Sentencing disparities for female and male sexual offending in Queensland: Do they exist, and what is the impact?

Dr Larissa Christensen1, Isabella Damiris2, Dr Nadine McKillop1, Dr Kelley Burton3, Dr Susan Rayment-McHugh1, Linda Hobbs4, Dr Tess Patterson4

1Sexual Violence Research And Prevention Unit (SVRPU), School of Law and Criminology, USC Australia, Sunshine Coast, Australia,

2School of Social Sciences, USC Australia, Sunshine Coast, Australia,

3School of Law and Criminology, Sunshine Coast, Australia,

4Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

There is ongoing debate in the criminology scholarship concerning gendered sentencing disparities for sexual offenders. This issue is significantly under-researched in Australasia and globally. Sentencing bias in favour of female sexual offenders ([FSOs], e.g., FSOs are less likely to be sentenced to prison than male sexual offenders [MSOs]), can limit the accessibility to offence-specific treatment for FSOs to reduce the risk of recidivism. Further, bias may have indirect, psychological effects on victims and may impact on community safety. In the present study, we analysed sexual offending cases in Queensland between January 2012 and May 2019 to determine whether sentencing disparities exist between FSOs and MSOs. The study adopted a mixed methods approach. Quantitatively, we conducted a systematic search of LexisAdvance and identified 557 male and 14 female, sexual offending cases in Queensland over the relevant period. We then matched 9 female cases in the Queensland Court of Appeal with 9 male cases based on the type and severity of the sexual offence, characteristics of the offending and victim factors. These matched cases were further coded for all case-relevant factors identified by the Judge so as to examine factors that may affect any disparities in sentencing outcomes found. The qualitative methods involved both an inductive and deductive thematic analysis of the matched cases, to identify whether traditional gender roles, sexual scripts, and cognitive dissonance appeared to inform the sentencing decisions. Our study’s outcomes inform sentencing policy and practice, so as to improve access to gender-specific and offence-specific assessment and treatment.


Dr Larissa S. Christensen is co-leader of the Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit (SVRPU) at USC Australia. She holds a PhD in Psychology and has a strong knowledge base pertaining to child sexual offending, with a key focus on female child sexual offenders. She co-leads a competitive national grant on child exploitation material reduction, funded by the Australian Institute of Criminology. Larissa is the Program Coordinator of the Bachelor of Criminology and Justice within the School of Law and Criminology at USC Australia and is Treasurer of the of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology.

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