Relapse Prevention Plan

Utilize the information gathered from the Week 3 Sexual Offense Cycle presentation to complete this assignment.

Create a 10- to 12-slide Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentation that covers the following:

Identify prevention interventions for each phase.

Identify how the interventions would vary for each sex offender based on their risk level.

Describe how those interventions might be used. In other words, provide examples.

Describe how you might include alternative models into the relapse prevention model to be inclusive.

Describe legal statues that would influence implementation of the intervention plans.

Include a minimum 2 outside sources.

Format citations consistent with APA guidelines.

Click the Assignment Files tab to submit your assignment.

ON BULLETS 3 AND 4 MAKE SURE THERE ARE SPEAKER NOTES (not repeated information) with citations and the reference in the speaker note.
Also week 3 assignment is attached for assistance! THANKS YOU

Sex Abuse Cycle

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The Sexual Offense Cycle

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ENTER FOR SEX OFFENDER MANAGEMENT Understanding Sex Offenders: An Introductory Curriculum A Training Curriculum

A Project of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice


Curriculum Overview
Curriculum Content
Issues & Cautions
Adapting the Curriculum
Descriptive vs. Prescriptive Info
Qualifications of Trainers
User’s Guide
Explanation of Icons & Symbols
Time Allotment
Training Techniques and Strategies
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Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
The Nature and Scope of Sex Offending
Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Common Characteristics of Sex Offenders
Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Subtypes and Typologies
Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Etiological and Explanatory Theories
Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Lecture Content and Teaching Notes


Section 3: Common Characteristics of Sex Offenders 45 Minutes
Use SlideUse Slide #1: Understanding Sex Offenders: An Introductory Curriculum Slide 1 Enlarge Slide 1

In this section, we’re going to spend some time considering what the research and practice literature tells us about sex offenders, in terms of some characteristics that they may share as a group overall, as well as some ways in which they differ. Researchers have invested a great deal of effort in exploring these issues so that we may begin to understand or explain why some individuals engage in sexually abusive behaviors, and so that we are better able to make decisions about the kinds of interventions that may be most effective for certain aspects of this population. This has proven to be much easier said than done, however.
The Myth of the “Sex Offender Profile”

Oftentimes, the public wants to know who sex offenders are—or who potential sex offenders might be—based on certain personality characteristics, demographics, or other variables, perhaps because of their understandable desire to be able to “spot” these individuals and take protective measures. In fact, for those who are operating under myths or misperceptions about sex offenders and victimization, they may even believe that all sex offenders fit a certain “profile” that makes them easily identified. For example, you might remember the myth that the typical child molester is a “dirty old man” who hangs out at a park or playground waiting to lure a child away with candy. Or that the typical rapist is a masked knife–wielding man lurking in a dark alley or hiding behind a bush waiting to jump out and grab an unsuspecting woman who is passing by. Those and other similar myths are based on the assumption that sex offenders all “look the same,” so to speak, or that they fit a certain profile.

And for a variety of reasons, even some criminal justice professionals may seek to identify such a profile for sex offenders. For example, law enforcement agents may have the expectation that if there is a profile of the typical sex offender, it might be easier to identify suspects when incidents of sexual assault are reported and the perpetrators have not yet been caught. Some judges and other court actors may hope that a “sex offender profile” exists because it will make decisionmaking easier when these cases are brought to the courts. Still others, such as some treatment providers or some supervision officers, may hold onto the belief that there is a profile of a sex offender, because it will make it simpler to treat and supervise them. And finally, some professionals may believe that if there truly is a profile, we can identify persons who might be at risk of becoming a sex offender and therefore be able to prevent sex offenses from happening to begin with.
Use SlideUse Slide #2: Who is the Typical Sex Offender? Slide 2 Enlarge Slide 2

In reality, however, the research has consistently shown that there is no such thing as a “sex offender profile.” That’s because time and time again, despite attempts to identify a finite and specific set of characteristics that fits for all sex offenders, researchers continue to find that they are a diverse and heterogeneous population. 1 So, although the label of “sex offender” might seem to suggest that individuals who commit these crimes are all alike, that is simply not the case. In fact, because they are such a heterogeneous group, it is sometimes difficult to discern how they are uniquely different from other types of criminals or from those of us in the general public, other than the fact that they have engaged in sexually abusive behaviors.

Do you believe that sex offenders are more similar to other community members than they are different? Why or why not?

Some people have a hard time considering the “similar to us” notion, because it may be easier—or even preferable—to believe that sex offenders are completely and totally different from anyone else, especially from “us.” But let’s remember what the victimization data told us about who these perpetrators tend to be: people we know, including our acquaintances and family members.

Dr. William Marshall, a leading expert in the field of sex offender management, highlighted this very issue in a piece entitled, “The Sexual Offender: Monster, Victim, or Everyman?” 2 He suggests that in an attempt to separate themselves from sex offenders, people tend to overlook the other qualities and attributes of these individuals and define them only in terms of their abusive and harmful acts. He goes on to provide a brief review of the research literature, which suggests that sex offenders are a diverse group of individuals who may in fact be more similar to us than they are different.
Use SlideUse Slide #3: Sex Offenders Come From All Walks of Life Slide 3 Enlarge Slide 3

To illustrate that point, let’s talk about just a few variables:

As you have likely experienced in your work, there is no usual age that represents the sex offender—some are young, some are middle–aged, and some are more elderly. It does appear that, within samples of adult sex offenders, older sex offenders recidivate at lower rates than younger adult offenders. 3 But we know that people of all ages commit sex offenses, and that a person’s age really doesn’t provide us any insight into whether they might be a sex offender.
Nor can any generalizations be made about where they are most apt to fall along the socioeconomic spectrum or social achievement spectrum. This is different from other types of crime, in which socioeconomic status or level of social achievement seems to be a risk factor. 4
In terms of intellectual functioning or other functional status, we know that some sex offenders are exceptionally bright, others are “average,” and still others may have significant intellectual limitations. You are probably aware that professionals are challenged considerably to “keep up” with those offenders who are intellectually sophisticated and particularly skilled at manipulation and linguistics. In fact, you may have found yourself having a hard time trying to stay just one step ahead of an offender who seems to have great skill at outsmarting others. At the same time, these same professionals may be equally challenged with respect to how to best tailor strategies and interventions for those offenders whose level of intellectual functioning falls well below the average.
Although people might argue that an individual must be “crazy” to commit a sex offense, the reality is that most sex offenders are not psychotic or crazy in the truest sense of the word. Some sex offenders have mental health difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, or other disorders, just as many people in the general public do. But that certainly doesn’t cause them to commit a sex offense.
What about gender? As you saw, although we know that females do commit sex offenses, the vast majority of sex offenders that come to the attention of the authorities are male. 5

The bottom line is that none of these variables really shed any light on who is more likely to be a sex offender (with the possible exception of gender). People who commit sex offenses come from all walks of life, and in many instances, they often “look” very much like you or me.
Common Characteristics of Sex Offenders

At this point, given the known heterogeneity of sex offenders, some of you may be wondering whether sex offenders share any common characteristics that can be helpful for understanding their behaviors. The answer is a qualified “yes.” Researchers have examined multiple factors, traits, and characteristics of large samples of sex offenders, and they have found several issues that seem to be common, at least to broad groups of these offenders.

It is important to remember that not all of these issues are present in every sex offender. Nor does it mean that the presence of any of these variables—either alone or in combination – “makes” an individual a sex offender or necessarily causes them to commit sex offenses. Keep in mind that some of these features or characteristics can also be found in samples of other criminals, or within the general population, or even among some of the people in this room! But because these characteristics have been found in samples of sex offenders, experts believe that they may somehow be related to why individuals begin engaging in sexually abusive behavior, particularly when these factors interact with other variables and circumstances. And some, but not all, of these characteristics also predict reoffending among known sex offenders.
Use SlideUse Slide #4: Commonly Identified Characteristics Slide 4 Enlarge Slide 4

Deviant sexual arousal, interests, or preferences

For decades, researchers have found that some sex offenders have interests in—or are aroused to—things that are considered to be outside the realm of healthy or appropriate sexual interests or behavior, including, but not limited to, the following: 6

Engaging in sexual contact with young children or adolescents;
Having sexual contact with others against their will or without their consent;
Inflicting pain or humiliation on others;
Participating in or watching acts of physical aggression or violence;
Exposing oneself in a public setting; and/or
Secretly watching others who are undressing, unclothed, or engaging in sexual activities.

Either through self–report or through the use of certain types of physiological assessment instruments, the presence of some of these and other types of deviant sexual interests or arousal patterns can be identified. Some sex offenders may even prefer one or more of these types of behaviors over healthy, consenting sexual relationships with age–appropriate partners—hence, the term deviant sexual preferences. Because these types of interests, urges, arousal, or even preferences can be so strong, it is believed that they are a significant driving force behind the initial onset of sexually abusive behaviors for some sex offenders. Additionally, researchers have found that deviant arousal, interests, or preferences are linked to recidivism. 7

Remember, though, not all sex offenders actually have evidence of these deviant interests, arousal patterns, or preferences. And there may also be people in the general public who have some types of deviant interests or preferences—but they may not ever engage in sex offending behaviors. Nonetheless, it is an important risk factor for sex offenders.

Cognitive Distortions or Pro–Offending Attitudes

Those who work in this field generally agree that sex offenders are aware that acts such as rape and child molestation are not only illegal but also harmful to others. Yet they engage in this behavior anyway. This is likely the result of cognitive distortions, or pro–offending attitudes. What happens is that sex offenders may tell themselves (and even tell others) that the behavior is not harmful or that it is less serious, or claim that the victim enjoyed the behavior or initiated the sexual contact, or they may come up with justifications for engaging in sex offending behaviors, such as believing that women deserve to be treated in these ways. In so doing, these self–statements give the offenders “permission” to do something that they know is wrong, and therefore they may not feel as badly about themselves for doing it.

The reality is that we all use different types of cognitive distortions to some extent. For example, we may make excuses for driving beyond the speed limit, for “cheating” on a diet, for smoking when one is trying to quit, or for engaging in any other behavior that is problematic, illegal, or otherwise unhealthy. That way, we, too, can avoid feeling guilty or badly about what we are doing. Put simply, the process of using cognitive distortions is not unique to sex offenders. The types of cognitive distortions that sex offenders use, however, are often related specifically to their own problem behaviors, including general antisocial behaviors or sex offending behaviors.

Not surprisingly, researchers have attempted to measure these kinds of cognitive distortions among samples of sex offenders, and have found that they are fairly common—and oftentimes to a much greater extent than they are found in other samples of criminals or the general public. 8 Intuitively, it would seem that these kinds of self–statements that condone or support sex offending behaviors would increase the likelihood that someone would engage in this type of behavior. It also seems logical that cognitive distortions would be related to continued offending. And the research seems to indicate just that—pro–offending attitudes have indeed been found to be associated with recidivism among sex offenders. 9

Social, interpersonal, and intimacy deficits

Another cluster of characteristics that seems to be fairly common among sex offenders involves problems in the social or interpersonal realm, with issues such as ineffective communication skills, social isolation, general social skills deficits, or problems in intimate relationships; and some experts believe that these characteristics have some role in the development of sexually abusive behavior. 10 And a few of these issues, such as problems establishing and maintaining intimate relationships, are also associated with an increased risk for sexual recidivism. 11

Victim empathy deficits

A specific interpersonal problem that is believed to be common to many sex offenders is that of empathy deficits. This concept is about putting oneself in another person’s shoes, so to speak, or the ability to feel what another person may be feeling. For some time it was believed that sex offenders lacked the ability to be empathic in general, although later it was suggested that their deficits were more specific to their victims. 12 While it may not surprise you that victim empathy deficits are common with sex offenders, and that it may be related in part to how individuals are able to engage in sexually abusive behavior, you may be surprised to learn that this specific factor has not been found to predict recidivism among sex offenders. 13

Poor coping or self–management skills

When looking at other descriptive research or literature about sex offenders, a lack of healthy or effective coping skills is often mentioned. 14 For example, some offenders have difficulties managing their emotions appropriately, and some are highly impulsive and tend not to think carefully about the consequences of their behaviors before they act—or they may have difficulty resisting their urges from time to time. We all know that many people in the general public have difficulties managing certain emotions at times, and many of us can and do act in impulsive ways occasionally. So, although these kinds of problems or features are seen commonly among groups of sex offenders, it does not mean that they are unique to sex offenders. Nor does it mean that these kinds of variables cause people to commit sex offenses. Nonetheless, the research and literature does indicate that some of these factors—specifically emotional and behavioral self–regulation difficulties—may be part of what leads someone down the path to sex offending, and they are also associated with reoffending. 15

Under–detected deviant sexual behaviors

Do you remember the data that we discussed earlier about the range and extent of deviant sexual behaviors that are previously unknown or undetected until after an offender discloses them during an assessment, polygraph, or through the course of treatment? That, too, is a common characteristic of sex offenders. In other words, the research suggests that the offense for which an individual is apprehended may not actually be the first or only abusive behavior in which he has engaged. 16 I am certainly not suggesting that all sex offenders have hundreds of undisclosed victims and that they all engage in every type of deviant behavior imaginable. Rather, as I mentioned earlier, we need to acknowledge that for many sex offenders, there is often more to the story than initially meets the eye.

History of maltreatment

How many of you have heard that most sex offenders have been sexually abused themselves? This is an area that researchers have been interested in for many years with this population.

Indeed, returning to Dr. Marshall’s work for a moment, there are some who believe that all sex offenders are victims and, as such, they may even suggest that offenders may be less personally accountable for their own offending behaviors. 17 As Dr. Marshall points out, however, the literature does not support the notion that all sex offenders have been sexually abused. Some have been, and some have not.

Among the studies that have examined childhood maltreatment (including sexual victimization) among sex offenders, there is quite a bit of variation. 18 But there does seem to be a relatively high prevalence of sexual or physical abuse among samples of sex offenders. This seems to suggest that there may be some sort of relationship between having been maltreated and later engaging in sex offending behaviors, especially when other kinds of vulnerability or risk factors are present. But in and of itself, there is no research that supports the notion that it actually causes sex offending. And we know that there are many people who have been subjected to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during their childhood or adolescence, yet they never go on to commit sex offenses. You may also find it interesting to know that when researchers have attempted to explore recidivism among sex offenders based on a history of sexual abuse, no relationship has been found. 19
Characteristics Associated with Sexual Recidivism

I’ve mentioned several times that some of these characteristics or factors are believed to be related to why individuals begin engaging in sex offending behavior. And I also noted that some of these characteristics have been found to predict reoffending—or sexual recidivism. So that you have a clear understanding of the kinds of factors that are related to recidivism, I will highlight them based on the kinds of factors that are static or unchangeable, and those which have the potential to change over time.
Use SlideUse Slide #5: Key Examples of Static Risk Factors Slide 5 Enlarge Slide 5

For example, among other factors, researchers have found the following static factors tend to predict sexual recidivism: 20

A younger age of onset of sex offending;
Having prior convictions for sex offenses;
Targeting male victims;
Having unrelated, unfamiliar victims—as opposed to victims who are within the family or who are known to the offender;
The presence of deviant sexual interests, or preferences;
Being unmarried; and
Having an antisocial personality disorder, or the presence of psychopathy.

Use SlideUse Slide #6: Key Examples of Dynamic Risk Factors Slide 6 Enlarge Slide 6

And in addition, among the kinds of factors or variables that have the potential to change over time, and which predict sexual reoffending, are the following: 21

Problems with intimacy, or conflicts in intimate relationships;
Increased hostility;
Emotional identification with children;
Becoming preoccupied with sexual matters or activities;
Lifestyle instability and self–regulation difficulties, such as employment problems, impulsivity, and substance abuse;
Attitudes and beliefs that tend to support or justify criminal or antisocial behaviors; and
Demonstrating non–compliance with supervision or treatment expectations.

Summary: Interpreting Variability Among Characteristics

So, in thinking about some of these characteristics or traits, do you have a clear image for what a typical sex offender “looks like?”

Well, based on what we’ve covered—and perhaps based on your own experiences with sex offenders—many of you may be having difficulty envisioning the one set of characteristics and features that defines the prototypical sex offender and may be saying to yourselves, “There really isn’t a typical sex offender.” Which is precisely the point that I discussed earlier. Sex offenders are not all alike.

In fact, even though there are some characteristics that many sex offenders share, it appears that there may be more variability—and potential for differences—within the sex offender population overall than there are sweeping similarities. That’s part of what makes sex offender management such a challenge. So although there may be a desire to find the “magic bullet” for treatment, supervision, or even legislation that will fit for all sex offenders, the variability of the sex offender population as a whole makes that impossible.

Does this variability mean that our management efforts are a lost cause? Not at all! More apt to be the case is that different subtypes, subgroups, or typologies of sex offenders exist. And in the next section, that’s exactly what we’ll review. By attempting to identify these subtypes or typologies and the common characteristics or features within each of these subtypes, it may be possible to develop more tailored and effective approaches to intervention, rather than attempting to use a single, “one size fits all” approach to managing these offenders.
Outline « Previous Topic Next Topic » Notes

1 Sexual Offenses and Offenders

There are few groups of individuals who are more reviled than sexual offenders. Though this has been true for more than a century, the past two decades have brought forth intense scrutiny from the public, politicians, and policymakers. Several emotionally-charged cases of child sexual abuse were highly publicized in the 1980s and 1990s, reigniting public intolerance for sexual offenders. And although the incidence of sexual offenses has been decreasing, sanctions for sex offenders have been constantly increasing over the last two decades. Unfortunately, empirical research does not show that such sanctions significantly deter offenders or reduce recidivism, and yet this legislation creates significant financial strain for local jurisdictions and states that must implement the policies ( Zgoba et al., 2008 ). Despite the questionable efficacy of these laws, there is no sign of reducing the sanctions for this group.

This is not the first time historically that society has exhibited a “moral panic” about the dangers of sexual abuse. This panic has waned and ebbed throughout the last century. Jenkins ( 1998 , p. 4) explains that the perception of sex offenders is the effect of “socially constructed realities” influenced by existing social and political ideologies. The public desire to incapacitate sex offenders today is similar to social attitudes in the 1930s, when sexual psychopathy laws emerged to incapacitate those considered to be “unfortunate but dangerous wretches” ( Robson, 1999 , p. 2). So although empirical research has consistently shown that sex offenders constitute a heterogeneous population of individuals for whom a one-size-fits-all policy will not be effective, such policies regarding the supervision, monitoring, and incapacitation of sexual offenders have gone full circle since the beginning of the century.

The purpose of this text is to provide the reader with a general understanding of sex offenders and the societal responses to them. Historically, sex offender research has focused on why sex offenders commit such offenses, and the characteristics of different types of offenders. Sex offender research today is centered around three general topic areas: (1) the factors associated with sexual offending, including personal characteristics as well as situational variables; (2) sex offenders’ risk of recidivism; and (3) the efficacy of policies and programs for sex offenders. Before addressing the issue of why people commit sexual offenses and how best to prevent them, however, it is necessary to understand the nature and scope of sex crimes in the United States today.


More than 100 years ago, Richard von Krafft-Ebing ( 1886/1965 , p. 241) made the following observation about sexual behavior:

· Nothing is so prone to contaminate—under certain circumstances, even to exhaust—the source of all noble and ideal sentiments, which arise from a normally developed sexual instinct, as the practice of masturbation in one’s early years. It despoils the unfolding bud of perfume and beauty, and leaves behind only the coarse, animal desire for sexual satisfaction. If an individual, thus depraved, reaches the age of maturity, there is lacking in him that aesthetic, ideal, pure and free impulse that draws the opposite sexes together. The glow of sensual sensibility wanes, and attraction toward the opposite sex is weakened. This defect in the morals, character, fantasy and instinct of the youthful masturbator, male or female, in an unfavorable manner, even causing, under certain circumstances, desire for the opposite sex to become entirely absent; thus masturbation becomes preferable to the natural mode of sexual satisfaction.

At that time, masturbation, homosexuality, and other sexual practices regarded as common today were not only condemned, but were also considered pathological and loathsome. Attitudes toward sexual behavior are structured through social and political ideologies, and they have changed drastically throughout the centuries. Some harmful sexual acts are—and should continue to be—illegal in nearly every community. One such example is rape, which constitutes a violation of the person and can cause irreparable harm both physically and psychologically. In describing rape, the Policy Advisory Committee on Sexual Offences in England stated that

· rape involves a severe degree of emotional and psychological trauma; it may be described as a violation which in effect obliterates the personality of the victim.… Rape is also unpleasant because it involves such intimate proximity between the offender and the victim. ( Criminal Law Revision Committee, 1984 )

The legally and socially accepted boundaries of other sexual behaviors, however, are not as clear, and sexual violence is not unique to any one culture or historical period ( Stermac, Segal, & Gillis, 1990 ). Sexual behaviors other than those for the purposes of procreation (for example, homosexuality, incest, adultery, masturbation, bestiality, and sexual activity with children) have vacillated among social acceptance, stigmatization, and illegality.

Sexual offenses vary across time and cultures, and even across various jurisdictions in the United States. The types of sexual acts that may be criminalized can be broadly categorized in four ways, though these are not necessarily mutually exclusive:

· 1. Sexual acts with contact . Most sexual offenses are within this category, where there is touching of the intimate part(s) of the body or penetration either without the consent of the victim or when one person is incapable of consenting under the law (for example, a person who has not yet reached the age of consent, a person who is not conscious, or a person who is dead). This category involves all contact acts, from touching over the clothes to forced sexual intercourse.

· 2. Noncontact sexual behavior . This involves acts that are for the purpose of sexual gratification, but no contact is made between the perpetrator and the victim (for example, exposure of the genitals, voyeurism (peeping), and telling children to perform sexual acts).

· 3. Viewing, possessing, or producing child pornography . This third category includes any act involving the viewing or producing of any visual material of a child that is for the purpose of sexually gratifying an adult. This may include sexual contact with children or the sexual exploitation of children in photos and films. Recent examples include “sexting,” or texting sexual pictures of oneself to another person (discussed further in Chapter 7 ).

· 4. Sexual solicitation or trafficking . Acts included in this category are based upon sexual services exchanged for financial or other types of compensation. Sexual solicitation may involve prostitution in a traditional sense (solicitation of sexual services through face-to-face meetings). Alternatively, adults may seek sexual relationships with adolescents, usually online, which may or may not result in a face-to-face meeting. Trafficked victims may be adults or minors, domestic or international, and are generally lured into performing sexual services for promises of money and/or a better life.

There are some offenses common across all jurisdictions in the United States, though the terminology differs depending on the jurisdiction. For example, although most states use the term rape to define offenses involving nonconsensual oral, anal, and/or vaginal penetration, this is called sexual imposition or gross sexual imposition in North Dakota and is called sexual assault in Colorado. Additionally, the specific definitions of this crime differ in terms of who can be a victim or an offender (male and/or female), the class of felony or misdemeanor, and the age of the victim (some define the different degrees by age ranges, with acts committed against younger victims being more serious offenses).

Many states also label some consensual sexual acts as offenses. Thirteen states listed consensual sodomy as a criminal act as recently as 2003, when sodomy laws were invalidated and declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court ( Lawrence v. Texas, 2003 ). Other consensual acts that continue to be illegal in some states include incest (intergenerational and between siblings), adultery, bigamy, female genital mutilation, fornication, masturbation for hire, indecent dancing, prostitution, and public indecency ( Leiter, 1999 ). In addition to these offenses, other crimes that are not necessarily sexual in nature are registerable offenses, such as kidnapping.

For most sexual offenses, there must be a lack of consent on the part of the victim and some level of intent on the part of the offender. The laws in most states stipulate that consent is lacking from a sexual act when:

· ▪ The act is the result of force, threat, or duress;

· ▪ A reasonable person would understand that the victim did not consent due to a clear or implied statement that he or she would not want to engage in the sexual act; or

· ▪ The victim is incapable of consenting because he or she is below the age of consent (this ranges from age 16 to age 18 in various states), is mentally disabled, is mentally incapacitated, is physically helpless, is under the custody of correctional services, or is placed within the care of children and family services (or any other organization in charge of monitoring and caring for those in care of the state).

Offenses vary by type, degree of severity, class of offense, and length of sanction. In some states, these are defined simply by class of felony or misdemeanor. In other states, they are divided into first, second, and third degree offenses, with first degree offenses being the most severe. For example, Table 1.1 shows how New York classifies rape into three degrees. The sanctions associated with the degree of the offense increase as the severity of the offense increases.

TABLE 1.1 New York Penal Code Definition of Rape

Code Section







He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person, to whom the actor is not married, who is incapable of consent and is not less than 17 years old; actor is over 21 years old and engages in sexual intercourse with someone less than 17 years old. Class E Felony.



Actor is over 18 years of age and he or she engages in sexual intercourse with someone less than 14 years of age; victim is otherwise mentally disabled or mentally incapacitated. Class D Felony.



