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[Introduction to Chapter 6]
With good reason, the relationship between sexual fantasy and sexual offending has yet to be clearly understood; little research has put fantasy centre-stage. For example, in a recent major book on sex offenders and their victims (Hollin and Howells, 1991), sexual fantasy is indexed for just a single page. The role of violent fantasy in serial murder has been researched (MacCulloch et al. , 1983; Ressler , Burgess and Douglas, 1988) but its role in paedophilia largely neglected.
Eliciting fantasy in the usual psychiatric and penal institutions settings of research is not easy. The offender may associate fantasy with mental illness or as being something that the authorities will regard as a bad indicator of his future conduct. For such reasons, he may prefer to present his crimes as a momentary lapse rather than a lifetime erotic focus on children; he might advance "explanations" in terms of stress at work or the breakdown of his marriage rather than reveal that he harbours criminogenic fantasies about sex with blond-haired nine-year-old boys. Detailed discussion of our sexual fantasies is not everyday practice despite jokey allusions to them. But this sort of banter really only touches upon the still taboo topic of masturbatory fantasy.
Given this, people are unlikely to find it easy to discuss their fantasy with strangers in the early stages of therapy, let alone during a prison assessment interview.
What do we know about sexual fantasy and offending?
This may not be a simple question of cause and effect but one or more complicated matters of the interplay between the two. Do, for example, the themes of an offender's fantasy indicate likely offending patterns? In some cases there seems to be considerable divergence between the two; others show a more perfect match. An offender, for example, may fantasize that he is copulating with or buggering a child but, in a lifetime of abusing, limit his overt physical contact to fondling children through their clothing. The imperfect match is not restricted to offender groups. Seemingly normal women, for example, may report sexual fantasies largely unrelated to their sexual practices or even desires in real life:
This fantasy seems to be a complex mixture of cultural myths, personal experience and fulfillment in the imagination. In other words, the fantasy exists in a separate domain from overt actions despite being a synthesis based on experience. It does not require acting out in reality in order to be satisfactory , since it functions effectively as an accompaniment to masturbation or sexual intercourse to maximize pleasure.
Offenders who are persuaded to talk intimately about their fantasies reveal them to be varied in their extent and nature. They range from "obsessive" fantasizing which dominates waking time to the individual who denied that fantasy had a significant role in his thoughts (although this man claimed to be a "skilled" dreamer on sexual matters). Sometimes the fantasy is no more vivid than a dim image, much as a faded black-and-white "snapshot" photograph. On the other hand, the imagery of some men was much more detailed,
with touch, smell, texture and other sensations. In some cases, the offender was capable of "editing" the fantasy at appropriate points rewinding the "film", and changing faces of children for other, more preferred, ones. Nevertheless, by and large fantasies veered more towards the mundane and limited.