Sex Offenders

For decades, modern society has attempted to address the crime of sexual abuse. We have enacted laws, promoted community education, increased awareness of sexual violence, and expanded treatment opportunities for victims and offenders. Professionals, advocates, and caring laypeople have contributed countless hours of effort to bring this issue to the forefront of legislation and to reduce its associated stigma.

Unfortunately, the sexual abuse of adults in general, and children in particular, continues to be rampant, vastly underreported, and devastatingly tragic for the victim. The effects of sexual abuse resonate from victim, to family, to the workplace, and continues to weave its way through the fabric of our communities. As we continue our efforts to reduce the prevalence and incidence of sexual abuse, we must examine those who commit this most heinous of crimes if we are to effectively eradicate the culture of silence and shame that surrounds this issue.

Who are sex offenders?

To address this questions adequately, we must first quell some basic misconceptions about sex offenders. The term “sex offender” has typically conjured images of the “dirty old man” we may see on street corners, intoxicated, dressed in tattered clothing, holding a bag of candy, and smiling a toothless grin. Sometimes, we imagine him as the neighbor down the street–alone, reclusive, and rumored to be “insane”.

Realistically, sex offenders widely vary in their appearance, age, personality, race, type and specific characteristics of offense committed (e.g. whether physical violence was exercised), type of victim, sexual preference, religious preference, economic class, employment status, and education. The sex offender may be a close relative, friend, or acquaintance. Current statistics generally dispel the myth that most sexual offenses are committed by a perpetrator who is a stranger to the victim. The fact is, approximately 80% of sex offenders are individuals who are known to the victim. Additionally, females can and have committed sexual offenses.

We mistakenly believe that sex offenders are easily identifiable, thus lulling us into a false sense of security. Perpetuating stereotypic beliefs about sex offenders is dangerous to society in general and to our children, in particular.

Should we assume all sex offenders are mentally-ill?

I am confident most of us would agree that a sex offenders’ behavior is criminal, anti-social, and morally reprehensible. Is it accurate, however, to assert that all sex offenders are “sick” or mentally-ill? Whether sex offenders may, indeed, be classified as mentally-ill has been the subject of clinical observation and debate for years. Most clinical research to date concludes that sex offenders do not typically suffer from a major mental illness. Sex crimes are sometimes committed by persons who have psychotic illnesses. “Such illnesses may in some cases be a contributory factor to the sexual offense, may compound an existing sexual abuse problem, or create a higher risk for the individual who behaves this way” (Honey-Knopp, 1984). Therefore, it is critical to understand that, in general, if a sex offender suffers from a major mental illness, the offending behavior is present in addition to, not because of the existing mental illness. We must be careful when describing sex offenders as “sick” or “mentally-ill”, so as to avoid implying that the offender has an excuse for his behavior.

The following list provides a general description of characteristics commonly shared by many sex offenders. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it intended to typify all sex offenders, as there is no “typical” sex offender.

  • Low self-esteem/self worth.
  • Sexually abused as a child, or from a family of violence. NOTE: While some studies have shown that many offenders were, themselves, victimized in childhood, many were not. The answer as to why some victims become offenders, while others do not remains a mystery.
  • Poor anger control–difficulty appropriately regulating angry feelings.
  • Lonely, few friends or few substantive relationships.
  • If married, marital relationship is typically shallow
  • Impoverished emotional experiences
  • Many pedophiles view children as “equal” to adults, with same abilities and responsibilities.
  • Controlling or dominating in relationships.
  • Low frustration tolerance.
  • Problems with boredom and depression.
  • Deviant sexual fantasies.
  • Master of denial.
  • Minimizes impact of offending behavior upon the victim.
  • Lack of empathy
  • Substance abuser–NOTE: While some sex offenders report a history of substance abuse or dependence, substance use should NEVER be used as an excuse for the offending behavior. If the offender was using drugs/alcohol while committing the offense, the substance merely provided the courage for the offender to engage in an offense that he had already decided to commit.
  • Impulsive
  • Poor insight

TYPES OF RAPISTS/OFFENDERS

There is no “typical” sex offender. The following list is not exhaustive and is intended to provide general information as to a sex offenders’ motivation.

