The way we deal with female paedophiles today is a little like the way we approached male paedophilia in the 1970s and 80s – with disbelief and denial. If a woman is caught abusing a child, we think a man must have put her up to it. We have taught children to beware of men; primary schools and nurseries have moved away from employing men as if it somehow makes children safer.
In fact, everything you say about a male abuser you can say also about females: they have the same motivations (sexual gratification, power play) and fantasies. Female abusers go online and talk to each other in much the same language that male abusers do.
Since the early 1990s I have been trying to get female sexual abuse of children taken seriously. I wrote the first book about this "ultimate taboo", and received a tirade of personal vitriol. Some people felt it detracted from the idea that abuse was simply an issue of male power. But I have received 800 calls from men and women who, as children, were sexually abused by women.
We know that at least half of those who are sexually abused are women, and we know that being abused is one indicator that you might become an abuser. We know, and accept nowadays, that some women physically abuse or neglect their children. We know they can cause the deaths of their children – but sexual assault?
Our refusal to acknowledge the existence of women paedophiles leaves children vulnerable and professionals in the dark. More children will be abused because we won't be looking for it, we won't see it when it is happening, and we won't know how to stop it. Just as male paedophiles need effective treatment to alter their behaviour and stop them offending again and again, so do women paedophiles.
Perhaps the one good thing that can come out of this awful case is that people will sit up and look at the issue of female abusers. I would like the Government to fund research. We may find that only a tiny proportion of abuse is carried out by women – which is what we think now. We may find that it is a much greater proportion. Either way, don't we need to know?
Michele Elliott founded the young people's charity Kidscape and is the author of Female Sexual Abuse Of Children: The Ultimate TabooReuse content