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Question : A1. What Is Meant By Sexual Offending ?

Sexual offences are legally defined with respect to non-consensual behaviours (e.g. penetrative sex, touching or watching) and victim type (adult, child). While this has some practical use for law enforcement purposes, the terms often mask a more complex picture of motivation and actions that are not explicit in the legal definitions. As such, sexual offending comprises rape, indecent assault as well as non-contact offences such as indecent exposure or viewing illegal internet pornography. When talking about sexual offenders however we are referring to individuals who may have perpetrated in more than one way against more than one type of victim.

From a legal perspective a sexual offender is someone who has committed a sexual offence and been caught for it. A great deal of abuse occurs within the context of the home or within institutions that is not reported and remains undetected as an offence. Far more emphasis is given by the media to sensational cases, which are often cases of sexual murder, such as the Soham enquiry, which in turn distorts the real picture of abuse.

Sexual offences are covered by two acts of law, – The Sexual Offences Act 2003 and The Children and Young Person’s Act (CYPA). Details of the Sexual Offences Act are provided in Table 1 below and details of the CYPA are given in Table 2. Sometimes sexual offending is confused with sexual deviance. Although sexual offending is deviant, not all deviant behaviours are illegal. The ways in which society perceives and accepts normal and abnormal behaviour is influenced by legal, medical and religious practices. As such, notions of abnormal and normal personalities and sexual deviance are social constructions based in beliefs and attitudes that change over time and across cultures.

Click here for more details on Sexual Deviance (B7)

Definitions of Sexual Offending / Sexual Aggression 
Due to the varied (heterogeneous) nature of sex offending it is difficult to describe sexual offending or sexual aggression within any simple definition. Blanchette (1996) puts the position well. Sexual aggression is a complexly-determined phenomenon, with varied antecedents and sequelae. Perpetrators of sexual crimes differ in their personal and criminal histories, the circumstances preceding their offences, their victim age and gender preferences, the attitudes and beliefs that support their deviant behaviour, and the degree to which they have used force or brutality or caused physical harm to their victims. Thus, sexual offenders are a heterogeneous group of individuals, with diverse evaluative and treatment needs (p4).

Table 1 Sexual Offences Defined Under 1997 Sexual Offences Act

s1 – Rape

s2- Assault by penetration

s3 – Sexual assault

s4 – Causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent

s5 – Rape of a child under 13

s6 – Assault of a child under 13 by penetration

s7 – Sexual assault of a child under 13

s8 – Causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity

s9 – Sexual Activity with a Child

s10 – Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity

s11 – Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child

s12 – Causing a child to watch a sexual act

s13 – Child sex offences committed by children or young persons

s14 – Arranging or facilitating commission of a child sex offence

s15 – Meeting a child following sexual grooming etc.

s16 – Abuse of position of trust: sexual activity with a child

s17 – Abuse of position of trust: causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity

s18 – Abuse of position of trust: sexual activity in the presence of a child

s19 – Abuse of position of trust: causing a child to watch a sexual act

s25 – Sexual activity with a child family member

s26 – Inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity

s30 – Sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder impeding choice

s31 – Causing or inciting a person, with a mental disorder impeding choice, to engage in sexual activity

s32 – Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a person with a mental disorder impeding choice

s33 – Causing a person, with a mental disorder impeding choice, to watch a sexual act

s34 – Inducement, threat or deception to procure sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder

s35 – Causing a person with a mental disorder to engage in or agree to engage in sexual activity by inducement, threat or deception

s36 – Engaging in sexual activity in the presence, procured by inducement, threat or deception, of a person with a mental disorder

s37 – Causing a person with a mental disorder to watch a sexual act by inducement, threat or deception

s38 – Care workers: sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder

s39 – Care workers: causing or inciting sexual activity

s40 – Care workers: sexual activity in the presence of a person with a mental disorder

s41 – Care workers: causing a person with a mental disorder to watch a sexual act

s47 – Paying for the sexual services of a child

s48 – Causing or inciting child prostitution or pornography

s49 – Controlling a child prostitute or a child involved in pornography

s50 – Arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography

s52 – Causing or inciting prostitution for gain

s53 – Controlling prostitution for gain

s57 – Trafficking into the UK for sexual exploitation

s58 – Trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation

s59 – Trafficking out of the UK for sexual exploitation

s61 – Administering a subject with intent

s62 – Committing an offence with intent to commit a sexual offence (against a child)

s63 – Trespass with intent to commit a sexual offence (against a child)

s66 – Exposure

s67 – Voyeurism

And any attempt to commit against a child or young person any of these offences. Any other Offence involving bodily injury to a child or young person

Table 2. Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) 1933

The murder or manslaughter of a child or young person

Common law assault and battery

Infanticide (s1 Infanticide Act 1938)

Child destruction (s1 Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1861)

Exposing a child, whereby life is endangered (s27 OAPA 1861)

Common assault, or battery (s170(1) and Schedule One5, para 8 CJA 1998)

Cruelty to person under sixteen (s1 CYPA 1933)

Allowing persons under 16 to be in brothels (s3 CYPA 1933)

Causing or allowing persons under 16 to be used for begging (s4 CYPA 1933)

Exposing children under 12 to risk of burning (s11 CYPA 1933)

Allowing children under 16 to take part in performances endangering life or limb (s23 CYPA 1933)

S1 Indecency with Children Act 1960

S2 Suicide Act 1961 (aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the suicide of a person under 18)

Offences under s1 the Child Abduction Act 1984

Offences under s1 the Protection of Children Act 1978 (indecent photographs of children)

Offences under s160 Criminal Justice Act 1988 (possession of indecent photographs of children)

Offences under s17 – Customs and Excise Management Act 1979

A2. How Does The Government Protect the Public From Sexual Offenders ?

The way that Governments deal with perpetrators of sex crimes remains a political dilemma as the number of sexual offenders continues to increase within forensic and clinical settings. That said very few sexual offences actually result in a conviction, as many victims remain silent, or unheard by the courts. This suggests that the problem is far more endemic than many would care to admit, and that only serious attention is given to very high profile cases. The Government has implemented and supported methods of social control including tagging, registration procedures, Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA), and Prison and Probation sex offender treatment programmes. It remains to be seen whether any of these measures results in a safer society or whether they create more bureaucracy, disjointed service provision and general confusion. More details on MAPPA are provided below.

Following a number of high profile crimes against children governments both here and abroad have introduced registration measures to monitor sexual offenders in the community. Following a sensationalised sexual homicide of a child (Megan) in the U.S., ‘Megan’s law’ was introduced to promote a more stringent approach to the management of sex offenders in the community. As a consequence sex offender registration was implemented in the U.S. and similar procedures have been introduced here in the U.K.

In the U.K. the register contains the details of anyone convicted, cautioned or released from prison for sexual offence against children or adults since September 1997, the date it was implemented. Sex Offenders must register with the police three days prior to their conviction or release from prison. This enables the police to monitor their activities within the community. Any offender failing to register can be jailed for up to six months and fined. It is also acknowledged that offenders may attempt to avoid registration by means of changing their names or moving location (both within and out of the country).

The register is not retro-active and so does not include anyone convicted before 1997. In addition, police can apply for a sexual offences protection order, which lasts for a minimum of five years and can bar an individual from areas frequented by children. More details on registration are provided below.

Details of the Home Office strategy together with a summary of the sex offenders act can be found in the following:

The full act is provided here: http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/20030042.htm 
A recent evaluation is provided here: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/prgpdfs/prs126bn.pdf 
More information may be found on Home Office website: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk

Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA)

In April 2001 the National Probation Service established the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). Its development was intended to assist in the assessment and management of violent and sexual offenders in England and Wales.

It adopts a multidisciplinary approach incorporating the varied skills and expertise of agencies such as the police, probation service, prisons, housing, health and social services to manage the level of risk that dangerous offenders pose to the public. 
MAPPA consists of a framework of four core functions that outlines its precise involvement in managing dangerous offenders, the four components consist of:•The identification of MAPPA offenders, this consists of three category of offenders 
Category 1: Registered Sex Offenders 
Category 2: Violent and other Sex Offenders 
Category 3: Other Offenders 
2. The sharing of relevant information among those agencies involved in the assessment of risk 
Aims to ensure that the relevant information is made available to the necessary agencies making the assessment, including a checklist to help the relevant authorities establish with other agencies a formal understanding about the sharing of information 
3. The assessment of the risk of serious harm 
MAPPA adopts a range of risk assessment measures such as the Offender Assessment System (OASys) and actuarial tools such as the Risk Matrix 2000 (Thornton 2000). These are made available to authorities as is guidance on their use. 
4. The management of that risk 
MAPPA aims to ensure once an individual has been identified as a potential risk that risk is managed in the most effective manner available.

The essential characteristic of MAPPA is that there is overlap between agencies and the panel can be responsive to immediate local pressures or needs.

For a MAPPAs guidance report see here: http://www.probation.homeoffice.gov.uk/output/page30.asp

Sex Offender’s Act – Registration

Offenders become subject to the notification requirements (registration) of the Sexual Offences Act 1997 when they: 
•Are convicted of a sexual offence listed in Schedule 1 (see (1 i). 
2.Receive a caution (or reprimand/final warning) for such an offence 
3.Receive a finding that they are not guilty be reason of insanity 
4.Receive a finding that they have a disability

Note: conditional/absolute discharge does not constitute a conviction for the purposes of the SOA 1997 (Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000).

The conviction/caution/finding etc. must have been received on or after the 1 September 1997, unless on the beginning of that day
•He had yet to be sentenced for the offence 
2.Was serving a sentence for the offence (prison/community) 
3.Was subject to supervision having been released from prison 
4.Was detained in a hospital or was subject to a guardianship order

A convicted offender will also become subject to the notification requirements of the SOA 1997 if he is made the subject of a Sex Offender Order. Please note – the SOA 1997 is being repealed and re-enacted in the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The changes to be brought about by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 are as follows; The SOA 2003 alters the requirements made of offenders but does not drastically alter who will and who will not become subject to those requirements. The changes are: 
•Conditional discharge will lead to notification for the duration of the conditional discharge (absolute discharge continue not to lead to notification) 
2. Notification period for a caution reduced to 2 years (currently 5 years) 
3. New sexual offences being introduced by the Act will lead to notification (list of offences at Schedule 3) 
4. Thresholds to those offences in Schedule 3 will mean that young offenders will now only become subject to the requirements when they commit the most serious offences (as set out in Schedule 3) 
5. Secretary of State will have a power to remove the requirement from buggery and indecency between men offenders

In addition, the Sex Offender Order is being replaced by the sexual offences prevention order (SOPO). It will be possible to take out a SOPO against offenders who committed violent as well as sexual offences (list of offences in Schedule 4) where there is evidence that they pose a risk of sexual harm.

Approximately 29,000 people are registered in the UK and increasing. The table below indicates the period of registration required, which is dependent on the offenders sentence.


Time on register

30+ months imprisonment 


7 – 29 months 

10 years *

0 – 6 months 

7 years *


2 years *

Conditional discharge 

The period of conditional discharge

Other eg fine, or community service 

5 years *

Note: * Halved if U18 at the time of offence

A3. What Can We Do To Protect Women And Children From Sex Offenders?

Recent high profile public cases of sex offending against children, and rapes and sexual assaults against women, have raised public anxiety about this issue and caused the government to plan an overhaul of the sex laws (Travis, 2002; Home Office, 2002). However, sexual offending has remained fairly constant, statistically, (See FAQ A4) and any increased social anxiety may be more to do with media or political influences than it does with the reality of the phenomenon. Understanding what we are protecting people from first requires us to establish the extent and nature of the problem. This is not always easy as definitions vary and only a small proportion of cases are dealt with legally. As Grubin (1998) points out that estimates of child sexual abuse in England and Wales vary widely according to the methods with which they are researched, reporting anything between 3,500 and 72,600 incidents each year. The NSPCC Child Maltreatment Study affirms that female children are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than males, and that abusers are most likely to be known to the child but not a relative (Cawson et al., 2000). In that study, 6% of the total sample assessed themselves as having been sexually abused as a child.

The 2001 British Crime Survey indicated that 9-7% of women had experienced some form of sexual victimisation since the age of 16 and that 4.9% had experienced rape since that age (Myhill and Allen, 2002). Myhill and Allen acknowledge, however, that responses might have been inhibited by several factors, not least the ‘crime’ nature of the survey. Interestingly, the Violence Against Women Survey in Canada (Johnson, 1998) captured incidence data for sexual assaults against women at 38 times greater than were reflected in police statistics in that country. Overall, there are many methodological difficulties with measuring accurately the prevalence of sexual exploitation of both women and children. Reported cases also suffer from high attrition rates, meaning that legal redress is unlikely for many female victims (see for example Kelly, Lovatt and Regan, 2005).

The answer to the question of protection largely depends on what one thinks are the causes of sex offending (see FAQ B1). Views on this vary widely, from those that place the responsibility squarely on men to change their behaviour to those who think it more realistic to be ‘safe than sorry’ by educating women and children in self-protection. The difficulty with the first view is that it assumes that women do not abuse sexually (untrue); the difficulty with the second, is that is appears to ‘blame the victim’ by expecting those most at risk of sex offending to take precautions themselves against becoming a target. The second approach also assumes that men, and men’s sexual urges, can never be modified (also untrue). Both approaches could also be criticised for failing to acknowledge that the wider social and political climate in society affects attitudes towards sex offending, power, men and masculinity (Hester, Kelly and Radford, 1996; Dobash and Dobash, 1998; Hearn, 1998; Hearn and Parkin, 2001).

It is important to acknowledge that anyone can perpetrate sexual offences, males or females, adults or young persons, and that focussing on stereotypical ideas of abusers can inhibit public awareness and advocacy work. Given that the majority of sex offences against both women and children are committed by males (Grubin, 1998; Lancaster, 1996), however, it seems sensible to adopt a strategy that incorporates both behaviour change/treatment for men and education/prevention for women and children. As well as the proliferation of such programmes in school and community settings there are now many prevention initiatives and pressure groups for men aimed at getting them to challenge their own and other men’s behaviour.

Another of the myths associated with this subject is ‘stranger danger’, the idea that sex offending is mainly perpetrated by people unknown to the victim. This myth leads to false assumptions of safety in the private and local world yet research indicates that it is within their own families and communities that women and children are most likely to experience sexual crimes (Grubin, 1998).

Once of the most effective strategies for preventing sex offending is to raise the general level of awareness and knowledge of all members of society on the issue. This can be done by stressing the wide variety of types of sex offenders and sex offending patterns and the relatively tiny numbers of dangerous sex offenders or offenders who are not amenable to treatment and behaviour management programmes. Realistic assessments of personal risk can do much to allay false fears. This is not to suggest, of course, that personal safety should not be a concern for women and children. Many public education campaigns emphasise taking sensible precautions in public spaces and at social events, especially in relation to the consumption of alcohol or recreational drugs (which can serve to disinhibit personal defence mechanisms), potential ‘date rape’ and travel arrangements. Many parents and carers falsely assume that those acting in loco parentis in schools, clubs and leisure venues are safe guardians of their children by virtue of their qualifications. Parents/carers would be wise to check the status of all those in positions of trust with their children (http://www.crb.gov.uk ) and to take an active interest in their progress. As with many other campaigns, the best adage is probably that personal safety begins at home.