Anger Rapist
The motivation for this type of rapist is pay-back for an argument (not with the victim), an imagined wrong, or other stressor that leaves the rapist feeling the need for revenge. The rape is often impulsive, physically violent, and misdirected toward a random, vulnerable victim. As in all rapes, sex is the weapon used by the anger rapist, and the rape is an expression of his rage. The anger rapist may consider sex an offensive act and is a way to degrade and humiliate the victim. The rapist experiences satisfaction/relief once his anger has been discharged through the rape. Many anger rapists have a history of violence–domestic violence and/or a history of criminal behavior involving assault.
Power Rapist
The power rapist’s motivation lies in his deep feelings of insecurity. He rapes to compensate for feelings of inadequacy by controlling his victim. The power rapist typically does not want to physically harm the victim. Rather, he wants to possess his victim sexually. Weapons and/or threats are often used by the power rapist to force the victim into sexual intercourse. The power rapist may have fantasies in which his victim initially resists, but eventually becomes aroused and submits to the rape. The rape never meets his expectations, so the power rapist will continue to rape until he finds the “right” victim. Confirmation of his manhood is a strong motive for the power rapist–he needs to believe the victim wanted and enjoyed the rape.
Sadistic Rapist
The sadistic rapist seeks punishment and/or revenge. Satisfaction is attained through the use of violence, degradation, humiliation and cruelty. The rape often incorporates bondage, torture, and/or some type of bizarre or ritualistic quality. The rape itself does not always involve the offender’s sexual organs. He may use some other object to penetrate the victim. The sadistic rapists’ victims frequently share common characteristics (age, appearance, etc.) and reflect something the rapist wants to punish or destroy. The rape itself is calculated, deliberate, and premeditated. Sadistic rapists often murder or sexually mutilate their victims. The sadistic rapist is full of hatred and the need to control.
Juvenile Sex Offender
Like the adult rapist, the juvenile sex offender’s motivation is typically to express anger and/or assert power over his victim. His behavioral profile may include frequent problems in school (e.g., low grades, truancy), alcohol or other drug use, and may have a history of anti-social behavior. Victims of juvenile sex offenders may be either male or female and the assault usually involves a victim known to the assailant.
Sexual assaults perpetrated by juvenile offenders are typically identical to offenses committed by adults with respect to choice of victim and pattern of assault.
Early intervention is a strong determinant to successfully treating the juvenile offender.
Female Offender
Yes, females can be sexual offenders. Contrary to popular belief, gender does not preclude a female from engaging in criminal sexual behavior. Women may sexually assault other women or men. While most reported cases of sexual abuse involve a male perpetrator, women also sexually abuse children.

Myths about sex offenders
Myth: “Castration would solve the sex-offender-problem.”
Fact: Rapists act out of anger, rage, and fear. They will continue to find ways to inappropriately act on these feelings, even if they are castrated. While sex is the weapon used in an act of pure violence, rape is more about what’s inside the mind of the offender, rather than what is between his legs.

Myth: “Offenders are unintelligent.”
Fact: Most sex offenders are actually quite intelligent. A sex offenders’ behavior has little to do with intelligence. A sex offender acts in response to stress. His inability to appropriately manage stress is a primary factor in his offending behavior.

Myth: “He just has trouble controlling his sex drive”
Fact: Rape is an expression of anger, fear, rage– not sexual desire. A sex offender chooses to violate his victims.

Sexual assault and rape continues in today’s society because of the many myths that are still believed and perpetuated. One way to stop this crime from continuing is to promote education regarding what rape and sexual assault is and what myths we may unconsciously accept as part of our belief system. Sexual abuse will be used as a generic phrase for all of these myths, but remember that rape, date rape, incest, molestation, and sexual assault can replace the more generic phrase.

MYTH: Sexual abuse can be justified under certain circumstances.
FACT: Sexual abuse is never justified. Under no circumstance does anyone have the right to abuse some one sexually.

MYTH: Most rapes involve a perpetrator who is a stranger to the victim.
FACT: More than 60% of all rapes are acquaintance rapes, that is, the perpetrator and the victim are, in some way, acquainted with one another. Statistics are predominantly derived from “stranger” rapes which are more likely to be reported to law enforcement officials.

MYTH: It isn’t sexual abuse if the victim is intoxicated/unconscious/dressed provocatively/invited her date into her home/a woman.
FACT: If the victim is unwilling to have sex, and is forced or coerced into having sex, it is sexual abuse (rape). Consent by both parties must be present for it to be a mutual sexual encounter. If the victim is intoxicated (either by alcohol or drugs) or is mentally handicapped she/he is, by law, unable or incapable of providing consent.

MYTH: Rape is about sex.
FACT: Sex is the weapon used in a crime of pure violence.

MYTH: Sexual abuse is always violent.
FACT: Sexual abuse in itself is a violent crime, but it does not necessarily have to be inflicted violently. Many perpetrators do not use a weapon, such as a knife, gun, etc., –the perpetrator’s body is the weapon that is most often used. Many victims of incest receive “loving” touches when the perpetrator is violating them sexually. The victim may choose to submit to the perpetrator, however, this happens because the victim genuinely believes that his/her life is in danger. Remember: submission does not equal consent.

MYTH: Females cannot be abusers.
FACT: Women are, quite often, the perpetrators in incidents of incest or child sexual abuse, as well as sexual abuse of other adults. Even though male sexual assault stats are low, it does happen. Imagine how hard it must be for a male to admit he was abused, when so many women will not even report it.

MYTH: Rape is rare. The actual number of women who are raped is small.
FACT: Rape is the fastest growing violent crime in the country and less than 15% of all rapes are reported to law enforcement.

MYTH: If women would stay at home, they would not be raped.
FACT: The most frequent place of occurrence is in the victim’s home.

MYTH: Sexual abuse never involves pleasure for the victim.
FACT: Many survivors of incest and childhood sexual abuse express feelings of shame or guilt because they received some form of enjoyment from their experience. It may have been the only affection they received from the perpetrator, who is often a trusted parent, family member, or caregiver. The body naturally responds to physical touch. The pleasure experienced, however, does not make it right. The victims have been horribly violated, and they did not choose to have someone they trust sexually violate them.

