
  3. Until research identifies specific risk factors for female sexual offenders, assessment and intervention with female sexual offenders should be guided by what is known about the more general population of women offenders.


For further information

R. Karl Hanson, Ph.D.
Corrections Research
Public Safety Canada
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8
Phone: 613-991-2840
Fax: 613-990-8295

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