Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Sexual Arousal to Children

Sexual Arousal to Children Historically it was thought that offenders abused primarily because they were sexually aroused to children. More specifically, it was thought that offenders could be divided by whether they had a primary preference to younger or older children and whether they preferred male or female children (Knight, 1992). Findings, however, are not as clear. Many studies have now used penile tumescence to measure sexual arousal of perpetrators to victims across age groups and gender. A review of such studies concluded that while many have methodological problems, there is considerable consistency among findings (O’Donohue & Letourneau, 1992). Studies have been able to distinguish fairly clearly between self-admitted child molesters (i.e., those offenders who abuse outside the family) and control groups, with child molesters showing more sexual arousal to children. These studies correctly identify between 80% and 96% of perpetrators. Differentiating nonadmitters (i.e., those who do not admit to the offense) from control groups, however, is more difficult, and success rates are no greater than chance alone, Findings are mixed when distinguishing child molesters from other types of sexual offenders such as rapists or exhibitionists. Penile tumescence measurements have also been less reliable in differentiating incest offenders from pedophiles. The most important explanation for these varied findings may be that many perpetrators engage in multiple paraphilic acts across age groups, thus exhibiting more than one arousal pattern. In a sample of unidentified sex offenders who had assurances of confidentiality and immunity, Abel et al. (1988b) found that a wide range of sexually deviant behaviors was fairly normal. Of the 192 offenders against children or adolescents entering treatment, 45% targeted both male and female victims, 44% offended both intrafamilially and extrafamilially, and 59% abused both children and adolescents. Another study on this population found that 49% of incest offenders abused female children outside of the home, 12% abused male children outside of the home, and 19% raped adult women (Abel et al., 1988a). A significant minority were also involved in exhibitionism, voyeurism, sadism, an

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