By: Cassidy Martenson
*TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT*
The Women’s and Gender Studies department hosted the public forum event “Female sex offenders: (Mis)representations and realities” on March 5. The forum was led by Stacie Merken, assistant professor in the department of Criminal Justice, and examined the dangerous reality of female sex offenders.
The forum explored the roots of inaccurate classification of female offenders.
“The assumption that a woman must be ‘crazy’ or ‘psychotic’ as well as ‘more masculine’ in order to commit violent offenses is deeply rooted in how our society constructs the ‘feminine’ role,” Merken explained.
These assumptions dangerously ignore the realities of FSOs, according to Merken.
FSOs differ from male offenders in many ways, but trauma is a shared outcome of these sex offenses. Female offenders are more likely to target strangers and assault with a co-offender or offenders. FSOs also tend to believe that assault is more traumatic for male victims than female victims.
These differences provide the base for the three main typologies used to classify FSOs. While Merken examines these typologies, she explains that they stem from the same theories that assumed female offenders were either masculine or psychotic.
“Male-coerced female with involvement in sex offending against one’s own children,” “teacher-lover” and “predisposed female offender” are the typologies that attempt to put all FSOs into dangerous categories. By limiting the typologies that explain sexual assault by women, the trauma and danger of FSOs is limited.
The social construction of FSOs has major consequences for society. Merken explains that there are low prosecution rates when it comes to female sex offenses. However, research has shown that trauma is more severe when the offender is female. Society also views female sex offenses as a joke in the media, which has real world consequences.
Merken hopes that the forum not only informed attendees but inspired them to change the social constructs surrounding FSOs.
“I hope to move students away from the fallacies in relation to ‘hot teacher’ or ‘sexy mom’ media stories, movies, and books that portray FSOs in a one-dimension fashion,” Merken said.
Female offenders should be taken just as seriously as their male counterparts due to their crimes.
Merken teaches a variety of courses at IU South Bend and strives to incorporate active learning in the classroom.
“I am a criminologist, victimologist, and generalist, which means I specialize in a wide range of areas and love researching so many topics,” Merken said.
She hopes that all her students graduate ready to apply everything they have learned to real world situations and occupations.
This is the first forum that Merken has hosted, but WGS has hosted a variety of forums throughout the semester.
“This is a great opportunity for everyone to learn about the exciting work that their professors are doing!” Christina Gerken, director of Women’s and Gender Studies department and Interim Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, said.
The next forum will be “Unheard Cries: An Examination of Black Women’s Experience with Police Misconduct in the City of Chicago.” This event will be hosted by Chloe Robinson, assistant professor of Criminal Justice, on April 2 at noon. Students, faculty, and staff can join via Zoom through https://iu.zoom.us/j/84031995319.