Sexual Scripts and Structured Action: Exploring Gendered Language in Cases of Female Sexual Offending
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Few research studies have examined female sexual offending. Furthermore, most of what we know about sexual offending is based on male perpetrators. Our conceptions of female criminals who act outside their designated sexual scripts are formed by prevailing stereotypes of femininity. This research expands the available literature in the field of sexual offending, while examining how women are constituted when it comes to female child sexual offending. I conduct a critical discourse analysis of court transcripts and electronic news articles of cases involving women as child sexual perpetrators. Three criminal cases are examined from Wisconsin, U.S. The goal is to examine whether, and through what processes, traditional sexual scripts are discursively reproduced in court proceedings and media reporting of female sexual offending. Two cases reveal that women who adhere to their expected sexual scripts despite having committed a sexual offense receive sympathetic responses from legal officials and news journalists. The legal and media responses also ensure these women are able to continue their expected roles as women during and following sentencing. On the other hand, one case reveals that women who overtly contravene their expected gender scripts are legally and morally condemned. The call for strict punishment centred upon removing the female offender’s ability to participate in motherhood, because of the offender’s contravention of expected gender scripts by sexually offending against her own children. Furthermore, the male co-offender in this latter case was not deemed to have contravened his sexual scripts, resulting in less social condemnation. Overall, this thesis demonstrates discursive maneuvering that occurs in female sexual offender cases, in which legal officials and news journalists justify offenses based on prevailing notions of femininity.