He or she engages in sexual intercourse with a person by forcible compulsion; who is incapable of consent because he or she is physically helpless; who is less than 11 years of age; who is less than 13 years old and the actor is over 18. Class B Felony.

SOURCE: New York Penal Law (2000)


SEXTING: The Emergence of New Sexual “Offenses” in the 21st Century

Accepted sexual behaviors change over time and by place, and are regulated by social and cultural norms. Over the last few decades, there has been an emergence of new behaviors, often related to developing technology, that are being considered sexual offenses. One such phenomenon is “sexting,” in which people text nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to others. Though this has become a widespread practice generally, it is particularly common among adolescents. A survey of 1300 teens conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy and found that one in five teens had sexted, even though the majority knew it was a crime.

Several sexting cases have made media headlines, since sexting can have serious legal consequences for those who partake in this activity. One such example was of Phillip Albert, a teenager in Orlando, Florida. After an argument with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Phillip, then 18, sent a picture of his naked girlfriend that she had texted him to her family and friends. Phillip was charged with sending child pornography, convicted, and sentenced to five years of probation. Additionally, he is required to register as a sex offender until age 43. Phillip’s attorney is appealing the conviction, noting that “sexting is treated as child pornography in almost every state and it catches teens completely off-guard because this is a fairly natural and normal thing for them to do. It is surprising to us as parents, but for teens it’s part of their culture” ( Feyerick & Steffen, 2009 ).

Another high-profile sexting case occurred in Pennsylvania. Marissa Miller was 12 years old when she and a friend took pictures of themselves wearing training bras while at a slumber party. The picture soon surfaced on another classmate’s cell phone. The district attorney for the county told Miller and her friend that they could take probation and re-education classes or be charged with sexual abuse of a minor. Miller’s mother, along with another family, refused to take the deal; instead, they contacted the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and with its help is suing the district attorney to stop him from filing charges.

Phillip Albert’s attorney noted that “Some judges have the good sense and reasonableness to treat this as a social problem and others are more zealous in their efforts to put everybody away and I think it’s time as a society that we step back a little bit and avoid this temptation to lock up our children” ( Feyerick & Steffen, 2009 ).


· 1. What should be the consequences for teens who “sext”?

· 2. What are the potential harms that can result from “sexting”?

· 3. Explain the similarities and differences between sexting and transmitting or possessing child pornography.

© Cengage Learning


It is impossible to accurately assess the extent of sexual offending and the characteristics of offenders. Most data on sex offenders relate to those who are either arrested or convicted, a group that represents a small portion of all sexual offenders. From 1992 to 2000, only 31 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to the police ( Hart & Rennison, 2003 ). Of those that are reported, not all end in arrest, and not all of those go on to indictment or conviction. This “funnel” system means that the further researchers are from the point at which the crime was committed, the further they are from knowing the true nature and scope of the problem of sexual offending. Furthermore, nearly all data on sex offenders relate to the male population of offenders. As such, the female sex offender population constitutes an even higher rate of the underreported and underresearched proportion of the total sex offender population ( Righthand & Welch, 2001 ; Travin, Cullen, & Protter, 1990 ).

What is certain about sexual abuse, particularly child sexual victimization, is that it is widespread, and it remains so despite the precipitous decline in abuse cases in the 1990s (see Child Maltreatment Report, 2001 ; Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2004 ; Jones & Finkelhor, 2004 ). One meta-analysis summarizing prevalence studies found that overall rates of sexual victimization were approximately 30 percent for girls and 13 percent for boys in one’s lifetime ( Bolen & M. Scannapieco, 1999 ). According to Finkelhor ( 2008 ), children who experience sexual abuse often experience multiple types of abuse. Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, and Hamby ( 2005 ) found that in 2002–2003, nearly half (49 percent) of the youth sampled in their study had experienced more than one form of direct (assault, maltreatment, sexual victimization) or indirect (witnessed) victimization. The concept of “multiple victimization” is consistent with findings from longitudinal studies by Cathy Widom and her colleagues (see Horwitz, Widom, McLaughlin & White ( 2001 ); Widom, Czaja, & Dutton, 2008 ).

The high rate of sexual victimization is not simply a criminal justice problem, but is also a public health problem ( Abel et al., 1994 ). Those who are victimized as youths show higher levels of mental health problems as adults ( Horwitz et al., 2001 ). Confounding this issue is the low rate of reporting of victimization, or when it is reported, the delay in disclosure. The literature shows that several factors are commonly associated with the delay in disclosure (see Terry & Tallon, 2004 ), including the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator ( Arata, 1998 ; Hanson et al., 1999 ; Smith et al., 2000 ; Wyatt & Newcomb, 1990 ); the severity of abuse ( Gries et al., 1996 ; Kogan, 2005 ; DiPietro et al., 1997 ); the likely consequences of the disclosure ( Berliner & Conte, 1995 ; Hershkowitz et al., 2007 ; Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 ; Roesler & Weisssmann-Wind, 1994 ; Sorenson & Snow, 1991 ); age, developmental, and cognitive variables ( Campis et al., 1993 ; Keary & Fitzpatrick, 1994 ; Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 ); and “grooming” behavior that offenders use to entice children to participate in the sexually abusive behavior ( Pryor, 1996 ).

Most studies indicate that when compared with their male counterparts, females are more likely to have been sexually abused during childhood. Furthermore, females are more likely than males to disclose information regarding sexual abuse, and male victimization seems to be acutely underreported ( Brochman, 1991 ; Devoe & Coulborn-Faller, 1999 ; Finkelhor, 2008 ; Gries et al., 1996 ; Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 ; McMullen, 1992 ; Tewksbury, 2007 ; Walrath, Ybarra, & Holden, 2003 ). That being said, reports are beginning to emerge about high rates of sexual abuse of boys in particular institutions and organizations. The lack of knowledge about male sexual victimization is striking; because so few males report, most information about their victimization is anecdotal or derived from studies with small sample sizes. As such, little statistical knowledge is available about males’ long-term physical, psychological, and emotional effects, or about abuse events themselves.

Knowledge of sex offenders and rates of victimization are based upon two primary sources: official data (including criminal justice reports, victimization surveys, and social service data) and empirical studies. Table 1.2 shows the strengths and weaknesses of the different data sources.

TABLE 1.2 Comparison of Data Sources

Source of Data



Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)

· ▪ Most common source of official criminal justice data in the United States

· ▪ Reliable because it measures the same offenses each year

· ▪ Makes it possible to compare the crime rate in jurisdictions of varying sizes

· ▪ Hierarchy rule

· ▪ Relies on official statistics, voluntary reporting by police

· ▪ Definitions of some offenses incomplete

National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)

· ▪ Gathers incident-based data

· ▪ Detailed information available on offenders, victims, properties, and locations of offenses

· ▪ Not yet widely implemented

· ▪ Complicated, time consuming reporting system

National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)

· ▪ Provides information on the dark figure of crime

· ▪ Gives information on why crimes are underreported

· ▪ Most extensive bounded study

· ▪ Self-reports not totally reliable

National Incidence Study (NIS)

· ▪ Extensive data collection in four reports

· ▪ Reports data on children reported to CPS, screened out, and reported by “sentinels”

· ▪ Data from a nationally representative sample from 126 CPS agencies in 122 different counties

· ▪ Abuse underreported and not always recognized

National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS)

· ▪ Provides annual reports of child abuse

· ▪ State-by-state information distinguished by types of child abuse

· ▪ Information is not always reported to social services and thus may be incomplete

Empirical Studies

· ▪ Can provide deeper analysis of issues by observing samples of the population

· ▪ Studies use varying methodologies and definitions, and thus may not be comparable

© Cengage Learning

Official Data on Sexual Victimization

Official statistics on sexual offending are derived from several sources. The primary criminal justice data sources include arrest and conviction rates. Since it is difficult to gather this on a local level, the most common sources used to understand prevalence rates are federal reports, including the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), and National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Victimization surveys, namely the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), provide data about the amount of victimization that is underreported in official statistics. Social service data sources provide more detailed information about the extent and nature of child sexual abuse allegations, and the key sources for this information include the National Incidence Study (NIS) and the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). Though not evaluated in this text, key resources for crime data internationally include the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics ( 2006 ) and the International Crime Victimization Survey ( Van Dijk, Van Kesteren, & Smit, 2008 ).

Criminal Justice Data Sources In the 1920s, the government began to measure and track crime trends on a federal level for the first time through the UCR. The UCR is compiled annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and contains information provided by nearly 17,000 local police departments ( Grant & Terry, 2011 ). The local police agencies or state agencies give their arrest data to the FBI on a voluntary basis, and the FBI then tabulates the data on a national level. Despite its voluntary nature, there is a 97 percent compliance rate among police agencies.

The UCR consists of two sections: Part I and Part II offenses. Part I offenses, which are also called index offenses, are divided into categories of violent and property offenses, of which there are four each. The four violent offenses are murder (and nonnegligent manslaughter), forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, and the four property offenses are burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Part II offenses consist of all other offenses, including simple assaults, other sexual offenses, forgery, fraud, vandalism, embezzlement, vice crimes such as gambling and prostitution, weapons violations, alcohol and drug violations, and curfew violations.

The UCR is used to determine the crime rate in the United States and in local jurisdictions. In order to compute the crime rate, you take the number of total reported crimes, divide by the total population of the reporting area, and multiply by 100,000. The most significant strength of the UCR is its reliability; it measures crimes using the same definitions every year and across all jurisdictions. Therefore, it allows jurisdictions to understand how their crime rates change each year and how they compare to crime rates in other jurisdictions, even those with different populations (for example, rural and urban areas).

Unfortunately, the UCR has several weaknesses. Most significantly, crime is underreported, and this measures only the number of crimes that are reported and cleared by arrest or exceptional means. Since sexual offenses are the least-reported crimes, the UCR is not necessarily a valid measure of sexual offense statistics. A second weakness with the UCR is that it follows the “hierarchy rule,” meaning that it compiles data only on the most serious offenses if multiple offenses are committed at one time. In other words, if a person breaks into a house, rapes the occupant, murders her, and steals her car, only the murder will be counted in the UCR. A third weakness of the UCR is that it uses one definition for each crime, yet the definitions of crimes vary by jurisdiction. This is particularly troublesome for sexual offenses, as the UCR defines forcible rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Attempts or assaults to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded” ( Uniform Crime Report, 2009 ). Thus, the UCR is beneficial in giving us a comparison of statistics on the forcible rape of women by men, but not other sexual offenses. These are complied into the broad category of “sexual offenses” in Part II crimes, defined as “Statutory rape and offenses against chastity, common decency, morals, and the like. Attempts are included” ( Uniform Crime Report, 2009 ).

Despite its weaknesses, the UCR remains the best source of official statistics for crimes. According to the Uniform Crime Report ( 2009 ), the rate of forcible rape was estimated at 56.6 rapes per 100,000 people, a 3.4 percent decrease from 2008. Rapes by force accounted for 93 percent of the reported rapes in 2009, whereas attempts or assaults to commit rape accounted for 7 percent. The forcible rape rate decreased 10.4 percent from 2000.

In an effort to improve the compilation and reporting of crime data, the FBI devised the NIBRS database in 1989. NIBRS is an incident-based reporting system, and as such allows for the calculation of multiple offenses, multiple victims, multiple offenders, and multiple arrests within a single incident. It still has flaws, however. Currently, police departments representing only 17 percent of the population submit data to NIBRS. Also, like the UCR, the NIBRS relies on reported offenses. However, it does eliminate the hierarchy rule by counting all offenses in each incident. It is also beneficial in that it collects detailed data on the offenders, victims, locations, properties, and arrests on each single crime incident, thus offering insight into offenses not currently available with the UCR.

Victimization Surveys Victimization surveys provide valuable information on the extent of sexual abuse. The NCVS, in particular, is the largest and most significant national survey in the United States and is central to our understanding of the “dark figure” of crime, or the extent to which crimes are underreported.

In order to better understand the magnitude of the underreporting of crime and the reasons why it is underreported, the Bureau of Justice Statistics began conducting an annual survey of approximately 49,000 households in 1972. The survey collects self-report data on all crimes against the household and individuals in the household who are over the age of 12. The NCVS finds that crime is severely underreported, with only about 37 percent of all crimes reported to the police. It has found that crime is underreported for numerous reasons, including that the offenses were personal (particularly domestic violence and sexual offenses), the victim believes that the police will not be able to do much about catching the offender, the victim does not trust the police, the victim fears that his or her own criminal behavior (for example, drug use) would be exposed, the victim fears that his or her reputation would be damaged, and the victim thinks the perpetrator will retaliate.

Like all sources of official statistical data, however, there are some drawbacks to victimization surveys. In particular, the reliability of self-reported data is questionable, and the NCVS does not provide a way to gather victimization information from young children who may be victims of abuse. Nonetheless, victimization surveys tell us the following in regard to race and ethnicity, age, and victim-offender relationship for victims aged 12 and older ( Rennison, 2001 ; Rennison & Rand, 2003 ):

· ▪ Race and Ethnicity Though there are differences in victimization rates, there is no significant distinction between victims of sexual offenses on the basis of race and ethnicity. Whites are victims of sexual offenses at a rate of .8 per 1000 in the population, Blacks are victimized at a rate of 2.5, and those of other races are victimized at a rate of 1.2. Additionally, Hispanics were victimized at a rate of .7 per 1000. The rate of victimization for Blacks increased from 2000, when the rate was 1.2 per 1000. At the same time, the rate of victimization for Whites decreased, from 1.1 per 1000.

· ▪ Age The highest rate of victimization for a sexual offense is with victims aged 16–19, whose rate of victimization in 2000 was 4.3 per 1000 and rose to 5.5 in 2002. In 2002, those at the next highest level of risk were aged 20–24 (at a rate of 2.9) and aged 12–15 (at a rate of 2.1). The NCVS does not collect data on victims under the age of 12, which would likely be a large percentage of the victim population based on arrest and conviction statistics.

· ▪ Victim-Offender Relationship It was more common for both male and female victims to be abused or assaulted by a nonstranger than a stranger. With male victims, 52 percent were abused by nonstrangers, all of whom were friends or acquaintances (this was based on a small sample size, so the results may not be generalizable). Female victims know the perpetrator in 69 percent of the cases, with the highest percentage of abusers (57 percent of all cases) being friends or acquaintances.

Another victimization survey on sexual abuse is the Minnesota Student Survey. This self-report survey was administered to 6th, 9th, and 12th grade students in Minnesota in 1989, 1992, 1995, 1998, and 2001, and more than 90 percent of students in these grades in Minnesota participated in the surveys each year. The survey contains two questions about sexual abuse, the results of which show a slight rise in abuse between 1989 and 1992, followed by a 22 percent drop from 1992 to 2001.

Social Service Data There are two primary sources of social service data through which the incidence of child sexual abuse is estimated: The NIS and the NCANDS. The NIS is a congressionally-mandated effort from the Department of Health and Human Services to assess the overall incidence of child maltreatment in the United States ( U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2010 ). Data were collected in 1979 and 1980 for the NIS-1, followed by the NIS-2 in 1986 and 1987, and the NIS-3 in 1993 and 1995. The Fourth NIS (NIS-4) provides estimates of the incidence of child abuse and neglect in the United States 2005–2009 based on substantiated and unsubstantiated cases. These studies provide child, perpetrator, and family characteristics, and demographical information about the nature and severity of the maltreatment, as well as the extent of changes in the incidence over time.

In order to measure the scope of child abuse and neglect, the NIS includes not only children who were investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies, but also children who were not reported or who were screened out by CPS agencies. The study expanded its data by utilizing a sentinel methodology, which required community professionals to look for victims or possible victims of child abuse and neglect. The “sentinels,” as they are called, are staff members who have contact with children and families in various social service contexts (such as law enforcement agencies, medical services, educational institutions, and other social services). This methodology is designed to look beyond official abuse reports and include children who come to the attention of community professionals.

The NIS-4 includes a nationally representative sample of data collected from 126 CPS agencies in 122 different counties. The 126 CPS agencies provided demographic data on all children who were reported and accepted for investigation between September 4 and December 3, 2005 and between February 4 and May 3, 2006. Data for the NIS-4 were also collected from 10,791 community professionals in 1094 sentinel agencies. A total of 6208 forms were collected from the sentinels and 10,667 forms were completed on cases at participating CPS agencies.

Children were evaluated according to standard definitions of abuse and neglect as previously used in the NIS-2 (1986) and NIS-3 (1993). In order to be classified as abuse or neglect, the Harm Standard requires that an act or omission result in demonstrable harm. The Endangerment Standard includes all children who meet the Harm Standard, but also includes children deemed by the sentinels and their professional opinion as endangered or if the child’s maltreatment was substantiated in a CPS investigation. Only children who fit these standards of abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional) and neglect (physical, emotional, and educational) were used to generate national estimates.

According to the Harm Standard from the NIS-4, one child in every 58 in the United States experienced maltreatment. The number of children who experienced physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse under the Harm Standard decreased 26 percent from the NIS-3 to theNIS-4. The estimated number of sexually abused children decreased 38 percent from the NIS-3 along with a 44 percent decrease in the rate of sexual abuse. The estimated number of physically abused children decreased 15 percent from the NIS-3 along with a 23 percent decrease in the rate of physical abuse. The estimated number of emotionally abused children decreased 27 percent from the NIS-3 along with a 33 percent decrease in the rate of emotional abuse. There were no significant changes in neglect since the NIS-3. Results showed a 57 percent decrease in the number of children for whom injury could be inferred due to the nature of the maltreatment. Overall, the NIS-4 shows a 19 percent decrease in the total number of maltreated children in the United States since the NIS-3 in 1993. This decline in incidence is significant compared to the 56 percent increase between the NIS-2 in the mid-1980s and the NIS-3 in the mid-1990s.

According to the Endangerment Standard, one child out of every 25 in the United States has been maltreated. Results, however, did not show any reliable change since the NIS-3. Of those who were maltreated, 29 percent of children were abused and 77 percent were neglected. Of the 29 percent who were abused, 22 percent were sexually abused. In all of the NIS reports, girls were more likely to be sexually abused than boys.

The other well-known source of information for child abuse statistics is NCANDS, a national data collection and analysis system created for the purpose of documenting the scope and nature of child maltreatment reporting (Family Life Development Center, n.d.). The NCANDS Child File consists of case-specific data of all investigated reports of maltreatment to state child protective service agencies. NCANDS defines maltreatment as an “act or failure to act by a parent, caretaker, or other person as defined under State law which results in physical abuse, neglect, medical neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm to a child” (Family Life Development Center, n.d.). Child File data are collected annually through the voluntary participation of states and include the demographics of children and their perpetrators, types of maltreatment, investigation dispositions, risk factors, and services provided.

Reports of child maltreatment are collected by social services across the United States; however, states are not required to submit data to NCANDS. The reporting agency investigates and decides whether the case of abuse is substantiated by evidence or not. Reports may contain information about multiple children, abuse types, and perpetrators. Information is not collected about the perpetrator(s) for unsubstantiated cases. Data on substantiated cases, however, include the perpetrator’s gender, race, and relationship to the child. Additionally, the Child File also contains information about the support services provided to the family and any problems identified for the child, caretaker, or family.

Annual datasets for calendar years from 1990 through 2002 are available from NCANDS. In 2003, the data collection period changed to fiscal years. The 2004 dataset included a total of 3,134,026 records from 44 states and Washington, DC, whereas the 2003 dataset included 1,216,626 total records from 22 states and Washington, DC. The most recent available data are for federal fiscal year 2004.

The state-level rates of child sexual abuse in 1992 range from a minimum of 87 per 100,000 children in New Jersey to a maximum of 688 per 100,000 children in Alaska. The average for 48 states and the District of Columbia is 246 children per 100,000. Table 1.3 shows the state-by-state comparison of child sexual abuse statistics in 1992 and 2000, and how there was a significant decrease in nearly every state during that decade.

TABLE 1.3 Child Sexual Abuse Statistics (1992 and 2001)


Percentage Children Abused (1992)

Percentage Children Abused (2001)

Rate of Children Abused per 100,000 (1992)

Rate of Children Abused per 100,000 (2001)

Percentage Change Between 1992 and 2001







































































































































































































































































































© Cengage Learning

Research Estimates

In the 1980s, there was a rise in the number of reports involving sexual offenses by acquaintances, whether in regard to child sexual abuse or rape. These allegations shattered the stereotyped images of sex offenders at the time, leading to further research of this population. Studies found that there was an increase in cases of date rape, rape in marriage, and intrafamilial abuse—cases that would have largely gone unreported prior to that time for reasons of stigma, self-blame, fear of not being believed, or a desire to protect the friend or family member who committed the offense ( Scully, 1990 ). Even today, those who are most likely to serve prison sentences for sexual offenses are those who have raped strangers, used weapons, had multiple minor victims, physically injured their victims, and/or committed other crimes in addition to the sexual offense ( Grant & Terry, 2001 ). As of 2008, an estimated 235,000 individuals convicted of sex offenses were under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Approximately 60 percent of these were supervised within the community ( Demichele, Payne, & Button, 2008 ).

Studies have found that sexual offending does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, educational level, or any other stable characteristics for either offenders or victims. Sex offenders, particularly those who abuse children, do not necessarily “age out” of their deviant behavior, as do many property offenders, and sex crimes are generally considered to be psychologically motivated offenses. Sexual offenders are often diagnosed with personality or mental disorders, particularly paraphilias (discussed in Chapter 5 ) ( Abel, Becker, & Cunningham-Rathner, 1984 ), and this makes them a unique population. Despite the heterogeneity in offenders and the etiology of their offending behavior, there are many similarities in the population as a whole. They tend to have poor social and relationship skills, most have had poor relationships with their parents, many abuse alcohol or drugs, and many were either physically and/or sexually abused as children.

It is difficult for researchers to ascertain a true assessment of the prevalence and incidence of sexual abuse, which refer, respectively, to the total number of cases in a given population at a specific time and the rate of occurrence over a period of time. Individuals who are sexually abused by family members or acquaintances are least likely to report the sexual abuse to the criminal justice system. Thus, most individuals who were sexually abused as children or were sexually abused as an adult by someone known to them do not report the abuse to criminal justice authorities.

Studies on the incidence of sexual abuse, which concentrate on estimating the number of new cases occurring over a particular period of time, gained greater urgency in the 1980s, indicating that the scope of sexual victimization is extensive.

Studies often show varying levels of prevalence of sexual abuse. As an example, study statistics show that:

· ▪ One in six women has been raped ( Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006 ), and one in three girls is likely to be abused by an adult ( Russell, 1984 ).

· ▪ Seventeen to twenty-two percent of women and 2 to 8 percent of men have been victims of sexual assault ( Levenson & D’Amora, 2007 ).

· ▪ 12.8 percent of females and 4.3 percent of males reported a history of sexual abuse during childhood ( MacMillan et al., 1997 ).

· ▪ Nearly a quarter of all children will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday; 74 percent of those assaulted as children are girls ( Spinazzola, Ford, & Zucker, 2005 ).

· ▪ Twenty-seven percent of females and 16 percent of males disclosed a history of childhood sexual abuse; 42 percent of the males were likely to never have disclosed the experience to anyone, whereas 33 percent of the females never disclosed ( Finkelhor, Hotaling, Lewis, & Smith, 1990 ).

· ▪ The lifetime prevalence of sexual assault among 12–17-year-olds is 1 in 12 ( Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, & Hamby, 2005 ), and 74 percent of child victims know the abuser well ( Snyder, 2000 ).

· ▪ The overall prevalence of sexual abuse of male children is 13 percent and female children is between 30 and 40 percent ( Bolen & Scannapieco, 1999 ).

Official statistics indicate that rates of sexual abuse have declined in the past decade. Research findings corroborate this, and indicate that there has been a simultaneous reduction in related factors such as domestic violence incidents among intimate adults, and pregnancies and births among teenagers. It is not clear what has caused this reduction in sexual abuse or related factors, though it coincides with a reduction in various types of violent and property crime. It also coincides with increased sanctions for sexual offenders, including an increased likelihood of incarceration and civil sanctions such as registration, notification, civil commitment, and residency restrictions (to be discussed in Part III).


Crime is underreported. Sexual crimes are the most underreported offenses, though more individuals reported their victimization to the police in 2000 than in any year of the previous decade ( Hart & Rennison, 2003 ). In order to understand how accurate statistics are on sexual offending, it is important to understand who reports, why, after how long, and with what accuracy.

The NCVS shows the following about individuals over the age of 12 who reported their sexual assaults to the police from 1992 to 2000 ( Hart & Rennison, 2003 , p. 5):

· ▪ Gender Victims were more likely to report sexual offenses to the police if the offender was male (32 percent) than female (13 percent).

· ▪ Race Victims were more likely to report sexual offenses if the offender was Black (39 percent) than White (29 percent).

· ▪ Age Victims reported sexual offenses to the police 40 percent of the time when the perpetrator was 12–14 years of age, the highest percentage of reporting in any age category.

