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CHILD SEXUAL-ABUSE TYPOLOGIES

The concept of typologies was introduced in Chapter 3. Recall that the purpose of typologies is to classify sex offenders into distinct categories based on their motivation or proclivity to commit sex crimes, as well as their style or method of carrying them out. This section provides an overview of some of the typologies of child sexual abusers. Individuals who sexually abuse children are diverse in their motivations to sexually offend and their patterns of offending.

Groth, Hobson, and Gary (1982) Typology

One of the earliest and most influential typologies was created by Groth, Hobson, and Gary (1982). They suggested there are two types of child sexual offenders: fixated and regressed. The distinction involves the degree to which deviant sexual behavior exists and the basis for psychological and emotional needs. As our discussion of rapist typologies in Chapter 3 warned, offenders may not necessarily fall "neatly" into one category. Sometimes, they may fall along a continuum, with the categories representing the polar extremes.

Child sexual abusers in the fixated category are characterized by persistent, continuous, and compulsive sexual desire and attraction to children. They are unlikely to have healthy sexual and/or emotional relationships with age-appropriate partners. They are unable to attain any degree of psychosexual maturity, tend to be emotionally immature, and have an intense preoccupation with children. As such, many fixated child sexual abusers are often diagnosed with pedophilia. Holmes and Holmes (2008) point out that these offenders are not fully emotionally developed, and they go to great lengths to establish "relationships" with vulnerable children. They tend to target young male children who are not related to them, and their actions are often premeditated, as evidenced by lengthy grooming. Fixated offenders are considered to be high-risk for sexual recidivism because of their primary deviant sexual interests in children and because they target male victims. They also average the greatest number of victims and offenses, most of which go unreported (Elliot et al., 1995).

Offenders who are categorized as regressed abusers primarily have "normal" sexual interests toward and relationships with age-appropriate partners. Generally, they tend not to be sexually interested in children, and they may choose sexual contact with children as a means of coping with external stressors. These stressors can be situational, such as unemployment, divorce, alcoholism and substance abuse. Negative emotions, such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, and isolation, may also trigger the child sexual abuse. Because abuse is more situational, opportunistic, and impulsive, it is more a temporary departure from the offender's attraction to age-appropriate adults. While the fixated offender's primary motivation is sexual attraction to children, the regressed offender's motivation is situational. The victim profile of regressed offenders is also very different from their fixated counterparts.

Their victims are often adolescent girls and are more likely to be children with whom they are related or they know well.

Research evaluating the validity of this typology has yielded mixed results. The results of one study of 94 child molesters were generally supportive (Johnston & Johnston, 1997). Fixated molesters were more likely to be child-centered, to molest male children outside the family, to come from "broken" homes, and to use alcohol less frequently than regressed child sexual abusers. Regressed abusers, on the other hand, were likely to be better adjusted, to molest female children outside the family, and to come from intact homes. Some critics contend that this model is too simplistic and disregards important factors. Some researchers, for example, suggest that child molesters who are younger, related to their victims, and have arrests for previous non-sexual offenses are more likely to appear on the regressed end of the Groth et al. (1982) continuum (Simon, Sales, Kaszniak, & Kahn, 1992). There are also methodological limitations identified with this typology, in that it was developed using an incarcerated sample of child sexual abusers, and thus is not general- izable to non-incarcerated abusers.

Finally, some have noted that the primary problem with this typology is that it is often unclear just how many factors are either necessary or sufficient before one can assign an offender to a particular category or if any one factor should be considered more important than another (Bickley & Beech, 2001). Consequently, it is argued that neither a truly fixated nor a truly regressed child sexual abuser exists, but that they all fall somewhere in between on the continuum.

 
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