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MULTIPLE-FACTOR THEORIES OF SEX CRIMES AND SEX OFFENDERS

Believing that the causes of sex crimes and sex offenders are more complex than indicated in any single-factor theory, some researchers have proposed theories that include multiple factors. In this section, three prominent multiple-factor theories are considered.

Finkelhor's (1984) Precondition Theory

Finkelhor's (1984) theory is only about child sexual abuse, not all sex crimes, and it proposes four preconditions for it to occur:

1. There must be an offender with the motivation to sexually abuse children. With the exception of reflexive behaviors, such as sneezing and blinking, human behavior is preceded by thought or premeditation. Child sexual abuse is no exception. People sexually abuse children because they desire to; they are motivated to sexually abuse children. Their motivation can be manifested in three ways:

a. Sexual arousal: Offenders are aroused by sex with children.

b. Emotional congruence: Child sexual abuse satisfies some emotional need, such as intimacy.

c. Blockage: There is no other viable source of sexual gratification, or nothing as satisfying as sexual abuse of children.

Professionals, such as police officers and mental-health providers, who work with child sexual abusers often hear sex offenders claim that the offense occurred "out of the blue." It was "completely out of character." It is important to note, however, that the motivation to sexually abuse a child may have come from as far back as the offender's childhood. Attitudes and beliefs that support deviant sexuality, anger, hostility, and desire for power over sex partners can be rooted in early childhood experiences. Sexual behavior that is too early in a child's development, or that is too explicit or abusive, can blur sexual boundaries and lead to deviant sexual desires and fantasies. This generally does not happen all at once; offenders engage in thought and premeditation. It is unusual for child sexual abuse to "just happen."

  • 2. The offender must overcome internal inhibitions against child sexual abuse. In deciding whether to sexually abuse children, people might consider its illegality, the consequences if caught (e.g., imprisonment), its immorality, and the harm to victims. To overcome such inhibitions, motivated offenders often subscribe to cognitive distortions that weaken or even eliminate such obstacles, thus granting themselves "permission" to sexually abuse children. Cognitive distortions minimize or deny the dangerousness of the behavior, justify it, and relieve the offender of responsibility. Cognitive distortions, such as "children need to be taught about sex," "children are very seductive," and "the child is too young to know what is happening" can cause child sexual abusers to believe they are doing nothing wrong. Impulse disorder, senility, psychosis, severe stress, alcoholism, and strong patriarchal beliefs that women and children are inferior also weaken internal inhibitions (Beech & Ward, 2004).
  • 3. The offender must overcome external obstacles to the abuse. This involves creating opportunities to sexually abuse children so that the victim is alone (vulnerable) and the offender is unlikely to be caught. Offenders may create opportunities for child sexual abuse by grooming potential victims, which, as discussed in more detail in Chapter 4, involves manipulating children into situations where they can be more easily sexually abused and there is less of a chance to be detected.
  • 4. The offender must overcome resistance by the child. In some instances of sexually violent offenses, physical violence, weapons, bindings, or verbal intimidation are used to overcome resistance. Sometimes, alcohol and other drugs are used. More often, resistance is overcome by manipulating the child into giving trust, loyalty, and affection. This can also be part of grooming a potential victim.
 
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