· ▪ Number of Perpetrators Victims were more likely to report the sexual abuse to police if there were two perpetrators (44 percent) rather than one perpetrator (33 percent).

· ▪ Victim-Offender Relationship Victims were more likely to report sexual offenses committed by strangers (41 percent) than nonstrangers (27 percent).

· ▪ Use of Weapons Victims were more likely to report a sexual offense if the perpetrator had a weapon present during the offense (49 percent), particularly a firearm (62 percent), than if no weapon was present (28 percent).

· ▪ Reasons for Reporting The most common reason for victims to report sexual offenses to the police was to prevent future violence. The most common reason for victims not to report sexual offenses to the police was because of privacy issues.

Empirical research supports the findings in the NCVS, though the benefit of such studies is that they can also include victims under the age of 12. Child sexual abuse is the least reported of sexual offenses. Studies that analyze reporting trends of child sexual abuse all indicate that a high percentage of victims who report their abuse to authorities do so many years after the abuse occurred, and many do not ever disclose. The most common studies conducted to analyze reporting trends on child sexual abuse are adult retrospective studies. Like the NCVS, these studies found that the process of disclosing childhood sexual abuse depends on numerous variables. Of note:

· ▪ Only one-third of the victims reported the abuse to authorities before age 18, and the average age of disclosure was 25.9 ( Roesler & Weissmann-Wind, 1994 , in a study of 228 adult female victims of child sexual abuse by adult—primarily male—family members).

· ▪ The average age of child sexual abuse victims was just over 8, and approximately 41 percent of victims disclosed the abuse at the time it occurred ( Arata, 1998 , in a study of 204 female victims of child sexual abuse).

· ▪ The average age at the time of the child sexual abuse was 10, and 64 percent of the victims disclosed the abuse as adults ( Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 , in a study of 45 adult female and 12 adult male child sexual abuse victims).

· ▪ The majority of victims waited more than eight years to report their childhood sexual abuse ( Smith, Letourneau, & Saunders, 2000 , in a study assessing disclosure rates of females raped when they were children).

· ▪ Disclosure of child sexual abuse by minors may be spontaneous or prompted, and many children and adolescents need assistance with disclosure ( DeVoe & Coulborn-Faller, 1999 ).

· ▪ Disclosure of childhood sexual abuse may be purposeful or accidental, with accidental disclosure more common in preschool-aged children and purposeful disclosure more common in adolescents ( Sorenson & Snow, 1991 ).

A significant factor in whether a child reports sexual abuse and the manner in which the abuse is reported is the potential for the person to whom the child is disclosing to believe his or her report on the abuse, especially law enforcement ( Campbell, 2005 ). Approximately half of the children who recant their reports of childhood sexual abuse do so under pressure from their guardians ( Bradley & Wood, 1996 ). The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome, a model of reporting outlined by Summit ( 1983 ) that consists of five components, suggests reasons why child sexual abuse victims delay disclosure. First, the abuse is usually carried out in privacy, and the abuser encourages secrecy. Second, because children are obedient to adults, they are helpless and maintain the secrecy that the adult encourages. Third, the child becomes entrenched in the abusive situation, begins to feel guilt and responsibility for the abuse, and continues to accommodate the perpetrator. Fourth, the victim delays disclosure because of the promise of secrecy and feelings of guilt and shame. Finally, after delayed disclosure, the victim often retracts the report due to disbelief about the abuse by those trusted by the victim.

In addition to a general delay in disclosure of child sexual abuse, many victims report the abuse in stages. Sorenson and Snow ( 1991 ) identified four stages of disclosure in their study of 630 victims of child sexual abuse: denial (experienced by 72 percent of the victims in their sample), disclosure (78 percent of the victims progressed from tentative to active disclosure), recantation (experienced by 22 percent of the victims), and reaffirmation (93 percent of those who recanted later confirmed their original reports).

Adult retroactive studies not only help us to understand the process of disclosure, but also explain the reasons that victims disclose. The most significant variables that seem to hinder disclosure of abuse are the age of the victim at the time the abuse occurred, the victim-perpetrator relationship, the gender and cognitive or developmental abilities of the victim, the type of sexual abuse that occurred, and the chance of negative consequences related to disclosure.

The gender of the victim has an impact on the disclosure of sexual abuse, as females are more likely both as children and as adults to report sexual abuse than are males ( DeVoe & Coulborn-Faller, 1999 ; Gries, Goh, & Cavanaugh, 1996 ; Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 ; Walrath, Ybarra, & Holden, 2003 ). Paine and Hansen ( 2002 ) do show, however, that although gender is an important factor in the decision to report abuse, victim-perpetrator relationship is the most important factor in determining whether a victim of child sexual abuse will eventually disclose.

Several studies indicate that a victim is less likely to report or delay the report of child sexual abuse if the perpetrator is well known to the child ( Arata, 1998 ; Hanson, Saunders, Saunders, Kilpatrick, & Best, 1999 ; Smith et al., 2000 ; Wyatt & Newcomb, 1990 ). This relationship is most significant if the perpetrator is a relative or stepparent. Arata ( 1998 ) showed that 73 percent of victims did not disclose the abuse in such a situation; when the perpetrator was an acquaintance 70 percent of the victims did not report. The desire not to report familial sexual abuse is compounded if the victim feels responsible for the abuse, and in such cases the victim often waits longer to disclose the abuse ( Goodman-Brown, Edelstein et al., 2003 ; Roesler & Weissmann-Wind, 1994 ).

The gender of the perpetrator also seems to be an important factor in reporting, as offenses by female offenders are reported less often than those by male offenders ( Righthand & Welch, 2001 ). There are several reasons why victims may not report sexual abuse by females. Many female-perpetrated offenses are within the family and, as indicated earlier, intrafamilial acts of abuse are the least-reported sexual offenses. Also, women are traditionally seen as caregivers, nonviolent nurturers who are either not willing or not capable of harming children. Many adult and adolescent males are also reluctant to report abuse because of the shame of being a victim. Alternatively, they may not view the actions against them as abuse ( Elliot & Briere, 1994 ). Kasl ( 1990 ) states that underreporting is the result of a social taboo, and that the stigma caused by female sexual abuse must be abolished.

In order to report the abuse in a timely manner, it appears that children need to feel as though they will be supported by the person to whom they disclose the abuse. Children who believe that they will not be supported when they disclose abuse will wait longer to report, often until adulthood when they can choose a person they trust to support them ( Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 ). Shame and guilt also appear to play a role in the decision about disclosure. Older children who are able to understand and anticipate social consequences of sexual abuse are less likely to report the abuse than are younger children ( Campis, Hebden-Curtis, & DeMaso, 1993 ; Keary & Fitzpatrick, 1994 ).

Some researchers have found that children are less likely to report sexual abuse if the abuse is severe ( Arata, 1998 ; DiPietro et al., 1997 ; Gries, Goh, & Cavanaugh, 1996 ) or they fear further harm as a result of their disclosure ( Berliner & Conte, 1995 ; Roesler & Weissmann-Wind, 1994 ; Sorenson & Snow, 1991 ). Sorenson and Snow ( 1991 ) found that victims who fear further reprisals will not report the abuse if the perpetrator is present or the disclosure could lead to further abuse, and Roesler and Weissmann-Wind ( 1994 ) found that one-third of the victims they spoke to delayed reporting until adulthood because they feared for their safety. Hanson et al. ( 1999 ), on the other hand, found the inverse relationship true of severity of abuse and disclosure. They discovered that in a sample of women who were raped when they were children, the more severe the sexual abuse the more likely the victims were to report the abuse sooner.


When victims report their crimes or complete victimization surveys long after the crime occurred, they often remember the crime as occurring earlier or later than it actually happened (Sudman & Bradburn, 1973, as cited in Schneider & Sumi, 1981 ). This phenomenon is called telescoping, and it occurs in two forms: forward telescoping, or recalling an event that occurred prior to the reporting period in question, and backward telescoping, which is recalling an event that occurred after the reporting period. Telescoping is not unique to crime victims. All individuals “telescope” events that they recall long after the events happened. However, telescoping events of victimization creates challenges for researchers trying to understand criminal statistics ( Schneider & Sumi, 1981 ). Accurate crime statistics are deemed essential by government agencies, and as such controlling for temporal telescoping is imperative to attain analyzable, accurate data.

In the 1970s, many researchers began conducting studies on telescoping to better understand its effect on crime statistics. Not surprisingly, researchers found that memory disorientations, including telescoping, occur more often in older respondents, particularly those over age 55 (Sudman & Bradburn, 1974, as cited in Gottfredson & Hindelang, 1977 ). Researchers also found that forward telescoping is more common than backward telescoping ( Schneider & Sumi, 1981 ) and that the more prominent the event, the more likely the person is to forward telescope (Neter & Waksberg, 1964, as cited in Gottfredson & Hindelang, 1977 ). The problem with this, in terms of crime statistics, is that individuals are going to report crime as occurring more recently than it did. Another issue is that victims of nonreported events tend to telescope more than victims who report events of victimization to the police ( Schneider & Sumi, 1981 ), thus creating a potential flaw with chronological information included in victimization surveys.

Researchers are also interested in the prevalence of telescoping, and have conducted many surveys to determine the scope of the problem. Skogan ( 1975 , as cited in Levine, 1976 ) found in a Washington, DC, pilot survey that 17 percent of victimizations reported by respondents actually occurred prior to the six-month period specified. Another study revealed that 22 percent of larcenies reported by respondents occurred prior to the reference period mandated by the survey ( Schneider & Sumi, 1981 ). Murphy and Cowan (1976, as cited in Schneider & Sumi, 1981 ) claim that crime victimization interviews have shown that victimization can be overstated by 40 to 60 percent in some surveys.

One factor that influences the accuracy of interviews is whether the survey is bounded or unbounded. Studies have demonstrated that bounded interviews, or interviews conducted after a previous visit with the respondent has occurred, show a much higher accuracy level in data gathered. Those in unbounded interviews, or those where there was no previous visit with the respondent, tend to report nearly twice as much crime as respondents of bounded interviews in the same time period (Turner, 1972, as cited in Skogan, 1975 , p. 25).


· ▪ Sexual offenses vary by type, degree of severity, class of offense, and length of sanction. They can be broadly categorized as contact offenses (where touching occurs), noncontact offenses (where only viewing or talking occurs), sexual solicitation (where sexual acts are traded for compensation) and pornographic offenses (where movies or pictures are involved).

· ▪ Statistics on the prevalence of sexual offending are derived from three types of data: arrest and conviction rates, victimization surveys, and empirical studies. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the true prevalence of offending in the population. Many researchers and research organizations have calculated rates of victimization.

· ▪ Rates of victimization have decreased in the past decade. The best estimates of victimization rates are that one in four women and one in seven men are sexually abused in their lifetimes.

· ▪ Victims of child sexual abuse often wait many years to report the abusive behavior. The length of delay depends on many factors, including victim-offender relationship, severity of the abuse, cognitive and developmental variables, fear of negative consequences, and gender of the victim.

· ▪ After a delay in reporting, many victims suffer from “telescoping,” and do not report the time of the abuse correctly.


· 1. What are the best sources of statistical information on sexual offenses and offenders? How do these sources of information differ?

· 2. What are the most significant problems in determining the true prevalence of sexual abuse?

· 3. How accurate are reports of sexual offending many years after the abuse occurred? What factors influence the accuracy?

· 4. What should be done to increase reporting of sexual abuse?


· ▪ Did you know that most sexual offenses are committed by family members or acquaintances? Many reports about sexual offenders in the media relate to sexual assaults by strangers, but in fact most perpetrators know their victims.

· ▪ Did you know that recidivism rates for sex offenders are low—substantially lower than recidivism rates for most other crimes? Sexual offenses are greatly underreported, so the true rate of sexual offending is not clear. However, official statistics show that most sexual offenders are not convicted of multiple sexual offenses.

· ▪ Did you know that not all victims of sexual abuse go on to abuse others? Many sex offenders were sexually abused themselves; however, most people who were sexually abused do not go on to become abusers.

© Cengage Learning

2 Historical Perspectives on Sexual Behavior

As explained in Chapter 1 , the concept of “normal” sexual behavior is a socially constructed reality that is continually adapting ( Jenkins, 1998 ). Actions that are defined as sexual offenses vary across religions, cultures, nations, and even states. Additionally, these definitions change over time, adapting to the prevailing social norms and cultures. There are few objective standards for acceptable sexual behavior, and tolerance of various sexual acts depends largely upon the political and social ideologies of the day. An evaluation of sexual behavior over centuries and in various cultures shows the evolution of attitudes toward sexual acts that have intermittently been considered taboo, including homosexuality, bestiality, sadomasochism, adultery, masturbation, and pederasty.


The sexual activity of Greek and Mediterranean cultures has been extensively detailed in art, literature, poetry, mythology, and theater ( Dover, 1978 ). Though there was no word equivalent to homosexualityuntil 1869, same-sex conduct was displayed in visual arts as early as the sixth century B.C. One of the most prominent philosophical depictions of homosexual relationships occurs in Plato’s Symposium, which contemplates the nature of a relationship between Socrates and a young, attractive male. Artistic depictions of transgenerational homosexuality were not uncommon, and many vases and murals show scenes of older males touching the genitals of nude young males ( Dover, 1978 ). Men also wrote love poems about younger boys, particularly those in late adolescence, and sexual activity between older men and younger boys was acceptable and considered beautiful ( Breiner, 1990 ).

Though same-sex relationships occurred regularly in Greece, the men were not considered homosexual in the sense of the word today. It was acceptable for men to have relationships with both men and women, and same-sex relationships were common to supplement the sexual relationship with a wife. Women were not highly respected and were typically viewed as “mad, hysterical, and possibly dangerous and destructive to men” ( Breiner, 1990 , p. 41). Marriage was considered a necessity for procreation, though sexuality was not linked to marriage and sexual pleasure could thus be received outside the marriage ( Mondimore, 1996 ). The ideal relationship was that of an active older male and a passive younger male ( Breiner, 1990 ; Mondimore, 1996 ), evident even in Greek mythology, which depicts Zeus as attracted to a young boy of legendary beauty ( Dover, 1978 ).

Homosexuality was institutionalized into the Greek culture, and this was apparent by the arts and practices of the people. Plays, particularly comedies, were very sexual in nature and often included overt sexual acts on stage. There were also orgies to the gods that included repeated sexual acts and often the sacrifice of a child ( Breiner, 1990 ). It was common for young boys to be sold into slavery, and socially prominent men would have slaves for their own sexual use. Though the majority of sexual behavior revolved around males, there were also women who were involved in homosexual practices. The most famous of these is Sappho, resident of Lesbos (from which the word lesbian is derived), who wrote love poems to women.

The Greek culture was not the only one to promote homosexuality, pederasty, and the importance of the male figure in society. Boy brothels were also found in Rome, and the Romans believed that sexual relationships with young boys would aid their mental development ( Breiner, 1990 ). Although the Greeks viewed man-boy relationships as beautiful, Romans often subjected boys (particularly slave boys) to violence and abuse. Sadistic activities were enjoyed for entertainment, and this included watching women and children being raped and having sex with animals.

The Egyptians were similar to the Greeks and Romans in their admiration of the male figure and their acceptance of homosexuality. Other sexual behaviors common to the Egyptians included polygamy, incest, sexual play among children, and sexual touching of children by adults ( Breiner, 1990 ). Children participated in sexual play at an early age, and it was expected that this would teach them about sexual behavior. By A.D. 200, brother-sister marriages were common, especially among those in the middle class. Though intercourse between adults and children was considered taboo, adults commonly sucked the penises of boys in order to prepare them for sexual activity later. Sexual activity among adults was very open in Egypt, and the pharaoh in particular was expected to partake in extensive sexual activity with his wives and other women while traveling ( Breiner, 1990 ).

Open sexual activity continued in such a fashion until the early Middle Ages, at which time homosexuality became a crime in Europe. This shift in moral thinking about sexuality was influenced by the church, and all sexual acts that were for enjoyment rather than procreation were considered to be sinful ( Holmes, 1991 ; Mondimore, 1996 ). Sodomy was the catchall category of all “unnatural” sexual acts, including masturbation, bestiality, anal intercourse, fellatio, and heterosexual intercourse in anything other than the missionary position. By the 14th century, sodomy was illegal throughout Europe, and perpetrators could potentially be sentenced to death. Homosexual acts were particularly discouraged, and in 1326 King Edward II of England was brutally killed because of his relationship with another male ( Mondimore, 1996 , p. 25). Though the church continued to have an influence on sexual mores for several hundred years, transgenerational sexual acts became socially acceptable in 16th- and 17th-century Europe. It was common for adults to touch and fondle the genitals of their prepubescent children, though the touching stopped when the children developed into adolescence ( Breiner, 1990 ; Jenkins, 1998 ).

In the 18th century, many children were sent to workhouses and brothels and were victims of murder, assault, or rape. With this exception, there was little danger from adult offenders outside the home. The main focus on sexual behavior continued to be within the home, and separate courts were developed for criminal and moral offenses. Although acts such as incest had been accepted in ancient cultures, the church declared incest an ecclesiastical offense, and incestuous marriages were invalidated ( Thomas, 2000 ). Moral offenses, such as masturbation, were brought before the church courts throughout the beginning of the 20th century. Other types of behavior that were considered more serious offenses—including homosexuality, bestiality, and sexual intercourse with prepubescent children—were brought before the criminal courts and were punishable by sentences as severe as death.

Though the Catholic Church dominated regulation of sexual behavior in Europe, other religions and cultures differed in their sexual mores. Polygamy was (and in some cultures, still is) regularly practiced by Muslims, Mormons, and Hebrews. Hebrew families had strict puritan regulations on sexual behavior, and, like the Catholic Church, considered homosexuality an abhorrence ( Breiner, 1990 ). Masturbation was prohibited; for young men this was equivalent to premarital sex, and a married man who masturbated was guilty of adultery. Men were even discouraged from touching their genitals while urinating, as this was thought to encourage masturbation ( Breiner, 1990 ).

In opposition to the puritan sexual mores of various religious sects, Native American and African cultures often practiced sexual activities similar to those of the ancient Greeks. There was evidence of homosexuality in both North and South American tribes, where sexual play among children was also tolerated. Many tribes believed that sexual activity between children and adults was a necessary aspect of sexual development, and that a boy would have to be sexually intimate with an older man in order to develop masculine qualities ( Mondimore, 1996 ). African tribes had similar rituals, and female circumcision was (and is still) common to many African cultures. That such acts are regularly practiced in other cultures but are condemned in Western societies shows the influence of social ideologies on accepted sexual behavior. There is no objective standard for the types of sexual behavior that should be prohibited, and sexual mores have changed drastically even throughout the previous century.


The beginning of the 20th century witnessed a new philosophy of sexual morality. It was at that time, during the Progressive Era, that concerns began to emerge about a number of issues, including the sexual behavior of women and the abuse of children. With the Industrial Revolution causing vast urban growth, adolescent women began entering the workplace in large numbers for the first time. Subsequently, they began participating in social activities outside of their local neighborhoods, experiencing unprecedented freedom from their families ( Odem, 1995 ). It was this change in social structure that instigated the modification of “age of consent” laws for sexual behavior, and it was at this time that the courts began to regularly monitor sexual behavior.

Researchers during the Progressive Era began focusing on serious sexual offenders, classifying their behavior as a medical problem. Many sexual deviants were labeled pathological or insane and were sent to mental hospitals, where they were treated until they regained their sanity. Shortly thereafter, researchers began to study the possible correlation between hormones and sexually deviant behavior, hypothesizing that organic treatments were necessary in order to control such behavior. Research in the 1950s began to show that sexually deviant behavior might not be simply the result of hormones or psychopathology; the underlying problems might be behavioral in nature. There continued to be a lack of understanding about the complexities of sexually deviant behavior, however, and it was only in the 1970s that researchers began to link sexually deviant behavior to social problems. Researchers at this time began to take into consideration the effects of cognitive processes on the behavior of sexual deviants, and research continues in this area today.

Whether researchers looked at those who committed deviant sexual acts as having medical, psychological, or moral problems, most looked at the population of sexual deviants as unique. Because the motivation of their behavior was not—and is still not—clearly understood, reactions to their behavior have been erratic. Despite the various therapies and legislative acts that have been imposed upon those who commit sexual offenses, the reactions to this population are distinctly cyclical. Figure 2.1 outlines the cycle of legislative proposals, showing how policies regarding sexual offenders are implemented after waves of emotionally-charged, notorious sex crimes occur.

Though new information about sexual offenders was continually attained throughout the century, societal reaction to sexually deviant behavior has shown a repetitive pattern. At three distinct points in the 20th century, there were public outcries to control sexual “fiends,” “psychopaths,” and “predators.” It was the highly publicized cases of sexual abuse, or, more specifically, cases involving the sexual murder of children by strangers, that largely influenced such public reactions ( Jenkins, 1998 ). In between these peaks of interest in stranger attacks, little public attention was paid to sexual abuse. Most considered it to be a problem within the family that was not shared with the public or the courts. Figure 2.2 shows the public perception of sexual abuse and abusers throughout the century.

FIGURE 2.1 Cycle of moral panic and reactions to sex offenders

In order to understand legislative reactions to sex offenders today, it is essential to observe the influence of research, political ideologies, and societal reactions to deviant sexual behavior throughout the 20th century.

1885–1935: The First Wave of Panic

Prior to the 1880s, little was known about those who committed “deviant” sexual acts. It was Richard von Krafft-Ebing ( 1886/1965 ) who, in his groundbreaking book Psychopathia Sexualis, first claimed that deviant sexual acts were the result of psychopathological problems in the individual. He attributed various sexual disorders to psychological abnormalities, stating that the sexual disorders were a permanent part of a person’s character and could not be changed. His book contains case studies of individuals—both male and female—who experienced various sexual disorders and paraphilias, though a significant portion of the book focuses on homosexual activity. Krafft-Ebing said that homosexuality could be blamed on hereditary factors, or it could be acquired from the practice of masturbation. He concluded that sexual deviants, particularly homosexuals, were mentally ill, pathological, loathsome, and a threat to social hygiene.

FIGURE 2.2 Changing concepts of deviant sexual behavior in the 20th century, showing periodic increases in concern about the “stranger danger.”

He published 12 editions of Psychopathia Sexualis, and his work opened floodgates of research on sexual behavior.

Two other influential researchers at the time were Havelock Ellis and Sigmund Freud. Ellis ( 1899/1942 ) wrote a two-volume, multipart book on the psychology of sex, in which he discussed issues ranging from menstruation to marriage to sexual morality. He recognized that a changing social environment defines sexual morality, and that standards of morality are continually changing. His opinion differed from Krafft-Ebing’s on the issues of homosexuality and masturbation, as he did not consider sexual deviates to be mentally ill or pathological. Though Ellis did not consider homosexuals to be “normal,” he did not think there was reason to try to cure them. He did not believe that homosexuals who went through treatment for their deviation could be cured, and with this Freud agreed. Like Krafft-Ebing, Freud believed that deviant sexual behavior was rooted in psychopathology, and he attributed sexual deviation to character disorders in a 1905 essay on neuroses ( Freud, 1953 ). He explained that “neurotic symptoms represent the patient’s sexual activity,” with more complex symptoms representing the patient’s fantasies ( Freud, 1959 , p. 281). Much of Freud’s research focused on the sexual activity among family members; he stated that incest was a common occurrence and was consequently the root of problems for many girls.

While researchers were focusing on the causes of sexually deviant behavior, in the 1880s the public began receiving information about sexual immorality from social groups. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)—a group primarily consisting of white, middle-class women—began lobbying vigorously in 1889 for the modification of age of consent laws in the United States ( Odem, 1995 , p. 8). They wanted to raise the age of consent from 10 (in most states) to 18, 1 claiming that “male vice and exploitation were responsible for the moral ruin of young women and girls” ( Odem, 1995 , p. 16). Although it was true that many men were taking advantage of young working-class girls, some of the young women themselves were acting promiscuously. The number of women working in factories and other industrial centers nearly tripled from the 1880s to 1910, and working-class women began participating in new social activities outside the home and local neighborhoods. The purity reformers of the WCTU acknowledged the need to protect the sexual autonomy of these women, saving them from “male seducers” who would lead them into vices such as prostitution ( Odem, 1995 , p. 18). Their campaign literature highlighted the increasing frequency of sexual attacks upon women and young girls, and they called for legislative changes in the punishment for these crimes ( Odem, 1995 , p. 9).

The legislative changes they were seeking did materialize, and by 1920 the age of consent was 16 or 18 in nearly every state. 2 It was not just the religious moral reformers who were concerned about sexual activity during this era, however. While they were waging a campaign against “white slavery,” a general panic was rising about sex “fiends” and “perverts” who were preying on children. It was becoming apparent in the larger cities, particularly New York, that child prostitution was rampant among both boys and girls. The number of brothels that would prostitute effeminate boys increased, and they were frequented by some of the more respectable men in the cities. The moral vicissitude was brought about in part by the spreading of venereal diseases, syphilis and gonorrhea in particular, by homosexuals and pedophiles, whose behavior was under scrutiny at this time ( Jenkins, 1998 , p. 27).

