Women paedophiles come out of hiding

Vanessa George

Coline Covington: We should not be surprised that women are sex abusers too

News LAST UPDATED AT 08:10 ON Mon 5 Oct 2009

I would plead to her, tell those parents, all those parents who want to know." This is Vanessa George's husband Andrew begging his wife to name the children she has admitted to sexually abusing while she was employed as a nursery school worker in Plymouth.

Vanessa George, along with Angela Allen from Nottingham and Colin Blanchard from Rochdale, pleaded guilty in court last week to sexually abusing young children.

Aged 39, and with two daughters of her own, she had worked at Little Ted's nursery school for nearly a decade. She was well liked by the mothers who described her as, "a big bubbly woman... friendly, lovely, absolutely lovely. The kids love her". Some regarded her as a "second mother".

Today those same parents refer to her as a "monster" ­ the sight of her makes them feel sick - after George's sexual activities came to light by chance when a colleague of Colin Blanchard's came across disturbing images of young children on Blanchard's computer and reported him to the police.

The trail led to Vanessa George and Angela Allen who had met on Facebook and for two years had been exchanging sexual images of children, including photographs George had taken. Their internet sexual activities and excitement grew to the point where they began to suggest the possibility of abducting young children for sexual purposes.

George was charged with assault on a girl aged around one, "touching" another infant girl, a serious assault on an infant boy and a further serious sexual assault on an infant girl. In addition, she was charged with the possession and distribution of indecent images of children.

What is so shocking and disturbing about the case is the fact that a woman who was entrusted with the care of small children could do such a thing.

Paedophiles are most commonly thought of as being men, but as more and more cases like George and Allen come to light, women are entering the statistics as recognised paedophiles. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation (LFF), a British child protection charity that deals with female sex offenders, estimates that as many as 20 per cent of Britain's 320,000 suspected paedophiles are women.

Women suspected of committing sexual offences have traditionally been treated differently by the criminal justice system, often being referred on to social services or welfare agencies for treatment. While male paedophiles tend to be viewed as predators, female paedophiles have in the past been regarded as mentally ill.

When cases involving women offenders do go to court, they are often referred to family court for trial and are not reported because of confidentiality restrictions.

What has also led us to assume that women abusers are a rarity is that there is less reporting of sexual abuse by women. In their role as caregivers, women, like George, are the least suspected and the most hidden. Sexual abuses occur most typically against their own children, relatives, or with other children in their care. Many of the children are too young to be able to know what is being done to them, much less to complain about it. Older children may feel too guilty, ashamed, or, in the case of boys, emasculated to report it.

There is a striking similarity here with findings relating to incest between mothers and their sons.

Research suggests that the incidence of mother-son incest is far greater than we imagine it to be. Again, there are various reasons why it does not get discovered: if the mother is a single parent, it is less likely to be spotted by a fellow adult. Then there is the nature of the behaviour - say, bathing an 11-year-old child. This would be considered abusive if carried out by a father, but merely eccentric or abnormal if done by a mother. And whatever the precise nature of the abuse, if it started at an early age it is likely to be regarded as 'normal' by the child.

In the case of abused teenagers, the incest becomes apparent when the girl becomes pregnant. With a boy, there is no such giveaway sign.

The myth that women are not involved in child sexual abuse is being challenged with the explosion of internet child pornography and the high number of women users involved.

Given that girls are just as likely if not more likely than boys to be abused by parents either physically, sexually or emotionally, it is not surprising that as adults they may be vulnerable to repeating this abuse. Those who treat child sex abusers claim that "women are capable of terrible crimes against children ­ just as bad as men."

In the case of Vanessa George, we know that she had been increasingly estranged from her husband whom she married in 1993 and was looking for excitement. Her husband claims he knew nothing of her sexual activities and is now divorcing her.

George¹s mother died when she was 37 of breast cancer, leaving George at the age of 15 "devastated". Her tie to her mother was so strong that she became involved in paranormal groups and regularly attended seances to try to make contact.

Vanessa George's need for more and more excitement suggests that he paedophile activities had become her way of holding herself together mentally, as an unconscious escape from what may have been her own abuse as a child at the hands of her own mother.

Patterns of abuse are repeated in precise ways and George is likely to have experienced some form of eroticised contact with her mother when she was very young. The abuse is perceived by the child as love, not as something hateful. This is why so many paedophiles believe they are doing nothing wrong with a child.

For George, her sexual contact with young children may have been not only her way of loving them but of tying them to her emotionally so that they would be in her thrall through their own fear and excitement. George was like a "second mother" - but a mother who could not differentiate love from hate. It is likely that she needed to blur the distinction so that she would not have to face the horror of what had happened to her and how to live with that.

Her need to keep in contact with her dead mother is perhaps a sign of her desperation to keep alive the illusion of a loving mother within herself. · 

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