Italian Journal of Criminology

The official journal of the Italian Society of Criminology

by Ignazio Grattagliano, Alessandra Mele, Feliciana Ieva, Felice Carabellese

Women who sexually abuse minors: It is not often seen, and case histories are scarce. Less is known about abusive mothers who enjoy a lack of negative prejudice. It is difficult to discover an abusive mother as they often disguise their practices during normal acts of care giving. It is very difficult for cases of maternal abuse to be uncovered, and when it does happen, the abusers enjoy a different standard of evaluation based on the belief that a mother possesses the innate task of protecting her child. This further prolongs her protective role in a non-culpable manner. This contributes to the fact that the sexual mother-child relationship does not usually involve violent acts, but rather, their “forms of abuse” are accompanied by normal acts of care, love, and cleanliness, which serve to further confuse matters. Gabbard (1995) maintains, for example, that women, who suffered sexual violence as children may utilize an exasperated model of feminine sexuality to vindicate themselves from the abuse perpetrated by men and to reassure their own sexuality. From a “passive” role, which she plays as submissive victim, the woman attempts to find redemption, as well as her own affirmation in an “active” role via her relationship with the child who she can control. It is well known how inner psychology has demonstrated that one of the most important consequences of an unresolved trauma (abandonment, loss, experience of abuse) is the compulsion to repeat it. By abusing children, these women are able to reproduce the original traumatic situation, putting themselves in a position of control rather than that of victim. It may be defined as “a control principle and the mastery over the trauma”. In the literature, female perpetrators of sexual crimes are often described as people who have not completely resolved the processes of identification and differentiation with the mother figure (M.Tardif et al 2005), and who have suffered long term sexual abuse as children.They are people who have not been able to develop a good and healthy maternal identity.Their conflict between the desire to become a good mother and their tendency toward repeating those behaviours of the female parent, or other abuser consumes them.

Psicologo Psicoterapeuta Specialista in Criminologia Clinica Sez. Criminologia Clinica e Psichiatria Forense Fac. Medicina e Chirurgia Bari
Ignazio Grattagliano
Assistente Sociale Ufficio U.E.P.E Bari
Alessandra Mele
Feliciana Ieva
Ricercatore di Criminologia, Sezione di Criminologia e Psichiatria forense Di.M.I.M.P., Università di Bari
Felice Carabellese
Contacts: Ignazio Grattagliano, Sezione di Criminologia e Psichiatria forense, Di.M.I.M.P., Università degli Studi di Bari, p.zza Giulio Cesare 14, 70124 Bari, tel. 080/5478282 - fax 080/5478248 - e-mail i.grattagliano(at)

From: Rassegna Italiana di Criminologia n. 1/2008



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