Social moralities and discursive constructions of female sex offenders

Sharon Hayes*, Belinda Carpenter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores legal, scholarly and social responses to women identified as sex offenders. While much has been written on the male paedophile, rapist and sex offender, little research has been done on the role of gender and sexuality in sex offending. This article examines the ways in which the female sex offender is currently theorized and the discourses surrounding policy, legislative and media responses to their crimes. We identify contradictory public discourses where perceptions of female child abusers in particular often succumb to moral panic, in spite of many such offenders being given lenient sentences for their crimes. An examination of the discursive construction of female child abusers suggests that these contradictions are informed by underlying assumptions concerning harm and subjectivity in sex crimes. In exploring these contradictions we illustrate the ways in which such discourses are impacted by social moralities, and how social moralities construct offender and victim subjectivities differently, based on differences in gender, age and sexuality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-179
Number of pages21
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Female offenders
  • gender and crime
  • paedophilia
  • sex crimes
  • sex offenders


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