Cawson, P.O., Wattam, C., Brooker, S., & Kelly, G. (2000) Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: A study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect. London: NSPCC.

Dobash, R.E., & Dobash, R.P. (1998) Rethinking Violence Against Women. London: Sage.

Hearn, J. (1998) The Violences of Men: How men talk about and how agencies respond to men’s violences to women. London: Sage.

Hearn, J., & Parkin, W. (2001) Gender, Sexuality and Violence in Organizations. London: Sage.

Hester, M., Kelly, L. & Radford, J. (eds) (1996) Women, Violence and Male Power. Buckingham: Open University.

Home Office (2002) Protecting the Public. Cmnd 5668. London: HMSO.

Johnson, H. (1998) ‘Rethinking survey research on violence against women’, in R.E. Dobash and R.P. Dobash (eds) Rethinking Violence Against Women. London: Sage.

Kelly, L., Lovett, J., & Regan, L (2005) A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases Home Office Research Study 293, London: Home Office. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/surveys/hors293.html

Lancaster, E. (1996) ‘Working with men who sexually abuse children: The experience of the probation service’, in B. Fawcett, B. Featherstone, J. Hearn and C. Toft (eds) Violence and Gender Relations: Theories and interventions. London: Sage.

Myhill, A., & Allen, J. (2002) Rape and Sexual Assault of Women: The extent and nature of the problem. Findings from the British Crime Survey. Home Office Research Study 237, London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.

Stanko, E. (1998) Taking Stock: What do we know about violence? Uxbridge: ESRC/Brunel University.

Travis, A. (2002) ‘Overhaul of ancient legislation widely welcomed’, The Guardian 20 Nov, p. 4.

See also:

Home Office Crime Reduction Programme: Violence against Women Initiative 

Women and Equality Unit: Living without Fear – An integrated approach to tackling violence against women. 

The Economic and Social Research Council’s Violence Research Programme (Stanko,1998) 


A4. What Is The Prevalence Of Sexual Offending ?

Sexual offending is a relatively uncommon crime compared to other types of offending, occurring at a relatively constant rate of 1% of all crime that is recorded. It is difficult to say exactly how much sexual crime occurs in the U.K. as the definitions of crime change over time. This is further complicated by the under-reporting of sexual offences, as many go undetected within familial settings, while many others go unreported for a variety of reasons (e.g embarrassment, fear and the failure of the legal process) and a high percentage of offences that are reported do not result in a conviction.

A number of studies have tried to estimate the prevalence of different types of crime and these figures coupled with official statistics provides a complex picture. Since the introduction of the sex offender’s act, there are seemingly increasing numbers of sexual crimes, exacerbated by their definitions. The following is taken from the office of research development and statistics at the Home Office 2004. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/

“Sexual offences are significantly under-reported to the authorities. Police and government action to support the victims of sexual assaults is likely to have increased the numbers of such incidents reported to the police, and therefore recorded by them. The introduction of the National Criminal Records Service (NCRS) in 2002 is likely to have further increased the recording rate, and the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act in May 2004 will have a further impact on the 2004/05 figures. Trends in the number of recorded sexual offences are therefore unlikely to reflect real experience of such crimes. Within the 2003/04 total of 52,070 sexual offences, the police recorded 26,709 indecent assaults on a female and 1,942 offences of gross indecency with a child. The number of recorded rapes was 13,247, 93 per cent of which were rapes of a female. There were also 4,070 recorded indecent assaults on a male. The total number of recorded sexual offences rose by seven per cent in 2003/04, to account for 5 per cent of total recorded violence and 0.9 per cent of all police recorded crime in 2003/04.”

Considering the major forms of offence such as rape, indecent assault and gross indecency with a child, there is a clear pattern over the past 5 years that sexual offences account for approximately 1 % of all recorded crime. The numbers of actual perpetrators is another question altogether as some of these crimes may be perpetrated by the same individuals. Additionally, some crimes may be described under other legal labels such as homicide, or are plea-bargained to a lesser or alternate charge. In some cases of intra-familial abuse, perpetrators may never be brought to account for their actions due to the private context in which they commit their offences.

Official figures do not break down offences by demographic characteristics of offenders such as age, which is an important indicator for subsequent risk. Sexual offenders often show deviant inclinations early on (often with the onset of puberty – a time of massive hormonal imbalance) and a large proportion of sexual offences are committed by young or juvenile males. Drawing on the few studies available it is clear that young people are responsible for a lot of crime and some of these are sexual in nature. Many studies suggest different rates of sexual offending for adolescents although the sources and reliability of information can vary. Studies also adopt different age band categories (e.g. 10 to 21 years), and alternate definitions for ‘adolescent’, leading to varying estimates.

Lovell (2002) discusses the prevalence of children and young people who display sexually harmful behaviour and reports that between 25-40% of all alleged sexual abuse involves young perpetrators. Lovell (2002) cites:

“Retrospective studies present a broad consensus that between 25-35 per cent of all alleged sexual abuse involves young, mainly adolescent, perpetrators (Cawson et al, 2000; Horne et al, 1991; Kelly et al, 1991; Morrison, 1999; Royal Belfast Hospital and Queen’s University of Belfast, 1991). Based on this estimate and child protection register statistics, Morrison calculates that over 10,000 children were sexually abused by another child or young person in 1994 (Morrison, 1999). Masson and Erooga (1999) present the following statistics based on the 1997 Home Office statistics which recorded the total level of sexual offences as 33,200 (Home Office, 1998):

  • of 6,400 offenders cautioned or found guilty, 23 per cent (1,500) were between the age of 10 and 21;

  • children and young people aged between 10-21 years accounted for 47 per cent of all cautions for sexual offences;

  • approximately 4,500 males were found guilty in court of a sexual offence, of whom 9 per cent (400) were aged 14-17 years and 4.5 per cent (200) were aged between 18-20.”

A Canadian study by the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence (1990) suggests:

  • “Nationally (in Canada), nearly one quarter of all sexual offences are perpetrated by adolescents. (F.Mathews, 1987). 

  • In Ontario, between 1979 and 1984, nearly 1400 people between the ages of 16-19 were convicted for one or more sexual offences. (F.Mathews, 1987). 

  • In Metropolitan Toronto alone, 151 adolescents (149 male and 2 females) ranging in age from 12 to 17 were charged with sexual offences in 1985. (F.Mathews, 1987). 

  • The Badgley Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children which stated that almost one third of suspected or known child sex offenders were under the age of 21.”

Caswell and Caruso (1997) describe how research has shown that adolescents commit between 34 and 60% of all sexual offences. In a study by Waterhouse et al (1994) examining a sample of 501 child sexual abusers, information on the age of the perpetrators was obtained for 430 individuals. The findings revealed that 19.77% of the perpetrators were aged between 15-24 years and 4.19% were under 15 years of age.

To summarise, although sexual offending accounts for about 1% of all crime, the actual prevalence of abuse could be ten times as much and can only be estimated. Of those offences that are recorded, nearly all are perpetrated by males of whom about a third are likely to be juveniles.


A5 What Is The Prevalence Of Sexual Abuse In Institutions And Organisations ?

The majority of research on sex offending has been conducted on intra-familial abuse since this is the site of highest incidence. Gallagher (1999, 2000) reports, however, that institutional sexual abuse is now a focus of concern for policy makers, practitioners and the public because of high profile media coverage of investigations in residential care homes. Comparatively little attention has been paid to this issue in the research literature, perhaps because the public has previously found it difficult to believe that the trust placed in public institutions has been violated. Concerns about ‘chequebook journalism’ have also undermined the claims of some legitimate survivors of institutional sexual abuse.

Public concern about ‘stranger danger’, ‘date rape’ and community-based abuse has, arguably, drawn attention to extra-familial sex offending in other areas such as the church (Gonsiorek, 1995; Kennedy, 2000), dating relationships (Parrot and Bechhofer, 1991) and sport (Benedict, 1998; Brackenridge, 2001; Leahy et al., 2002) but there have also been several major enquiries into institutional abuse of children in residential homes, boarding schools and special schools (LaFontaine and Morris, 1991; Brannan et al. 1993; Corby et al. 1998; Barter, 1998; Waterhouse, 2000; Ryan, 2002) (but see Webster, 1998, for a detractor’s view of these). Closed or ‘total’ (Goffman, 1961) institutions such as prisons or the military bases have also been exposed for institutional bullying and cultures that facilitate sexual exploitation (Nuwer, 2004). Vicarious liability (the culpability of the organization) has meant that such organizations can no longer ignore their responsibilities. For example, in England specialists with a child protection brief have been appointed to sport (2001, www.thecpsu.org.uk ), the Catholic Church (2002, www.catholicchurch.org.uk/cn/02/020114.htm ) and the Church of England (2002, www.cofe.anglican.org/news/national_child_protection_adviser _appopinted.html ).

The Department of Health (1998, p.8) reported that, in 1996, 128,000 children were in residential settings, including children’s homes, boarding schools of all types, hospitals and young offender institutions, and that this number was falling. Many millions of children participate weekly in leisure and recreational activities that take them out of the home for several hours and significant numbers are involved in overnight trips through their schools, clubs or sporting associations. Several protection initiatives have been launched to address the risks of sexual abuse in such settings. These include: Away From Home and Safe (Away From Home and Safe Federation, 1995), Safe Sport Away (Amateur Swimming Association/NSPCC 2001), Leisurewatch (Derwent Initiative 2002); and Child-Safe in Sport (2001).

The distinction between situational and dispositional theories of sexual offending is not always clear (Birkbeck and LaFree, 1993). One reason for pursuing more research on extra-familial sex offending is to find out whether there are distinctive situational factors associated with sexual abuse in, for example, the church, residential homes or day care settings, and whether institutional abuse resembles or differs from abuse in the family context. Learning more about contextual and situational factors will be important for treatment regimes too, since many of these currently emphasize dispositional (i.e. individual pathological) parameters.

From their research on day care abuse in the USA, Finkelhor et al. (1988) found that it constituted 1% of all reported child sexual abuse. Wolfe et al. (2003) report “that between 12 – 15% of survivors of Canadian Indian Residential Schools will file a claim …” for institutional abuse. The athlete survey done in Australia by Leahy et al. (2001) revealed that, of those athletes disclosing experiences of sexual abuse, elite level performers were twice as likely as club athletes to have been abused within the context of sport. Westcott and Clement (1992) suggested from their research that boys were most at risk of sexual abuse in residential foster homes and girls more at risk in children’s homes. Gallagher (2000) reviewed a range of studies of ‘looked after children’ including one from Australia that found such children made up 9% of all child sexual abuse allegations. Gallagher concludes, however, that “knowledge of institutional abuse is thin.” (p.797). His own research on child sexual abuse in institutions yielded relatively low proportional numbers but he warned that these were likely to be a considerable under-representation of the true extent of the problem. Importantly, his research also found that more than 50% of all known institutional abuse cases occur in the community, as opposed to residential or other forms of care.

Green (2001) examined both the structural and the discursive factors in seeking and understanding pf abuse in residential care homes, and David Wolfe with associates in the London Family Court Clinic, Ontario, Canada (2003) reviewed all the published work on institutional sex abuse at that time in order to identify any evidence of similarities and differences in these settings. A core set of dimensions of harm emerged including: diminished trust and betrayal, feelings of shame/guilt/humiliation, avoidance, disrespect/fear of authority. What emerges from these studies are patterns of authority relations that echo those found in family settings but where the exercise of power is less effectively mediated by social and cultural taboos. There are also some context-specific factors that can either facilitate or militate against sex offending such as, for example, intensity of early peaking in some sports (elite participation at a comparatively young age) or ideological commitment to authority figures in the church.


Amateur Swimming Association/National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (2001) Safe Sport Away: A guide to good planning. London: ASA/NSPCC. Away From Home and Safe Federation (1995)

Away From Home and Safe. Belfast: Away From Home and Safe Federation.

Barter, C. (1998) Investigating institutional abuse of children: an exploration of the NSPCC experience. London: NSPCC.

Benedict, J. (1998) Athletes and Acquaintance Rape. London: Sage Series on Violence Against Women.

Birkbeck, C. & LaFree, G. (1993) ‘The situational analysis of crime and deviance’, Annual Review of Sociology 19: 113-137.

Brackenridge, C.H. (2001) Spoilsports: Understanding and preventing sexual exploitation in sport. London: Routledge.

Brannan, C., Jones, J.R. & Murch, J.D. (1993) Castle Hill Report: Practice guide. Shrewsbury: Shropshire County Council.

Child-Safe in Sport (2001) Child-Safe in Sport: Creating a child-safe environment. Leeds: Coachwise.

Corby, B., Doig, A. & Roberts, V. (1998) Inquiries into child abuse. Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law Volume 20, Issue 4, Pages 377-817.

Department of Health (1998) Caring For Children Away From Home: Messages from research. London: Wiley.

Finkelhor, D. & Williams, L.M. with Burns, N. (1988) Nursery Crimes: Sexual abuse in day care. London: Sage.

Gallagher, B. (1999) ‘Institutional abuse’, in N.Parton and C. Wattam (eds) Child Sexual Abuse: Responding to the experiences of children. Chichester: Wiley.

Gallagher, B. (2000) ‘The extent and nature of known cases of institutional child sexual abuse’, British Journal of Social Work Volume 30, Pages 795-817.

Gonsiorek, J.C. (ed) (1995) Breach of Trust: Sexual exploitation by health care professionals and clergy. London: Sage.

Green, L. (2001) ‘Analysing the sexual abuse of children by workers in residential care homes: Characteristics, dynamics and contributory factors’, The Journal of Sexual Aggression Volume 7, Issue 2, Pages 5-24.

Kennedy, M. (2000) ‘Christianity and child sexual abuse – the survivor’s voice leading to change’, Child Abuse Review Volume 9, Pages 124-141.

La Fontaine, J., & Morris, S. (1991) The Boarding School Line. London: ChildLine.

Leahy, T., Pretty, G., & Tenenbaum, G. (2002) ‘Prevalence of sexual abuse in organised competitive sport in Australia’, Journal of Sexual Aggression Volume 8, Issue 2, Pages 16-36.

Nuwer, H. (2004) ‘Military hazing’, in H. Nuwer (ed.) The Hazing Reader. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, Pages141-146

Parrot, A., & Bechhofer, L. (1991) Acquaintance Rape. The hidden crime. New York: John Wiley.

