We all know that many people in the general public have difficulties managing certain emotions at times, and many of us can and do act in impulsive ways occasionally. It also seems logical that cognitive distortions would be related to continued offending. In fact, even though there are some characteristics that many sex offenders share, it appears that there may be more variability—and potential for differences—within the sex offender population overall than there are sweeping similarities. And some, but not all, of these characteristics also predict reoffending among known sex offenders. Or that the typical rapist is a masked knife—wielding man lurking in a dark alley or hiding behind a bush waiting to jump out and grab an unsuspecting woman who is passing by. Put simply, the process of using cognitive distortions is not unique to sex offenders. But in and of itself, there is no research that supports the notion that it actually causes sex offending. Why or why not?
For example, law enforcement agents may have the expectation that if there is a profile of the typical sex offender, it might be easier to identify suspects when incidents of sexual assault are reported and the perpetrators have not yet been caught. But in and of itself, there is no research that supports the notion that it actually causes sex offending. And some, but not all, of these characteristics also predict reoffending among known sex offenders. Because these types of interests, urges, arousal, or even preferences can be so strong, it is believed that they are a significant driving force behind the initial onset of sexually abusive behaviors for some sex offenders. In fact, even though there are some characteristics that many sex offenders share, it appears that there may be more variability—and potential for differences—within the sex offender population overall than there are sweeping similarities. But because these characteristics have been found in samples of sex offenders, experts believe that they may somehow be related to why individuals begin engaging in sexually abusive behavior, particularly when these factors interact with other variables and circumstances. Marshall points out, however, the literature does not support the notion that all sex offenders have been sexually abused. This has proven to be much easier said than done, however. History of maltreatment How many of you have heard that most sex offenders have been sexually abused themselves? Nonetheless, it is an important risk factor for sex offenders. And I also noted that some of these characteristics have been found to predict reoffending—or sexual recidivism. More apt to be the case is that different subtypes, subgroups, or typologies of sex offenders exist. And finally, some professionals may believe that if there truly is a profile, we can identify persons who might be at risk of becoming a sex offender and therefore be able to prevent sex offenses from happening to begin with. Who is the Typical Sex Offender? In fact, because they are such a heterogeneous group, it is sometimes difficult to discern how they are uniquely different from other types of criminals or from those of us in the general public, other than the fact that they have engaged in sexually abusive behaviors. Yet they engage in this behavior anyway. This seems to suggest that there may be some sort of relationship between having been maltreated and later engaging in sex offending behaviors, especially when other kinds of vulnerability or risk factors are present. Researchers have invested a great deal of effort in exploring these issues so that we may begin to understand or explain why some individuals engage in sexually abusive behaviors, and so that we are better able to make decisions about the kinds of interventions that may be most effective for certain aspects of this population. And the research seems to indicate just that—pro—offending attitudes have indeed been found to be associated with recidivism among sex offenders. Put simply, the process of using cognitive distortions is not unique to sex offenders. Nonetheless, the research and literature does indicate that some of these factors—specifically emotional and behavioral self—regulation difficulties—may be part of what leads someone down the path to sex offending, and they are also associated with reoffending. So that you have a clear understanding of the kinds of factors that are related to recidivism, I will highlight them based on the kinds of factors that are static or unchangeable, and those which have the potential to change over time. Still others, such as some treatment providers or some supervision officers, may hold onto the belief that there is a profile of a sex offender, because it will make it simpler to treat and supervise them. Does this variability mean that our management efforts are a lost cause? That way, we, too, can avoid feeling guilty or badly about what we are doing.
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