Although many different theories have been proposed about sex crimes and sex offenders, several common characteristics exist (see Figure 2.1). While not all sex offenders exhibit all of the characteristics, typically a cluster of several factors is present for any given sex offender. When these factors exist, they do not always lead to commission of a sex crime—they simply increase the probability that an individual commits a sex crime. Also, many of the proposed theories vary in their explanation of how these characteristics develop. Most indicate the foundation is laid during childhood, culminating in poor adaptation, interpersonal difficulties, and subsequent behaviors that involve sex crimes: rape, child molestation, and/ or viewing child pornography. The next chapters discuss each of these sex crimes.


Many theories have been proposed to explain criminal behavior, and more specifically, sex crimes. These theories help us develop sound treatment approaches and guide policy, including legal responses to sex crimes and sex offenders. Throughout this chapter, you should have noticed that many factors that lead to committing crime, also pertain to committing sex crimes. We have also noted that sex offenders often commit non-sex crimes as well, leading to murky conclusions about sex offenders as "unique" offenders.

Theories that specifically focus on sex offenders often are narrowly focused on explaining a particular type of sex crime (e.g., child sexual abuse or rape) and the research is relatively mixed with regard to identifying specific characteristics or traits that distinguish sex offenders from non-sex offenders. Instead, research has largely identified factors that are common to sex offenders, but which in and of themselves do not necessarily equate to the commission of subsequent sex crimes. Thus, we cannot at the current time distinguish sex offenders from non-sex offenders based on a given set of existing characteristics. Nevertheless, theories assist in providing explanations about sex crimes and sex offenders for the purpose of control and treatment.

Logic Model of Sex-Offender Characteristics and Behavior

figure 2.1 Logic Model of Sex-Offender Characteristics and Behavior

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