Ryan, S. (2002) Towards Redress and Recovery. Report to the Minister for Education and Science by the Compensation Advisory Committee appointed under Section 14 of the Residential Institutions Redress Bill, 2001. www.rirb.ie/ryanreport.asp

The Derwent Initiative (2002) Annual Report 2001-2002. Newcastle: The Derwent Initiative.

Waterhouse, Lord. (2000) Lost in Care: Report of the tribunal of inquiry into the abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974.

Webster, R. (1998) The Great Children’s Home Panic. Oxford: Orwell Press.

Westcott, H.L., & Clement, M. (1992) NSPCC Experience of Child Abuse in Residential Care and Educational Placements: Results of a survey. Draft summary report. London: NSPCC.

Wolfe, D., Jaffe, P.G., Jette, J.L., & Poisson, S.E. (2003) ‘The impact of child abuse in community institutions and organizations: Advancing professional and scientific understanding’, Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice Volume 10, Pages 179-191

B1. What Causes People To Commit Sexual Offences?

There is no single cause of sex offending as there are no typical sex offenders. It may not even be accurate to think of factors which contribute to sexual offending as causal, in that a person has no choice and is driven by uncontrollable internal or external forces. Many ideas have been put forward over the past few decades but no singular theory or model adequately explains all forms of sexual aggression and abuse. As such it is necessary to draw on a variety of ideas when thinking about any individual offender.

Within the academic literature a number of ideas have been put forward over time, and theories have evolved as we continue to learn more about human behaviour and sexual offending in particular. No single theory offers a complete explanation, and there are useful ideas that can be drawn from the range of models and theories available. Ideas have stemmed from different scientific disciplines and the emphasis on particular aspects of sexual offending varies. Some authors focus specifically on the biological basis for understanding sexual aggression, other authors are more psychological or sociological and focus on social aspects of the offender and his environment, together with the personality characteristics (motivation, mood, thinking styles and behaviour). The main ideas are presented under the following headings below.

(See other NOTA sections on discriminating between sexual offenders)

Biological Explanations of Sexual Aggression 
Biological and evolutionary perspectives focus on sexual aggression as a form of deviant behaviour based in underlying biological dispositions or structures. At the purely biological level, sexual behaviour and dysfunction have been linked to hormonal and nervous system processes. Hormonally sex and aggression are linked to male androgens (e.g. testosterone), the chemicals involved in sexual development and arousal. Early medical explanations suggested that because testosterone was a main factor in sexual aggression, it could be dealt with by physical castration, later superseded by medication sometimes referred to as ‘chemical castration’.

Reoffending rates in men prescribed drugs such as cyproterone acetate (not available in the United States), triptorelin, goserelin, leuprorelin, and Depo-Provera (in North America) are low, but the significant side effects associated with these drugs means that they need to be used selectively – in cases where offenders report subjectively high and difficult to control sexual drive, or in some instances where there is a high risk of a serious offence. When prescribed, these drugs should be used in conjunction with appropriate psychological treatments. In the UK it is almost certainly the case that antilibidinal medication could be usefully considered more frequently than it is. Click here for ATSA’s position on castration and anti-libinal treatment.

Studies have found that the monoamine neurotransmitters (specific chemicals in the brain that transmit information), such as dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin, serve a modulatory role in human and mammalian sexual motivation. Pharmacological agents that affect these neurotransmitters can have both significant facilitative and inhibitory effects on sexual behaviour. In other words brain chemistry affects arousal and motivation to have sex, or not.

With reference to behaviours associated with sexual offending it has been found that monoaminergic dysregulation bears some relationship to some forms of paraphilia (extreme deviant behaviours). This would suggest that sexual deviance or hypersexuality might, in part, be explained as a dysfunction of primary electro-chemical control mechanisms that result in maladaptive sexual behaviour.

In practice, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (often referred to as SSRIs and include drugs such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Lustral)) have been found to be effective in the treatment of some sex offenders, particularly those in whom there is are strong ruminative or compulsive components (Greenberg & Bradford, 1997). In these cases offenders frequently report a decrease in the intensity of their sexual fantasies, and find it easier to manage their sexual urges.

Batamirov, I.I. (1999) Neuropsychological status of persons with sexual deviations Biological Psychiatry, Volume 42, Issue 1, Supplement 1, Pages 94-95.

Baumbach, J. (2002) Some implications of prenatal alcohol exposure for the treatment of adolescents with sexual offending behaviors. Sex Abuse. Volume 14, Issue 4, Pages 313-27. Review.

DelBello, M.P., Soutullo, C.A., Zimmerman, M.E., Sax, K.W., Williams, J.R., McElroy, S.L., & Strakowski, S.M. (1999) Traumatic brain injury in individuals convicted of sexual offenses with and without bipolar disorder. Psychiatry Research, Volume 89, Issue 3, Pages 281-6.

Greenberg, D. M., and Bradford, J. M. W. (1997). Treatment of the paraphilic disorders: A review of the role of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 9:349-360.

Hucker, S. J. & Bain, J. (1990). Androgenic Hormones and Sexual Assault. In W. L. Marshall & H. E. Barbaree (Eds.), Handbook of Sexual Assault: Issues, Theories, and Treatment of the Offenders (pp.93-113). New York: Plenum.

Kafka, M.P. (1997) The monoamine hypothesis for the pathophysiology of paraphilic disorders: an update. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, Volume 26, Issue 4, Pages 343-58.

Evolutionary Explanations Of Sexual Aggression 
A dated and heavily criticized theoretical view point from some authors suggests that rape may serve as an evolutionary function as a form of procreation (Thornhill & Palmer 2000). It is argued that rape has evolved as a mating strategy analagous to the non-consensual sexual activity seen in our primate relatives. However there is strong contradictory evidence has been collated against such a position (Tang-Martinez & Mechanic 2000) indicating that ‘forced copulation’ is not successful at all with respect to reproduction.

Thornhill & Palmer further argue that rape is primarily driven by sexual desire, which is again contrary to the evidence that sexual offending is multiply-determined (see FAQ B2), motivated by sex, power, and a range of negative emotional states (Groth, Burgess 1977; Cohen et al 1980; Prentky & Knight 2000). Thornhill & Palmer is that because rapists offend against younger women (of child-bearing age) this supports the notion that rapists desire to reproduce through sex. This is a misunderstanding of the association between youth and offending. Men, whether rapists or not are more attracted to youth (Buss 1994) and this attraction is not the same as wanting to reproduce. A more fundamental flaw with this proposition is that it does not explain male offenders who commit sexual offences against male victims, or those female victims who are at too young an age to conceive children.

Some of the evolutionary confusion over rape has come from studies of non-humans including ducks in which animals are seen as forceful in their mating strategies. The term rape is often misapplied to animals and its presence in the animal world has led some authors to suggest that it has an evolutionary basis. But as Gould says:

“The situation can become truly insidious… when we impose a human institution upon nature by false metaphor- and then try and justify the social phenomenon as an inevitable reflection of nature’s dictates.Yet by falsely describing an inherited behaviour of birds with an old name for a deviant human action we subtly suggest that true rape- our own kind – might be a natural behaviour with Darwininan advantages to certain people as well” (Gould 1997, p433).

Buss, D. M. (1994). The evolution of desire. New York: Basic Books.

Gould, S. J. (1997). Dinosaur in a Haystack. London: Penguin

Tang-Martinez, Z., & Mechanic, M.B. (2000). Response to Thornhill and Palmer on Rape. The Sciences: NY Academy of Sciences.

Thornhill, R., Palmer, C. T. (2000). A natural history of rape: Biological bases of sexual coercion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

For a critique of this approach see http://www.thecurrentonline.com/news/2002/10/14/Opinions/Criminal.Evolution-296482.shtml

Social And Psychological Explanations Of Sexual Aggression

Four broad strands can be identified which contribute to the question of sex offence causality: Societal and cultural norms, early experiences and current psychological functioning.

Societal and Cultural norms 
Sociological research (e.g. Sanday, 1981; Mezey, 2000) has illustrated how societies in which rape is most prevalent are characterised by a predominance of male authority and power, and where violence is regarded as a legitimate form of problem solving. A culture of secrecy or collusion about sexual offending can be a barrier to identifying the prevalence of different types of sexual offending. These barriers are gradually being removed and increasingly more detailed information is becoming available on hitherto unrecorded offences.

An alternative perspective comes from Feminist theory that views rape as a form of social control and that ‘myths’ are perpetuated by social processes, including the media (Jozsa & Jozsa, 1980), thereby justifying male rape. These myths include: “Male Sex Drive” (driven by uncontrollable drives) and “Women Ask For It” (want to be raped) (Freedman 1989; Deckard, 1983). See also the work of Susan Brownmillar and Martha Burt.

Development and Early experiences 
It has been established that early problems in a child’s relationships with its parents can result in disrupted attachment experiences, which can, along with other experiences, contribute to the development of sexual offending behaviour (Marshall 1994;1996). Others studies similarly suggest that early attachment history is an important determinant of sexual aggression (Baker & Beech 2004). These early experiences, as well as leading to risk factors within the individual’s adult functioning, can also become treatment targets in therapy. Therapists tread a difficult line between helping offenders acknowledge, work through, and learn from childhood experiences, and not inadvertently reinforcing an abdication of responsibility for, or taking a ‘victim stance’ in relation to, their own behaviour.

In the case of sexual homicide for example Burgess et al (1986) described how an inadequate social environment in which a child is growing up (e.g. little parental support, or excessive demands on the child) combined with early traumatic experiences (e.g. abuse, or bullying) can set the conditions for the development of violent fantasies and distorted attitudes as a means of coping. In some individuals these violent fantasies and supporting attitudes can become sexualised as they reach puberty, reinforced by repeated pairing with masturbation. MacCulloch et al (1983) described how such violent sexual fantasies were present in the histories of a series of sadistic sexual offenders, who had developed elaborate sadistic fantasies which they eventually felt compelled to carry out.

Psychological Functioning 
Psychologists consider individuals as a complex system of related facets based in Cognition (thinking), Affect (feeling) and Behaviour operating in a Social context. Psychological explanations and interventions have developed around these core features of personality and functioning. As such the core features of sex offenders are often couched in psychological terms around affect, cognitions and behaviours. More specific emphasis on personality characteristics also indicates high levels of variation, although some types of personality are probably more likely than others to engage in such activities. Psychopaths for example.

The main factors considered important in understanding rapists and child molesters are also the main factors involved in treatment and risk assessment. Features that have been shown to contribute to sexual offending, and hence form the basis of treatment targets, include the following: Self-esteem, Social skills deficits, Intimacy deficits, Empathy deficits, Cognitive distortions, Deviant sexual arousal. At the individual level further factors may also contribute to sexual offending behaviour, such as anxiety or depression in response to situations or life events.

(Details on psychological treatment can be found in FAQ D1)

The literature on this area is vast although a few authors (listed below) have offered psychological models to help explain different forms of sexual aggression. Our understanding is also influenced by the psychiatric and psychological classifications suggested over the past few decades. (Further details are found in discriminating sexual offenders in B2). Readers are advised to investigate a number of models and classifications and draw their own conclusions.


Finkelhor (1984) 

Precondition Theory

Marshall & Barbaree (1990) 

Integrated Theory

Hall & Hirschman (1992)

Quadripartite theory of child molestation

Ward, T. and Siegert, R. (2002) 

Theory Knitting pathways model

Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our Will: Men Women and Rape. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Burt, M. R. (1980). Cultural myths and supports of rape . Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 217-230.

Finkelhor, D. (1984) Child Sexual Abuse: New theory and research, New York: Free Press

Hall, G. C. N., & Hirschman, R. (1992). Sexual aggression against children: A conceptual perspective of etiology. Criminal Justice and Behavior, Volume 19, Pages 8-23

Marshall, W.L. & Barbaree, H.E. (1990) An integrated theory of the etiology of sexual offending. in WL Marshall, DR Laws, and HE Barbaree (eds) Handbook of sexual assault: Issues, Theories, and Treatment of the Offender. New York: Plenum.

Marshall, W.L., Barbaree, H.E., & Fernandez, Y.M. (1995) Some aspects of social competence in sexual offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment Volume 7, Pages 113-127.

Marshall, W.L., & Pithers, W.D. (1994) A reconsideration of treatment outcome with sex offenders. Criminal Justice Behaviour, Volume 21, Pages 10-27.

Perkins, D.E. (1991) Psychological treatment programme for sex offenders. in B McGurk, D Thornton, and M Williams (eds) Applying Psychology to Imprisonment. London: HMSO.

Perkins, D.E., Hammond, S., Coles, D., & Bishopp, D. (1998) Review of Sex Offender Treatment Programmes. Broadmoor Hospital: Report for HSPSCB. A summary is available at www.doh.gov.uk/hspscb/summary.htm.

Sanday, P.R. (1981) The socio-cultural context of rape: a cross-cultural study. The Journal of Social Issues, Volume 37, Pages 5-27.

Ward, T., Louden, K., Hudson, S., & Marshall, W.L. (1995) A descriptive model of the offence process. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume 10, Pages 453-473.

Ward, T., Hudson, S.M., Johnston, L., & Marshall, W.L. (1996) Attachment style in sex offenders: a preliminary study. Journal of Sex Research, Volume 33, Pages 17-26.

Ward, T., Hudson, S.M., Johnston, L., & Marshall, W.L. (1997) Cognitive distortions in sex offenders: an integrative review. Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 17, Pages 479-507.

Ward, T., Hudson, S.M., & Keenan, T.R. (2000) The assessment and treatment of sexual offenders against children. in CR Hollin (ed) Handbook of Offender Assessment and Treatment. Chichester: Wiley.

Ward, T. & Siegert, R. (2002) ‘Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Child Sexual Abuse: A Theory Knitting Perspective’ , Psychology, Crime, & Law Volume 8, Issue 4, Pages 319-351


B2. How Can We Discriminate Between Sexual Offenders?

Sexual offenders are a heterogeneous group, although it is sometimes useful to group them according to victim age or sex, or by the nature of the act. As such offenders are often described as adult sexual offenders, or child molesters or they are described in terms of having committed rape, indecent assault or sexual homicide. These distinctions are practically useful but often mask a more complex picture in which offenders may offend against a range of victims in more than one way. A number of classification systems have emerged over the past 50 years that have attempted to discriminate between groups of child molesters, rapists and sexual murderers.

Early attempts to discriminate between sex offenders were based on rational taxonomies developed by professionals working with this group of offenders. These early typologies need to be considered in their context, reflecting early instinctivist ideas of innate sexual and aggressive drives, and Freudian theory, relating to pent-up sexual energy (Guttmacher and Weihofen 1952) or ego problems (Kopp 1962). Later, other typologies emerged, which were to identify more critical characteristics of rapists (Groth 1977, Prentky 1985), and child abusers (Groth and Birnbaum 1979, Prentky 1988). Unfortunately the discriminating characteristics used to classify sexual offenders are often ambiguous and not mutually exclusive. Motivations and behaviours transcend different offender categories; there are, for example, various types of aggression proposed, ranging from instrumental to sadistic, evident within most of the typologies. This ambiguity in the defining construct of aggression can lead to difficulties when assigning individuals to one or other aggressive type. Consequently we can only talk about such discriminations as typologies, rather than classifications because classification implies that the defining criteria are mutually exclusive.