It was between 1910 and 1915 that the United States reached its first retributive climax against sexual offenders. This was largely the result of a rise during this time period in sex-related child homicides, many of which were attributed to serial killers. There were sexual murders in New York City, Colorado, North Dakota, Alabama, Washington, and Atlanta ( Jenkins, 1998 , p. 36). The media and the police managed to create a panic in the public by defining the “Jack the Rippers” as intelligent, manipulative criminals who were easily able to elude detection. In an effort to reduce serious sex crimes, police intervention increased for all sexual offenders who committed offenses in public—namely, homosexuals and other public “nuisances”—whereas there was a dearth of intervention for intrafamilial offenders.

During this five-year period, a number of factors influenced legislation and research on sexual offenders. Indeterminate sentences were introduced for serious offenders in most states, and these nearly always affected sex offenders. There was a move toward positivism—the belief that people are social beings who want to conform, but are compelled to commit offences for reasons beyond their control—that came simultaneously with increasing research from European academics and increasing media coverage on the problem of deviant behavior. Because the focus of criminological research at this time was primarily biological and physiological, such as with the newly translated research of Cesare Lombroso (the Italian “father of scientific criminology” who studied biological and physiological theories of crime in the 19th century), remedies for deviant sexual behavior were also physiological. The concept of eugenics, which supposed that some people were genetically unfit and should therefore not procreate, was a popular one. Among criminals fitting this description were sex offenders, and the practice of sterilization was common. In addition to sterilization, surgical castration was a method used to reduce the sexual drive of, and therefore the number of offenses committed by, sexual criminals. At the time, the concept of eugenics was unquestioned, and the sterilization of habitual criminals was allowed until 1942, when it was declared unconstitutional in the case of Skinner v. Oklahoma ( 1942 ). It was only at this time that the science of hereditary criminality was seriously questioned.

Most of the early research on child sexual abusers focused on serious offenders, often men with psychiatric problems. Even though the researchers studied serious offenders who had been convicted or otherwise incapacitated, the sex offenders in these early studies presented a unique typology in terms of characteristics and likelihood of recidivism. For example, Frosch and Bromber ( 1939 ) conducted a psychological study of 709 sex offenders passing through a psychiatric court clinic in New York City. Among their findings were that sex offenders had a low rate of recidivism (a finding that has consistently been replicated in contemporary studies); many were men over age 40 who reported having a strong religious affiliation; alcoholism and mental deficiency were only minor factors in their offending; many of the men in this sample had a maladjusted sex life; and, “pedophiles” had a higher rate of psychopathic personalities and neurotics. In their study of 250 male nonpsychotic pedophiles and exhibitionists at Bellevue Hospital, Apfelberg et al. ( 1944 ) found that more than a quarter of the offenders were married and living with their wives at the time of their offenses; 32 percent had been previously charged with sex offenses; and, 38 percent had been charged with other types of offenses.

The panic over sexual killers subsided in the 1920s. The reasons for this were numerous. First, the focus began to turn away from stranger assaults and toward child molestation and incest. The high amount of venereal disease among children was still questioned, though it was attributed largely to child abuse by relatives or to prostitution rather than to rape. Second, by 1917 the WCTU had essentially completed its campaign to save women and children for a life of social purity. They had, by this time, achieved their main goals: women’s suffrage and an increased age of consent. Third, by the 1930s issues other than sexual offenses became more topical in the media; namely, organized crime and Prohibition. Fourth, the focus of criminologists and sociologists was shifting, and research focused largely on issues in policing (corruption, brutality), organized crime, and juvenile delinquency ( Jenkins, 1998 , p. 46). The trend of medicalizing criminal acts did not diminish in the 1920s, however. Research on incarcerated offenders to determine the levels of psychopathy in criminals increased. It was this trend that led to the hospitalization of sexual offenders in the 1930s.

1936–1976: The Rise of the Sexual Psychopath

As had happened at the beginning of the century, an awareness of stranger sex crimes during the 1930s led to new legislation for sexual offenders. Child murderers such as Albert Fish permeated the media coverage in the mid-1930s. He committed numerous offenses against children, including rape, murder, and cannibalism. Though his offenses were indeed horrific, recidivist offenders such as Fish were—and are—atypical. The number of arrests for sexual offenders increased dramatically in the late 1930s, but this was due not as much to an increase in sexual offenses as it was to a change in law enforcement policies ( Karpman, 1954 ). The police in most large cities began to crack down on minor sexual offenses, such as homosexuality and frotteurism (the sexual urge to touch or rub another person) ( Tappan, 1950 ). Though the media fueled the idea that the nation was overrun by sex crimes, this was based more on hysteria than fact. For instance, New York City was noted as having a particularly large population of sexual criminals, yet the majority of arrests were for either consensual acts or misdemeanors. Arrests for sodomy more than doubled there from 1932 to 1938, because officers were required to pick up all those known to commit sexually deviant acts, and the high level of homosexual activity in the subway became known as a “queer threat” ( Jenkins, 1998 ). Despite the high number of minor offenses, the focus of political and media attention was on the relatively rare habitual sex offender. This, combined with the emerging physiological theories of criminology, created a new label for sex offenders in 1937: “sexual psychopaths.”

Criminal sanctions alone were not considered sufficient to incapacitate recidivist offenders. Thus, in an effort to skirt the criminal justice system, sexual psychopathy legislation was initiated to civilly commit habitual sexual criminals, or Mentally Disordered Sex Offenders. Michigan was the first state to pass a psychopathy law in 1937, and 28 other states followed suit over the next 50 years ( Schwartz, 1999 , pp. 3–4). Michigan’s law, like those that followed, allowed for the commitment of sexual “degenerates” or perverts if they had mental disorders and posed a threat to the public. Statutes were passed on the principle that sexual psychopathy was a disorder that could be diagnosed and treated, and violent sexual predators would remain civilly committed in mental institutions until they were “cured” ( Alexander, 1993 ). The premise of the legislation was ostensibly therapeutic, yet the result was primarily retributive. The commitment process itself was grossly subjective, and those who were committed remained hospitalized for many years.

There was no consensus for the definition of sexual psychopathy, and it differed from state to state ( Tappan, 1950 ). In California, the offender would have had an “utter lack of power to control his impulses,” yet an offender in Iowa had only to have the “criminal propensities towards the commission of sex offences” ( Grubin & Prentky, 1993 , p. 383). The standard necessary to commit sexual psychopaths was twofold: there had to be proof that the individuals suffered from a mental illness and that they were a danger to themselves or others. Dangerousness was a subjective standard, and because it could not be predicted with any sense of accuracy, commitment standards were questionable ( Sutherland, 1950 ). Civil commitment replaced criminal incarceration, and the critical factor in commitment was that it was not punishment but rather treatment. Therefore, individuals who remained dangerous but not mentally ill were no longer supposed to be civilly confined.

That all sex offenders were a public threat was a concept promoted at this time by various persons with public influence. The media promoted the image of the serious sex fiend through newspaper articles and magazines. The police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were concerned with the inability of the criminal justice system to retain these sex fiends in the prison system, focusing specifically on two factors: the escalation of offending behavior and the use of parole. Offenses such as exhibitionism did not warrant severe sentences, yet this was seen as a gateway action into more serious deviant acts. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover publicized his opinions during the 1930s and 1940s by describing “degenerate sex offenders” as one of the most severe problems facing children, despite the relatively low crime rate at that time ( Jenkins, 1998 ). The FBI warned families of a looming “stranger danger”; these warnings continued through the 1960s. Parole was considered one source of recidivism, as many of the child sexual killers were repeat offenders who had been released from prison early, on parole. Politicians, too, were using the public’s fears about sex crimes to promote their own campaigns. In Minnesota, for example, a young girl went missing in 1938 and was allegedly kidnapped, molested, and killed by a “sexual pervert,” though her body was never found. One gubernatorial candidate claimed that he would protect the community from such “unfortunate but dangerous wretches” should he be elected, and, upon his election, sexual psychopathy laws were passed unanimously in 1939 ( Robson, 1999 , p. 2).

The use of civil commitment under sexual psychopathy laws increased throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. It was not just sex offenders who were subject to adverse public reactions at this time, however. Mental hospitals had lax commitment standards for all those perceived as a social threat. The population of state hospitals increased drastically, largely with those civilly committed due to feeblemindedness or mental illnesses that deemed them a danger to society. States were vague about the types of sexual offenses that could result in the label of sexual psychopath, and some statutes included behaviors such as peeping, lewdness, and impairing morals. Both felonies and misdemeanors could result in commitment, as well as both forced and statutory offenses (for example, statutory rape, which is an offense only because of the age of the victim).

At the height of the panic over sexual psychopaths, some researchers were divided on the issue of civil commitment. For instance, Karpman ( 1954 , p. 38) stated that sexual offenders were not a particularly vicious group of individuals and there was little truth to the supposition that minor offenses escalate to more serious deviant behavior. Yet he also supported indefinite commitment for sexual psychopaths to hospitals for study and treatment until such a time that they were no longer a risk to the community ( Karpman, 1954 , p. 225). Homosexual activity was still a socially unacceptable sexual alternative, and some researchers linked homosexuals and pedophiles in terms of their “perverse” sexual interests. There was said to be an inevitable connection between an attraction to one’s own gender and children, both showing an “arrested psychosexual development” ( Jenkins, 1998 , p. 62). But by the late 1940s, many researchers began to resist the “stranger danger” belief, citing exaggerated claims of sexually related homicides ( Sutherland, 1950 ). Most researchers opposed the idea of civil commitment for sexual psychopaths, believing—correctly—that such laws would result in the overcommitment of minor offenders.

One researcher published a report on the problems of sexual psychopathy statutes, challenging the validity of the statutes due to, at the most basic level, the erroneous views about sex offenders that led to the legislation ( Tappan, 1950 ). He pointed out 10 primary fallacies concerning the sex offender (pp. 13–16), strikingly applicable to the myths prevalent today:

· 1. Sex offenders are not usually homicidal sex fiends, and most are minor offenders. Citing Sutherland ( 1950 ), he stated that there is more danger of murder by an acquaintance or relative than by an unknown sex fiend, and that a truly dangerous sex fiend is rare.

· 2. Sex offenders have a low rate of recidivism, and they repeat their offenses less frequently than any other property or violent offenders except those convicted of homicide.

· 3. There is rarely an escalation of behavior in sex offenders. Though escalation does occur in some serious offenders, most find a sexual act that gives them satisfaction (for example, exhibitionism) and persist in that behavior.

· 4. It is not possible to predict dangerousness in this population, a point supported by many prominent psychiatrists. He stressed the importance of this point, because sex offenders are indefinitely committed to institutions based on their perceived risks.

· 5. “Sex psychopathy” is not a clinical entity, and there is much disagreement on what this term means. The offenders who are committed exhibit a variety of psychological problems, and there is no clear definition as to what does or should constitute a sexual psychopath.

· 6. Sexual offenders are not oversexed individuals, but tend to be undersexed. Organic treatments such as castration are not effective remedies for deviant sexual behavior, because sexual urges are not the driving force of the offender.

· 7. There is no treatment that can “cure” sex offenders, and commitment to a mental hospital does not mean that a sexual offender will be treated. Sex offenders are often confined indefinitely and offered no treatment (a problem with sexual predator legislation that is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 12 ).

· 8. Though sexual psychopathy legislation was passed in order to incapacitate the serious sexual fiend, the individuals who are most often committed are minor offenders.

· 9. Due process rights of the accused are disregarded because the commitment procedure is of a civil nature. Tappan asserts that there is a violation of human rights and due process in the commitment procedure, stating that “regardless of the type of court employed to attain this result, it is in effect a serious punishment in which liberty and due process are vitally involved. Reasoning to the contrary is founded in a technical legalism of the most vicious sort” ( Tappan, 1950 , p. 16).

· 10. The “sex problem” will not go away merely because a law was passed. The only purpose of the statute is to satisfy the public, and that experience with these laws “reveals the futility of ineffectual legislation” ( Tappan, 1950 , p. 16).

At the time the report was published, 14 states had passed sexual psychopathy legislation. The most important point of the report is the discord between psychiatrists and lawmakers. Tappan stated that “sixty-five out of sixty-six psychiatrists … expressed the belief that there was insufficient accord in the field to justify legislation specifically for the sexual psychopath” ( 1950 , p. 37). Additionally, he outlined the dangerous precedents set by sexual psychopathy legislation, including civil adjudication of individuals without due process; indefinite commitment to hospitals for offenders who are neither insane nor seriously psychologically impaired; and that sex offenders can be indefinitely committed into hospital until “cured,” though they are not necessarily being treated and the cost of commitment to taxpayers is extraordinary (p. 16). Despite Tappan’s assertions, the number of states with sexual psychopathy legislation doubled over the next two decades.

At the height of the sexual psychopathy discussions in mid-century, publications about sex offenders continued to focus on the pathology of offending behavior. In his book The Sexual Criminal, based on case studies of extreme offenders, De River ( 1949 ) described anecdotal examples of sex “degenerates” and “perverts.” He claimed that “pedophiles” were psychosexually immature, had a predilection for young children, had mental or physical handicaps, and were often shy or uneasy around adults. It was publications like this that helped develop the popular image of the sexual “pervert” at the time, even though the stereotypes were not based upon empirical analyses.

Empirical research was also ongoing at this time, though the samples of offenders generally consisted of the most serious, incarcerated offenders. In addition to studying skewed samples, most researchers in mid-century were also studying offenders from a psychodynamic perspective. As a result, though the studies provided information about sexual offenders and their histories, demographics, and attitudes, the study findings were often highly skewed since they only focused on the most serious offenders and from a single perspective. For example, in a study of 102 sexual offenders at Sing Sing, Abrahamsen ( 1950 ) found that all of the men in his sample expressed the same characteristics, including hostility toward authority, mental disorders, the prominence of alcohol in many offenses, prior commission of sex crimes (one-third of the sample had previously committed sex crimes), and the developmental delay of conscience in most offenders. Hammer and Glueck ( 1957 ) studied approximately 200 sex offenders over a five-year period at Sing Sing prison, and they also found consistent psychological patterns. They noted that all offenders exhibited five key characteristics: a reaction to massive Oedipal entanglements; castration fear or feelings and fear of approaching mature females psychosexually; interpersonal inhibitions of schizoid to schizophrenic proportions; weak ego-strength and lack of adequate control of impulses; and, concrete orientation and minimal capacity for sublimation.

Scholarly articles focusing only on child sexual abusers also had the same limitations. Toobert, Bartelme, and Jones ( 1959 ) published an article arguing that pedophiles are not always aggressive, but rather their behavior stemmed from a sense of weakness, inadequacy, or low self-regard, and that such behavior correlated with some type of family disruption during childhood. Gigeroff, Mohr, and Turner ( 1968 ) analyzed three distinct groups of pedophiles: the adolescent pedophile, who is often still in puberty; the middle-aged pedophile (aged 35 to 39), who is usually married, shows severe marital and social maladjustment, and exhibits abusive behavior; and the senescent pedophile (aged mid-50s to 60s), who is characterized by loneliness and social isolation and whose abusive behavior evolves “out of a situation in which a particular child is the only one the man can emotionally relate to.” They noted that recidivism rates are low for most sexual offenders—between 6 and 8 percent—however, those with a previous sexual offense conviction had recidivism rates of 30 percent and those with sexual and nonsexual offenses had recidivism rates of 50 percent.

As researchers were studying sex offenders in prison or committed to institutional treatment centers in mid-century, other sex researchers were studying “normal” sexual behavior. In two controversial reports, Alfred Kinsey ( 1948 ) and Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, and Gebhard ( 1953 ) analyzed the prevalence of sexual acts that were considered by most to be deviant at the time, such as masturbation and homosexual behavior. He discovered that a high percentage of individuals had, in fact, participated in these behaviors, therefore creating questions about the use of the term deviant to describe them. Other studies of normal sexual behavior were carried out in the next two decades, which focused on determining the prevalence of certain sexual practices, such as masturbation, and on understanding how various sexual acts could add pleasure to traditional relationships (see Hite, 1976 , 1982 ; Laumann et al., 1994 ; Masters & Johnson, 1966 ). Despite the controversy associated with the methodological flaws of the Kinsey reports and with sex research in general, this body of work was highly influential at the time and demonstrated that normal sexual behavior could be documented using empirical analyses.

Sex researchers also began to study issues of gender identity in the 1950s and 1960s. Notable for his work was John Money, who studied sexual behavior for over 50 years. In 1955, he coined the term gender role, later expanded to “gender-identity/role,” and in 1966 helped establish the Gender Identity Clinic at Johns Hopkins. The clinic performed sex-reassignment surgeries, and in 1972 Money published the controversial book, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl ( Money & Ehrhardt, 1972 ). In this work, he expressed the view that gender is malleable and can be altered through external factors such as prescribed hormones and behavior therapy. Though some of this work was ethically questionable, his impact on study of gender identity was substantial.

The 1960s and early 1970s brought about a social and sexual revolution, and as the Liberal Era emerged there was a dissipation of punitive reaction to sexual psychopaths. Sexual psychopathy statutes fell into disuse in many states, and the main focus on sexual behavior was the changing societal attitudes toward acts that were previously considered to be socially stigmatizing. There was a sexual liberation in the 1960s, and sexual behavior among young people was becoming openly pronounced. Additionally, homosexuality became a more socially acceptable sexual alternative as a result of the gay liberation movement, initiated in 1969 after the Stonewall Riots in New York City. The 1970s brought forth an era of social change for women, with the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade ( 1973 ).While the social and political ideologies were changing, so, too, were theories on sexual offending.

Research on child sexual abuse began progressing in the 1960s. In a methodologically sophisticated research project, Gebhard and Gagnon ( 1964 ) studied sexual offenders who abused young children (and notably did not label all of the offenders pedophiles). The authors stated that the regression to sexually abusing children is a function of a breakdown in control over sexual behavior that results from a current environmental stressor and the disposition for this behavior was based on disordered childhood relationships. They did state, however, that they were not able to determine exactly what would constitute the childhood precursors of acts of sexual abuse of children.

Several mid-century studies compared groups of offenders who committed abuse against children of the same sex to those who abused children of the opposite sex. Fitch ( 1962 ) found no significant differences between the “homosexual” and “heterosexual” offenders with respect to age at time of offense, age at first conviction for sexual offense, and intelligence. However, the study found major differences in employment level, marital status, sentence decreed, and pattern of previous and subsequent convictions. This study showed that sexual recidivists were predominantly single, homosexual offenders who had a history of previous convictions for sexual offenses.

Notable research on rape in the late 1960s came from feminist researchers. It was becoming evident at this time that male and female constructions of social reality differed ( Scully, 1990 , p. 2), and the women’s movement against sexual violence arose as an attempt to combat the prevailing negative views of female victims. Police practices, courtroom procedures, and even academic research condemned the victims of sexual abuse as partially or primarily responsible for their victimization. Amir ( 1971 ), for example, studied forcible rapes in Philadelphia and claimed that 19 percent were victim precipitated and that in many cases the victim initiated the interaction. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the women’s movement succeeded in changing the public perception of victims of sexual violence, and it was at this time that allegations of child sexual abuse within the family became more frequent. But by the end of the 1980s, a new panic emerged about the sexual homicide of children by strangers. This panic still exists today and is the source of the backlash against sexual offenders.


Sexual Behavior and Changing Social Norms: Homosexuality

Perceptions of “normal” sexual behavior change over time and differ by culture. One of the best examples of these changing views of sexuality and sexual behavior can be seen in the changing views of homosexuality.

The terms homosexual and heterosexual were first used in personal written communications in 1868 between a writer and a sex reformer ( Katz, 1997 ). Homosexual appeared in public in 1869, and by 1900, was being used as a negative classification within the medical field. Heterosexual was also being used by the medical community in reference to those men and women who practiced nonprocreative intercourse. In the United States, the terms appeared in print in a medical journal in 1892 defining “two kinds of sexual perversion, judged according to a procreative standard … ‘to abnormal methods of gratification’” ( Katz, 1997 , p. 177). For the next 50 years, homosexuality continued to be considered a socially unacceptable behavior, and some researchers linked homosexuals and pedophiles through their “perverse” sexual interests ( Jenkins, 1998 ).

By the end of the 1950s, views of homosexuality slowly began changing. For example, the Wolfendon Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in England, which convened and released a report in 1957, was charged with reviewing whether same-sex behavior and prostitution should be considered offenses and, if so, what the sanctions for those offenses should be. The Committee decided that the sanctions for prostitution should increase, while the homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private should not be a criminal offense. This recommendation for the decriminalization of homosexual behavior was well ahead of its time, as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) still considered homosexuality to be a mental disorder. Despite the fierce debates about the Wolfendon report, however (see Ronan, 1957 ), the report’s recommendations ultimately led to the passage of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which did make legal sexual behavior between consenting adults (over the age of 21) of the same gender in private.

Homosexuality was starting to be viewed as a socially acceptable sexual alternative at about the same time in the United State largely as a result of the gay liberation movement, exemplified in 1969 by the Stonewall Riots in New York City. By 1973, homosexuality was removed from the DSM-II (though it was replaced with a category of disorder called sexual orientation disturbance). Laws continued to change throughout the next 30 years, but many states continued to have laws banning this behavior until the U.S. Supreme Court stated that sodomy laws were unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas ( 2003 ).


· 1. Are there any sexual behaviors that are now considered “deviant” that may become accepted sexual practices in the future?

· 2. Are there cultures where homosexual behaviors are still considered deviant?

· 3. How is the controversy over same-sex marriage linked to the controversy over homosexual behavior generally?

© Cengage Learning

1976-Present: The Emergence of a Sexually Violent Predator

Toward the end of the 1970s, a number of issues were emerging that were not previously in the public forum. Problems with mental health such as depression and eating disorders were being discussed for the first time as common problems of normal people, and individuals were seeking therapy at rapid rates for cures to their ills. Childhood sexual abuse was also being discussed in open forums, particularly the courts. This new discourse was beneficial in many respects: it allowed for more information about the issues to be publicized, and it modified the stereotype that the victims of abuse were to blame rather than the perpetrators. Before long, however, a new problem evolved.

In the 1980s, the courts witnessed an influx of lawsuits from adults claiming they had been sexually abused as children. These adults claimed that they had repressed the memories for years, and only after several therapy sessions was the abuse recalled. The courts were initially hesitant to accept such claims (for example, Tyson v. Tyson, Wash. 1986 ), though they gradually altered their views and began awarding damages to the plaintiffs (for example, Hammer v. Hammer, Wis. Ct. App. 1987 ). The statutes of limitation were extended in many American states, because the alleged abuse was often recalled decades after it occurred. Repressed memories were generally retrieved during therapeutic sessions when individuals—the majority of whom were women—sought psychological therapy for problems other than the alleged abuse. Therapists suggested that the patients read self-help books ( Bass & Davis, 1988 ; Blume, 1990 ; Fredrickson, 1992 ), many of which indicated that individuals experiencing psychological problems were likely to have been sexually abused as children. Some of these books described lists of symptoms attributable to repressed abuse; these lists included characteristics as common as eating disorders, fear of being alone in the dark, and drug or alcohol abuse ( Blume, 1990 ).

During therapeutic sessions, various retrieval processes were used to induce recall of repressed memories, the most common being hypnosis and Amytal ( Green, 1994 ). Hypnosis, a sleeplike condition achieved through relaxation and concentration on a particular topic, lacks scientific elucidation because it is not well-understood what happens in the mind to reproduce memories. Accurate information has emerged under hypnosis by individuals who witnessed an event, as details can be recollected immediately after the event through sensory recall and mental exercise with some accuracy. Individuals attempting to recall entire events from the past, however, consistently recall information that is incorrect more often than information that is correct. This is particularly true with hypnotic age regression, where the recalled events occurred before the age of five, a time represented by “childhood amnesia” ( Loftus, 1994 ). Amytal, the other common method used to retrieve memories, is a barbiturate that induces a hypnotic drowsiness in individuals. Although said to function as a truth serum, it has been asserted that “Amytal has no legitimate use in recovered memory cases.… It is worse than useless, as it [encourages] patients’ beliefs in completely mythical events” ( Piper, 1993 , pp. 447, 465). Amytal is similar to hypnosis in that it increases confidence in a subject’s recollections and the quantity of such recollections; however, there is no increase in the accuracy of such memories, and without independent corroboration there is no distinction between verifiable and fantasized memories ( Watkins, 1993 ).

