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Models and typologies of identified offenders of child sexual abuse

Models and typologies of identified offenders of child sexual abuse Even though there are important differences between identified and unidentified offenders, studies on identified offenders remain useful. One of the most important sets of literature on identified offenders is that which allows us to understand why they abuse, and especially to understand why certain individuals abuse, even though others with similar characteristics do not. Several models and typologies that conceptualize the motivations of offenders have been developed. Another similar set of literature has attempted to categorize offenders into discrete groups. The first well-known model to be developed divided offenders into those who were fixated (those with a primary sexual orientation towards children) and those who were regressed (those with a primary sexual orientation towards peers or adults) (Groth, 1978; Groth & Birnbaum, 1978). Another popular method of dividing offenders is by whether they are intrafamilial or extrafamilial offenders (i.e., incest offenders or child molesters) (Becker, 1994). The empirical literature, however, has found that neither of these models adequately distinguish groups of offenders (Becker, 1994; Simon, Sales, Kaszniak, & Kahn, 1992). Another early model of sexual offending—the four-preconditions model—was developed by Finkelhor (1984). This was a different type of model because it focused on four preconditions in child molesters that were hypothesized to precede the abuse. These preconditions are as follows: the potential offender has to (a) be motivated; (b) overcome internal inhibitions; (c) overcome external impediments; and (d) undermine or overcome the child’s resistance. Motivations considered in this model are emotional congruence between the child and adult, sexual arousal to children, and blockages such as limited social skills that interfere with appropriate adult relationships. In this model, individuals abuse only when all preconditions are present. Of importance, this model was the first to consider motivating factors for the abuse. Another important contribution of this widely used model is that it recognized the importance of disinhibitors. Two other models are more truly typologies (i.e., they classify offenders into discrete groups). The first, by Hall and Hirschman (1992), groups offenders by their primary motivation to offend. The second, by Knight, Carter, and Prentky (1989), is much more complex but also categorizes offenders based upon factors that at least partially reflect the offenders’ motivations for abuse. Quadripartite model: Hall and Hirschman’s (1991, 1992) quadripartite model hypothesizes that sexual offenders, including both rapists and child molesters, can be grouped into one of four groups based upon their motivation for the abuse. These motivations are as follows. (a) Offenders motivated by physiological factors offend primarily because they seek sexual gratification, although they may or may not exhibit high levels of sexual arousal to the targeted age group. There is a tendency for sexual arousal to become associated with aggressive behavior, with that aggressive behavior itself becoming sexually arousing. Violence is more likely to occur in offenders in which this pairing of aggression and sexual arousal occurs. Another characteristic of this subtype is multiple victims. (b) The second motivator, cognitive factors, may be present in most abuse situations because the offender often appraises threats and benefits to determine whether the risk is worth the encounter. What distinguishes this group, however, is that the offender is motivated by cognitive distortions such as perceiving some type of justification for offending or having negative perceptions of women. Generally, this type of offender lacks sexual or general impulsivity. (c) The third group, motivated by an affective state, tends to exhibit affective dyscontrol in which affective states such as depression become so powerful that they overcome other inhibitions to abuse. For this group, sexual aggression tends to be opportunistic, unplanned, violent, and predatory. Affect disinhibitors such as alcohol or stress are more likely to be determinants for offenders in this category. (d) The final category, personality factors, contains offenders with chronic impairment affecting many functional domains, including intellectual impairment, family conflicts, poor social skills, chronic substance abuse, poor adult adjustment, significant impulse dyscontrol, and general antisocial activity. Early experiences may create lasting personality deficits that increase the likelihood of later sexual aggression. This group may also engage in other types of criminal activities. These offenders abuse violently and over the greatest length of time and have the poorest prognosis for rehabilitation. Hall and Hirschman (1991) recognize that multiple motivations may exist for any given offender. The primary motivational theme (i.e., the most potent motivator) determines the category into which the offender is assigned. Motivational factors reflecting different categories may also combine to substantially increase the risk that the person will offend. An important advantage of this model is that it is multicausal. A disadvantage, however, is that it has not been empirically tested and does not recognize environmental issues such as the sociocultural context of sexual abuse. Another disadvantage is that it combines child molesters and rapists. Although there are often overlaps between child molesters and rapists, Knight and Prentky (1990) found that research does not support a single typology for both types of offenders. Massachusetts Treatment Center—Child Molester Typology: One of the most sophisticated typologies of offenders is that by Knight, Carter, and Prentky (1989) of the Massachusetts Treatment Center. Using both inductive and deductive processes, they developed a classification system for sexual offenders over a 10- to 15-year period. This typology attempts “to find naturally occurring homogeneous groups on the basis of offenders’ similarities and differences on a specific set of attributes” (Knight & Prentky, 1990, p. 27), that is, to find consistent theory-driven organizing structures underlying the characteristics of offenders of child sexual abuse. The typology is multidimensional and hierarchical, suggesting that multiple characteristics need to be considered and that characteristics might overlap among groups. Although fairly complex, it has been shown to be reliable. Unlike other typologies, this method scores nonincestuous child molesters on two axes—the degree of sexual fixation to the child and the amount of contact the offender has with the child (Knight & Prentky, 1990). In turn, both high- and lowfixation offenders can be either high or low in social competence. Thus, Knight and Prentky found that social skills and sexual fixation towards children are some of the important discriminators among child molesters. The dimension measuring high and low contact is somewhat more complex. High contact offenders can have either an interpersonal or narcissistic orientation towards their victims. Low contact offenders, however, are first divided by the severity of physical injury and then by whether the offense is sadistic. Offenders are rated on both continua. One advantage of this system lies in the rigor of its empirical analysis, which exceeds that of any other typology. Another advantage is that offender groups appear to have different developmental pathways. For example, Prentky et al. (1989) found that family-of-origin pathology was related to greater alcohol abuse and schoolrelated acting out behavior, both of which were then related to higher levels of sexual fixation and contact. The most important disadvantage of the model lies in its complexity. Another significant drawback is that because it was developed using nonincestuous child molesters who were committed, its relevance to other offenders, especially juvenile and incest offenders, cannot be determined.

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