Typologies have been offered for all major forms of sexual aggressor including rapist, child molesters, sexual murderers and even female sex offenders. Details of these are provided in subsequent FAQ sections.


B3. Characteristics Of Child Sexual Abusers

There are different approaches to studying the characteristics of child sex offenders. One approach is the classification of sex offenders into different types, while other studies focus on characteristics which are thought to apply to the whole group. Neither is definitive and both are useful.

One distinction which needs to be made is between those offenders who abuse within the home against their own or known children versus those who offend against strangers. It is difficult to establish the prevalence of these different types due to the under-reporting of intra-familial abuse (Arata 1998; Hanson 1999). As such the populations of child molesters examined by research may be biased. Other studies also suggest that girls are more likely to report the abuse than boys. As such the patterns and characteristics of offenders in the home may well be different to those who offend outside of the home as the relationship between abuser and victim is different and the strategies for abusing are also context related.

The Home Office (Fisher & Mair, 1998). carried out a review of the classification systems of sex offenders. The review describes the Knight and Prentky’s classification scheme for child molesters – the MTC: CM3. Prentky et al (1997) base their system on stable traits that have identifiable roots in childhood. The review highlights the limitations of this particular system, such as having a biased sample and excluding certain groups, such as incest offenders. A second classification system discussed in the Home Office review was the RAPID, Waterhouse et al, (1994) which represents four types of sexual abusers: Random Abusers, Paedophiles, Incest and Deniers. Again the review discusses the limitations of RAPID, such as using a small sample size and having rather vague categories, whereby offenders could fit into more than one category.

Erooga (2002) describes the characteristics of adults who commit sexual offences against children. He cites a study by Fisher (1994) which states that men who sexually abuse children do not differ significantly with non-offender populations on basic demographic variables. Despite this similarity, Erooga (2002) reports that male child sex offenders tend to have the following characteristics:

  •  “There tends to be high rates of convicted child abusers who have been themselves abused as children as compared with non offender populations (see, e.g., Abel et al. 1987). 
  • Men who sexually abuse children tend to experience relationship and other problems.
  • Cited findings from Beckett et al (1994) show that those child sex offenders in treatment tend to be “…typically emotionally isolated individuals, lack self confidence, underassertive, poor at appreciating the perspective of others, and ill equipped to deal with emotional distress…”

However, Erooga (2002) also states that the majority of cases of people who have been sexually abused during childhood do not go on to become abusers themselves. Furthermore, caution should be taken when interpreting these findings, as many people who are emotionally isolated, lack self confidence and have relationship difficulties for example, are not child sexual abusers.

Finkelhor (1984) proposes a model of child sexual abuse, which describes the process of child sexual offending as well as the characteristics of the offenders. It comprises of four preconditions leading to the sexual abuse of a child:

  1.  Sexual motivation 
  2.  Overcoming internal inhibitions against acting on that motivation 
  3. Overcoming external impediments to committing sexual abuse 
  4. Undermining or overcoming the child’s resistance to the sexual abuse. 

There are several criticisms ofto Finkelhor’s model. For example, a critique by Ward (2001) states that the model suffers from vagueness and contains overlapping constructs.

A further approach to studying child sex offenders is the Pathways Model, as described by Tony Ward (in press). This describes multiple different pathways leading to the sexual abuse of a child, each involving different influences and mechanisms (such as intimacy deficits, deviant sex scripts, cognitive distortions, and emotional dysregulation). The major disadvantage of such an approach is that, in reality, child sex offending may involve a combination of more than one of the different pathways.

While it may be useful to try and consider sexual abusers within typologies, more often offenders have characteristics which go across types. In many ways “types” only helps to identify the many facets associated with the group. It is these characteristics which are important, rather than their formulation as types. The literature identifies characteristics associated with a broad group of sexual abusers of children. These characteristics help to define the group rather than the specific individuals.

Beckett, R., Beech, A, Fisher, D. & Scott-Fordham, A. (1998). Community based treatment for sex offenders: An evaluation of seven treatment programmes. London: Home Office Publications Unit.

Finkelhor, D. (1984) Child Sexual Abuse: New theory and research, New York: Free Press

Fisher, D. and Mair, G. (1998) A review of classification systems for sex offenders. Home Office Research and Statistics Directorate.

Prentky, R., Knight, R., Lee, A. (1997). Child Sexual Molestation: Research Issues. National Institute of Justice Research Report.

Ward, T., Siege, R. Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Child Sexual Abuse: A Theory Knitting Perspective. Psychology, crime and Law, (in press).

Ward T & Hudson (2001). A critique of Finkelhor’s precondition model of sexual abuse. Psychology, Crime and Law, 7, 333-350.


B4. Characteristics Of Rapists

A number of typologies have emerged over the past few decades that identify critical aspects of sex offender behaviour and motivation. Groth, Burgess and Holmstrom (1977) proposed one of the earliest of these. Groth and his colleagues suggested that rape was a pseudosexual way of demonstrating power and expressing anger, identifying four sub-types based on the functions of power and anger within rape. “Power dominance” and “power reassurance” are seen as the motivations for some groups of rapists, in contrast to more aggressive, “anger excitation” and “anger retaliation” sub-types who use sexual aggression as a means of expressing hostility towards women, or because it excites them. Although potentially useful, the complex nature of anger and power may be intertwined and vary qualitatively and quantitatively.

Rada (1978) attempted a classification based on diagnostic features, which show some overlap with Groth’s. He describes psychotic, sociopathic, situational stress, masculine identity conflict, and sadistic sub-types. Although there are similarities between Rada and Groth, Rada’s typology confuses motivational aspects, with characteristics of behaviour and mental disorder. In his favour, Rada did recognise that the categories are not mutually exclusive, which is a criteria for true classification.

Prentky, Knight et al. (1985; 1986; 1988; 1991; 2001) have offered a number of frameworks for distinguishing between rapist types, reflecting common themes in the literature. Knight and Prentky have proposed a classification system, which has constantly been revised in the Masssachussettes Treatment Centre (MTC -R1, R2 and R3). MTC-R1 proposed four rapist sub-types, ‘compensatory’ (Social Inadequacy), ‘Impulse’, (Impulsivity), ‘Displaced Aggression’ (angry), ‘Sex-Aggression Defusion’ (Aggressive and Sexual). MTC R2 was a revision due to difficulties defining a type, by impulsivity and the term sex-aggression defusion was re-labelled as sadistic.

This early work of Knight and Prentky attempted to define aggression with respect to specific motivations, creating ambiguous types. The types, expressive aggressive and instrumental aggressive are not necessarily exclusive to each other within the context of an offence and this makes any distinctions between types more difficult. The ‘sadistic’ type is defined as distinct from the aggressive and instrumental types, although sadism incorporates aspects of instrumental and expressed aggression in the execution of control and cruelty towards the victim. Types are further defined as high or low in impulsivity giving eight possible rapist types.

In Knight’s most recent work (2001) the MTC-R3 taxons have been explored in relation to Hare’s psychopathy checklist, demonstrating that the sadist sub-type is the most psychopathic. In this sense sadism may well represent a specifically sexual form of psychopathy, rather than a discrete type of individual. A difficulty arises when considering psychopathy as defined by Hare (1990), and the constructs of the MTC -R3. Psychopathy incorporates sexual, aggressive and impulsive traits, and sadism is defined by similar constructs. In addition Knight (2001) has proposed a theoretical formulation of the types , which is interestingly conceptually quite different to previous hierarchical organisations of the rape typology. The nine types are presented in a circumplex, with psychopathy as the principal bi-polar dimension, suggesting a hostile-friendly bi-polar construct.

Many of the typologies offer useful descriptors of meaningful sexual offender characteristics, but have yet to achieve reliable discrimination other than at a fairly crude level. There is no reason to think that rapists form ‘types’ as such and may vary on multiple dimensions of personality and behaviour that do not allow them to be easily classified. From a practitioners perspective each case needs to be considered uniquely drawing on any available information that might be useful in explaining and managing their behaviour.

In summary the search for clinical types has been an exhaustive one, but with relatively little success. Clinical typologies have attempted to use offending characteristics as diagnostic criteria, without exploring the scientific nature of the characteristics. The typology approach has also been based on small samples of incarcerated offenders, using motivational and behavioural features, which are assumed to be mutually exclusive. Of most concern, is the absence of a theoretical framework for understanding the variations between offenders and elements of personality. There are no stereotypical rapists. Perpetrators of sexual assault are as diverse as any other group defined by a particular behaviour. They are an heterogeneous cross-section of any society, who offend in a range of contexts, driven by differing motivations

Brown, S.L., & Forth, A.E. (1997) Psychopathy and sexual assault: static risk factors, emotional precursors, and rapist subtypes. Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology. Volume 65, Issue 5, Pages 848-57.

Connolly, M. (2004) Developmental trajectories and sexual offending: an analysis of the Pathways Model. Qualitative Social Work, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 39-59

Eccles, A., Marshall, W.L., & Barbaree, H.E. (1994) Differentiating rapists and non-offenders using the rape index. Behaviour Research Therapy.Volume 32, Issue 5, Pages 539-46. Kingston Sexual Behaviour Clinic, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada.

Ellis, A. (1979).The sex offender. Psychology of crime and criminal justice, Toch-Hans (E), 1979, (1986), p. 405-426 (xiv 487 pages), US: Waveland Press, Inc, Prospect Heights, IL, ISBN: 0-88133-228-3 (paperback).

Groth, A.N., Burgess, W., & Holmstrom, LL. (1977) Rape: power, anger, and sexuality. The American journal of psychiatry Volume 134, Issue 11, Pages 1239-43.

Grubin, D.H., & Kennedy, H.G. (1991) The classification of sexual offenders. Criminal Behaviour & Mental Health, Volume 1, Issue 2, Pages 123-129.

Kalichman, S.C., Craig, M., Shealy, L., Taylor, J., Szymanowski, D., & McKee, G. (1989). An Empirically Derived Typology of Adult Sex Offenders Based on the MMPI: A Cross-Validation Study. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, Volume 2, Pages 165-182.

Langton, C. M., & Marshall, W.L. (2001) Cognition in rapists Theoretical patterns by typological breakdown Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 6, Issue 5, Pages 499-518.

Levin, S.M., & Stava, L. (1987) Personality characteristics of sex offenders: A review. Archives of Sexual Behavior Volume 16, Issue 1, Pages 57-79

Overholser, J.C., & Beck, S.J. (1989) The classification of rapists and child molesters. Journal of Offender Counseling, Services & Rehabilitation, Volume 14, Issue 2, Pages 169-179.

Polaschek, D.L.L., Ward, T., & Hudson, S.M. (1997) Rape and rapists: Theory and treatment Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 17, Issue 2, Pages 117-144

Prentky, R., Cohen, M., & Seghorn, T. (1985) Development of a rational taxonomy for the classification of rapists: the Massachusetts Treatment Center system. Bulletin American Academy Psychiatry Law. Volume 13, Issue 1, Pages 39-70

Prentky, R.A., & Knight, R.A. (1991) Identifying critical dimensions for discriminating among rapists. Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology. Volume 59, Issue 5, Pages 643-61 Massachusetts Treatment Center, Bridgewater 02324.

Prentky, R.A., Knight, R.A., & Rosenberg, R. (1988) Validation analyses on a taxonomic system for rapists: disconfirmation and reconceptualization. Ann N Y Academy of Science, Volume 528, Pages 21-40.

Rosenberg, R., & Knight, R.A. (1988) Determining male sexual offender subtypes using cluster analysis. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Volume 4, Issue 4, Pages 383-410.

Rosenberg, R., Knight, R.A., Prentky, R.A., & Lee, A. (1988) Validating the components of a taxonomic system for rapists: a path analytic approach. Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law. Volume 16, Issue 2, Pages 169-85. Massachusetts Treatment Center, Bridgewater 02324.

Sugarman, D.B. (1994). The conception of rape: A multidimensional scaling approach. Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, Volume 9, Issue 3, Pages 389-408,

Tirrell, F.J., & Aldridge, R.G. (1983) Diagnostic classification of rape. Corrective & Social Psychiatry & Journal of Behavior Technology, Methods & Therapy, Volume 29, Issue 2, Pages 56-61.

Warren, J.I., Reboussin, R., Hazelwood, R.R., & Wright, J.A. (1991) Prediction of rapist type and violence from verbal, physical, and sexual scales. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume. 6, Issue 1, Pages 55-67.


B5 What Are The Characteristics Of Adult Female Sex Offenders?

Compared to other types of sexual offenders, particularly males, the literature on female sexual offenders is relatively limited. It has been suggested that this may be as a result of the proportionately low reporting of offences of this kind by this type of abuser. A range of factors has been suggested as to why this may be, including, a lack of disclosure due to unwillingness to report such an offence (for reasons such as humiliation or fear); the assumption that sex offences are perpetrated solely by males; women are more likely to have legitimate access in intimate situations; and/or the rarity of this particular type of offender.

Despite this limited knowledge base attempts have been made to identify characteristics that might help distinguish types of female sex offender, but it must be warned the findings may not be fully representative of this typology, and the reasons for this are discussed.

Personal Characteristics 
Predominantly female perpetrators of sexual abuse are found to be young woman falling somewhere in her 20s or 30s, although it needs to be noted a substantial age range has been identified with prepubescent females as young as ten years of age exhibiting coercive and forceful acts of sexual aggression toward other children (eg Johnston 1989).

Female sex offenders that have come to the attention of professionals have often come from a dysfunctional family of origin, and a considerably high proportion of those have experienced physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse as a child, adolescent, or adult. Very often such experiences of abuse will have been extensive and severe, involving invasive sexual and physical activities, as well as multiple offenders.

With reference to social issues the literature suggests that the majority of female perpetrators are likely to be experiencing problems in many areas of their lives. They are likely to be in lower socioeconomic groups, although further work is required to establish a better picture of this group. Marital and peer relationships may be absent in their lives, and those which do exist may be dysfunctional or abusive. In many cases, the offender may be isolated from social supports. However there are a number of high profile cases in which female offenders have committed their offences with another perpetrator such as their partners.

When considering health issues it is suggested that a range of problems have presented themselves with female sex offenders. These have included difficulties with depression, suicidal ideation, chemical dependency (such as addictions), and/or low self-esteem, as well as more specific psychiatric diagnoses of personality disorders and mental health issues.