MYTH: It is not sexual abuse if the victim consented.
FACT: If a person is not capable of knowing what they are getting into, they have not consented (drunk/drugged/mentally handicapped/ underage of consent…) The victim may also choose to submit to the abuse in order to protect their life or the life of someone in their family. Can it really be consent when the edge of a knife is pushed up against your throat??

MYTH: You cannot be sexually abused if you are married.
FACT: Spouses are not excluded from being abused. If your spouse is pressuring you to have sex, and you have made it clear that you do not want to, but he forces you anyway, it is rape. It does not matter if you have not had sexual relations in weeks, or if he has had a bad day or if he is drunk. If one really loves and honors his spouse, why would he ignore your wishes??

MYTH: If a sexual crime is not successfully prosecuted in a court of law, then it never happened.
FACT: The unfortunate truth is that our legal system is imperfect. If the case reaches court, and the jury finds him not guilty, it just means that the state could not prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It does not mean that the rape/assault never happened.

MYTH: It could NEVER happen to me.
FACT: Yes it could. No matter who you are it can happen to you. Unfortunately, you can be raped, you can be assaulted and stating otherwise only provides you with a false sense of security which actually renders you more vulnerable. If someone intends to harm/abuse you, they can do it, and it does not matter whether they are a stranger or a friend.

MYTH: Women who get sexually abused while hitchhiking get what they deserve.
FACT: Poor judgment is never a rapeable offense.

MYTH: Many women fantasize about being raped and secretly want to be sexually abused.
FACT: No one wants to be abused, no one wants to be hurt and have their power taken away.

MYTH: Sexual abuse cases most often involve a victim who is described as promiscuous or has a bad reputation.
FACT: The majority of victims of sex crimes do not have a bad reputation. Many are children, pre-teens, and young adults who have never had sexual relations. Others are the elderly who have been abused by caretakers either in long-term care units or by those who come into their homes under the pretense of helping them.

MYTH: Most rapes involve an attacker and victim of different races.
FACT: as is true for most violent crimes, 75% of all rapes involve persons of the same race.

MYTH: If a girl engages in necking or petting and she lets things get out of hand, it is her own fault.
FACT: The fact is, sexual assault is always perpetrator’s fault. The inherent message promoted by this myth is that the victim is responsible for the behavior of the perpetrator. If both parties agreed on the necking and she has told her partner that she does not want to have sex, it is the other person’s responsibility to respect her choice. By the same token, a girl can pressure her partner into things that he may not want to do either. In all relationships we need to learn to listen to our partner’s wishes and respect them.

MYTH: Most rapists are men who have uncontrollable urges or who are psychopaths.
FACT: Most rapists are considered well adjusted, not mentally ill, and have a greater tendency than normal to express frustration and rage through violence. Do not expect a rapist to be a “marked man” with particular identifiable characteristics–he may very well be your neighbor, co-worker, or even a family member. If we describe rapists as “mentally ill” or “sick” then the implication is that the offender has an excuse for his behavior or that he did not have a choice but to sexually abuse the victim.

MYTH: Most rape reports are false.
FACT: Less than 2% of all reported rapes turn out to be false reports. Children who reveal that they are being sexually abused are almost NEVER lying.

Does Treatment Work?
This question cannot be answered absolutely. However, clinical research over the past decade has yielded some encouraging results regarding treatment effectiveness in reducing offenders’ rates of recidivism. Due to the plethora of information regarding the treatment of sex offenders, we cannot adequately address this topic here. To obtain more information on this subject, go to any major search engine on the internet and do a keyword search (“Sex Offender Treatment”). Please review research studies with caution, as many studies are poorly conducted and lack essential validity and reliability.

What we can say about the clinical treatment of sex offenders is that an effective treatment program must include the following elements:

  • Statement of responsibility for the offending behavior–the offender must be able to make such statements as “I did….” and not refer to the offense as “it happened”. Ownership of the offense is critical.
  • Denial deconstruction–sex offenders are masters of denial and breaking through this denial can take months once treatment has begun.
  • Behavioral description of the behavior–written by the offender
  • Empathy development/enhancement
  • Identification of cognitive distortions–offenders engage in thought distortions in an attempt to justify their behavior and must learn to identify cognitive distortions in their cycle of abuse.
  • Drug/alcohol treatment, as needed
  • Identification of risk factors for sexual abuse–TRIGGERS
  • Coping responses to stress
  • Anger management
  • Education on human sexuality
  • Specific skill building (e.g., social, interpersonal, communication, living, academic–as needed)
  • Comprehensive relapse prevention plan

…AND PLEASE REMEMBER…

  • Treatment should never be used in lieu of incarceration where indicated. Treatment must be viewed as an essential complement to incarceration and/or probation/parole.
  • Treatment does not eradicate the offender’s behavior. Treatment can help the offender control his behavior.
  • Treatment must be long-term with follow-up.

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