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Female Aggression

ISBN: 978-0-470-97547-3
240 pages
December 2014, Wiley-Blackwell
Female Aggression (0470975474) cover image


This critique explodes the stereotypical assumption that men are more prone than women to aggression

  • A cogent and holistic assessment of the theoretical positions and research concerning female aggression
  • Examines the treatment, punishment and community response to female aggressive behavior
  • Examines topics including sexual power, serial murder and the evolution of gendered aggression
  • Treats female aggression in its own right rather than as a counterpart to male violence
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgements xi

1 Theories, Research and Misconceptions about Female Aggression 1

Introduction 1

Aggression and Women 2

Violent Crime and Women 5

Theories of Aggression 8

Theories based on biological difference 8

Environmental factors 18

Psychological models 19

Measuring aggression 26

2 The Evolution of Aggression 29

Darwinism and Sociobiology 29

The Naked Ape – Was She in the Jungle or the Sea? 31

The Evolution of Aggression and the Archaeology of War 32

Intersexual vs Intrasexual Aggression 33

Conclusion 36

3 Indirect Aggression 38

Indirect Aggression in Girls and Teens 39

Women and Indirect Aggression 40

4 Child Abuse and Neglect by Women 44

Introduction 44

Prevalence 45

Mental Illness 48

Social Learning and Own Abuse History 49

Antisocial Mothers 50

Other Factors in Child Abuse 52

Failure to Protect 53

Abusive Mothers’ Perspective on Their Children 54

Recidivism 57

Effects of Abuse on Children 57

Conclusion 59

5 Intimate Partner Violence by Women 61

Introduction 61

Prevalence of Women’s Violence Against Heterosexual Partners 64

Prevalence of Women’s Violence Against Homosexual Partners 67

Severity and Injury 67

Recidivism 68

Women’s Intimate Partner Violence and Stalking 68

Intimate Partner Violence by Women Resulting in Homicide 69

Intimate Partner Violence Initiation vs Self-Defence 70

Anger, Communication and Control 71

Social Learning and Intimate Partner Violence by Women 72

Personality and Intimate Partner Violence by Women 73

Typologies 74

Reporting Issues by Victims 75

Witnessing Inter-Parental Violence 76

Treatment 77

Conclusion 78

6 Rape, Sexual Assault and Molestation by Women 80

Introduction 80

Rape, Sexual Assaults and Coercion: Beyond the Male Perpetrator–Female Victim Paradigm 80

The Prevalence of Female Sexual Assaults Based on Perpetrator Self-Report 81

Victim prevalence reports 82

Theories Regarding Sexual Assault by Women 83

Women Who Sexually Offend Against Children 85

Prevalence 85

Similarities and differences compared with male sex offenders (MSOs) 85

Typologies 87

Deviant arousal and mental illness 90

Past victimization 91

Child Pornography and the Internet 92

Victim Effects 93

Awareness, Gender Bias and the Social Construction of Women 94

Legal Issues 95

Assessment, Treatment and Recidivism 96

A Brief Note on Juvenile Female Sex Offenders 100

Conclusion 101

7 Filicide by Women 102

Introduction 102

Neonaticide 103

Pregnancy Concealment, Denial and Negation 104

Infanticide 107

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Infanticide 108

Child Homicide by Women 109

Language, Filicide and Objectification 111

Gender and Filicide 112

Typologies 113

Mental Illness and Filicide 114

Serial Infanticide 117

Legalities 120

Conclusion 122

8 Homicide and Women 123

What Is Homicide? 123

Types of Homicide 124

Genocide 124

Mass murder 128

Mass murder for ideology 131

Murder 132

Killing for love 133

Women who kill from fear 134

Women who kill for money 136

Girls who kill 137

Manslaughter 142

Suicide 142

Conclusion 143

9 Serial Murder and Women 144

What Is Serial Murder? 145

Explanations for Serial Murder 146

Childhood 146

Psychiatric explanations 152

The role of psychopathy 153

The role of paraphilias 155

Neurological contributions 157

Female Serial Killers 158

Comfort serial killers 158

Couples Who Kill 160

Conclusion 163

10 Conclusion 165

References 169

Index 217

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Author Information

Helen Gavin is Director of Graduate Education at the University of Huddersfield, UK, where she  also lectures in Forensic and Criminal Psychology Previously, she was Head of Psychology at the University of the West of England, UK. Her publications include The Essence of Cognitive Psychology (1998), Understanding Research Methods & Statistics in Psychology (2008),  Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: Psychological, Legal and Cultural Examinations of Sex and Sexuality (2010) and  Criminological and Forensic Psychology (2014)


Theresa Porter is a forensic psychologist currently practicing in Connecticut, USA. She worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons for nearly a decade where she had extensive experience with female offenders. She lectures and publishes on violence by women, including Infanticide and Neonaticide: A Review of 40 Years of Research Literature on Incidence and Causes (with Helen Gavin; 2010), Woman as molester: Implications for society (2010), A Case of Factitious Paedophilia (with Mark D. Feldman, 2011) and Hits Like a Girl; Women who Batter their Partners (2011).

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"This book represents a truly fantastic addition to the literature on female aggression. It covers a whole host of aggressive crimes from a very thoughtful and gender-informed perspective. This book is an absolute necessity for professionals working with or researching women who have offended. I've no doubt that this book is a landmark text which will springboard important future research and practice in this area."
—Professor Theresa A. Gannon, University of Kent 

"Helen Gavin and Theresa Porter have written a brave and uncompromising book, one that is scholarly, firm, careful, and a bit daunting. They challenge our most cherished feminist beliefs about women as the more compassionate, cooperative, 'maternal,' and non-violent of the genders. Clearly, they are not only writing about teenage 'mean girls'; the authors are weighing the research on women, including mothers, who abuse and neglect children; batter their partners, both male and female, sexually assault (or join in group sexual assaults) of women, kill their babies, kill other adults. They refuse to minimize the importance of female aggression only because men are more violent and, to their credit, Gavin and Porter critique others for doing so. And why? Because the  authors  have treatment goals in mind, ways of helping anti-social mothers and/or of rescuing their children. An entirely laudable endeavor. 

This is a serious work and demands that the reader drop many preconceptions in order to benefit from the material presented. Brava for taking on this painful, difficult and important subject."
—Phyllis Chesler, Author of Women and Madness and Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman
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