Offending Behaviour 
To date it has been suggested that no typical motivation can be attributed to adult female sex offending, the literature would suggest no consistent or typical pattern. A range of drives has been identified, such examples are deviant arousal and interest, sexual gratification from their abusive behavior, distorted perceptions regarding the inappropriateness of their acts, viewing abuse as a “normal” expression of affection for a child or a spouse, and denying or minimizing the seriousness of their sexually aggressive acts. Limited evidence exists concerning the recidivism rate of female sex offenders, one particular study places it at approximately 3% (Tewksbury 2004) although it is acknowledged this figure is not overly representative.

In terms of victimology female offenders are most likely to abuse a female child, although male children, and youngsters of both genders may also be commonly abused. While the offender may molest only a single child, in many cases, the abuse may be widespread, involving multiple victims. Typically, the woman will abuse children with whom she has an enduring or familiar relationship, and youngsters who fall within the pre-school and school-age range.

Prevalence of Female Sex Offenders
It has been suggested that adult female sexual abusers account for only a tiny proportion of recorded sexual offences. The Home Offices Criminal Statistics for England and Wales (2003) indicate that of the 2754 cases of sexual offending that were tried and received a guilty verdict female offenders made up 43 (1%) of the total. When breaking this down just over half were for Indecent Assault on adult victims (11 male, 13 female). A full breakdown of the offences is available at the link given below. 

However despite the supposed infrequent occurrence of female sex offenders it has been strongly argued that rates for women who sexually abuse have been under-estimated in the past (Finkelhor 1986). Researchers of female sex offenders have attempted to offer valid explanations as to why this may occur. Examples include differing societal perceptions of maternal behaviour e.g., predominantly perceiving the mother as a care giver and not abuser; misperceptions of maternal innate goodness and asexuality as compared with the motivations and sexual interests of fathers; assumptions that boy victims are not really harmed by their abuse and/or may be too ashamed to disclose abuse; and overextension of feminist explanations that male dominance, differential socialisation and sexual explanation are the sole causes of child sexual abuse.

Concerning the characteristics of women who sexually abuse children, Freel (1992) comments:

“…there is general agreement on certain issues – that they are more likely to have been sexually abused as children; that they have had a traumatic childhood; that they are more likely to co-offend with men; (and) that they are likely to use alcohol or drugs… There is (also) evidence that female abusers are more likely to be the mothers or close relatives of the victim…”(pp.8-9)

Given that the bulk of existing data regarding abusive women is derived from uncontrolled studies and very small samples of perpetrators who have come to professional attention (Wakefield & Underwager, 1991), considerable caution must be used in interpreting these summary statements.

Additionally while studies of identified offenders may yield a range of in-depth information regarding women who sexually abuse, they are not likely to represent the full spectrum of female-perpetrated victimization, as very few offenders of either gender find their way to prison or treatment (Finkelhor & Russell, 1984). However as Adshead et. al (1994) suggest in their article this is a relatively unresearched area worthy of further study (see also Saradjian, 1996).

Bell, K. (1999) Sexual assault: clinical issues. Female offenders of sexual assault. Journal of Emergency Nursing, Volume 25, Issue 3, Pages 241-3.

Chow, E.W.C., & Choy, A.L. (2002) Clinical characteristics and treatment response to SSRI in a female pedophile. Archives of Sexual Behavior Volume 31, Issue 2, Pages 211-215.

Christiansen, A.R., & Thyer, B.A. (2002) Female sexual offenders: a review of empirical research. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Volume 6, Issue 3, Pages 1-16.

Cooper, A.J., Swaminath, S., Baxter, D., & Poulin, C. (1990) A female sex offender with multiple paraphilias: a psychologic, physiologic (laboratory sexual arousal) and endocrine case study. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie, Volume 35, Issue 4, Pages 334-7.

Denov, M.S. (2003) To a safer place? Victims of sexual abuse by females and their disclosures to professionals. Child abuse & neglect, Volume 27, Issue 1, Pages 47-61.

Grayston, A.D., & De-Luca, R.V. (1999) Female perpetrators of child sexual abuse: A review of the clinical and empirical literature. Aggression & Violent Behavior, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 93-106.

Grier, P.E., Clark, M., & Stoner, S.B. (1993)Comparative study of personality traits of female sex offenders. Psychological reports, Volume 73, Issue 3, Page 1378

Higgs, D.C., Canavan, M.M., & Meyer, W.J. (1992) Moving from defense to offense: The development of an adolescent female sex offender. Journal of Sex Research, Volume 29, Issue 1, Pages 131-139.

Miccio, F.L.C. (2000) Adult and adolescent female sex offenders: Experiences compared to other female and male sex offenders. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, Volume 11, Issue 3, Pages 75-88.

Nathan, P., & Ward, T. (2001) Females who sexually abuse children: Assessment and treatment issues. Psychiatry Psychology and Law, Volume 8, Issue 1, Pages 44-55.

Nathan, P., & Ward, T. (2002) Female sex offenders: Clinical and demographic features. Journal of Sexual Aggression, Volume 8, Issue 1, Pages 5-21.

O’Connor, A.A. (1987). Female sex offenders. British-Journal-of-Psychiatry, Volume 150, Pages 615-620.

Saradjian, J. (1996). Women who sexually abuse children: From research to clinical practice. England: John Wiley and sons.

Tewksbury, R. (2004) Experiences and Attitudes of Registered Female Sex Offenders. Federal Probation, Volume 68, Issue 3 , Pages 30-33.

Travin, S., Cullen, K., & Protter, B. (1990) Female sex offenders: Severe victims and victimizers. Journal of Forensic Sciences, Volume 35, Issue 1, Pages 140-150.

Vick, J., McRoy, R., & Matthews, B.M. (2002) Young female sex offenders: Assessment and treatment issues. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse Volume 11, Issue 2, Pages 1-23.


B6. What Are The Characteristics Of Juvenile Sex Offenders?

The characteristics of the abuse committed by young abusers is similar to that perpetrated by adult sex offenders, e.g., they engage in both contact (including penetrative acts) and non-contact behaviours. Likewise some ‘groom’ their victims while others are more opportunistic and may use verbal or physical coercion. They abuse a variety of victims including much younger children as well as peers or adults. It is even possible to identify sub-groups of young sexual abusers that resemble the ‘child molester’ & ‘rapist’ sub-types among adult offenders e.g., those who only abuse children at least 4 years younger than them or those who only abuse peers or adults (Veneziano & Veneziano, 2002). Differences between these sub-types suggest that young sexual abusers are not an homogenous group.

Comparisons with adolescent delinquents who do not sexually abuse reveal many similarities between the groups (e.g., dysfunctionl family backgrounds, childhood abuse and neglect, low academic achievement) though some differences are also apparent (e.g., young sexual abusers appear to exhibit more problematic peer relationships, are less likely to engage in delinquent activities such as gang behaviour or drug/alcohol misuse, and some exhibit serious mental health problems such as depression and anxiety).

Consistent findings indicate that the majority of young sexual abusers do not go on to commit sexual offences as adults (Sipe et al, 1998; Worling & Curwen, 2000; Gretton et al, 2001). Sexual recidivism rates range from 0% to 30% with the variability being a result of the length of follow-up used, the type of abuser observed, and the definitions of recidivism. Rates of non-sexual offending however are much higher, and indicate that young sexual abusers are at greater risk of committing non-sexual offences in adulthood and that interventions during adolescence should address general criminogenic risk factors and not just address treatment for sexually abusive behaviour.

In trying to discriminate between sub-groups of juvenile sex offenders it may be useful to draw on other typologies concerned with the nature of the act, rather than the age of the perpetrator.

Aylwin, A.S., Reddon, J.R., & Burke, A.R. (2005) Sexual fantasies of adolescent male sex offenders in residential treatment: a descriptive study. Archives of sexual behavior, Volume 34, Issue 2, Pages 231-9.

Barbaree, H.E. (1993) The Juvenile Sex Offender. Guilford Press Hardcover

Barbaree, H.E., Hudson, S.M., & Seto, M.C. (1993). Sexual assault in society: The role of the juvenile offender. In H.E. Barbaree, W.L. Marshall & S.M. Hudson (Eds.), The Juvenile Sex Offender. New York: Guilford.

Butler, S.M., Seto, M.C. (2002) Distinguishing Two Types of Adolescent Sex Offenders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 41, Issue 1, Pages83-90.

Curwen, T.(2003) The importance of offense characteristics, victimization history, hostility, and social desirability in assessing empathy of male adolescent sex offenders. Sexual abuse, Volume 15, Issue 4, Pages 347-64.

Dadds, M.R., Smallbone, S., Nisbet, I., & Dombrowski, J.(2003) Willingness, confidence, and knowledge to work with adolescent sex offenders: An evaluation of training workshops. Behaviour Change, Volume 20, Issue 2, Pages 117-123.

Dalton, J.E., Ruddy, J.L., & Simon, R.Liza.(2003) Adolescent sex offenders’ mean profile on the BASC Self-report of Personality. Psychological reports, Volume 92, Issue 3 Part 1, Pages 883-8.

Eastman, B.J. (2004) Assessing the efficacy of treatment for adolescent sex offenders: A cross-over longitudinal study. Prison Journal, Volume 84, Issue 4, Pages 472-485.

Epps, K.J. (1994) Treating adolescent sex offenders in secure conditions : the experience at Glenthorne centre. Journal of Adolescence, Volume 17, Pages 105-122.

Farr, C., Brown, J., Beckett, R.(2004) Ability to empathize and masculinity levels: Comparing male adolescent sex offenders with a normative sample of non-offending adolescents. Psychology, Crime & Law, Volume 10, Issue 2, Part 155-167.

Gretton, H.M., McBride, M., Hare, R.D., O’Shaughnessy, R., & Kumka, G. (2001). Psychopathy and recidivism in adolescent sex offenders. Criminal Justice and Behaviour, Volume 28, Pages 427 – 449.

Home Office. (2001). Criminal Statistics: England and Wales 2001. HMSO:London.

Hunter, J.A., Figuerdo, A.J., Malamuth, N.M., & Becker, J.V. (2003). Juvenile se offenders: Towards the development of a typology. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Volume 15, Issue 1, Pages 27 – 48.

Lee, J.K., Jackson, H.J., Pattison, P., & Ward, T. (2002). Developmental risk factors for sexual offending. Child Abuse and Neglect, Volume 26, Pages 73 – 92.

Matthews, R., Hunter, J.A. & Vuz, J. (1997). Juvenile female sexual offenders: Clinical characteristics and treatment issues. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Volume 9, Pages 187 – 199.

Richardson, G., Graham, F., Bhate, S.R., & Kelly, T.P. (1995). A British sample of sexually abusive adolescents: Abuser and abuse characteristics. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, Volume 5, Pages 187 – 208.

Ryan, G. (1999). Treatment of sexually abusive youth. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume 14, Issue 4, Pages 422 – 436.

Seto, M.C., Lalumière, M.L., & Blanchard, R.(2000) The discriminative validity of a phallometric test for pedophilic interests among adolescent sex offenders against children. Psychological Assessment, Volume 12, Issue 3, Pages 319-27.

Sipe, R., Jensen, E.L., & Everett, R.S. (1998). Adolescent sexual offenders grown up: Recidivism in young adulthood. Criminal Justice and Behaviour, 25, 109 – 124.

Smets, A.C., & Cebula, C.M. (1987) A Group treatment program for adolescent sex offenders : five steps towards resolution. Child Abuse and Neglect, Volume 11, Issue 2, Pages 247-254.

Veneziano, C. & Veneziano, L. 2002. Adolescent sex offenders: A review of the literature. Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 3(4), 247 – 260.

Wahlberg-L, Kennedy-J, Simpson-J.(2003) Impaired sensory-emotional integration in a violent adolescent sex offender. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Volume 12, Issue 1, Pages1-15.

Wilson, P.H., Smallbone, S.W. (2004) A prospective longitudinal study of sexual recidivism among adolescent sex offenders. Sexual abuse, Volume 16, Issue 3, Pages 223-34.

Worling, J.R., & Curwen, T. (2000). Adolescent sexual offender recidivism: Success of specialised treatment and implications for risk prediction. Child Abuse and Neglect, 24, 965 – 982.

Worling, J.R., & Langstrom, N. (2003). Assessment of criminal recidivism risk with adolescents who have offended sexually. Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 4(4), 341 – 362.

Worling-J-R(1995) Sexual abuse histories of adolescent male sex offenders: Differences on the basis of the age and gender of their victims. Journal of Abnormal Psychology Volume 104, Issue 4, Pages 610-613.

Web Resources Children and young people who display sexually harmful behaviour Elizabeth Lovell (NSPCC Public Policy Group) January2002 http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/Research/Findings/IThinkIMight_asp_ifega26196.html


B7. What Is Meant By Sexual Deviance?

Sexual deviance in the context of sexual offending can be interpreted in more than one way. The act of rape or child abuse can itself be viewed as deviant, however the sexual activities that occur in the context of offending also vary in the degree to which they might be interpreted as deviant. The term ‘sexual deviance’ is sometimes used in a very general way (at the sociological level) to refer to behaviour which falls outside social or statistical norms, but is not necessarily illegal. Homosexuality for example is by definition a deviation from ‘normal’ sexual practices and at different points in history has been considered acceptable or illegal (see Gore Vidal). In the psychological and psychiatric literature the term ‘sexual deviance’ refers to sexual preferences for deviant and illegal sexual acts, such as child sexual abuse. The severity of deviance is difficult to quantify and often the level of deviance is determined by the frequency of offending, the gender of the victim (male being doubly deviant), and the age of the victim (younger, or older victims indicating another facet of deviance).

Sexual deviations are defined (medically) in terms of the person or object (using Greek or Latin roots) and suffixed with sexual interest (philia), (e.g. child -paedo philia; adolescent – hebe philia; older adult – geronto philia). Deviations may also apply to particular behaviours such as sado-masochism, or sex with dead bodies (necrophilia). Rape itself can be a deviant sexual interest (Groth & Burgess 1977) and has been proposed as a distinct courtship disorder, or type, the preferential rapist (Freund, Scher & Hucker 1983) or paraphilic coercive disorder (Abel 1989), or biastophilia (Money 1990). There are an almost infinite variety of sexual interests, or paraphilias that have been labelled in this way, suggesting that almost anything can become sexualised. Although psychiatry has offered a valuable labelling system for sexual deviations, it has offered very little in the way of explanation and understanding (see Foucault 1977). Others argue that the causes of sexual deviation often stem from individualised interests that develop over a number of years or are acquired through experience, either positive or negative (learned from others).

A number of other deviations, which are worth considering, occur in the context of rape and sexual homicide, and are concerned with pain, power and death. In some cases necrophilia is the motive for murder, and can involve elaborate fantasies with regard to the method of killing, and subsequent sexual activity (MacCulloch, Snowden, Wood & Mills 1983; Ressler, Burgess & Homstrom 1986; Prentky, Cohen & Seghorn 1985). In some extreme cases of rape and sexual homicide, the intent is clearly associated with sadistic or power interests. Necrophilia is another rare interest, which can take any number of forms defined by Wulffen (1910); generally it refers to sex with corpses but can include necrosadism (in which murder precedes the act), and necrophagy (in which the corpse is eaten). What these terms might suggest is that paraphilias represent continua of activity, rather than distinct diagnosable disorders.

