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Home arrow Philosophy arrow Sex Crimes and Sex Offenders: Research and Realities
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THEORIES ABOUT CRIME IN GENERAL

Many criminological theories purport to explain a broad range of crimes (e.g., theft, robbery, murder), including sex crimes (e.g., rape, child molestation, child-pornography). To the extent that sex offenders also commit non-sex crimes, broad-based criminological theories are valuable, pointing to causes that are common to all offenders. In this section, we identify a few theories about crime in general that can be applied to sex crimes. They are social control (bonding) theory, self-control theory, routine activity theory, and social learning theory.

Hirschi's Social Control (Bonding) Theory

Hirschi's (1969) social control theory is often referred to as "social bonding theory" because of the emphasis on the strength of people's bonds to society, including bonds to other people. There are four principal types of bonds: (1) attachment, (2) commitment, (3) involvement, and (4) belief. The stronger people's bonds, the less likely they are to commit crime. The weaker the bonds, the more likely it is they will violate the law. Hirschi (1969) saw the bonds as strongly interrelated. For example, if a person had weak attachment, then he usually would have weak commitment, involvement, and belief.

Attachment involves the extent to which people have strong affectional ties to other people. Individuals will refrain from committing crime if they admire other people and care what others think of them. Crime could jeopardize these affectional ties, and in that way strong attachment should be a barrier to crime. Commitment refers to the extent to which individuals have an investment (a "stake in conformity") in conventional goals, such as education and employment. The cost of losing these investments should help to prevent people from committing crime. Involvement pertains to the amount of time spent in conventional activities. The greater the amount of time spent in conventional activities, the less time there is to commit crime. Belief is the last type of bond, and it is an endorsement of conventional norms, including laws. A belief in the moral validity of law should act as a strong barrier to committing crime, according to Hirschi.

Tests of social control theory have examined all of the types of bonds and a wide range of offenses, including juvenile delinquency, and alcohol and other drug abuse (for a review see: Akers & Sellers, 2012; Loeber, 1990). Research on sex crimes and sex offenders, however, has mainly examined attachment. Recall that attachment is an important factor in some of the sex-crime and sex-offender specific theories that we considered earlier in this chapter, so it is hardly surprising that many researchers have focused on sex-offenders' attachment to other people. For example, Awad and colleagues (Awad, Saunders, & Levene, 1984; Saunders, Awad, & White, 1986) found that a large percentage of juvenile sex offenders came from dysfunctional families and they were loners with superficial friendships.

Tingle, Barnard, Robbins, Newman, and Hutchinson (1986) revealed that child molesters had weak relationships with their fathers. They were frequently abandoned by their parents, and they had problems relating to other students in school. Aside from early childhood experiences, Marshall (2010) reported in a recent literature review that adult sex offenders have been found to be lonely and to suffer from severe intimacy problems. There is contrary evidence, however. In a recent meta-analysis involving 59 studies of 3,855 male adolescent sex offenders and 13,393 male adolescent non-sex offenders, Seto and Lalumiere (2010, p. 549) found the two groups did not differ with regard to "problematic family relationships, communication, and satisfaction [with family]."

 
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