The validity of repressed memories eventually surfaced as a critical issue, because many of those who were accused denied the allegations, claiming that ideas of abuse were being inadvertently planted by therapists through various memory-retrieval techniques. There was a contention that during therapeutic sessions, therapists were unintentionally planting false memories through leading questions and through associations of sexual abuse to other psychological problems. As therapists probed for traumatic past experiences, they suggested on the basis of a particular symptom that sexual abuse had occurred to the patient during childhood. With the idea of such abuse planted, many of the vulnerable patients accepted the explanations as the basis of their current problems. For example, Laura Stratford consulted with a therapist to find the source of scars across her body. Though she “remembered” being abused, evidence eventually led to the conclusion that all of her physical scars were self-inflicted ( Jenkins & Maier-Katkin, 1991 ). In another case, George Franklin was convicted of murder based solely on his daughter’s retrieved memories. Eventually, it came out that not only had she revised her account of the offense to fit the facts of the case, but the facts she retrieved were originally reported in local newspapers ( Loftus, 1993 ).

Many of the repressed memory cases included claims of childhood sexual abuse in conjunction with ritualistic satanic abuse. The first publicized account of this abuse was in Michelle Remembers ( Smith & Pazder, 1980 ), and Michelle Smith’s story is similar to many subsequent cases. After experiencing problems of sexual dysfunction, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and a miscarriage, she underwent therapy for a year and concluded that 22 years earlier she had been the subject of childhood satanic abuse. Extraordinary stories involving many reputable individuals surfaced about rituals of chanting, baby breeding, human and animal sacrifices, starvation, and torture. Smith’s story is remarkable but not unique; almost every claim of satanic abuse concerns similar stories, implying an international satanic conspiracy if the accusations were to be confirmed ( Green, 1994 ). However, despite the existence of a “satanic panic,” evidence has yet to be found to corroborate any of these extraordinary satanic abuse claims.

Those who believe in the existence of satanic practices claim that within the past 30 years the remnants of physical evidence have deteriorated or been exhumed so as to avoid detection.While this claim cannot be discounted, it is highly unlikely that satanic rituals have been taking place for at least three decades and yet no evidence has been found regarding these rituals anywhere in the world. Therapeutic transcripts for these cases show how some psychologists ask leading questions about satanic rituals until the patients agree to the elaborate stories. In the McMartin preschool case, children were asked questions such as “Did you ever see people walking around in dark robes?” and “Did anyone touch you here(indicating private areas)?” ( Hicks, 1991 ). The questions were asked repeatedly until the children answered affirmatively regarding the existence of satanic rituals in conjunction with sexual abuse. Despite children’s statements, charges were dropped in all cases claiming satanic abuse due to lack of physical evidence to support the given claims.

As cases of repressed memories became more frequent, some defendants began to file countersuits against the therapists who were responsible for retrieving false memories (see, for example, Ramona v. Isabella, 1994 ). Few cases of repressed memories are brought up in the courts today, and none result in convictions without corroborating evidence. There are, however, thousands of cases brought before the courts on a daily basis involving child sexual abuse within the family. Despite the prevalence of this type of sexual abuse—which accounts for the majority of cases—another “stranger danger” panic erupted in the late 1980s. It was this panic, based upon a few highly publicized cases of child rape and murder, that initiated the current trend toward sex offenders: the emergence of the sexually violent predator.

In the late 1980s, two child molesters committed horrific acts in the state of Washington. Both offenders had a long history of sexual offending, and there was a common belief that the criminal justice system was ineffective at keeping recidivist sex offenders incapacitated. Wesley Alan Dodd sexually molested, tortured, and murdered three young boys, saying that if he were released he would do it again—and enjoy it. Earl Shriner had a long history of child molestation charges and a homicide charge from when he was a juvenile. In and out of institutions since the age of 15, he had just been released after a decade in prison when he kidnapped and tortured a seven-year-old boy. In prison, he confided in a journal and to other inmates that he fantasized about killing again, and explained in great detail about how, when released, he would buy a van in which he would kidnap boys and take them into the woods to torture them. There was nothing the state could do to keep him in prison. Dodd was executed, but it was the case of Earl Shriner that prompted the implementation of a legislative act for “sexually violent predators” (SVPs) who had the potential to be released from prison one day.

Washington was the first state to enact SVP legislation, though several states implemented legislation in the 1990s and 2000s. An SVP is defined as any person who has been convicted of or charged with a sexually violent offense and who suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence. A mental abnormality was defined as “a congenital or acquired condition affecting the emotional or volitional capacity which predisposes the person to commit sexually violent offenses in a degree constituting such person a menace to the health and safety of others” ( Dorsett, 1998 , p. 125). This legislation was essentially a modification of the sexual psychopathy laws, though there were a few significant variations. Most important, civil commitment was not intended to replace incarceration, but instead to supplement it. Upon completion of a criminal sentence, sexual offenders who have a mental disorder and are deemed dangerous can be committed to some type of secure mental hospital until they are “rehabilitated.”

In Washington, The Community Protection Act also established a system of notification to the community when offenders are convicted or released from prison. It was only with the implementation of Megan’s Law in 1996 that registration became a federal regulation. Megan’s Law, the registration and notification scheme that originated in New Jersey, is named after seven-year-old Megan Kanka, who was sexually abused and killed by a convicted child molester living in her neighborhood. Her parents claimed that if a convicted sex offender is living in the area, the community has a right to know so that the parents can protect their children. Though registration has broader consequences (discussed in Chapter 10 ), this legislation focuses primarily on sexual attacks by strangers, not abuse within the home. The death of Megan Kanka was an emotionally charged sex crime against a child by a recidivist offender, and politicians had little choice but to implement laws protecting the community against the “stranger danger.”

Though the cases of kidnapping and child murder are horrific, these are not the norm. SVP legislation, like that of sexual psychopathy laws from the 1930s, was passed to incapacitate a small portion of the population. However, the number of offenders referred for civil commitment is growing, and there are now similar problems with the SVP population that were prevalent with those convicted as sexual psychopaths. All of the problems with the psychopathy population presented by Tappan ( 1950 ) are relevant in regard to the SVP population, and it is likely that the statutes will eventually fall into disuse in a similar manner.


· ▪ Accepted sexual behavior has changed significantly throughout history, and from the time of first writings of the ancient Greeks, “normal” sexual acts have depended on accepted social and political ideologies.

· ▪ Sexual assaults by strangers have had a significant influence on legislation throughout the 20th century. Yet, the majority of sexual offenses are committed by an acquaintance or relative of the victim, and the legislation also engulfs these individuals.

· ▪ There were three distinct cycles of moral panic regarding sex offenders in the 20th century. Each cycle is characterized by legislative policies based on emotionally charged, notorious sex crimes.

· ▪ Research on sexual offending has developed greatly over the last century. Studies in the early mid-twentieth century were often methodologically flawed and based on samples of serious sexual offenders who were in prison or incapacitated in mental institutions.


· 1. Why is it important to understand the historical context of the social perception of sexual behavior?

· 2. What is the primary cause of the “moral panic” over child sexual abuse throughout the 20th century?

· 3. What are the key similarities between sexual psychopathy and sexually violent predator legislation?

· 4. What problems may result from implementing legislation that is primarily based on “stranger” sexual abuse of children?

· 5. What roles did researchers, the media, and politicians play concerning public attitudes toward sexual offenders throughout the 20th century?



Sexual offenses cause a level of fear in the public that is unique from other crimes. Despite the fact that sexual assaults by strangers are rare—even more so for sexual assaults against children—the public fears the sexual fiends, monsters, and predators that they hear about in the media. The media tends to report on the most heinous, frightening cases of sexual assault, kidnapping, and murder. As a result, public opinion strongly favors severe legislative sanctions against sex offenders with the understanding that such policies will keep them safe. What follows are examples of cases that led, at least indirectly, to sex offender legislation.

· Albert Fish Albert Fish raped and murdered children in the early 20th century. Though no one has definitely proven how many victims he had, Fish claimed to have offended against more than 100 children in every state and admitted to cannibalism in some of those cases. Additionally, he was a sexual deviant with a penchant for masochism (discussed in Chapter 3 ). He practiced infibulation, which involves fastening by ring, clasp, or stitches the foreskin in boys (or the labia majora in girls) in order to prevent sexual intercourse, and upon his execution it was realized that he had more than two dozen piercings in his genital area ( Holmes, 1991 , p. 61). At the time he was executed in 1936, the United States had just begun to experience the rising fear of the sexual psychopath.

· Earl Shriner From the 1960s to 1980s, Earl Shriner had a history of serious sexual offenses against children and adolescents in the state of Washington. His final victim was seven-year-old Ryan Alan Hade, whom he kidnapped, raped, cut off his penis, stabbed, and left for dead. Ryan survived, and Shriner was convicted and sentenced to 131 years in prison. While incarcerated for a previous sexual offense, Shriner had disclosed his fantasies about the rape and torture of children, but the state had no way to keep him confined. As a result of the community outrage about him, the state of Washington passed the Community Protection Act of 1990, the first modern-day legislation that encompassed both registration and civil commitment clauses.


· 1. What role does the media have in informing public opinion about sexual offending?

· 2. What are the positive and negative effects of media attention on serious sexual offenders?

· 3. Should legislation be implemented based upon the small but serious cases of sexual offending, like those of Albert Fish and Earl Shriner?

© Cengage Learning

1. The age of consent was 7 in Delaware and 12 in Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

2. In Georgia, the age of consent was 14.

3 Etiology of Sexually Deviant Behavior

There are many possible explanations as to why individuals commit sexual offenses. The literature on sexual offending provides biological, psychological, and sociological bases of the origins of deviant behavior. However, no one factor is responsible for causing someone to commit a sexual offense, and no single theory is capable of explaining the etiology of deviant sexual behavior for such a heterogeneous group of individuals ( Robertiello & Terry, 2007 ).

Notwithstanding the complexity of the task, researchers since the beginning of the century have produced models and hypotheses to explain such behavior through biological or psychological abnormalities. By mid-century, the understanding of sexual disorders (paraphilias) was beginning to develop, and this development continues to the present day. By the end of the 1960s, the theoretical approach to understanding sexual offenders began transforming. Few explanations were based on abnormalities beyond the control of the individual; rather, the theoretical frameworks incorporated behavioral and cognitive-behavioral approaches. Concurrently, feminist and sociocultural theorists emerged with a competing school of thought, choosing to define sexually aggressive behavior through societal explanations. They voiced a global critique of men and society rather than focusing on individual causes of deviant behavior.

One deficiency that unites these traditional explanations of sexual offending is their lack of empirical support. By contrast, current theories are rooted in empirical research, emphasizing developmental, interpersonal, personality, epidemiological, sociological, and situational variables, all of which have helped to develop data-driven models of offending behavior ( Lanyon, 1991 , p. 36). Though still developing, these integrated theories provide a more thorough framework for understanding why men, women, and juveniles commit sexual offenses. This chapter outlines the various explanations of the etiology of sexual offending.


Some sexual offenders are diagnosed with paraphilias or other sexual disorders, as identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). 1 The features of all paraphilias are recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies or urges involving either nonhuman objects, suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, children or other nonconsenting persons ( American Psychiatric Association, 2000 ). For some paraphiliacs, these fantasies or stimuli are necessary in order to achieve erotic arousal, whereas for others they are episodic and the individual can be stimulated otherwise. The behavior, urges, and fantasies cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning. Many paraphiliacs suffer from more than one paraphilia, or have at some point in their lives experienced multiple paraphilic interests ( Abel, Becker, Mittelmen, Cunningham-Rathner, Rouleau, & Murphy, 1987 ).

There are eight primary paraphilias listed in the DSM IV-TR: exhibitionism, voyeurism, frotteurism, sadism, masochism, fetishism, transvestic fetishism, and pedophilia. Additionally, there are several other disorders labeled paraphilias not otherwise specified (NOS). It is important to note the distinction between the disorder (paraphilia) and the criminal act. Media reports about sexual offending often use interchangeable language that indicates a person can be convicted of a paraphilia, which is incorrect. For instance, a person cannot be convicted of pedophilia, but instead a person who has been diagnosed with pedophilia may sexually abuse a child and be convicted of rape, sexual abuse, aggravated sexual abuse, etc. (depending on the nature of the criminal act and the nomenclature for that act by jurisdiction).

Most paraphilic acts do not come to the attention of authorities for several reasons ( American Psychiatric Association, 1999 ). These are often private acts that take place in the home, and they only come to the attention of authorities (or therapists) when they become habitual, involve a victim, or result in a criminal act. Many paraphilic acts (for example, exhibitionism, frotteurism, voyeurism), involve strangers and take place quickly. As such, the victims rarely get a sufficient view of the perpetrator that would enable them to provide a full description to the police. Additionally, some victims do not know they are subject to this abuse (for example, voyeurism) and are unable to notify authorities.

Paraphilias differ greatly; some involve no contact with a victim (for example, exhibitionism), some involve minor contact (for example, frotteurism), whereas others contain much contact and even violence (for example, sadism). Research shows that paraphiliacs typically have more than one paraphilia, and that there is crossover between types of acts committed by paraphiliacs. For instance, one report states that “paraphilac persons tend to cross over between touching and non-touching of their victims, between family and nonfamily members, between female and male victims, and to victims of various ages” ( American Psychiatric Association, 1999 , p. 47). The primary paraphilias are summarized in Table 3.1 .

TABLE 3.1 Eight Main Paraphilias of the DSM IV


Description — Sexual Fantasies, Urges or Behaviors Involving:


Exposure of genitals to a stranger; may include exposure only or masturbation during the exposure


Touching or rubbing up against a nonconsenting person in a crowded area; may rub genitals against or fondle the victim


Watching a stranger who is naked, disrobing, or engaging in a sexual act; no sexual activity sought with the victim


Sexual attraction to nonliving objects, such as a shoe or undergarment; individual often masturbates while holding the object or has a partner wear the object during sexual encounters

Transvestic Fetishism

Cross-dressing; heterosexual man is sexually aroused by himself wearing the female clothing

Sexual Masochism

The act of being humiliated, bound, beaten, or made to suffer in some way; may occur with a partner or during masturbation

Sexual Sadism

The act of humiliating, binding, beating, or making another person suffer in some way; sexual excitement the result of control over the victim


Sexual attraction to a prepubescent child; may involve own children or nonrelated children, males or females

Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)

Sexual fantasies, urges or behaviors about individuals, objects or other nonconsenting persons other than the above paraphilias, which cause distress or other serious problems for the person diagnosed

SOURCE OF INFORMATION: American Psychiatric Association ( 2000 )

Noncontact and Minimal Contact Paraphilias

The most common noncontact paraphilia that comes to the attention of therapists and authorities is exhibitionism, or the exposure of genitals to a stranger. Exhibitionism is almost exclusively male, though there are some females known to be exhibitionists. Sometimes, the offender masturbates when he exposes himself, and at other times the act is simply to shock the stranger. However, many exhibitionists fantasize that the stranger is aroused by their exposure, and they go home to masturbate about this fantasy after the act occurs. Those who expose themselves tend to do so frequently, and often expose themselves many times before being caught and arrested. Additionally, they have the highest known number of sexual offenses per offender ( Abel et al., 1987 ). Researchers have found that exhibitionists, like rapists and child sexual abusers, often experience loneliness and have intimacy deficits ( Marshall, 1989 ), and they show higher levels of arousal to consensual adult sexual relations than to exhibiting ( Marshall, Anderson, & Fernandez, 1999 ). This indicates that sexual needs are not the only motivating factor for exhibitionists, and their primary motivation may be nonsexual in nature.

Another common paraphilia, though one that comes to the attention of authorities far less frequently than exhibitionism, is fetishism. Fetishism involves sexual fantasies and urges involving nonliving objects. The sexual attraction may also center on behaviors (for example, stepping on bugs) or body parts (also called partialism), though technically these are not fetishes but other types of paraphilias. For those diagnosed with fetishism, the object of the fetish is usually required for sexual excitement; without it there is some level of erectile dysfunction. The range of fetishes is vast; though the most common fetish objects are clothing, particularly women’s lingerie and shoes, there are also fetishes about nearly every object and behavior imaginable. Such attractions can be quite harmless, or they may involve dangerous or criminal behavior. There are too many fetishes to name here, but examples include the sexual attraction to stuffed animals (plushophilia, or more commonly “plushies”); urine (urophilia); feces (coprophilia); eyes (oculophilia); statues, dolls or mannequins (agalmatophilia); small bugs or animals being squished (“crush” fetish); people with impaired mobility (abasiophilia); amputees (acrotomophilia); watching or staging accidents (symphorophilia); and being eaten (vorarephilia).

Though the most common fetish involves women’s clothing, this is not the same as dressing up in women’s clothing. Transvestic fetishism is another type of paraphilia; this involves men who keep a collection of women’s clothing and intermittently use it to cross-dress. While dressed, the man will usually masturbate and imagine he is the object of his sexual fantasy. This occurs only in heterosexual males, or males whose primary sexual preference is to be with women. As with all paraphilias, there are different degrees of transvestic fetishism. For some males cross-dressing creates a peace of mind, whereas others are severely distressed about their need to do so. One convicted rapist who cross-dresses describes his experience with transvestic fetishism in the following way 2 :

· I was leaving the house at night, going off, dressing up, and spending the night dressed up in the stuff, which made me feel totally different. But it also put a strain on my relationship, so I turned to the drugs. Because I would get so low, my self-esteem would go so far down, that I would take drugs to bring myself back up.… I want to be a normal human being, I don’t want to be weird. I want to be a normal person, a father to my kids, a husband to my wife.

A fourth minimal-contact paraphilia is frotteurism, which is touching and rubbing up against a nonconsenting person. This occurs in a crowded place, such as a subway car during rush hour, and is an almost exclusively male paraphilia. The frotteur may touch his genitals against the person or “accidentally” rub the other person’s genitals or breasts. He usually fantasizes about having an exclusive relationship with this person, and he will generally masturbate about the contact at a later date.

Another noncontact paraphilia is voyeurism, which is the observation of unsuspecting individuals in the process of either disrobing or engaging in sexual activity. No sexual activity is sought with the “victims,” though the voyeur may masturbate while watching the persons or later in response to the memory. Though this is a noncontact behavior, some offenders who commit serious sexual offenses such as rape often begin their deviant sexual behavior through “peeping” ( Terry, 1999 ). For example, a rapist described the escalation of his behavior in the following way 3 :

· I went out and got drunk one night and walked by a clothesline and saw some women’s underwear and [stole] them. Then I started peeping in women’s windows. And then I started fantasizing about having sex. I started fantasizing about raping and, it wasn’t only rape, it was about me hitting her on the head, and her unconscious and then having sex with her, because that is the only way I thought I would get sex.

This excerpt shows an individual with more than one paraphilia—voyeurism and fetishism—and it shows how there was an escalation of paraphilias into a serious, violent fantasy. Most paraphiliacs do not become violent, though some voyeurs do eventually desire sexual contact with an individual they are watching.

In addition to the noncontact or minor contact paraphlias discussed, the DSM IV-TR lists paraphilias NOS, many of which are also noncontact. For example, telephone scatologia is the urge to make obscene phone calls, and the paraphiliac repeatedly calls strangers and speaks to them sexually. These are not consensual phone calls, and the caller is sexually aroused sometimes by a conversation that ensues and sometimes by the shock that is caused ( Holmes, 1991 ). The common element between the noncontact or minimal-contact paraphilias is that the offender typically is excited by his behavior and masturbates in response to the behavior later. With exhibitionism, frotteurism, and scatologia, the offender envisions excitement by the victims. He misperceives the victims’ cues of shock, anger, or fear as sexual excitement at his exposure, touch, or sexually suggestive words. Though these paraphilias have minimal contact with potential victims, other paraphilias could be more dangerous if acted upon.

High-Contact Paraphilias

Serious paraphilias are those involving violence, children, or other nonconsenting persons. Pedophiliainvolves the sexual attraction to prepubescent children and, if these desires are acted upon, could cause significant harm. For an individual to be classified as a pedophile, he must have recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behavior involving a prepubescent child over a period of time ( American Psychiatric Association, 2000 ). Additionally, the individual would be at least 16 years of age and at least five years older than the child ( American Psychiatric Association, 2000 ).

Not all child sexual abusers are pedophiles because, like rapists, they are not all driven by sexual needs and therefore may not experience these intense sexual urges. Neither are all pedophiles child sexual abusers, because they might not act on these intense sexual urges. Additionally, many of the children who are sexually abused are not prepubescent. Although not considered a formal diagnosis in the DSM IV-TR, many clinicians and researchers consider those with recurrent sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors regarding adolescents to be a unique group that displays the characteristics of paraphilias. The term applied to this disorder is ephebophilia or hebophilia (these terms are used interchangeably). The American Psychiatric Association (APA) considered including ephebophilia in the DSM V, though a determination was made not to include this as a specific disorder. However, there is a proposed revision for pedophilia to become pedohebophilia in the DSM V, with subtypes of pedophilic type (attraction to prepubescent children) and hebophilic type (with an attraction to pubescent children) ( American Psychiatric Association, 2010 ).

Sexual attraction to children is not the only paraphilia with potential harm. Other dangerous paraphilias involve violence or prohibited sexual acts, the most common of which are sexual sadism and sexual masochism. Sexual masochism is the act of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer. Some acts are conducted on the person’s own, such as binding themselves, shocking themselves electrically, sticking themselves with pins, or similar actions. Other times acts are committed with partners, such as bondage, blindfolding, and whipping. Sexual sadism takes place when the individual derives sexual excitement from the psychological or physical suffering of another person. This involves the same actions as in masochism, but performing instead of receiving. The acts can be minor and cause little damage, such as humiliating one’s partner, or the acts may potentially cause a lot of damage, such as hypoxia (the deprivation of oxygen). Sexually sadistic acts often increase in severity over time, and sadists who are diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders may cause serious injury or even death to their victims ( American Psychiatric Association, 2000 ).

Many sadists and masochists experience both of these paraphilias, and as such they are often combined into one disorder: sadomasochism. Sadomasochists partake in giving and receiving pain, humiliation, and degradation. Though called a paraphilia, there are many “normal” couples who participate in sadomasochistic activities. This once again illustrates how our changing societal acceptance of acts once considered deviant is modified over time, resulting in acts no longer being taboo. The only time sadomasochistic acts are brought to the attention of authorities is when the violence involved creates a negative outcome. One controversial case involving such activity occurred in England in 1987. In the case of Brown and others ( 1992 ), the police arrested three men who were in possession of videotapes of them performing sadomasochistic activities with 44 other men over a 10-year period. The activities included maiming of the genitalia (for example, piercing with fish hooks and needles), branding, and beatings with hands and instruments such as cat-o’-nine-tails, some of which drew blood and caused scarring.

All of the activities that occurred were consensual, 4 they took place in the privacy of the home, and they occurred for no other reason than sexual gratification. The case eventually was heard by the European Court of Human Rights in order to determine if the state has a right to interfere in private sexual encounters. The court stated that the state does have a right to intervene, even though the behavior constitutes a “private morality” because of the harm (potential and actual) resulting from the acts. The decision was based on the extreme nature of the acts and was deemed necessary for the protection of public health. The court compared the nature of the acts to drug abuse, declaring that the state has the obligation to intervene in activities that potentially may result in harm to an individual, even if that individual chooses to participate in that activity and it harms no one other than him- or herself.

Sexual sadism is a paraphilia that typically develops in adolescence, with interests piqued through masochistic masturbatory practices. Autoerotic asphyxia is a dangerous activity that constricts the oxygen during masturbation, accomplished with the use of a strangulation device (typically, a ligature with padding in order to prevent rope burns), a plastic bag, a chemical (for example, nitrous oxide), water, chest compression, or choking ( Geberth, 1996 ; Hazelwood, Dietz, & Burgess, 1983 ). Both males and females participate in autoeroticism, and the purpose of it is to create a higher level of sexual excitement through the restriction of oxygen to the brain. The sexual excitement does not just occur through the restriction of oxygen, but as a combination of ritualistic behavior, oxygen deprivation, danger, and fantasy ( Geberth, 1996 , p. 319). Unfortunately, accidental deaths occur from this activity—estimated at 500 to 1000 per year in the United States—many of which are mistaken for suicides or homicides ( Hazelwood et al., 1983 ).

Though autoerotic asphyxiation is generally linked to sexual masochism, not all individuals who partake in autoerotic activities are diagnosed with this paraphilia, and many exhibit other paraphilias. Hazelwood et al. ( 1983 ) conducted a study on autoerotic fatalities, with a sample of 150 subjects. Cited as the most extensive study on this issue ( Geberth, 1996 ), the authors noted that subjects evidenced the following paraphilias in addition to masochism and/or sadism: fetishism, transvestic fetishism, pedophilia, voyeurism, coprophilia, and mysophilia (sexual attraction to mud or dirt). These diagnoses were substantiated through previous actions (for example, repeated abuse of children substantiated pedophilia), material the subject possessed (for example, drawings of sadistic activity), or the state in which they were found (for example, the bodies are often found dressed in women’s clothing, indicating transvestic fetishism).