Many offenders are characterised by conventional (pseudo-normal) sexual interests and only a minority are deviant or paraphilic (Freund and Blanchard 1986). Penile Plesthysmography (PPG), an assessment of penile response to sexual stimuli, has been utilised in many studies examining sexual arousal. The PPG technique has demonstrated that deviant arousal characterises the most violent and habitual rapists, (Abel, Barlow, Blanchard & Guild 1977; Becker et al 1978), and the general consensus is that the level of deviancy is indicated by the variety, or range of sexual interests.

Understanding the origins of sexually deviant interests has yet to be fully established an receives little research attention. A number of perspectives have been offered including a simple biological explanation that men are simply more deviant than women. Men are therefore more prone to deviation because of a Y chromosome (Flor-Henry 1989). The higher sexual libido in men has also been suggested as causal in sexual offending (Wilson, 1980), an idea extended through the work of Thornhill & Palmer (see causes section) in their evolutionary description of rape. These authors go so far as to suggest that rape is an adaptive evolutionary, mating strategy, although this would seem to apply more readily to non-human species.

Becker, J.V. (1992) Sexual deviance. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, Volume 5, Issue 6 Pages 788-791.

Burk, L.R., & Burkhart, B.R. (2003) Disorganized attachment as a diathesis for sexual deviance – Developmental experience and the motivation for sexual offending. Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume 8, Issue 5, Pages 487-511.

Earls, C.M. (1983) Some issues in the assessment of sexual deviance. International journal of law and psychiatry, Volume 6, Issue 3-4, Pages 431-41.

French, L. (1991) A practitioner’s notes on treating sexual deviance. Psychological reports, Volume 68, Issue 3, Part 2, Pages 1195-8

Grubin, D. (1991) Sexual deviance. Current Opinion in Psychiatry Volume 4, Issue 6, Pages 846-849.

Hildebrand, M., de-Ruiter, C., & de Vogel, V. (2004). Psychopathy and sexual deviance in treated rapists: association with sexual and nonsexual recidivism. Sexual abuse, Volume 16, Issue 1, Pages 1-24.

Hunter, J.A., & Mathews, R. (1997). Sexual deviance in females. In D.R. Laws W. ODonohue (Eds.), Sexual Deviance. Theory, Assessment, and Treatment (pp. 465-480). New York: The Guilford Press.

Lalumière, M.L., & Quinsey, V.L. (1996). Sexual deviance, antisociality, mating effort, and the use of sexually coercive behaviors. Personality & Individual Differences, Volume 21, Issue 1, Pages 33-48.

Lalumière, M.L., Harris, G.T., Quinsey, V.L., & Rice, M.E. (1998) Sexual deviance and number of older brothers among sexual offenders. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research & Treatment, Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 5-15.

Laws, D.R., & O-Donohue, W. (1997) Sexual deviance: theory, assessment, and treatment. Guilford Press.

Maletzky, B.M. (1991). Treating the Sexual Offender. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Marshall, W.L., Eccles, A., & Barbaree, H.E. (1991) The treatment of exhibitionists: A focus on sexual deviance versus cognitive and relationship features. Behaviour Research and Therapy Volume 29 Issue 2 Pages 129-135.

Marshall, W.L., Hudson, S.M., & Ward, T. (1992) Sexual deviance. Principles and practice of relapse prevention, Wilson-Peter-H (E), 1992, p. 235-254 (xi 383 pages), US: Guilford Press, New York, NY..

Seghorn, T.K., & Ball, C.J. (2000) Assessment of sexual deviance in adults with developmental disabilities. Mental Health Aspects of Developmental Disabilities, Volume 3, Issue 2, Pages 47-53.

Simon, W.T., & Schouten, P.G. (1991) Plethysmography in the assessment and treatment of sexual deviance: an overview. Archives of sexual behavior, Volume 20, Issue 1, Pages 75-91.

Veneziano L., & Riggen, K. (2004). Sexual deviance among male college students: prior deviance as an explanation. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume 19, Issue 1, Pages 72-89.

Withers, J., Warren, S. (2005) Sexual Deviance: Issues and Controversies. Journal of Sexual Aggression, Volume 11, Issue 1, Pages 115-117, Editor(s): Beech-Tony.

The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction http://www.indiana.edu/~kinsey/

National Centre for Social Research Sexual Attitudes & Behaviour http://www.natcen.ac.uk/natcen/pages/report_sexatt.htm

University of Plymouth: Neurobiology of Sexual Behaviour http://salmon.psy.plym.ac.uk/year2/Sexbehav.htm

C1. What Factors Are Important In Assessing Risk In Sexual Offenders?

Risk assessment involves an estimation of the likelihood or probability that something dangerous might happen in the future. In the case of sex offenders risk assessment refers to the likelihood of recidivism. It is not possible to predict risky behaviours with 100% certainty since human behaviour is not predictable. As such we can only assess a probability that something might occur, based on information from large samples of offenders collected over time. The key issue in risk assessment is accuracy, and the avoidance of either over- prediction or under-prediction.

Historically risk assessments were ‘no better than the toss of a coin’ (Monahan, 1980) but in the last 20 years there has been a great deal of research effort invested in both violent and sexually violent offenders to determine which characteristics are most useful in predicting re-offending. One of the main issues to be highlighted is the need for structured approaches to the problem of risk. Traditionally assessments were made by clinicians or forensic practitioners without any evidence of what factors were relevant to the decision. It became apparent that clinical judgment alone was sometimes an unreliable method of assessing risk. In response to this problem a number of researchers began developing tools based on factual or ‘actuarial’ information.

Click here for more information on Actuarial versus Clinical judgments of risk (FAQ C3)

An assessment of risk requires the following:

1. The specification of the behaviour of concern, for example child sexual abuse.

2. The identification of factors in the individual being assessed which are known to be predictive of the general class of behaviour in question. This will include so-called Static risk factors, i.e. those which are historical in nature and cannot be modified, for example, the number and type of previous convictions. Stable dynamic risk factors, i.e., those which are relatively persistent characteristics of the offender but which are at least potentially modifiable by treatment or maturation, for example, deviant sexual arousal or cognitive distortions. Acute dynamic risk factors, i.e., factors such as alcohol intoxication or negative emotional states, which can rapidly change and in so doing increase the risk of re-offending.

Click here for more information on Static and Dynamic variables (FAQ C2)

The nature of these risk factors will vary according to the behaviour of concern: for example attitudes towards women will be relevant dynamic risk factors for rape, while attitudes about children will be relevant dynamic risk factors for child sexual abuse. But how do we know what factors are predictive? One of the problems is that reconviction rates for sexual offences using official statistics are typically lower than rates for other types of offending.

Studies based on follow-up periods of up to 5 years have found that reconviction rates for sexual offences are usually below 20%, compared with over 50% for offences of violence and dishonesty. However, the rates of re-offending for sexual offences increase considerably when longer follow-up periods are considered. For example one study found that 52% of child molesters re-offended when followed up for 25 years. But there are few long-term studies, so recidivism rates based on type of offence alone are of limited use in prediction.

There has been a considerable amount of research attention focused on factors that differentiate sex offenders who go on to re-offend and those who don’t. Given the large number of studies published in this area, it is helpful to look at work that combines samples from different studies in order to identify common trends – i.e., meta analysis.

A study using this approach was conducted by Hanson and Bussiere (1998) who examined published studies on sexual offender recidivism and combined them to produce a database of 28,972 cases. They found that:

  • the single strongest predictor of sexual recidivism was phallometrically assessed deviant interest in children – using the penile plethysmograph or PPG, a pressure gauge which measures the erectile response of the penis to visual stimuli 
  • the number and type of prior sexual offences were strong predictors – e.g., those with more previous convictions were at higher risk, and offences against boys or strangers outside the family indicated higher risk 
  • those failing to complete treatment were at an increased risk for both sexual and non-sexual recidivism 
  • those of younger age were more likely to offend 
  • those assessed as having an anti-social personality disorder were at greater risk

3. The collection of information on the history and offending pattern of the individual being assessed. This should include information on:

  • His early life experiences, including attachment history, and any physical, sexual, or emotional abuse 
  • His educational, occupational, forensic and mental history 
  • An analysis of his offending patterns, including factors typically precipitating and maintaining offending behaviour, i.e., a functional analysis of his offending patterns – examples of pre-cursors to offending might be low self-esteem, loneliness, anger, or recourse to deviant fantasies – examples of factors maintaining offending behaviour might include sexual excitement, or temporary relief from interpersonal problems, tension, or boredom.

Hanson, R.K., & Bussiere, M.T. (1998) Predicting Relapse: A Meta-Analysis of Sexual Offender Recidivism. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Volume 66, Issue 2, Pages 348-362.


C2. Risk Predictors – Dynamic and Static

Risk factors are variables, or personal characteristics, which have been shown to have an empirically based relationship with the risk of re-offending. These are often considered in terms of type of information, and whether the information is static or dynamic.

Static risk factors are variables which have been shown to have a relationship with the risk of re-offending but which are not amenable to clinical intervention. Examples include age, and number of previous convictions. Both these variables affect the likelihood of a person re-offending but cannot be changed by treatment.

Dynamic risk factors are variables which also have been shown to have a relationship with the risk of re-offending but can change as a result of treatment. Examples include drug or alcohol use, deviant sexual interest, deviant sexual fantasy, and negative attitudes to women.

The identification of dynamic factors that are associated with reduced recidivism holds particular promise in effectively managing sex offenders because the strengthening of these factors can be encouraged through various supervision and treatment strategies.

Dynamic factors can further be divided into stable and acute categories (Hanson & Harris, 1998). Stable dynamic factors are those characteristics that can change over time, but are relatively enduring qualities. Examples of these characteristics include deviant sexual preferences or alcohol or drug abuse. On the other hand, Hanson and Harris (1998) suggest that acute dynamic factors are conditions that can change over a short period of time. Examples include sexual arousal or intoxication that may immediately precede an offense. Further examples of important factors can be found in this summary table: http://www.kbsolutions.com/socklist.pdf

Static Factors (Hanson & Bussiere 1998) 
Prior sexual offences, any deviant sexual preference, failure to complete treatment, any personality disorder, anger problems, PCL-R score elevated.

Stable Dynamic Factors (Hanson & Harris 1998; Hanson & Harris 2000) 
Sees self as no risk (lack of insight), attitude of sexual entitlement, manipulative, sexual preoccupations, rape attitudes, Intimacy deficits, Negative social influences, Attitudes, Sexual/emotional self-regulation, General self-regulation.

Acute Dynamic Factors (Hanson & Harris 1998) 
Victim access, anger, low remorse/victim blaming, substance abuse. 
In summary, a comprehensive risk assessment will bring together these individualised assessments with empirically established acute dynamic risk factors, stable dynamic risk factors, static risk factors, and situational variables. Caution is needed in assessing any risk given the limited number of characteristics for different types of behaviour that have a known relationship to future risk. Monahan and Steadman (1994) highlighted that insufficient variables had been used in research, and that outcome measures had been poorly defined. In the context of assessing an individual’s risk it is also important to acknowledge the heterogeneity of sex offenders (Groth, 1979; Grubin & Kennedy, 1991; Prentky & Knight, 1991;- see B2), not to mention defining exactly what is meant by such terms as risk, harm, and dangerousness (Monahan & Steadman, 1995; Scott, 1977). Kemshall (2001) provides a useful recent overview of the different means of risk assessment and management. Thornton’s (forthcoming) Risk Matrix 2000 (Expanded Version) has been endorsed by the National Probation Directorate as the instrument to be used in the probation service in England and Wales as part of the risk assessment of adult males who have been convicted or cautioned for sexual offences.

Cocozza, J.J., & Steadman, H.J. (1976). The failure of psychiatric predictions of dangerouness: clear and convincing evidence. Rutgers Law Review, Volume 29, Pages 1084-1101.

Fisher, D., & Thornton, D. (1993). Assessing risk of re-offending in sex offenders. Journal of Mental Health, Volume 2, Pages 105-117.

Hanson, R.K., & Bussiere, M.T. (1998) Predicting Relapse: A Meta-Analysis of Sexual Offender Recidivism. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Volume 66, Issue 2, Pages 348-362.

Hanson, R.K., & Harris, A. (1998). Dynamic Predictors of Sexual Recidivism. Corrections Research Ottawa: Department of the Solicitor General Canada. www.sgc.gc.ca/epub/corr/el99801b/el99801b.htm

Hanson, R.K., & Harris, A. (2000). Where should we intervene? Dynamic predictors of sexual offense recidivism. Criminal justice and Behavior’27 (1) 6-35.

Harris, A., & Rice, M. (2003). Actuarial Assessment of Risk among Sex Offenders. Annual New York Academy of Science; 989: 198-210.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1973). On the psychology of prediction. Psychological Review, Volume 80, Pages 237-51.

Kemshall, H. (2001). Risk Assessment and Management of Known Sexual and Violent Offenders: a review of current issues, RDSD Police Research Series Paper 140. London: Home Office .

Monahan, J., & Steadman, H.J. (1994). Towards a rejuvenation of risk assessment research. in J Monahan and HJ Steadman (eds) Violence and Mental Disorder: Developments in Risk Assessment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Quinsey, V.L., & Maguire, A. (1986). Maximum security psychiatric patients: actuarial and clinical prediction of dangerousness. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume 1, Pages 143-171.



C3. Risk Assessment – Actuarial Versus Clinical

The assessment of risk in sexual offenders requires a number of factors to be taken into consideration. As an assessment of potential dangerousness it is a process that can involve human judgment alone, or actuarial assessment. In an ideal circumstance it is suggested that a combination of the two provides a more coherent understanding of an individual’s risk. Indeed it is often warned that the use of an assessment tool without the reinforcement of clinical judgement, and vice versa, could result in a poorly substantiated evaluation of risk. A comprehensive review of the literature that exists on risk assessment and its current application within a clinical setting is provided by Beech A.R. & Ward, T. (2004).

Actuarial versus Clinical Judgement

Actuarial Assessment 
This is an approach that seeks to predict outcome measures, such as re-conviction, based on scores from combinations of predictor variables, such as number of previous convictions, and age. Statistical techniques are used to examine which combination of variables produces the highest correlation with the outcome measure, in order to increase the reliability of prediction. An example of an actuarial approach is found in an application for motor insurance, in which the applicant will usually have to answer questions about type of car, age, geographical area, etc. This information is then entered into a statistical formula and a score derived to assess risk of an accident, or theft.