Like other forms of deviant sexual behavior, autoerotic asphyxiation has been documented historically, with the earliest known evidences found in a Mayan relic dating to A.D. 1000 ( Hazelwood et al., 1983 ). It was also documented in European artifacts and books from the 18th through the 20th centuries, presumably sparked by publication of papers by the Marquis de Sade ( Hazelwood et al., 1983 ).

Another deviant sexual act that occurs with relatively high frequency is bestiality, or sexual activity with animals. Any sexual activity with animals is prohibited by law in the United States, yet it is practiced in many rural areas where animals are easily accessible. This is not always, and in fact often not, a paraphilia. In order to be diagnosed with a paraphilia—zoophilia—the individual must have a sexual attraction to animals that fits the criteria of a paraphilia. Yet, it is clear from the popularity of Internet sites containing images of bestiality that the practice is intriguing, if not avidly practiced, among a subsection of the general population.

Bestiality was also of concern to practitioners at the beginning of the century, as Krafft-Ebing ( 1886/1965 ) recorded several cases of bestiality in Psychopathia Sexualis involving intercourse with rabbits, hens, goats, dogs, and other domestic animals. He describes some of these cases as pathological in nature, and others resulting from perceived sexual inadequacy. For instance,

· A man was caught having intercourse with a hen. He was thirty years old and of high social position. The chickens had been dying one after another, and the man causing it had been wanted for a long time. When asked by the judge for the reason for such [an] act, the accused said that his genitals were so small that coitus with women was impossible. Medical examination showed that his genitals were, in fact, extremely small. (pp. 470–471)

Another serious paraphilia is necrophilia, or the sexual attraction to dead bodies. Rosman and Resnick ( 1989 ) describe three types of necrophiles, with varying degrees of severity. The first is the pseudo necrophile, also called a fantasy necrophile; this is an individual who either fantasizes about sex with dead bodies or has sex with dead bodies only periodically. The pseudo necrophile prefers the sexual partner to be alive but pretend to be dead, and there are many reports from prostitutes that their clients make them partake in this behavior. A second classification of necrophile is the regular necrophile; this is an individual who regularly has sexual intercourse with dead bodies. He is attracted to corpses and frequently works in an occupation where there is access to dead bodies, such as a coroner, or in a place like a morgue or graveyard.

Though the pseudo and regular necrophiles are dangerous and partake in prohibited behavior, they do not kill the victims in order to have sexual intercourse with them. This describes the third degree of necrophilic behavior, where the person is labeled a homicidal necrophile. This person kills in order to have intercourse with dead bodies, which is an extreme form of the paraphilia. Some serial killers are homicidal necrophiles, the most infamous being Jeffery Dahmer. Dahmer lured young men to his apartment and then proceeded to drug, strangle, dismember, and cannibalize them. He kept them alive for several days, turning them into “love slaves” by torturing them prior to killing them. Once dead, he had sexual intercourse with some of the victims before dismembering them and keeping body parts (and photos of the dismembered body parts) as trophies.

The case of Jeffery Dahmer is extreme, and most offenders who commit sexual homicides do not commit necrophilic acts. Rather, most sexual murderers achieve sexual gratification by killing a person. It is common after a sexual murder (also called lust murder) for the individual to masturbate over the body or to insert a foreign object into the vagina or rectum as an act of sexual substitution ( Ressler, Burgess, & Douglas, 1988 ). Ressler et al. ( 1988 ) conducted a study of sexual murderers and found several commonalities between the offenders; most important, they have an active fantasy life, and their fantasies are violent and sexual in nature. They found a link between sadistic acts and fantasies, as sadists’ violent fantasies can lead to sexual murder. It therefore follows that some sexual sadists are in danger of escalating into becoming sexual murderers if they are not detected and stopped.

In sum, paraphilias are diagnosable sexual disorders that can cause an individual to have intense sexual urges and fantasies about certain individuals, objects, or behaviors. Some of these paraphilias can lead to sexual abuse of children (for example, pedophilia) or the sexual assault of adults (for example, sadism). However, the etiology of offending behavior may be explained through the interaction of these disorders and other social, cultural, psychological, and biological factors.


Development of Paraphilias in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

Various organizations and agencies attempted to classify mental disorders beginning in the 19th century, but it was not until 1952 that the APA created the first edition of the DSM. Prior to this time, the majority of psychologists understood mental illness simply in terms of different types of psychoses and neuroses. The need of the Army and Navy for a formal system of diagnoses to better understand the conditions of men returning from World War II appears to have been a large influence on the publication of the first DSM. Sexual deviance and sexual disorders were mentioned only briefly in this first edition and the term “paraphilia” was not used until 1954. Sexual deviance at this point was considered only one of a host of “reactions” to sociopathic personality disturbance along with alcoholism ( McAnulty, 1995 ).

The second edition of the DSM (DSM-II, 1968) was virtually unchanged from the first edition ( Schmidt, Kotov, & Joiner, 2004 ). However, specific “sexual deviations” (paraphilias) were, in the second edition, listed under the category “Personality Disorders and Certain Other Non-Psychotic Mental Disorders” ( McAnulty, 1995 ). As the DSM continued to follow a psychoanalytic perspective in the 1960s, behaviorists at this time theorized that paraphilias developed as a result of learning. In other words, certain objects, people, or situations could easily become associated with sexual arousal and could later serve as objects of sexual fantasies ( Abel & Osborn, 1995 ). Treating paraphilias would mean reconditioning sexual arousal to be associated with other innocuous objects, people, or situations.

A major turning point in the understanding of paraphilias came in 1970 when Masters and Johnson published Human Sexual Inadequacy, which prompted an interest in sex-specific therapy methods and also a change in attitude toward sex disorders ( Masters & Johnson, 1970 ; Segraves, Balon, & Clayton, 2007 ). Instead of paraphilias being a result of deficient intrapsychic development, Masters and Johnson suggested that these disorders were the result of certain interactions between people. To treat the paraphilia, clinicians should focus on the interaction as well as the person’s unique psychological development. Masters and Johnson not only influenced the general public with their new ideas and attitudes but they were also instrumental in the third revision of the DSM ( Segraves et al., 2007 ).

The DSM-III, published in 1980, represented a significant change in diagnostic methodology, as it incorporated an atheoretical approach that emphasized observable behavior ( Coolidge & Segal, 1998 ; Schmidt, Kotov, & Joiner, 2004 ). Also in the third edition, conditions were officially called disorders and the manual included the implementation of the multiaxial (Axis I, Axis II) diagnostic system. Furthermore, personality disorders were separated from major clinical disorders in this edition, and medical and social influences were taken into account when assessing a person’s overall level of functioning ( Coolidge & Segal, 1998 ; Oken, 2007 ). Under this system, paraphilias were first listed by the names that are still used today and the diagnostic criteria stated that paraphilic fantasies were necessary for sexual excitement. These changes were an attempt to establish the diagnostic criteria as more reliable and to distinguish between occasional paraphilic behavior and chronic paraphilia ( McAnulty, 1995 ). However, because the DSM-III was written with an atheoretical approach, diagnoses of paraphilias did not hint at their causes or what kind of treatment may have been best. Quite simply, a diagnosis was made if an individual displayed enough of the essential observable behaviors that were considered symptoms of that specific paraphilia. The DSM-III-TR, published in 1987, incorporated two changes to the diagnoses of paraphilias. First, the criteria in this edition specified that the individual in question must have acted on his or her paraphilic fantasies in some way, and could no longer be diagnosed solely based on their private thoughts and fantasies. Secondly, the criterion was added in this edition that these paraphilic fantasies must cause the individual subjective distress ( McAnulty, 1995 ; Segraves et al., 2007 ).

In 1994, the DSM-IV was published, and its revision followed in 2000 (DSM-IV-TR). One modification to the diagnosis of paraphilias in the DSM-IV was a further elaboration on the matter of subjective distress; in the DSM-IV-TR, not only did the individual have to be experiencing distress for an official diagnosis, but the individual must have experienced “clinically significant distress.” This addition further complicated the diagnostic criteria by requiring a high level of stress and ongoing impairment related to the paraphilia or the paraphilic fantasy. In other words, a man who was sexually attracted to children and who molested prepubescent children could not have been officially diagnosed as a pedophile unless his behavior and his attractions were distressing him enough to cause disruptions in other areas of his life.


· 1. Should a person be diagnosed with a paraphilia if he spends hours every day looking at pornography on the Internet? Why or why not?

· 2. How can diagnoses or paraphilias influence treatment of sexual offenders?

© Cengage Learning


Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud is generally credited with examining sexual deviancy through a psychoanalytic framework, though his theories are no longer widely supported. Freud called individuals’ sexual desires “perversions”—in particular, paraphilias such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, and pedophilia—and argued that sexual deviations were the consequence of childhood deprivation, developmental fixation, or regression back to any one of the four stages of sexual development ( Freud, 1953 ). Freud labeled the four stages of development as oral, anal, phallic, and genital; unresolved problems brought about fixations during these stages of development. These fixations were sexual in nature, and included oedipal conflicts, castration anxiety, and penis envy.

The oedipal conflict, which Freud claimed that boys could develop during the phallic stage of development, is characterized by competition between father and son for the mother’s affection. Castration anxiety and penis envy result from boys and girls discovering the differences in their genitalia; boys conclude that girls are actually boys whose fathers have cut off their penises, and girls are jealous of boys. Children should eventually outgrow these stages. It is when the boys do not resolve their oedipal conflicts that they develop a permanent aversion to adult females, whose appearance brings back their anxiety about castration.

Psychodynamic theory also explains the interaction of the three elements of the human psyche: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id, considered to be the “pleasure principle,” is the basis of desire and the division of the psyche from which instinctual human drives originate. The id seeks instant gratification of these instinctual urges. The ego, or the “reality principle,” is the mediator between the id and superego. The superego, or the “conscience,” is responsible for decisions based on past experiences of rewards and punishments. These parts of the psyche are internalized and work together to help the individual develop a system of morals.

For more than a half century, psychoanalysts (for example, Fenichel, 1945 ; Hammer, 1957 ) expanded on Freud’s explanations of sexual deviations. A common characteristic of these theories was the belief that deviant behavior was unlikely to go away. Psychoanalysts believed that the psychopathology of the offender is a deep-rooted aspect of the person’s personality, and, if treatment is to occur, it must be lengthy and based on the restructuring of the character. While psychoanalysis at this time focused primarily on sexual dysfunction, paraphilias, and traits such as homosexuality, psychoanalytic theories in the 1970s began to shift toward serious sexual offenses.

In the 1980s, psychodynamic theorists proposed family-based etiological explanations for deviant sexual behavior. For instance, MacLeod and Sarago ( 1987 ) suggested a “family dysfunction model” whereby sexual problems are characterized by an ill, absent, or sexually frigid mother who provides an unsatisfying marriage for her husband. Loneliness and the need for intimacy develop, and the husband turns to his children for the undemanding love that he seeks. All types of sex offenders show intimacy deficits and expressions of loneliness ( Marshall, 1989 ), yet these traits are not sufficient in themselves to explain deviant sexual behavior. Nonetheless, they may be significant factors in a multicausal explanation of the etiology of sexually deviant behavior.


Many researchers have attempted to explain sexually deviant behavior through biological and physiological abnormalities. Most of these explanations are based on the assumption that abnormal hormonal levels adversely affect sexual behavior. Biological theorists (for example, Berlin and Rada) suggest that biological functions are likely to be only one component of multiple etiologies for sexual deviations—sexual behavior is multidetermined and is not likely based on hormone levels alone. Biological theories usually pertain to rape or sexual assault of adults rather than child sexual abuse, because rape is considered an act of violence and there has been a postulated correlation between aggression and high levels of testosterone ( Money, 1970 ; Rada, Laws, & Kellner, 1976 ). Biological theories of child sexual abuse have been primarily concerned with abnormal hormonal and androgenic levels in the brain.

The primary focus of biological explanations of aggressive sexual behavior is the role of androgens and androgen-releasing hormones in males. Secretion of the androgens is controlled by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, and the anterior lobe of the pituitary carries the androgens to the testes. The testes control the level of hormones, particularly testosterone, that are released into the bloodstream. When testosterone circulates in the bloodstream, it may or may not be bound to proteins. If it is bound, androgens may become active if they come into contact with receptors for testosterone. This happens during puberty, at which time males experience physical changes, such as increases in body hair and muscle mass and penis enlargement, as a result of the androgenic effects ( Hucker & Bain, 1990 ).

Because of this androgenic process, the level of testosterone in the testes increases dramatically in males when they reach puberty. Sex drive also increases at this time. As such, there is an implicit belief that testosterone is the primary biological factor responsible for sexual drive in males. Empirically, researchers have shown that increased levels of erotic activity correspond to increased levels of plasma testosterone. Pirke, Kockott, and Dittmar ( 1974 ) showed that the level of plasma testosterone for subjects watching an erotic film increased by approximately 35 percent over subjects who were not watching an erotic film. This correlation has not been consistently validated, however, as some biological studies have not shown a clear link between these variables. Despite these inconsistent results, Bancroft ( 1978 ) states that there is a general implication that hormone levels are affected by erotic stimulus.

The underlying question posed by biological theorists about rape is whether or not there is a connection between aggression and increased levels of testosterone, and, if so, whether this hormonal imbalance leads to sexual aggression. Aggression and sex appear to be mediated by the same neural substrates involving predominantly midbrain structures (the hypothalamus, septum, hippocampus, amygdala, and preoptic area), while the same endocrines activate sex and aggression ( Marshall & Barbaree, 1990a , p. 259). Some self-report studies have shown a correlation between aggression and high testosterone levels ( Olweus, Matteson, Schalling, & Low, 1980 ; Scaramella & Brown, 1978 ), and studies of convicted prisoners have shown that those with violent histories do have higher testosterone levels than nonviolent offenders ( Kreutz & Rose, 1972 ). Although there has been some research showing a correlation between “aggressive feelings” and high testosterone levels in young men ( Persky, Smith, & Basu, 1971 ), most studies show a tenuous correlation, if any, between paper-and-pencil tests measuring aggression and the level of plasma testosterone in males ( Ehrenkranz, Bliss, & Sheard, 1974 ; Kreutz & Rose, 1972 ). Testosterone is not the only hormone important in mediating behavior ( Marshall & Barbaree, 1990a ). Even if aggression is linked to testosterone levels, it is unclear whether testosterone actually produces aggressiveness or simply causes an increase in muscle mass and strength, allowing individuals to manifest their aggression more effectively ( Hucker & Bain, 1990 , p. 98).

As for studies that measure levels of testosterone and sexual aggression, results are largely conflicting, and the correlations that do exist are slight. One study showed that rapists scored higher than controls on a hostility inventory, yet plasma testosterone levels were not related to hostility scores ( Rada et al., 1976 ). A further study by these researchers showed no differences between hormonal levels in rapists and controls ( Rada, Laws, Kellner, Stiristava, & Peake, 1983 ), with the lack of correlation between testosterone levels and sexual violence supported by other researchers as well ( Bradford & MacLean, 1984 ). In some studies, only the most violent and/or sadistic offenders were found to have elevated plasma testosterone levels ( Rada et al., 1976 ), whereas other studies did not establish this correlation ( Langevin et al., 1985 ).

Most of the hormonal studies that have been conducted contained small samples and produced conflicting results ( Hucker & Bain, 1990 ). Although testosterone is presumed to be the source of sexual drive in males, few researchers claim to find a link between sexually deviant acts and abnormal hormonal or androgenic levels. Most biological theorists conclude that even when a hormonal imbalance is present in a male to act as a physiological potentiator for violence, these factors must still be triggered by environmental and social learning factors in order for sexual aggression to occur ( Hays, 1981 ; Hucker & Bain, 1990 ; Kreutz & Rose, 1972 ; Meyer-Bahlberg, 1987 ).

One controversial biological theory of rape was suggested by Thornhill and Palmer ( 2000 ). They explain rape from an evolutionary biological perspective, contending that males are driven to rape in order to reproduce. They state that although rape is not a morally good or even acceptable act, it is an act of natural selection. They support this by making claims such as that most rape victims are in their prime reproductive years. They contradict most sociological research and actually promote rape myths, stating that women should not dress provocatively because those who do so are more likely to be raped. Though highly publicized because of its unique perspective, other biological and evolutionary theorists have strongly criticized their work for being unscientific and based upon anecdotal evidence ( Coyne & Berry, 2000 ).


Feminist theories about sexually deviant behavior focus primarily on rape; specifically, they center around the motivation of men to commit acts of sexual violence against women. These theories emerged in the late 1960s, when it became evident that the female victims were persecuted as much as the male offenders in cases of sexual violence. Most researchers at this time were male, and their explanations of deviant behavior focused on the victims’ actions as much as the offenders’. The feminist movement was also moderately successful at changing the perception of female victims in the criminal justice system. With the increased public support for the active prosecution of offenders, the rate of reporting and convicting these offenders rose considerably through the 1980s.

A pioneer on research regarding sexual violence in the 1970s was Susan Brownmiller, who analyzed rape in a cultural, political, and historical context and cited sexual crime as an example of men’s oppression of women ( Brownmiller, 1975 ). She and other feminists regarded sexual assault as systemic to a patriarchal society of conditioned male supremacy. Accordingly, theories surmised that the use of coercion to achieve sexual conquest represented an exaggeration of prevailing norms rather than a departure from them ( Brownmiller, 1975 ; Herman, 1990 ; Matthews, 1994 ). Sexual gratification is not considered by most feminists to be the primary motive for rape ( Allison & Wrightsman, 1993 ; Brownmiller, 1975 ; Burt, 1980 ; Darke, 1990 ; Ellis, 1989 ). Rather, rape is used as just one other tool to dominate and control women, who are considered relatively powerless compared to men and, therefore, subservient to them ( Allison & Wrightsman, 1993 ). From a theoretical perspective, rape is seen to be the consequence of deep-rooted social traditions of male dominance and female exploitation ( Ward, 1995 , p. 10). Men who commit sexual offenses are considered normal, rationalized through the epidemiological explanation that almost all sexual offenders are male and a notable proportion of the male population has committed a sexual offense ( Herman, 1990 ).

Feminist theorists view rape as a cultural rather than an individual problem. Sexual violence is said to represent an extension of attitudes and practices surrounding male-female relations in a male-dominated culture ( Darke, 1990 ). Cultures that encourage gender stereotyping create “gender socialization,” whereby sexually aggressive men have been socialized to feel little need for intimacy and a low capacity for empathy ( Lisak & Ivan, 1995 ). Social violence is not unique to any one culture or historical period ( Stermac, Segal, & Gillis, 1990 ); however, some characteristics such as interpersonal violence, male dominance, and sexual separation are common to rape-prone societies ( Sanday, 1981 ). Long-term prevention necessitates changing the societal conditions that generate sexual violence, such as belief in rape myths and sex-role ideology favoring restricted roles toward women. These attitudes may lead to gender socialization and thereby encourage and sanction a generalized hostility and, subsequently, sexual abuse, toward women ( Brownmiller, 1975 ; Darke, 1990 ; Medea & Thompson, 1974 ; Stermac et al., 1990 ; West, 1987 ).

Though feminist theories focus primarily on rape, sex-role stereotyping can also explain child sexual abuse. Whereas feminist theory describes men as having sexual entitlement over women, child sexual abusers express sexual entitlement over children ( Hanson, Gizzarelli, & Scott, 1994 ). Child sexual abusers tend to be narcissistic and selfish, considering their own desires and ignoring potential harm caused by their own actions. Through their own narcissism, they exhibit “sexually specific sexist attitudes” similar to those of convicted rapists ( Hanson et al., 1994 , p. 198).


Due to the widespread reporting of intimacy deficits among sex offenders, researchers have sought to develop overarching theories to explain a possible pathway between intimacy deficits and sex-offending behaviors. Attachment theory follows the premise that humans have a natural propensity to form emotional bonds to others, and that models of bonding in infancy provide a framework for understanding attachment patterns in adulthood. Many sexual offenders exhibit a lack of close adult relationships as well as a lack of intimacy in their relationships generally ( Marshall, 1989 ; 1993 ).

Though attachment theorists study bonds between individuals from infancy to adulthood, it is the period during adolescence that is most critical in the development of sexuality and social competence ( Marshall & Barbaree, 1990a ). By this time, adolescents with adequate parenting should have acquired prosocial behavior, including proper inhibitions on aggression and sexual behavior. Parents should also help instill in the adolescents a sense of self-confidence and the ability to form emotional attachments to others. If this is the case, adolescents should be able to transition to adulthood with both social constraints against aggression and the skills necessary to develop effective relationships with age-appropriate partners.

Individuals who have poor emotional attachments are more likely to commit a sexual offense than those with strong emotional attachments to others. Research shows that many of the men who sexually abuse children have poor social skills and little self-confidence, and thus, they have difficulty in forming intimate relationships with agemates ( Marshall, 1989 ). This failure creates frustration in these men that may cause them to continue to seek intimacy with under-aged partners. Seidman, Marshall, Hudson, and Robertson ( 1994 ) conducted two studies that showed that sex offenders have deficiencies in social skills that restrict the possibility of developing intimate relationships. In particular, sex offenders appear to misperceive social cues and do not act appropriately as a result of these deficiencies. These deficiencies in intimacy are common across various types of sex offenders. In the study by Seidman et al., rapists and nonfamilial child sexual abusers in the sample had the most significant deficiencies in intimacy.

According to attachment theorists, insecurely attached individuals may try to overcome feelings of loneliness through sexual activity, which runs the risk of involving inappropriate and unwanted advances given the overall level of inexperience with such behavior. Ward, Hudson, Marshall, and Siegert ( 1995 ) furthered this idea by suggesting that a lack of experience with intimate relationships may result in empathy deficits, which may, in turn, lead to sexual offending in certain individuals. Attachment models also focus on the sexual offender’s ability to attribute appropriate thoughts and feelings to others. Keenan and Ward ( 2000 ) stated that sexual offenders may have deficits in their theory of mind, which is the awareness and understanding of others’ beliefs, needs, and particular perspectives. These broad deficits lead to more specific deficits in intimacy, empathy, and cognition, which together put these individuals at risk for inappropriate interpersonal relations and behavior.

Regardless of the framework that most accurately describes the root and pathways of the relationship, empirical studies have shown that there does appear to be a link between intimacy deficits and sexual offending. In terms of romantic and sexual intimacy, Garlick ( 1989 ) and Seidman, Marshall, Hudson, and Robertson ( 1994 ) found that both incarcerated and nonincarcerated rapists and child sexual abusers reported higher levels of loneliness and lower levels of intimacy in adult relationships as compared to both nonsexual offenders and nonoffender controls from the community. More recent work has focused on intimacy across different types of adult relationships, including friendship, family, romantic, and sexual relationships. In one such study, Bumby and Hanson ( 1997 ) found widespread intimacy deficits in both incarcerated rapists and child sexual abusers, suggesting that these individuals experience a lack of intimacy in many different types of relationships including friendships with males, friendships with females, and relationships with family members. Rapists and child sexual abusers reported significantly more loneliness than nonsexual offenders and community control subjects, and child molesting behaviors were the best single predictor of degree of fear of intimacy.

Bartholomew ( 1990 ) has identified four categories of attachment styles: secure, preoccupied, fearful, and dismissing. These models of attachment explain the individual’s self-concept as positive or negative, depending on the degree to which they believe they deserve to be loved ( Bartholomew, 1990 ). An individual with a secure attachment style has a positive concept of himself and others, and as a result is able to make friends and have age-appropriate relationships. An individual with a preoccupiedattachment style has poor self-esteem and low self-confidence but does have a positive attitude toward others and often needs their assistance to deal with personal matters. An individual with a fearfulattachment style has a poor self-concept and a poor concept of others, thus often blaming himself for his problems but being too frightened to talk to others about these problems. An individual with a dismissingattachment style has both a positive self-concept and a high level of self-confidence, yet he has a negative concept of others and thus does not seek out help or support. The individual who is most likely to abuse a child is the person with a preoccupied, insecure attachment style ( Ward et al., 1995 , as cited in Marshall & Marshall, 2002 ).


Behavioral theorists began offering explanations as to the etiology of sexually deviant behavior in the late 1970s, led by researcher Gene Abel. Behavioral theories mainly relate to the assessment and treatment of sexually deviant behavior and view the behavior is, not as a disorder that can be treated. Unlike psychodynamic theories, behavioral theories are based on the assumption that there is no single underlying problem of which the deviant sexual behavior is a symptom. Abel’s approach ( Abel, Blanchard, & Becker, 1978 ) is based upon an implied model of etiology that is seen as underlying other disorders that are amenable to treatment through behavior therapy.