An example of an actuarial approach in sex offending is the Rapid Risk Assessment for Sex Offence Recidivism (RRASOR) by Hanson (1997), which measures risk of re-offending based on four variables: 
• past sexual offences (scores from 0 to 3 depending on how many past sexual offences there are) 
•age (0 or 1) 
•gender of victim (0 or 1) 
•relationship to victim (0 or 1)

A person’s score for each of the four variables is totaled and the total score has been found to be related to the risk of re-offending (8% of those scoring 1 re-offended within 5 years, compared to 50% of those scoring 5). It will be noted that all the variables in this equation are static risk factors.

Clinical Judgment 
Previous research has tended to show that actuarial measures are better at predicting risk than clinical assessment based on interview alone. However, there are limitations to actuarial approaches. For example, they tend to rely solely on static risk factors and are therefore of little use in assessing how a person has responded to treatment or in assessing changes in circumstances which could affect their level of risk.

Actuarial approaches may also be of limited use in the case of first-time offenders or whose current offence may have unusual aspects or sadistic elements. Clinical judgement can make an important contribution towards assessing issues such as this, as well as areas such as mental states which contribute towards the escalation of pro-offending attitudes in particular individuals.

An informed approach to the assessment of risk in sex offenders will use a combination of actuarial measures, psychometric tests validated for use on sex offenders, and clinical interview. When clinical interviews are used it is essential that the interviewer has received training in contemporary models of sex offending that are grounded in empirical research, including training in the difficulties of dealing with deceit and denial in this group.

What is clear is that decision-making with respect to risk is optimised when the boundaries of the decision are clearly defined (i.e. in terms of likely behaviour in particular contexts). Decision-makers are also influenced by cognitive biases that affect the decision-making process, which can lead to errors of judgement; these too are minimised when using structured risk assessment tools that guide the assessment process.

Beech, A.R. & Ward, T. (2004) The integration of etiology and risk in sexual offenders: A theoretical framework. Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 31-63

Hanson, R.K. (1997). The development of a brief actuarial risk scale for sexual offense recidivism, User Report No. 1997-04. Ottawa: Department of the Solicitor General of Canada.

Meehl, P. E. (1954) Clinical versus Statistical Prediction. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Monahan, J. & Steadman, H. J. (eds) (1994) Violence and Mental Disorder: Developments in Risk Assessment. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

For a brief review on assessing dangerousness see: http://www.priory.com/psych/assessin.htm


C4. What Tools Should I Use For Assessing Risk?

There are a wide range of tools available for assessing risk in sexual offenders and many contain similar items, or questions, that are used in deriving a decision. Some have been developed for particular groups such as adolescents, while others serve as indexes of recidivism. Whichever tools you use, you should be aware of the limitations that each tool may have. Sometimes risk assessments are termed psychometric, which implies that they have been developed within a sound theoretical framework and therefore measure valid constructs such as aggression or deviance. However, many tools are not psychometrically robust, showing poor reliability and validity. All tools have error associated with them which means that they can vary within a few points on the overall score. Bear these things in mind when considering changes in individuals or differences between groups. Some assessments might be presented as fine and reliable assessments of risk but suffer as a result of poorly defined concepts and poorly constructed scales. For those interested in understanding measurement see Paul Kline’s work or Paul Barrett’s website: www.pbarrett.net

Here are summaries of some of the better known tools available.

Rapid Risk Assessment for Sex Offence Recidivism (RRASOR) 
(Hanson 1997)

This is essentially an actuarially based tool that weights a number of key variables in terms of their predictive utility. The initial seven items were based upon Hanson and Bussiere’s meta-analysis (1998), and subsequently four were substantiated as having predictive accuracy for sex offence recidivism:

  • the number of past sex offence convictions or charges (with additional weight given to sex offence history); 
  • age of the offender less than 25; 
  • unrelated to victim; and, 
  • gender of victim (Hanson 1997).

These variables can be scored to produce an overall risk weighting. The ability of the tool to distinguish between high and low risk has been validated with a distinction between an 80 per cent ‘low’ and ‘middle’ risk group and a 20 per cent high-risk group (Hanson, 1997; Grubin, 1998). It has been extensively tested both on the ‘developmental and validation samples’ achieving a ROC adjusted score of 0.71 (Hanson and Thornton, 2000).

The Structured Anchored Clinical Judgement (SACJ) 
(Grubin 1998)

Whilst this tool is clearly rooted in empirical research on sex offence recidivism, it seeks to avoid over-dependence upon static predictors (e.g. age, gender) and archival data (e.g. previous convictions). The tool has a somewhat more dynamic component to allow for changes in risk status over time, and operates as a three-stage ‘step-wise’ system rather than the ‘simple summation of weighted items’ (Hanson and Thornton 2000:121) with:

  • Stage One: initial actuarially based screening; 
  • Stage Two: a more in-depth analysis of aggravating factors; 
  • Stage Three: careful monitoring of offender performance over time to note the impact of treatment on risky dispositions.

The first stage is designed as an initial screening of ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ risk based upon five items:

  • a current sex offence 
  • a past conviction(s) for a sexual offence 
  • past convictions for non-sexual violence 
  • current non-sexual violent offences 
  • four or more previous convictions of any sort. (Hanson and Thornton, 2000:121). 

Four or more factors mean high-risk, two to three mean medium risk, and below this means low risk. Stage Two adds key dynamic factors (Hanson and Thornton, 2000:121):

  • any stranger victims; 
  • any male victims; 
  • never married; 
  • convictions for non-contact sex offences (e.g. obscene phone calls); 
  • substance abuse; 
  • placement in residential care as a child; 
  • deviant sexual arousal; and, 
  • psychopathy, a score of 25+ on the PCL-R.

If two or more of these factors are present then the risk category is increased by one category.

Stage Three considers in-depth clinical information on treatment response and progress, and improvement on dynamic risk factors. This stage was particularly developed to monitor progress on prison treatment programmes and has been less well evaluated than stages 1 and 2. In addition, stages 2 and 3 are heavily dependent upon the availability of clinical data and information on dynamic factors. To compensate for this difficulty, a shortened version of the SACJ using stage 1 and the first four variables of stage 2 and known as SACJ -MIN can be used (Hanson and Thornton, 2000). The SACJ-MIN has been validated on approximately 500 sex offenders released from HM Prisons in 1979 and subjected to a 16-year follow-up. In this sample, ‘the SACJ-MIN correlated 0.34 with sex offence recidivism and 0.30 with any sexual or violent recidivism’ although the tool has yet to be extensively tested outside the United Kingdom prison population (Hanson and Thornton, 2000:122). The SACJ has informed developments of other risk measures including Risk Matrix 2000 and the SARN (Structured Assessment of Risk and Need – Home Office).

Risk Matrix 2000 
(Hanson & Thornton 2000)

Since the comparison of three actuarial scales by Hanson and Thornton (2000) and the development of STATIC 99 for use in the UK and Canada, Thornton and Hanson have updated the risk assessment tool as Risk Matrix 2000 (RM2000), and this has been adopted by police and forensic services for assessing sex offender recidivism (Risk Assessment and Management of Sex Offenders Police Conference, Cheltenham, October 2000). Further developments have resulted in the Static 2002 details of which can be found here: 
or www.scotland.gov.uk/cru/resfinds/crf%2064.pdf

Hanson and Harris (1998; 2000) have completed further work on dynamic risk factors, distinguishing between acute and stable factors in a tool called the Sex Offender Need Assessment Rating (SONAR) to enable targeted risk management plans.

Sex Offender Need Assessment Rating (SONAR) 
(Developed from the Dynamic Prediction Project by Hanson and Harris 2000)

Measures Stable Dynamic Factors (over last year) and Acute Dynamic Factors (over last month). Results from using the SONAR suggest that dynamic factors are important in Risk Assessment. Even when there have been lower scores on the static risk assessment devices, there is a big difference in risk based on the dynamic factors. Whilst these are predominantly designed for use with Adult sex offenders, there are available assessments for use with Juvenile sex offenders that aim to adjust for the differences in the two offender categories (e.g. JSOAP below)

Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG) 
(Quinsey, Harris, Rice, Cormier, 1998)

Also developed at Pentaguishene Mental Health Centre, this 14 item instrument is a modification of the VRAG (Violence Risk Appraisal Guide) and is used to assess the risk of sexual recidivism of previously convicted sex offenders within a specific period of release. It also uses the clinical record as a basis for scoring and incorporates the PCL-R scores. The VRAG is not available as a stand-alone commercially available test but the current version is detailed in the text Violent Offenders, Appraising and Managing Risk (p.241) by Quinsey et al. (1998)

Sexual Violence Risk-20 (SVR-20) 
(Boer, Hart, Kropp, & Webster, 1997)

This is a 20 item guide for assessing violence risk in sex offenders. Eleven items deal with Psychosocial Adjustment, 7 with Sexual Offences and 2 with Future Plans. Scoring is based on a 0 (definitely not present), 1 (perhaps present), or 2 (definitely present) scale (similar to the Hare PCL-R). Little is currently known about its effectiveness as a predictive device. Its main current usefulness lies in its ability to help structure clinical assessments.

The Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol-II (JSOAP-II) 
(Prentky & Righthand 2003) see: http://www.csom.org/pubs/JSOAP.pdf

A checklist designed to guide the systematic review of risk factors associated with sexual offending among boys aged 12-18 years.

It contains 23 items representing 4 subscales Scale 
1: Sexual Drive/Sexual Preoccupation Scale 
2: Impulsive/Antisocial Behaviour Scale 
3: Clinical/Treatment Scale 
4: Community Adjustment

Estimate of Risk of Adolescent Sexual Offence Recidivism (ERASOR) 
(Worling & Curwen, 2001)

This checklist is designed for use with adolescents to aid clinical judgement about the level of risk It uses both static and dynamic factors that are empirically linked to sex offending: Historical sexual assaults; Sexual interests, Attitudes and behaviours; Psychosocial functioning; Family/Environmental functioning; and Treatment.



D1. How Do We Treat Sex Offenders?

Medical treatment

From a medical perspective sexual offending is often viewed as pathological in nature, with a biological basis. Some studies suggest that there is a biological component including disturbed sex steroids (Bradford 1990; Hucker & Bain 1990).
See section on biological explanations FAQ B1 (i)

Historically medical intervention were both invasive and ineffective. Drug treatments including anti-libidinals have been tried and are occasionally useful (Laschett 1972; Morey 1980). Emory, Cole & Meyer (1992) evaluated the use of Depo-Provera and concluded that the treatment radically lowered sexual interest, enabling better therapeutic engagement. Surgical techniques have also been used including castration and brain surgery (stereotaxic hypothalamotomy), but while these have had a direct impact on underlying sex drive, they are permanently damaging. The long-term effects of such treatment often contributes to the offender committing suicide or committing violent crime.

Medical treatments are generally only efficacious for a minority of sex offenders (Bradford 1990) and as such do not meet the needs of most sex offenders. Many sex offenders’ motives are non-sexual so simply reducing the libido may have little or no effect on offending behaviour. Findings that support this view come from a study that reviewed treatment outcome and concluded that comprehensive cognitive/behavioral programs (at least for child molesters, incest offenders, and exhibitionists in this particular study) are most likely to be effective when compared to medical intervention, although there is a clear value for the adjunctive use of antiandrogens with those offenders who engage in excessively high rates of sexual activities. Additionally it has been acknowledged that the combination of reducing anxiety and arousal, via medical methods, may be useful in making the patient more susceptible to psychological treatments (Coleman et al 1992; Emory et al 1992).

Treatment Programmes

Sexual offenders present with unique difficulties although often share many of the same underlying difficulties. Although some difficulties may be more prevalent in child molesters or rapists, the core issues underlying offending are present to varying degrees across types of sex offenders. Sex offending is not attributable to a single cause or motive. As such the range of treatments reflects the range of difficulties. In the UK sex offenders are ‘treated’ in a number of different ways, although the same issues are addressed. The largest ‘treater’ is the Prison Service which incorporates a Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) and evaluation (Beech, Becket, Fisher, 1998)

The range of difficulties identified in the literature includes the psychological treatment factors listed below. Many of these features are assessed psychometrically providing a means to identify the problem and assess any change.

Sex offenders typically have low self-esteem (related to childhood relationship difficulties) which a) makes engagement in therapy difficult, and b) is also a risk factor for sexual re-offending (Marshall et al (1996). This can be manifested in the offender being either cynical of others or self-denigrating.

Social skills deficits 
Child molesters typically have problems with social confidence and competence (Ward et al (1996). Rapists have been found to misinterpret a rebuff from a woman as a sign of positive interest in them (Lipton et al (1987), and to judge aggressive behaviour as more socially acceptable than either appropriate assertion or under-assertiveness (Marshall et al 1995).

Intimacy deficits 
Sexual offenders typically display deficiencies in their capacity for intimacy, resulting from poor childhood relationships with their parents, leading to emotional loneliness, lack of intimacy skills, and relationship difficulties. Often linked as they are to other problems such as distorted perceptions of other people and sexuality, and recourse to deviant sexual fantasies, intimacy deficits increase the risks of sexual re-offending (Marshall, 1989).

Empathy deficits 
Hudson et al (1993) identified four components of empathy: emotional recognition, perspective taking, compassionate emotional response, and taking action to comfort or help. In some studies rapists typically display difficulty recognising emotions in others, for example confusing anger, disgust, and fear, emotions likely to be present in sex offence victims (Marshall et al, 1995), and this confusion has been shown to be especially so for offenders who used most violence in their offences and who were not drunk at the time of the offence (Hanson & Scott,1995). Other research has suggested that child molesters’ and rapists’ empathy deficits can be limited to their own victims (Ward et al, 1997).

Cognitive distortions 
Ward et al (1997) describe how sexually aggressive behaviour is often facilitated and justified by distorted thinking. Cognitive distortions have been found in both sexual aggressors against adults (Bumby, 1996)) and children (Ward et al, 1995). Cognitive distortions can be a risk factor for offending and can also be reinforced by the offender’s need to justify his offending behaviour and reduce stress, shame, or guilt after the event.

Deviant sexual arousal 
The acquisition of deviant sexual interests and urges has been linked to early sexual and social experiences followed by the pairing of abusive and violent fantasies with repeated masturbation (MacCulloch et al, 1983; Burgess et al, 1986). Deviant sexual arousal has been shown to contribute to maintenance and escalation of some kinds of sexual offending, including paedophilic and sadistic offending, a) through escalation in the dangerousness of sexual fantasies and urges, and b) through its effect on limiting alternative, legal behaviours (Marshall & Barbaree, 1990; MacCulloch et al, 1983). Deviant sexual interest and preoccupation has been shown to be a key risk factor for sexual recidivism in long-term follow-up studies (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998).

Follow-Up Treatment in the Community -Relapse Prevention 
Most sex offender treatment programs, having targeted the above-mentioned ‘current functioning’ factors, include some form of relapse prevention. This typically focuses on a) the high-risk situations that the offender will be likely to encounter on returning to the community after imprisonment or hospitalisation, and b) his/her skills in recognising and handling these high-risk situations (see Laws) .

Most treatment programs for sex offenders that have been formally evaluated have been characterised by: 
1. The targeting within treatment sessions of empirically-based risk factors for sexual recidivism (eg Hanson & Bussiere, 1998). 
2.Inclusion of individualised assessments of offenders’ risk factors and needs based upon history, current functioning, analysis of offending behaviour and therapeutic engagement (Perkins, 1991; Marshall & Eccles, 1995). 
3. Treatments carried out in a group format within a cognitive-behavioural model, usually with individual therapy kept to a necessary minimum (Ward et al, 2000).

The literature on the assessment and treatment of mentally disordered sex offenders identifies the importance of attending to similar issues following stabilisation of psychosis (Craissati and Hodes, 1992).

Features of the more successful treatment programmes for sex offenders include:
1. Identification of deviant sexual arousal and preoccupation, which is then addressed by behavioural modification techniques and/or appropriate medication. 
2. The use of cognitive-behavioural techniques to increase motivation and to develop offence-reduction skills in the three key modalities of thinking, feeling and behaviour. 
3. The development of personally-relevant relapse prevention plans which are monitored and supported after return to the community (Marshall and Pithers, 1994); Marshall et al, 1999; Perkins et al, 1998).

Bumby, K.M. (1996) Assessing the cognitive distortions of child molesters and rapists: developments and validation of the molest and rape scales. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Volume 8, Pages 37-54.

Baker, E., & Beech, A.R. (2004). Dissociation and variability of adult attachment dimensions and early maladaptive schemas in sexual and violent offenders Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume 19, Pages 1119-1136.

Bickley, J.A., & Beech, A.R. (2002). An evaluation of Ward and Hudson’s self- regulation theory of the relapse process. Journal of Interpersonal Violence.Volume 17, Pages 372-393.

Hanson, K., & Scott, H. (1995) Assessing perspective taking among sexual offenders, non-sexual criminals and non-offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Volume 7, Pages 259-277.

Hudson, S.M., Marshall, W.L., Wales, D., McDonald, E., Bakker, L.W., & McLean, A. (1993) Emotional recognition skills of sex offenders. Annals of Sex Research, Volume 6, Pages 199-211.

Laws, R., Hudson, S., & Ward, T. (2000). Remaking Relapse Prevention with Sex Offenders. Sage: London.

Lipton, D.N., McDonel, E.C., & McFall, R.M. (1987) Heterosexual perception in rapists. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Volume 55, Pages 17-21.

Marshall, W.L. (1989) Intimacy, loneliness and sexual offenders. Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 27,Pages 491-503

Marshall, W.L. (1994) Poverty of bonding and deficiency in intimate relationships in the sexually aggressive. Criminologie, Volume 27, Issue 2, Pages 55-69.

Marshall, W.L. (1996) Assessment, treatment and theorising about sex offenders: developments during the past twenty years and future directions. Criminal Justice and Behaviour, Volume 23, Pages 162-199.

Marshall, W.L., Anderson, D., & Champayne, F. (1996) The importance of self-esteem in sexual offenders. Psychology, Crime, Law, Volume 3, Pages 81-106.

Marshall, W.L., Anderson, D., & Fernandez, Y. (1999) Cognitive Behavioural Treatment of Sexual Offenders. Chichester: Wiley.

Marshall, W.L., & Eccles, A. (1995) Cognitive-behavioural treatment of sex offenders. in VMB Hasselt and M Hersen (eds) Sourcebook of Psychological Treatment Manuals for Adult Disorders. New York: Plenum.


D2. What Is The Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP)

SOTP refers to the treatment programs offered in prisons to try and reduce recidivism. These programmes aim to help participants develop the skills and appropriate attitudes to lead a personally satisfying life that does not involve re-offending. This includes enhanced victim empathy, more trusting attitudes towards others, better skills in coping with personal problems and a clearer idea of how to achieve healthy intimacy including sexual intimacy (see Beech & Fisher ????; Beckett & Scott-Fordham, 1998)

The British Sex Offender Treatment Programme

The largest ‘treater’ is the Prison Service which incorporates a Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) and evaluation (Beech, Becket, Fisher, 1999). The British Prison Service has, over the last ten years, led the way in developing group-based treatment programmes for sex offenders aimed at reducing recidivism (Thornton and Hogue, 1993), and this has led to the development of a national Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP), which is now the largest of its kind in the world. The latest figures indicate that the programme includes approximately 600 offenders a year. The Prison Offending Behaviour Programmes Unit (OBPU), which manages the SOTP, has approached these issues by establishing 10 criteria for treatment programme accreditation which it applies to its own Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP). These comprise the following: 
1. An explicit, empirically-based model of change, drawing from the relevant literature. 
2. Interventions which target criminogenic need. 
3. Treatment methods to which offenders in the programme will be responsive, e.g. which engage their active participation. 
4. Treatment methods which have been shown to be effective with the types of offenders in the programme. 
5. Treatment methods which provide offenders with skills needed to avoid future offending. 
6. A range of treatment targets that are relevant to avoiding future offending. 
7. An amount, intensity and sequencing of treatment (“dose”) appropriate to the seriousness and persistence of offending behaviour. 
8. Appropriate arrangements for future through care including reports of treatment impact and future risk 
9. Ongoing monitoring of staff selection, training and support, treatment integrity and delivery. 
10. Ongoing evaluation of treatment impact on offenders and staff, and long term effects on recidivism. 
These requirements are managed by a series of audits and insepctions which are overseen by a specially constituted international panel of experts.

Beech, A., Fisher, D. & Beckett, R.(1999). STEP 3: An evaluation of the prison sex offender treatment programme. London: HMSO.

For a summary of recent findings


D3. Does Sex Offender Treatment Work ?

The Home Office have evaluated the Prison Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP). Specifically it looked at the effect of this programme on offenders readiness to admit to offensive behaviour, pro-offending attitudes, social competence and their knowledge of relapse avoidance techniques. These findings are confined to men who abused children.

Key Findings 
• Programmes were successful in increasing the level of child abusers admittance of offending behaviour. 
• Pro-offending attitudes, such as thoughts about having sexual contact with children, were reduced as were levels of denial of the impact that sexual abuse has had upon victims. 
• Overall the programmes were successful at increasing levels of social competence.
• Of the sample, 67% (53 out of 77 men) were judged to have shown a treatment effect – e.g.,there were significant changes in all or some of the main areas targeted.
• Longer-term treatment (about 160 hours) produced results which held up better after release than short term therapy (about 80 hours), particularly for highly deviant offenders. 
• It must be remembered that as sex offenders are a heterogeneous group treatment efficacy is going to vary this was outlined by in Beech et al’s study (1998) indicating that low deviancy offenders required the lesser treatment time of 80 hours whereas the high deviancy offenders responded better to the 160 hours of treatment.

Becker, J.V., & Murphy, W.D. (1998) What We Know and Do Not Know About Assessing and Treating Sex Offenders. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Volume 4, Issues 1-2, Pages 116-137

Beech, A., Fisher, D. & Beckett, R.(1999). STEP 3: An evaluation of the prison sex offender treatment programme. London: HMSO.

Beech, A., Fisher, D., Beckett, R. & Scott-Fordham A. (1998). An evaluation of the prison sex offender treatment programme. Home Office Research Findings No.79. 1998.) 

Chaffin, M. (1992) Factors associated with treatment completion and progress among intrafamilial sexual abusers. Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 16, Issue 2,Pages 251-264

Covell, C.N., & Scalora, M.J. (2002) Empathic deficits in sexual offenders: An integration of affective, social, and cognitive constructs. Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 7, Issue 3, Pages 251-270.

Craissati, J. & McClurg, G. (1997) The Challenge Project: A treatment program evaluation for perpetrators of child sexual abuse Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 21, Issue 7, Pages 637-648

Epps, K.J. (1994) Treating adolescent sex offenders in secure conditions: the experience at Glenthorne Centre. Journal of Adolescence, Volume 17, Issue 2,Pages 105-122

Gerber, J. (1994) The use of art therapy in juvenile sex offender specific treatment The Arts in Psychotherapy, Volume 21, Issue 5,Pages 367-374

Grubin, D. (1996) Sexual offenders: treatment, punishment or both? European Psychiatry, Volume 11, Supplement 4, Page 213s.

Hanson, K., Broom, I., & Stephenson, M. (2004) Evaluating Community Sex Offender Treatment Programs: A 12-Year Follow-Up of 724 Offenders. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Volume 36, Issue 2, Pages 87-96

Marshall, W. L., Jones, R., Ward, T., Johnston, P., & Barbaree H. E. (1991) Treatment outcome with sex offenders Clinical Psychology Review Volume 11, Issue 4 , Pages 465-485.

Marshall, W. L. (1994) Treatment effects on denial and minimization in incarcerated sex offenders. Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 32, Issue 5,Pages 559-564.

O’Donohue, W., & Letourneau, E. (1993) A brief group treatment for the modification of denial in child sexual abusers: Outcome and follow-up Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 17, Issue 2, Pages 299-304.

Perkins, D., Hammond, S. Coles, D & Bishopp, D. (1998). Review of Sex Offender Treatment Programmes. Report prepared for High Security Psychiatric Services Commissioning Board. 

Polaschek, D.L.L. (2003) Relapse Prevention, Offense Process Models, and the Treatment of Sexual Offenders. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Volume 34, Issue 4, Pages 361-367.

Tierney, D.W., & McCabe, M.P. (2002) Motivation for behavior change among sex offenders: A review of the literature. Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 22, Issue 1, Pages 113-129

Ward, T. (2002) Good lives and the rehabilitation of offenders: Promises and problems Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 7, Issue 5, Pages 513-528

Ward, A., & Stewart, C.A. (2003) The Treatment of Sex Offenders: Risk Management and Good Lives. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Volume 34, Issue 4, Pages 353-360



D4. How Can We Assess And Treat Sexual Deviance?

Self-reports of sexual interest and preference have been shown to be unreliable in sex offender populations. Abel et al (1985) for example found a 70% discrepancy between reported sexual interest and sexual preferences as determined by penile plethysmography (PPG) assessments. Early work on the treatment of sex offenders focused on assessing and, where it was present, attempting to modify the offender’s deviant sexual interests on the rationale that this would reduce the probability of sexual offending. Methods for this purpose were directed towards a) suppressing deviant/illegal sexual interests through, for example, aversion therapy, covert sensitisation and satiation, and/or b) enhancing non-deviant/legal sexual interests, through, for example, orgasmic reconditioning, shaping, and systematic desensitisation of anxieties about adult sexuality. Maletzky (1991) provides a compendium of such behavioural techniques.

Sexual preference modification techniques on their own proved to be unsuccessful in sustaining reductions in offending behaviour. Therapeutic approaches over the last thirty years have expanded to include techniques aimed at developing acceptance of responsibility for offending, increasing self-esteem, improving social skills and sexual knowledge, reducing cognitive distortions and minimisations of offending, enhancing awareness of and empathy for victims, as well as dealing with unresolved issues from childhood/ adolescence which contributed to the development of sexual offending behaviour (Marshall et al, 1999).

Sex offender follow-up studies have highlighted the importance of sexual deviance as a predictor of sexual recidivism. Marshall et al (1999) draw attention to the ways in which the different risk factors that contribute to sexual offending can interact with each other, for example, low victim empathy can contribute to cognitive distortions about offending, and cognitive distortions can facilitate the development of violent sexual fantasies. It follows that treatment of one risk factor might influence others, for example Marshall et al (1999) suggest that enhancing sex offenders self-esteem can lead to decreases in deviant sexual fantasies and interest, even though the latter has not been directly targeted by treatment. A review of the effectiveness of sex offender treatment programmes (Perkins et al, 1998) indicated that the two approaches that showed most promise in the reduction of sexual deviance, where this was a risk factor relevant in the maintenance of sexual offending, were either behaviour modification techniques or anti-libidinal medication. In summary, deviant sexual interests, where present, should be directly targeted in treatment, along with other relevant risk factors, and monitored by a combination of self-report, psychometric, PPG, and behavioural observation data.

References and Resources 
Abel, G.G., Mittelman, M.S., & Becker, J.V. (1985) Sexual offenders: results of assessment and recommendations for treatment. in MH Ben-Aron and CD Webster (eds) Clinical Criminology: The Assessment and Treatment of Criminal Behaviour. Toronto: M&M Graphic, 191-205.

Araji, S., and Finkelhor, D. (1986) Abusers: a Review of the Research. in D Finkelhor (ed) A

Becker, J.V. (1992) Sexual deviance. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, Volume 5, Issue 6 Pages 788-791.

Burk, L.R., & Burkhart, B.R. (2003) Disorganized attachment as a diathesis for sexual deviance – Developmental experience and the motivation for sexual offending. Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume 8, Issue 5, Pages 487-511.

Earls, C.M. (1983) Some issues in the assessment of sexual deviance. International journal of law and psychiatry, Volume 6, Issue 3-4, Pages 431-41.

French, L. (1991) A practitioner’s notes on treating sexual deviance. Psychological reports, Volume 68, Issue 3, Part 2, Pages 1195-8

Grubin, D. (1991) Sexual deviance. Current Opinion in Psychiatry Volume 4, Issue 6, Pages 846-849.

Hildebrand-Martin, de-Ruiter-Corine, de-Vogel-Vivienne (2004). Psychopathy and sexual deviance in treated rapists: association with sexual and nonsexual recidivism. Sexual abuse, Volume 16, Issue 1, Pages 1-24,

Hunter, J.A., & Mathews, R. (1997) Sexual deviance in females. Sexual deviance: Theory, assessment, and treatment, Laws-D-Richard (E) , O’Donohue-William-T (), 1997, p. 465-480 (xii 514 pages), US: Guilford Press, New York, NY.

Jackson A., Veneziano L., & Riggen K. (2004).Sexual deviance among male college students: prior deviance as an explanation. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume 19, Issue 1, Pages 72-89.

Lalumière, M.L., & Quinsey, V.L. (1996) Sexual deviance, antisociality, mating effort, and the use of sexually coercive behaviors. Personality & Individual Differences, Volume 21, Issue 1, Pages 33-48.

Laws, D.R., & O-Donohue, W. (1997) Sexual deviance: theory, assessment, and treatment. Guilford Press.

Maletzky, B.M. (1991) Treating the Sexual Offender. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Marshall, W.L., Eccles, A., & Barbaree, H.E. (1991) The treatment of exhibitionists: A focus on sexual deviance versus cognitive and relationship features. Behaviour Research and Therapy Volume 29 Issue 2 Pages 129-135.

Marshall, W.L., Hudson, S.M., & Ward, T. (1992) Sexual deviance. Principles and practice of relapse prevention, Wilson-Peter-H (E), 1992, p. 235-254 (xi 383 pages), US: Guilford Press, New York, NY..

Marshall, W.L., Anderson, D., & Fernandez, Y. (1999) Cognitive Behavioural Treatment of Sex Offenders. Chichester: Wiley. i) chs 4, 5, 6, and 7; ii) 84-86 and 64-68; iii) 124-126.

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