Langevin ( 1983 ) expanded upon Abel’s theory and classified deviant sexual preferences according to their stimulus and response characteristics. As such, the deviant behavior is conditioned in the individual to the effect that “sexually indulgent behavior displays a pattern that is entrenched and perpetuated by intermittent positive rewards” ( Kear-Colwell & Pollock, 1997 , p. 21). Elaborating on the conditioning premise, Wolf ( 1985 ) developed a three-part theory as to the etiology of deviant sexual behavior. He alleged first that sexual offenders have a disturbed developmental history, including potentiators for later deviant attitudes; second, he stated that there is a presence of disinhibitors that will allow deviant behavior to occur; third, he concluded that the offender has deviant sexual fantasies. All three factors work together to develop and maintain deviant sexual behavior. A fourth behavioral theorist, Lanyon, states that sexual disorders are “conceptualized as an inappropriate frequency of one or more events (behavior, thoughts, or feelings), and this inappropriate frequency is thought to be maintained by the pattern of antecedents and consequences for the events” (Lanyon, 1991, p. 38).

Cognitive-behavioral theories were developed in an effort to build on the foundation of behavioral theories by taking into account the thoughts of offenders as well as their behaviors. Abel et al. ( 1984 ) explored the content of cognitions in sex offenders and analyzed the effect of cognitions on behavior. They found that sex offenders, like most individuals, are able to legitimize their behavior and the behavior of others through cognitive distortions (CDs). There are a number of CDs common to sex offenders, discussed in Chapter 4 ; these allow offenders to continue committing deviant sexual acts by averting blame from themselves and projecting it onto their victims or their environment. Some researchers ( Ward & Keenan, 1999 ) claim that CDs derive from implicit theories that sex offenders have about themselves, their victims, and the world around them. Implicit theories, which are structured from the offenders’ beliefs and desires, generate CDs that in turn permit inappropriate sexual behavior. They allow offenders to exist within a socially constructed reality and behave according to their beliefs about the world and their role in it. Ward and Keenan ( 1999 ) claim that implicit theories consider the following factors in relation to child sexual abuse:

· ▪ Offenders View Children as Sexual Objects They assume that children, like adults, are motivated by a desire for pleasure and thus desire and enjoy sexual behavior.

· ▪ Offenders Are Entitled to the Sexual Behavior The desires and beliefs of the offender are more important than those of the victim, which are either ignored or viewed as only of secondary importance.

· ▪ The World Is Dangerous The offender views other adults as being abusive and perceives that they will reject him in promotion of their own needs.

· ▪ The Offender Has a Lack of Control The offender perceives his environment as uncontrollable wherein people are not able to exert any major influence over their personal behavior and/or the world around them.

· ▪ Sexual Behavior Is Not Harmful The offender believes not only that there is no harm done to the victim, but that sexual activity is beneficial.

Offenders rarely modify these implicit theories, even when faced with evidence (behavior) to the contrary. Instead, the offender may simply reinterpret or reject a theory. For example, a child’s friendly behavior might be evidence to the offender that the child wants to have sex with him. Though it is not clear how these implicit theories develop, it is likely from a combination of developmental, social, and psychological influences.

As for the etiology of deviant sexual behavior, cognitive-behavioral theory proposes that deviant sexual arousal is learned through classical conditioning ( Hunter & Becker, 1994 ). As such, the effect of outcome on the offender’s first deviant sexual act is important: if the act meets with no adverse consequences, an addictive pattern may be powerfully reinforced ( Becker, 1990 ).


Psychosocial theories work from the viewpoint that deviant sexual behavior is a response to external factors, and that there is an interconnection between psychological and sociological variables that influence sexual behavior. Sexual behavior is a learned response to particular conditions, and deviant sexual behavior is the outcome of inappropriate socialization. This may result from personal experiences, such as childhood sexual abuse, or be influenced by general factors, such as pornography.

One trait common to rapists, child sexual abusers, and exhibitionists is poor social skills. These individuals tend to have difficulty formulating normal adult relationships and are described as suffering from “courtship disorder,” in which “the terminal phase of courtship is exaggerated and distorted, and precoital courtship is virtually absent” ( Freund, 1990 ). Rapists see violence as the only way to secure their goals of sexual gratification ( Marshall & Barbaree, 1990a ), and they use as much violence as necessary to achieve a sexual relationship. Many child sexual abusers, on the other hand, have an inability to form age-appropriate relationships. In many cases of sexual abuse, regardless of victim type and motivation for the offense, sex offenders display characteristics of low self-esteem, poor self-image, and, subsequently, poor ability to socialize and form appropriate relationships with agemates.

Many sex offenders who lack proper relationship skills tend to misread social cues, and they do so in two ways. First, they misread cues from their victims, interpreting the victims’ actions as sexual in nature. For instance, child sexual abusers often have a sexualized view of children ( Hanson et al., 1994 ; Hartley, 1998 ; Ward & Keenan, 1999 ). They interpret children’s actions as sexual in nature, and any overt symbol of affection is considered to be a sexual cue. Rapists, too, may misinterpret the actions of their victims as indicative of a sexual desire. For instance, if a woman dresses provocatively, it may be interpreted that she wants to have sex. Or if, when she is assaulted, she does not retaliate due to fear, this may be interpreted as a desire to comply with the sexual act.

Sex offenders not only misperceive cues of their individual victims, but also societal intimations. These cues can be in the form of patriarchal prerogatives of fathers for children ( Hartley, 1998 ) or sex-role stereotyping of women ( Burt, 1980 ). One societal condition that in Western cultures has been presumed to encourage sex-role stereotyping is pornography ( Burt, 1980 ; Marshall, Anderson, & Fernandez, 1999 ). Feminist theorists recognize this as a definitive expression of male supremacy that also plays a role in masturbatory fantasy and sexual response ( Herman, 1990 ). Some feminist researchers claim that a link exists between violent pornography and sexual violence ( Allison & Wrightsman, 1993 ), although there has been no systematic empirical evidence to validate this statement. One study showed that some men are more likely to rape if given instructions that it is acceptable behavior ( Quinsey, Chaplin, & Varney, 1981 ). However, another study showed that exposure to hard-core pornography enhances sexual aggression only in already angered males ( Gray, 1982 ). In other words, pornography is not the origin of the deviant sexual behavior, but it can promote a relapse in offenders. This later study also showed that approximately one in three convicted sex offenders said that violent pornography stimulated their desire to offend after viewing it. Gray, as well as other researchers, however, concluded that violent pornographic depictions may act as potentiators for a few sadistic individuals to commit aggressive acts against women, yet most men will not be induced by this material to commit sexual assaults ( Gray, 1982 ; Quinsey et al., 1981 ).

Though negative gender socialization may be one factor that influences rape, explanations of child sexual abuse often revert to the offenders’ upbringing. In addition to the familial influences mentioned previously, researchers focus on the effect of childhood sexual abuse and whether this leads to a cycle of abuse ( Freund & Kuban, 1994 , p. 560). The “cycle of abuse” theory alleges that there are statistically significant links between childhood victimization and current sexual interest in children ( Bagley, Wood, & Young, 1994 ). Though this hypothesis has several supporters ( Garland & Dougher, 1990 ; Groth & Burgess, 1977 ), there are some inconsistencies with the abused-abuser theory. To begin with, it does not account for the fact that more female than male children are sexually abused, and yet there are more male than female sexual offenders. Additionally, it does not account for the fact that many offenders were not sexually abused as children. Similarly, the majority of children who were sexually abused do not go on to abuse others. Most researchers therefore conclude that childhood victimization is but one of many factors that may act as a prelude to later offending behavior.


Most theories about sexual offending attempt to explain crime based on individual aspects of the offender. However, scholars have begun to assess the role that the environment plays in the commission of sexual offenses. The environment, and particularly the situations in which abuse occurs and the opportunities that offenders have to commit sexual offenses, play a critical role in whether or not abuse occurs. Based on this premise, offenders can be prevented from abusing if they feel that the opportunity to commit the crime presents too much risk, if the reward isn’t big enough, or if too much effort is required ( Terry & Ackerman, 2008 p. 645).

The theoretical approach that focuses on the crime element rather than the offender is routine activities theory (RAT). RAT holds that in order for a predatory crime to occur, three elements (the “crime triangle”) must be present at the same time and in the same space: a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the lack of a capable guardian to prevent the crime from happening. Situational crime prevention (SCP) strategies are opportunity-reducing measures directed at highly specific forms of crime, and involve the management, design, or manipulation of the immediate environment in as systematic and permanent way as possible in order to make crime more difficult, risky, less rewarding or excusable for a wide range of offenders. SCP is based on the assumption that offenders are rational beings who weigh the costs and benefits of criminal behavior ( Terry & Ackerman, 2008 p. 645). Potential offenders use the environment to their advantage and, thus, effectively implemented SCP can reduce criminal activity.

Based on the SCP approach, Felson and Clarke ( 1998 ) state that four opportunity reducing techniques must occur: increasing effort, increasing risk, controlling prompts, and reducing permissibility. Increasing effort entails making it more difficult or inconvenient to commit a crime through controlling access to facilities, target hardening, and controlling tools. Increasing risk is amplifying the threat of detection, mostly by providing guardianship. Controlling prompts refers to reducing situational triggers. Reducing permissibility refers to making potential offenders understand that their behavior is harmful to their victims. These techniques have generally been applied to property crimes, though researchers have recently begun to apply this paradigm to child sexual abuse ( Marshall, Serran, & Marshall, 2006 ; Terry & Ackerman, 2008 ; Wortley & Smallbone, 2006a ).

The most comprehensive analysis of situational factors related to sexual abuse has been conducted by Richard Wortley and Stephen Smallbone. In their study of sexual offenders in Australia, Wortley and Smallbone ( 2006a ) observed seven factors that are consistent with a situational explanation of child sexual abuse. Specifically, they stated that child sexual abusers have: (1) a late onset of deviant behavior; (2) a low incidence of chronic sexual offending; (3) a high incidence of previous nonsexual offenses; (4) a low incidence of stranger abuse; (5) a low incidence of networking among offenders; (6) a low incidence of child pornography use; and (7) a low incidence of paraphilic behavior. The authors also note that location is an important factor in the commission of sexual offenses, for sexual abuse almost always occurs in private and often in the home of the offender.

Child sexual abuse is pervasive in situations in which adults have unguarded access to children, including in youth-serving organizations. Wortley and Smallbone ( 2006a ) found that 20 percent of extrafamilial offenders reported having accessed children via an organized activity, with some 8 percent having joined a child or youth organization for the primary purpose of perpetrating a sexual offense. Colton, Roberts, and Vanstone ( 2010 ) found that adult male abusers were attracted to particular positions within educational institutions or voluntary organizations that would afford them easy access to potential victims and allow them to maintain the abuse without being detected. In a study of 41 “professional” perpetrators, Sullivan and Beech ( 2004 ) found that 15 percent reported having specifically picked their profession to access children while 41.5 percent reported that access to children was at least part of their motivation for having selected their profession. Indeed, over 90 percent of the abusers they studied were reported to have been aware of their sexual attraction to children prior to having begun their professional careers.


Although the individual theories discussed lend possible explanations as to the etiology of offending behavior, they are rarely sufficient explanations of all deviant behavior. The majority of offenders do not initiate sexually deviant behavior because of one variable, such as childhood sexual abuse or exposure to pornography. Rather, there are numerous interrelated factors that, when comprehensively studied, may better explain the etiology of offending behavior through multifactor models. Various researchers (for example, Finkelhor, 1984 ; Marshall, 1993 ; Marshall et al., 1999 ) claim that sexually deviant behavior results from a combination of psychological, developmental, and sometimes biological factors, including (among others) deviant sexual arousal and conditioning; few or poor intimate attachments to family, friends, or partners; loneliness; CDs and lack of empathy; and poor social and relationship skills.

Marshall, Anderson, and Fernandez ( 1999 ) claim that the most important factor that predisposes an individual to future deviant behavior is the strength of the bond between the child and his or her parents, for insecure children frequently lack social skills and have low self-esteem. This poor self-perception persists into adolescence and adulthood, leading to intimacy deficits and loneliness in relationships with family, friends, and partners ( Bumby & Hanson, 1997 ). Children who have strong bonds to their parents develop a resistance to deviant behavior because of their beliefs, cognitions, skills, and emotional dispositions ( Marshall et al., 1999 , p. 28). Children from unhappy homes with poor attachments are most likely to offend, as they are most likely to accept and welcome attention and rewards from abusers. They are also the most likely to be vulnerable, be lonely, and develop a fear of intimacy, particularly in adult relationships.

The integrated theories, which envelop various developmental explanations for deviant behavior, indicate that childhood experiences predict a modeling effect because experiences in childhood relationships provide a basis for the formation of adult relationships. These theories also take into consideration possible biological explanations of deviancy. For example, boys who have weak bonds with their parents may have an inability to deal with stress and bodily changes once they reach puberty. At this time, the increase in testosterone in addition to social changes related to adolescence make the transition to adulthood difficult. Those with weak familial bonds tend to be vulnerable, and these vulnerable boys seek methods of power and control. With few outlets of sexual power available, the vulnerable boys may turn toward violent relationships or relationships with children. The availability of pornography, which encourages sex-role stereotyping, and even the popular media (for example, video games, movies) may encourage deviant attitudes in those adolescents who are already vulnerable.

In regard to child sexual abuse, David Finkelhor ( 1984 ) proposed a four-factor model of the preconditions of abuse, which integrate the various theories about why individuals begin to participate in sexually deviant behavior. This organizational framework addresses the full complexity of child sexual abusers, from the etiology of the abuse through the rationalization for it. Finkelhor’s model focuses on the internal communications of child sexual abusers regarding their observations and opinions about the world around them. This internal communication creates an opportunity that allows the offenders to break through barriers that, until this time, had prevented them from acting out their feelings. They are able to rationalize their actions to themselves, reducing the barriers of guilt and shame. Once these barriers are absent, they can act on the opportunities they have created, thereby reducing their negative feelings of loneliness, isolation, and other such stressors.In order to better explain this process, Finkelhor constructed an organizational framework consisting of four underlying factors that act as preconditions to sexual abuse. He states that in order to sexually abuse, an individual must (1) have motivation to sexually abuse, (2) overcome internal inhibitions, (3) overcome external factors that may act as inhibitors to the abuse, and (4) overcome the child’s resistance to the abuse.

The first precondition, motivation, simply means that an individual must want to abuse the child. The abuser’s motivation may result from many factors, such as the idea that he or she relates better to children than adults, that there is a sexual attraction to children, or that the abuse is addictive, like a drug. Next, the offender must overcome internal inhibitions to abuse a child, or must be able to justify the abuse to him- or herself in order to abuse. The offender may justify the abuse by saying, for example, that he or she was abused and enjoyed the abuse as a child, that the abuse is not harmful, or that it is educational. After overcoming internal inhibitions, the individual must overcome external factors that may inhibit the abuse. At this stage, the abuser begins creating opportunities for the abuse to occur. Opportunities may include any situation in which trust is built up between the abuser and the family of the child (if abuser and victim are not related), such as babysitting, coaching the child in a sporting event, or helping the child with homework. Finally, the abuser must overcome the child’s resistance to the abuse. This often involves emotional manipulation of the child, such as telling the child how special he or she is, or that if the child tells someone, the abuser will go to prison.

In addition to these four preconditions to abuse, Finkelhor explains that adults who sexually abuse children experience “emotional congruence” to children, sexual arousal to children, blockage to adult relationships, emotional loneliness, a belief that there is no other way of obtaining this pleasure, a failure to understand damage caused, and poor impulse control. Emotional congruence describes the relationship between the adult abuser’s emotional needs and the child’s characteristics. For example, if an abuser’s emotional needs are not fully mature, he or she may relate better to children than adults. These childish emotional needs may be exacerbated if the abuser has low self-esteem and inadequate social skills, thus making the abuser more comfortable in relationships with children in which he or she is able to exert more power and control.

Finkelhor also explains that adults who abuse children must have some level of sexual arousal to the children, whether it is innate or learned. Whether explained through social learning theory (through conditioning and imprinting, the abuser begins to find children arousing later in adulthood) or poor psychosexual development, sexual arousal to children is a necessary component of the motivation to abuse. Child sexual abusers also usually experience some type of blockage, or lack of ability to have their sexual and/or emotional needs met in adult relationships. The abuser’s blockage may be developmental or situational; with developmental blockage, the abuser is prevented from moving into the adult sexual stage of development (an internal blockage), while situational blockage is when the abuser is unable to attain or maintain an adult relationship due to external factors, such as frustration from a relationship with an adult.

Overall, this organizational framework describes who is at risk to offend. It is likely that individuals who offend have been able to cope with many of the problems mentioned (for example, developmental blockage) and opportunities (for example, access to children) at different times. However, it is the combination of these problems, in addition to some type of demand on their coping system that contributes to an attitude supportive of sexual offending, thereby establishing a risk to offend. That risk increases the likelihood that a person may act out in a sexual fashion, because his or her belief system has filtered out the normal inhibitions toward sexual offending. Unfortunately, the relief that is associated with sexual offending is reinforcing, because it provides an emotional and physical response to coping in a way in which the offenders feel they have control, unlike many of the other parts of their lives.

Traits that appear to be most strongly connected to sexually deviant behavior are dynamic variables, or features that are changeable, such as cognitions, feelings, and attitudes. Unfortunately, it is these variables that are least understood, though empirical research in the past two decades has focused largely on them rather than static variables such as age and ethnicity. Empirical research generates data-driven models that are derived from a combination of theoretical perspectives rather than a specific theoretical approach. Empirical research tends to be developmental, cognitive, and social in nature, and it has led to the development of comprehensive theories of sexual offending.

Empirical studies on rape expanded at the time of the feminist movement, following the idea that rapists were not deviant characters, but rather like “the man next door” ( Medea & Thompson, 1974 ; Russell, 1984 ). Empirical research has shown correlations between offending behavior and offender psychopathology, arousal patterns, attitudes, and social skills. A variety of factors have been measured, such as rape-supportive attitudes ( Scully & Marolla, 1984 ) and prevalence of childhood sexual abuse in offenders ( Seghorn, Prentky, & Boucher, 1987 ), as well as cognitive factors such as emotional disturbances and loneliness ( Marshall, 1989 ). Some researchers have constructed equations that aim to predict factors of offending behavior ( Malamuth, 1986 ), and others have utilized traditional theories such as Cohen’s psychodynamic theories of rape to build empirical typologies of offenders to aid in the assessment for their management and treatment ( Prentky & Burgess, 1990 ).

Other researchers who have proposed integrated theories to explain child sexual abuse focus on the offender’s desire for sexual pleasure. For instance, O’Connell, Leberg, and Donaldson ( 1990 ) claim that child sexual abusers begin offending because of the attraction to the pleasure derived from the acts; they have a perception that this is the only way to obtain such pleasure; there is a lack of understanding about the damage resulting to the child from this pleasure; and there is a lack of inhibitors to prevent the offender from seeking this pleasure. Hall and Hirschman’s ( 1992 ) quadripartite model identifies motivational precursors that increase the probability of offending. The four components of Hall and Hirschman’s ( 1992 ) theory are physiological sexual arousal, inaccurate cognitions that justify sexual aggression, affective dyscontrol, and personality problems.

Ward and Seigert ( 2002 ) have critiqued many of the individual theoretical perspectives for explaining sexual abuse and present the most comprehensive integrated model of offending known as a pathways model. They explain that each distinct pathway has its own etiology. However, all sex offenders suffer from certain core deficits and “dysfunctional mechanisms.” According to the pathways model, the four distinct and interlocking psychological mechanisms that are exhibited by sex offenders are (1) intimacy deficits; (2) deviant sexual scripts; (3) emotional dysregulation; and (4) antisocial cognitions. Sex offenders may also exhibit multiple dysfunctional mechanisms. Ward, Polaschek, and Beech ( 2006 ) provide an overview and critique of theories on sexual offending, including what they call Level I Theories (Multifactorial Theories), Level II Theories (Single-Factor Theories), and Level III Theories (Descriptive Models) of sexual offending.

TABLE 3.2 Theories of Sexual Abuse


Description of Theory


Sexual disorders characterized by recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies involving either nonhuman objects, suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, children or other nonconsenting persons

Psychodynamic Theory

Sexual deviance is an expression of the unresolved problems experienced during the stages of development; the human psyche is composed of three primary elements: the id, the ego, and the superego; sexual deviancy occurs when the id is overactive

Biological Theory

Concerned with organic explanations of human behavior; physiological factors (e.g., hormone levels, chromosomal makeup) have an effect of sexual behavior; androgens promote sexual arousal, orgasm, and ejaculation, as well as regulate sexuality, aggression, cognition, emotion, and personality; abnormal levels of androgens lead to aggressive sexual behavior

Feminist Theory

Analyzes rape from a cultural, political, and historical context, and feminists cite sexual crime as an example of men’s oppression of women; sexual gratification is not the primary motive for rape, but rape is a tool to dominate and control women

Attachment Theory

Humans have a propensity to establish strong emotional bonds with others, and when individuals have some loss or emotional distress, they act out as a result of their loneliness and isolation; intimacy deficits

Behavioral Theory

Deviant sexual behavior is a learned condition, acquired through the same mechanisms by which conventional sexuality is learned; it is acquired and maintained through basic conditioning principles

Cognitive-Behavioral Theory

Addresses the way in which offenders’ thoughts affect their behavior; focus on the way in which sex offenders diminish their feelings of guilt and shame by rationalizing them through excuses and justifications

Psychosocial Theory

Deviant sexual behavior is a response to external factors, and there is an interconnection between psychological and sociological variables (e.g., social skills) that influence sexual behavior

Routine Activities Theory

Three factors must exist in time and place for an offense to occur: a motivated offender, a potential victim, and lack of a capable guardian; focus is on the criminal event rather than individual risk; crime reduction should focus on reducing opportunity

Integrated Theory

No single theory explains sexual offending behavior; multifactor models explain the preconditions to sexual abuse (motivation, overcoming internal and external factors, and overcoming child’s resistance) and the pathways to abuse (distinct and interlocking dysfunctional mechanisms)

© Cengage Learning

Despite years of research, theories on sexual offending are still inconclusive. There has been a shift in theoretical focus over the past three decades, and it is now clear that no single explanation accurately encompasses the myriad factors associated with the onset of deviant behavior. While comprehensive theories are able to explain general conditions associated with sexual offending, it is not possible to predict, on an individual level, who will offend based on these general characteristics. Table 3.2 summarizes theories of sexual abuse.


· ▪ Theories developed throughout the century, focusing at various times on physiology, psychology, psycho-social factors, cognitive-behavioral factors, and ultimately integrated models of offending.

· ▪ The most thorough explanation of deviant sexual behavior lies in integrated theories. Integrated theories consider the preconditions to sexual abuse and take into consideration other factors such as attachments, emotions, and CDs.

· ▪ A common thread through most theories is that sex offenders tend to have poor social skills, low self-esteem, misperceive social cues, and are able to rationalize their behavior.

· ▪ Some sex offenders are diagnosed with paraphilias, which are sexual disorders that can explain the etiology of offending behavior. Some paraphilias are serious and can lead to significant distress for both the offender and the potential victim. Others are relatively minor, do not involve contact with the victim, and are practiced as consensual acts among “normal” adults.


· 1. Why is it important to understand the theoretical underpinnings of sexual abuse?

· 2. Is there any crossover between different theoretical frameworks for explaining deviant sexual behavior?

· 3. What are some of the critical factors that play a role in explaining why people commit sexual offenses?

· 4. How do familial or other close relationships impact those who go on to become sexual abusers?

· 5. Why is it important to diagnose paraphilias?

· 6. What role do social skills play in sexual offending? How is this similar or different in offenders who abuse children and adults?


Aileen Wuornos, Serial Killer

Most sexual offenders are male, and nearly all known serial killers are also male. It is unusual to hear about violent female offenders, and particularly rare to hear about extreme cases, such as that of Aileen Wuornos. Wuornos was perhaps the highest-profile female serial killer in the United States. Between 1989 and 1990, she killed six truck drivers along Florida’s highways. She claimed that these men had raped or attempted to rape her. Prior to the killings, Wuornos had worked these same highways as a prostitute. In 1989, she began picking up traveling truck drivers and taking them into nearby woods where she killed them ( Shipley & Arrigo, 2004 ).

Aileen Wuornos had a difficult upbringing, and researchers have attempted to explain her behaviors through this difficult childhood. Wuornos was raised by alcoholic and abusive grandparents, and by the age of 11 she had begun trading sex for candy and cigarettes ( Pearson, 2007 ). Her grandfather used to make her strip before beating her. At the age of 14, Wuornos became pregnant after being raped by one of her grandfather’s friends. She gave birth to the child and then gave it up for adoption. When Wuornos turned 15, her grandfather threw her out and she turned to prostitution as a means of survival ( McCloskey & Ramos-Grenier, 2006 ). Throughout her adult life she had run-ins with the police for various types of criminal behavior, including robbery, assault, fraud, and motor vehicle theft.

Those who have studied Wuornos’s case argue that her childhood disrupted the development of safety and security that is important in early development, and as a result she had no ability to regulate her emotions. Additionally, her history of sexual abuse and, likely, physical and emotional abuse, may have led Wuornos to target individuals looking for prostitutes ( Shipley & Arrigo, 2004 ). Assessments of Wuornos using the DSM have suggested that Wuornos suffered from Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is characterized by deceitfulness, impulsivity, and a reckless disregard for the safety of one’s self and others ( Pearson, 2007 ).

Wuornos was convicted for the murder of six men. She was executed by lethal injection in October 2002. She was the 10th woman to be executed in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.


· 1. Are theories of offending equally applicable to male and female offenders?

· 2. What theories best explain Aileen Wuornos’s behavior?

© Cengage Learning

1. Information about paraphilias in this chapter is based upon the DSM IV-TR, the current version at the time of publication. The DSM V is scheduled for release in May 2013.

2. Quote taken from an interview with a rapist in prison in England, 1996.

3. Quote taken from an interview with a rapist in prison in England, 1996.

4. Though consensual, one of the 44 men videotaped was under the age of 21. The age of consent for homosexual behavior was, at that time in England, 21 years of age. As such, the defendants were also charged with committing a sex

4 Cycle of Sexual Offending

Whereas Chapter 3 outlined theories of why individuals begin to sexually offend and described the preconditions to sexual abuse, this chapter discusses the offense cycle. This includes the planning that goes into the offense as well as the cognitive processes that the offender uses to be able to continue offending. When individuals commit sexual offenses, they rarely do so spontaneously. Usually, there is a level of planning that leads up to the offense and, in the case of child sexual abuse, “grooming” behavior. Additionally, many offenders commit multiple offenses. In order to do so, they excuse or justify their behavior so that they feel little or no remorse, guilt, or shame. This rationalization allows the offender to continue the abusive behavior and, thus, the cycle of offending.

The offense cycle describes the interaction of the offender’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The cycle shows how sexual abuse is not a random set of acts, but rather is the result of a series of multideterminant decisions. Once begun, this offense cycle is able to continue because sex offenders neutralize their feelings of guilt, shame, and responsibility through cognitive distortions (CDs). These altered thought processes vary in both type and intensity, and they are crucial to the maintenance of the offenders’ deviant fantasies, thoughts, and behaviors. Understanding the determinants of sexual offending is important in order to establish practical policies for treatment and supervision of sex offenders.


When committing sexual offenses, offenders make a series of decisions prior to the commission of these acts. Some of the decisions in this cycle transpire after a long period of time. Other decisions may occur quickly if the offender is in a situation where an abusive opportunity presents itself. Understanding this decision process helps explain the onset and persistence of offending behavior, because it is necessary to understand the conditions that create a pro-offending environment and how certain antecedents to sexual abuse vary among offenders.

Sexual offenders rarely make a straightforward decision to abuse a person. Instead, they tend to make a series of decisions that, when taken together, lead to sexual abuse. This series of seemingly irrelevant decisions (SIDs) (also known as seemingly unimportant decisions or apparently irrelevant decisions) creates a pro-offending environment for the offenders. For example, a rapist may decide to go to his neighborhood bar, even though his prior offense occurred against a woman he met at a bar while he was intoxicated. Another example is of a convicted child sexual abuser who goes to the corner deli at 3 P.M.—the exact time that kids in his neighborhood get out of school and stop to get snacks. Although the decisions in each example do not constitute deviant sexual behavior or even necessarily overt sexual thoughts, these SIDs place the offenders in environments in which they have access to potential victims through their routine activities. If the process is not stopped, the potential offender may continue to make SIDs until an offense takes place.

The offense cycle is more than just decisions, however. The offense cycle involves multiple determinants, including the interaction of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These determinants may be situational in nature (that is, the offender is in a situation in which offending is possible), they may involve negative affective states (in particular, depression, anger, or loneliness), they may be based on past learning (that is, the offender was abused in a similar way as a child), and the offender’s actions may be reinforced (that is, from the pleasure derived from the abusive act). In other words, the offending cycle ties together the theoretical underpinnings of sexual abuse, as discussed in Chapter 3 , including the preconditions of sexual abuse, the opportunity structure for abuse to occur, and the CDs of the offenders.

There are several steps involved in the offense cycle. At the outset, the offender has negative thoughts, often leading to self-pity and the idea that “nobody likes me” or “I’m no good.” These self-pitying, negative thoughts lead to negative feelings, in particular anger, frustration, loneliness, and inadequacy. These negative thoughts and feelings interact and lead to negative (abusive) behavior. The thoughts and feelings lead the offender to make SIDs that, among other things, lead him or her to withdraw from others. The result is further loneliness and isolation, which results in a lack of communication that causes the original negative thoughts and feelings to go unresolved and further heightens the intimacy deficits of the offender.

Once the offender is ensconced in the negative thought-feeling-behavior cycle, he or she begins to experience inappropriate sexual thoughts or fantasies. These may be abstract fantasies about particular groups of individuals (for example, teenage boys, blond women, college students) or focused on a particular individual (for example, the neighbor). Though the offender may not act upon the fantasies immediately, the fantasies eventually lead to masturbation, where pleasure is derived as a result of the abusive fantasy. With this positive reinforcement, the offender’s negative thoughts and feelings begin to wane, further reinforcing the negative behavior. It is at this point that the offender begins to take steps toward overtly deviant behavior if he has not done so already, targeting a victim and engaging in a fantasy rehearsal of the future abuse of that victim.

Once the offender has engaged in the fantasy rehearsal, he or she begins to plan the abusive act and “groom” the victim. Once adequate grooming has taken place, the offender will abuse the victim. Similarly to the masturbatory act, the abusive act itself is a tangibly positive reinforcement of the original fantasy. However, the abuse may also lead to negative feelings, particularly that of anxiety (What have I done?) and fear (Will I get caught?), despite the release of tension achieved through the sexual abuse. It is these negative feelings that lead to the desistance of the abuse cycle. Yet, the offender rarely addresses the original negative thoughts and feelings that led to the abusive behavior, and as a result the offense cycle often begins again if the offender has not been caught. Thus, the abusive behavior is cyclical.


Throughout the offense cycle, offenders make a series of decisions that lead up to and allow the offender to commit the deviant act. Yet, many offenders do not recognize the amount of planning that occurs before a sexual offense is committed. Child sexual abusers tend to have a greater awareness of the planning than do those who sexually assault adults, because they generally “groom” children before engaging them in a sexual act. Grooming is a premeditated behavior intended to manipulate the potential victim into complying with the sexual abuse ( John Jay College, 2004 ). Some child sexual abusers do not recognize their grooming patterns, or they may deny that such patterns exist, whereas others carefully develop elaborate schemes that encourage children to participate in sexual activity.

Pryor ( 1996 , pp. 123–154) describes several methods by which child sexual abusers approach and engage their victims in sexual behavior, including verbal and/or physical coercion, seduction, games, and enticements. He explains how child sexual abusers are able to manipulate their victims into sexual compliance and how the offenders either continue the manipulation or adjust it in order to continue with the abuse. The first grooming tactic noted by Pryor is the seduction and testing of the child, whereby sexual activity is initiated after a common interaction such as tickling or bathing. Here, the child is seduced and sexual behavior is “tested,” increasing incrementally unless the child overtly tells the offender to stop the action. The following two quotes are examples of this tactic. Both offenders were convicted of raping their daughters, though intercourse occurred only after years of touching and fondling. *

· [The abuse] actually started when Christine 1 was three and it went on until she was eleven. I started bathing her, and I touched her while I was bathing her.

· Q: How did you groom her?

· A: I would ask for a kiss and a cuddle, and that is how it all started. Then I got bolder and bolder, and eventually I had intercourse with her.

A second grooming tactic involves catching the victim by surprise ( Pryor, 1996 ). This happens when the offender has planned for some length of time to abuse the victim, yet there was no opportunity for the abuse to occur. The offender either manipulates the situation so that he is alone with the victim or takes advantage of an opportunity that presents itself. The following offender utilized this tactic.

· Q: How did the abuse start?

· A: Handstands. She asked me if I would hold her legs while she did handstands, and so I said yes. So she did handstands, and I asked her if she wanted to do them again. When she did them a second time I put my hand down her pants.

A third tactic for engaging children in sexual behavior is verbal or physical coercion. Most child sexual abusers use manipulation, but few use physical force, weapons, or threats of physical force with their victims. Yet, some serious, repeat offenders do use physical and/or verbal force to make their victims comply. For example, an offender who was convicted of abusing six victims over a period of several years made the following statement. His victims were his nieces, his grandchildren, and their friends.

· I was cunning, devious, you name it. I would use every trick in the book to get them to sit on my knee. I bribed them. I threatened them as well. I threatened, but I wouldn’t really do it.… I threatened them with violence.… I threatened to hit them, even though it was not my jurisdiction to hit them.

Pryor ( 1996 ) describes another tactic used by child sexual abusers as masking sex in a game context. The offenders who use this tactic tend to be the more manipulative offenders and often have several victims. These schemes are well planned and premeditated, meant to trick the victims into participating in sexual acts. The first of the two excerpts is by an offender describing his first victim, his stepdaughter, when the abuse began at age 10. The second statement is by an offender who went to elaborate lengths to groom children and make them comfortable with the sexual nature of their games.

· Q: How did you get her to comply [with the abuse]?

· A: I acted like it was all a game, and she went along with it. I appreciate that now, she was looking at me as an authority figure and I let her down badly.… My grooming tactics were so good that the boys never said no. I started by play-fighting and wrestling and I took them swimming. I took them to a club … that had a common changing room, that way I could see them undressing and they could get used to seeing me naked.

Perhaps the most common tactic used by child sexual abusers in order to groom the victims is emotional and verbal coercion. There are many ways in which this may occur, such as bribes or lack of disciplinary action in exchange for sexual favors, or emotional blackmail if the victim does not comply. The victims are almost always given incentives in order to comply with the abuse, such as money and gifts. This is often the tactic used with incest offenders or offenders who have regular contact with their victims. Following are two examples of this tactic. The first offender had sexual intercourse with his biological daughter, and the second had a sexual relationship with his stepson. In both the cases, the abuse went on for several years.

· Q: What led up to the intercourse? Did she ever say “no” to the sexual acts?

· A: I groomed her for several weeks. The first time I tried to touch her she ran away from me.

· Q: Why did she eventually let you touch her?

· A: Because I am her dad, and she probably just thought it was natural. I used to bathe her, and when I would touch her I would tell her it wouldn’t hurt. She used to say “no, don’t do it” sometimes, but I would buy her extra sweets.… I told her that if she told anyone, daddy will go away for a long time.

I don’t see, I don’t think I groomed them.… There were no treats or anything. Except with Danny. Danny was different. His treat was that he was allowed to stay up late for the simple reason so that we could masturbate each other.

Some child sexual abusers do not admit to initiating contact with the victim, but claim instead that the victim initiated the contact and instigated the sexual behavior. Pryor describes this as “taking over from the victim,” in that the offenders carry on with the behavior once the victims initiate it. Though it is possible that such a scenario may occur, it is unlikely. A more plausible explanation is that the offenders have a distorted perception of the abuse and believe the victim to be culpable. The following excerpts are examples of this tactic:

· From the time I first met him he was all over me. I tried to stop little Johnny from hanging around, but it didn’t work.

· She used to like to go to [soccer] matches.… And you see, she used to come to me and say to me, “I want to go to the [soccer] match Dad, so we can do you-know-what.” I didn’t used to buy her presents or anything like that, just take her out to [soccer] matches.

· I know this sounds like I am minimizing, but this is the truth: it all started when I was sleeping, and I woke up and my nephew was giving me oral sex.

Rapists, particularly those who are opportunistic, often do not recognize the level of planning that goes into their offenses. Most claim that the decision to rape was made instantaneously and believe that only child sexual abusers plan offenses. Yet some rapists do eventually recognize that some planning went into the offenses. For instance, the following excerpt was taken from an offender who was convicted of sexual assaults against 10 prostitutes. The statement was taken after he completed a treatment program; prior to the treatment, he did not admit to planning any part of the offenses, saying they happened spontaneously.

· Q: What else about the treatment stood out to you?

· A: Just how you plan your offense. At the time you don’t think about it, you know. But it is planned, it is all sectioned. When you look at it, you think yeah, I did do that.… [My offense] was all planned, all planned from start to finish. I used to, I took them to a park to attack them, and I used to go out to the park beforehand to make sure no one was there. And I knew exactly what I was gonna do before it happened. It wasn’t spur of the moment, it was all planned. I knew where I was gonna take them, what I was gonna do, how much time I had, and when I had to pick the wife up from Bingo.


TED BUNDY: Planning His Offenses

In 1978, Ted Bundy was convicted of killing two female students at Florida State University. These were two of his estimated 30 murders, and he was ultimately executed in 1989 for the murder of a 12-year-old girl. His killing spree spanned five years and occurred across seven states. The question was, how was he able to become such a prolific killer without being caught?

During interviews about the homicides, Bundy admitted that he studied his victims’ behavior prior to attacking them. Bundy noted that he was most organized while operating in his “predator mode,” during which he selected a dump site, conducted research on his victims, and completed planning which included having an alibi and flight option. Bundy relied on his charm and social skills to ensure that his victims would feel comfortable enough to leave a populated area with him. Bundy would often rely on the same pattern, as he would feign an injury or pretend to be an authority figure. Using these guises, he would convince his victims to accompany him to his car where he would knock them unconscious with a crowbar. Bundy would then drive around with the victim, reaching his preselected dump site. It was here that he would again knock the victim unconscious and strangle her while raping her.

Bundy clearly illustrates the grooming and planning techniques utilized by sex offenders. Bundy used his likeable personality to his advantage, putting his victims at ease enough to lure them to areas where they would be alone. He also relied on his previously planned strategies, such as impersonating a police officer or pretending to be injured, to convince his victims that they had nothing to fear or could be of help to him. Bundy lured his victims to a desolate area where he was then able to catch them by surprise and act out his attacks. Bundy planned his attacks down to every detail and this planning contributed in part to his success in committing numerous murders and evading detection by law enforcement.


· 1. Are there similarities between the grooming/planning techniques of Ted Bundy and child sexual abusers?

· 2. How does the offense cycle apply to Ted Bundy? How could the cycle have been stopped?

© Cengage Learning


Once there are motivational factors in place that create a predisposition to sexual offending, and once the offense cycle has begun, offenders must then overcome any internal or external inhibitions in order to commit an offense ( Finkelhor, 1984 ). After the individual commits a sexual offense, additional factors must be present in order for the offender to maintain the deviant behavior. As with the etiology of offending behavior, there is no single variable that explains why sexual offenders continue perpetrating offenses. There are several variables, however, that have been associated with the maintenance of deviant sexual behavior. In particular, offenders almost universally exhibit distorted thought processes, or CDs, that allow for continuation of abuse without feelings of guilt or remorse for their actions ( Murphy, 1990 ). Moreover, many sex offenders have fantasies about a victim, a particular type of victim (for example, young boys), or certain sexual practices, and the continuation of such fantasies is correlated to the maintenance of deviant behavior. The fantasies are not always sexual in nature; rather, many rapists and child sexual abusers fantasize about issues such as power and control. Additionally, child sexual abusers often fantasize about loving their victims, which, though not violent, is a CD and allows the offender to continue participating in the inappropriate relationship.

In addition to CDs and fantasies, sex offenders often blame their behavior on external factors, such as stress, alcohol, or strained marital relations. Though these disinhibitors are not causal, they do act as “triggers” for the sexual offense. The triggers can be either psychological (for example, use of alcohol) or sociocultural (for example, weak criminal sanctions against sexual offenders) in nature ( Hartley, 1998 , p. 26). Researchers have identified CDs, fantasies, and triggering factors as pertinent to the persistence of offending behavior, and as such these variables are addressed at length in cognitive-behavioral treatment programs (discussed in Chapter 11 ).

Cognitive Distortions

When individuals commit wrongdoings, they often try to diminish their feelings of guilt and shame through “neutralizations” ( Sykes & Matza, 1957 ). Individuals primarily neutralize feelings of wrongdoing through excuses and justifications for their behavior ( Scott & Lyman, 1968 ; Scully, 1990 ). These neutralizations take the form of CDs that allow the offenders to remove from themselves any responsibility, shame, and guilt for their actions ( Abel, Becker, & Cunningham-Rathner, 1984 ). These rationalizations of deviant behavior protect the individual from self-blame and allow the individual to validate the behavior through cognitive defenses.

CDs are not unique to sex offenders. Rather, all individuals distort thoughts regularly. For most individuals these distorted thoughts are not necessarily harmful (for example, a student who receives a bad grade on an exam assumes the teacher doesn’t like him or her), but the distorted thoughts of sex offenders generally are harmful (for example, “She didn’t fight with me so she must have wanted sex”). It is not the distortions themselves that are unique to sex offenders, but rather the content of the distortions ( Marshall, Anderson, & Fernandez, 1999 , p. 60). Though sex offenders do not form a homogeneous group of individuals, they show strikingly similar CDs about their victims, their offenses, and their responsibility for the offenses.

It is unclear as to whether CDs are conscious distortions or whether offenders genuinely believe these altered perceptions of reality. Some researchers suggest that CDs are self-serving and, thus, the offender consciously distorts thoughts initially ( Abel et al., 1984 ). However, it is also suggested that the offenders eventually believe the distortions as they become more entrenched in their behavior ( Marshall et al., 1999 ). Regardless, CDs are considered crucial to the maintenance of offending behavior for both rapists and child sexual abusers, because they serve the needs of the offenders to continue their behavior without feeling guilt for their actions.

There are many ways in which distortions manifest themselves in sex offenders. Sykes and Matza ( 1957 ) list five primary neutralization techniques, including the denial of responsibility, the denial of injury, the denial of the victim, the condemnation of the condemners, and the appeal to higher loyalties. Cognitive-behavioral theorists have explained these techniques in terms of CDs, the most common of which are minimization and/or denial of the offense and justification of the offense. Additionally, sex offenders often lack victim empathy and show an inability to recognize the level of planning that went into their offenses (including grooming of the victims). Some researchers also label sexual entitlement as a specific CD, resulting from the narcissistic attitudes of offenders who seek only to fulfill their own desires ( Hanson, Gizzarelli, & Scott, 1994 , p. 197). However broadly or specifically the CDs are defined, these distorted thoughts are conducive to the maintenance of deviant sexual practices.

Minimization and Denial Most sex offenders minimize or deny their offenses, including the damage caused to the victim, the violence used, their responsibility for the offense, the planning of the offense, and the lasting effects as a result of the offense. Several researchers have categorized types of minimization and denial ( Haywood et al., 1994 ; Marshall et al., 1999 ); these include complete or partial denial of the offense, minimization of the offense, minimization of their own responsibility, denial or minimization of harm to the victim, denial or minimization of planning, denial or minimization of deviant fantasies, and denial of the personal problems that led to the deviant behavior.

Some sex offenders deny all or part of their offenses. They may completely deny that they committed the offense—claiming, for instance, that the victim made up the story or they cannot remember what happened—or they may not admit to aggravating factors of the offense. Partial denial, as described by Marshall et al. ( 1999 ), includes refutation of a problem (for example, “I am not a sex offender”) or the refusal to accept that an act was sexual abuse (for example, “The victim consented”). Though some researchers claim that denial is not an accurate predictor variable for recidivism ( Hanson & Bussiere, 1998 ), there is a substantial body of literature that claims the opposite ( Marques, Day, Nelson, & West, 1994 ; Simkins, Ward, Bowman, & Rinck, 1989 ). Few therapists allow deniers to participate in treatment until they at least admit that they committed the offense ( Marques, Day et al., 1994 ).

Offenders with either adult or child victims may deny the offense by claiming that they were falsely accused or that they do not remember the offense. Some blame their memory loss on the extended period of time between the commission of the offense and the arrest, whereas others blame substances such as drugs or alcohol. The following excerpts from two child sexual abusers typify such denials.

· Q: What about the USI [unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 16]?

· A: The USI, the reason I am guilty is because of medication, opium-based painkillers.… I don’t remember what happened. If anything happened I will agree to it. But I can’t remember because I was on medication.

This was a long time ago, 25 years ago. I have a very, very, poor memory.… This rape business, I have practically put it out of my mind, I never forget it but I have more or less put it out of my mind. [He was convicted of raping his 10-year-old niece.]

If offenders do not deny that they committed the offense, it is common for them to minimize the damage resulting from their acts. They rarely acknowledge the harm they caused the victim, and this is particularly true for child sexual abusers. Because most child sexual abusers are not violent toward their victims, they do not recognize the damage caused by what they view as a “consensual” relationship. They tend to see the assault on the child as the product of a mutual sexual interest, and they minimize any damage that might result from a child partaking in such a relationship. The first excerpt below is a statement made by a sex offender who was convicted of raping one daughter and indecently assaulting 2 another. The second is by an offender who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl.

· In court she wouldn’t say she consented, that is why it came back as rape.… The affair started in 1978, and the first time she said no at the last minute. But after that it was consenting.

· A: I went out on a Sunday morning and the youngest daughter of Kathy asked me if she could go for a ride. We got along, we were laughing and joking, and one thing led to another and, well, let’s put it this way, I went a little farther than I should have done.

· Q: What was going through your mind when she started screaming and crying?

· A: I thought she was a virgin.

Although child sexual abusers rarely acknowledge that their “consensual” relationships are harmful, offenders with adult victims tend to minimize the damage they cause in other ways. They rarely recognize the level of coercion or violence used in order to make the victim comply with the assault. This is compounded if the victim is either a partner or spouse, or if the victim is involved in an occupation such as prostitution. In such cases, the offenders express a distorted thought of sexual entitlement, believing that they have the right to sexual intercourse with this person and that the act should not be considered rape. The following excerpts are from interviews with rapists. The first was convicted of raping his girlfriend, and his CD of entitlement to sex is clear from his description of his relationship with the victim. The second offender shows severe minimization of his actions and the harm caused by them. The victim was his girlfriend, whom he severely beat, throttled, and left unconscious when she said she did not want to have intercourse with him.

· Q: Did you rape her?

· A: We had a relationship, and there were times when we had sex and it was forceful. But she didn’t leave me.… She ended up living with me. She didn’t have to. She could have gone home.

My offense was not against the general public, it was against my girlfriend. … I was brought up with ethics and so I tend to respect women. I have never committed an offense against anybody nor have I been rude to anybody in my life. This is the first time it happened. I didn’t—I mean, there was no violence involved. It was just that the lady said no on this particular occasion, and I think she was more surprised than anything.

Justifications In addition to minimizing or denying their offenses, sex offenders make excuses as to why they committed the deviant acts. By justifying their actions, offenders acknowledge their guilt in the acts but they do not take responsibility for them. Commonly, they blame the victims for their offenses or justify their offenses through the victims’ actions.

Justification is common in the vast majority of sex offenders, as it assists in allaying remorse and guilt for the acts committed. Scully and Marolla ( 1984 ), who interviewed 114 incarcerated rapists, explain five ways in which rapists commonly justify their behavior. Rapists claim that (1) the victim is a seductress, and she provoked the rape; (2) women mean yes when they say no, or the victim did not resist enough to really mean no; (3) most women relax and enjoy it, and the rapists are actually fulfilling the woman’s desires; (4) nice girls do not get raped, and prostitutes, hitchhikers, and promiscuous women get what they deserve; and (5) the rape was only a minor wrongdoing, so the perpetrator is not really an “offender.”

Child sexual abusers also justify their actions by neutralizing their guilt. Common justifications include claims that they are helping the child to learn about sex; sexual education is good for the child; the child enjoys it; there is no harm being done to the child; the child initiated the sexual contact; and the child acts older than he or she is. Like offenders with adult victims, child sexual abusers often assert that the child did not resist and therefore must have wanted the sexual interaction. They fail to recognize any other explanations as to why the child might not have resisted, such as fear, uncertainty about what was happening, or the idea that the perpetrator is someone they knew and trusted. The following excerpt shows an offender justifying his contact with the young daughter of his friend because she did not resist his advances:

Relapse Prevention Program

Team C


March 25, 2019

Professor Newhams


There are a total of 5 phases in the sexual abuse cycle


Pre-Act Out

Act out / Abuse


Pretend to be Normal

There are various prevention interventions that can be applied for each phase that would also vary based on the offender risk level

Including legal statutes in implementing this prevention as well as support in the interventions will be further explained.

Through out this presentation prevention interventions for all five phases will be explained. Also Identifying how the interventions would vary for each sex offender based on their risk level will be provided. Following that we will describe how those interventions might be used while including alternative models to support inclusivity. Lastly we will describe legal statues that would influence implementation of the intervention plans.


Prevention Intervention – Porsche
Build-Up Phase Pre-Act Out Phase Act out / Abuse Phase

Prevention Intervention – Porsche
Justification Phase Pretend to be Normal Phase


Identify how the interventions would vary for each sex offender based on their risk level


Describe how those interventions might be used. In other words, provide examples.


Describe how you might include alternative models into the relapse prevention model to be inclusive.


Describe legal statues that would influence implementation of the intervention plans


Someone volunteer please


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