Chapter 4 - Explaining Sexual Offending ...

Here below: (1) Summary, (2) Some Quotes


Evidence supports both generalist and specialist theories of sexual offending against
children, inasmuch as factors that are important in general theories of crime — such
as antisocial personality traits, offense-supportive attitudes and beliefs, substance
use, and opportunity — are also involved in contemporary explanations. Discoveries
in developmental criminology are directly relevant. Many offenders against children
have also committed non-sexual offenses, and the likelihood of nonsexual recidivism
is higher than sexual recidivism. Nonetheless, evidence indicates that some
distinctive factors are consistent with specialist theories, especially pedophilia, but
so too are other sexual motivations, such as excessive sexual preoccupation and
intense mating effort.

This hybridization of generalist and specialist explanations is explicitly recognized in
the motivation-facilitation model, which encompasses distinctive sexual motivations
for sexually offending against children, as well as facilitation factors associated with
general crime as well.

Other explanations of sexual offending reviewed in this chapter also recognize a role
for sexual interest in children and also recognize that it is neither necessary nor
sufficient, because other factors also come into play.

Each of these models has its strengths and weaknesses; the theoretical
understanding of sexual offending will grow as models are put to the test, both on
their own and against other models. More research is clearly needed, because most
of this evidence comes from research on persistence of sexual offending, rather than
its onset.

Moreover, most of the research reviewed in this chapter comes from research
on identified adult male contact offenders in WEIRD [Western, Educated,
Industrialized, Rich, Democratic] societies; it is less clear whether these models are
valid for women who sexually offend, adolescents who sexually offend, those who
have committed noncontact sexual offenses, and those outside of WEIRD societies.

Some Quotes from Chapter 4


Page 88
David Finkelhor is a tremendously important scholar in the scientific study of sexual
offending against children, and he was one of the first to describe a multifactorial
explanation of this form of offending (Finkelhor, 1984).

His preconditions model has three factors reflecting motivations to engage in this
behavior —

  • [1] sexual arousal to children (pedophilia),
  • [2] having more affinity for children than for adults (emotional congruence with
    children), and
  • [3] feeling unable to meet one’s emotional and sexual needs in adult relationships
    (blockage) —

and a fourth factor representing

  • [4] the overcoming of inhibitions to commit sexual offenses (disinhibition), which
    can include trait factors such as personality (impulsivity, recklessness) and state
    factors such as intoxication.

Finkelhor (1984) further noted that four conditions had to be met for sexual offenses
to be committed against children:

  • [a] motivation to commit the offense;
  • [b] overcoming internal inhibitions, such as fear of 4) detection or arrest;
  • [c)] overcoming external inhibitions, such as the presence of other people; and
  • [d] overcoming any resistance by the child.

- - - - -

Page 89
W.L. Marshall & Fernandez (2000) later acknowledged a role for pedophilia, mostly
for offenders with multiple unrelated victim. The view seemed to be that most
offenses against related children, and many offenses against girls, reflected nonpedophilic


Page 89
Around the same time as W. L. Marshall and Barbaree (1990), Hall and Hirschman
(1992) modified their four-factor model of sexual offending against adults to
specifically explain sexual offending against children. This model has some overlap
with Finkelhor’s (1984) model, with the four factors in Hall and Hirschman being

  • [1] sexual arousal to children,
  • [2] cognitions that can justify sexual offending against children;
  • [3] affective dysregulation, and
  • [4] personality problems.

The first factor [1] also relates to pedophilia; the second [2] overlaps with emotional
congruence with children; and the last two factors [3] & [4] are related to

Hall and Hirschman suggested that these factors could operate singly or in
combination but that particular factors would be more important for different
groups of offenders. Thus, Hall and Hirschman were also describing a typology of
sexual offenders against children, including

  • [a] a pedophilic offender group that was expected to have more child victims and
    unlikely to have nonsexual offenses, and
  • [b] an antisocial group high on affective dysregulation that would be more
    opportunistic, more violent, and more likely to commit nonsexual offenses.
  • [c] Individuals high on offense-supportive cognitions were thought to be more likely
    to plan their offenses and to select related child victims.
  • [d] The personality problem factor was thought to be a general vulnerability that
    increased the likelihood of sexual arousal to children, offense-supportive cognitions,
    or affective dysregulation.


Page 91
Even from these brief descriptions, it is clear these models have many similarities.

  • [1] All them recognize a role for sexual arousal to children, although they differ in
    how important this motivation is and how it might develop.
  • [2] They all recognize that cognitive and social deficits can play a role in sexual
    offending against children, and all of them recognize that both
  • [3] internal (disinhibition) and
  • [4] external (opportunity) obstacles to offending must be overcome for offending to occur.

However, these models also have some notable differences. They differ, for instance,
in the weight given to agreed-upon factors;

  • some suggest a single factor is sufficient (…), whereas
  • others suggest factors can combine to increase or decrease risk (… …).
  • Last, several models (… …) introduced developmental and biological elements.

Ward et al.’s (2OO6) and Stinson et al.’s (2OO8) critical review of these models
found that all have limitations in terms of their unifying power, internal consistency,
predictive validity, heuristic value, falsifiability, or parsimony.

A particular concern -- for me—is how to evaluate and compare these theories
because many concepts are not clearly operationalized.

A general criticism of all these models is that they do not pay sufficient attention to
important theoretical and empirical advances in developmental and general
criminology. This reflects a tendency to view sexual offending as unique and,
therefore, sexual offenders as a unique population. Yet many sex offenders have also
committed nonsexual offenses, some go on to commit nonsexual offenses, and some
nonsexual offenders go on to commit sexual offenses.

As I discuss later in Chapter 7, many general crime risk factors identified in the
forensic and criminological literatures are also potent predictors of sexual recidivism
among identified sex offenders (e.g., offender age, general criminal history).

A limitation of the field rather than the theories themselves is that none of them have
been tested in their entirety, using large samples of sex offenders; reliable and valid
measures; and structural modeling, clustering, or other techniques to examine ether
the concepts are indeed related in the way the models presuppose. Instead, aspects
of the models are tested, for example through group comparisons showing
differences on one or more of the candidate explanatory factors. It would be
particularly helpful in advancing the field to pit theories against each other.


Page 92 & 93
The motivation-facilitation model (see Figure 4.1) …

  • Figure 4.1 The motivation facilitation model. From "The Motivation-Facilitation
    Model of Sexual Offending," by M.C. Seto, 2017, Sexual Abuse [advance online
    publication, p. 3]. Copyright 2017 by Sage. Adapted with permission.

… is strongly influenced by Finkelhor’s (1984) preconditions model and by
Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) self-control theory of crime, which suggests low
self-control facilitates acting on normative but antisocial impulses (…).

It is also related to other models, particularly Stinson et al.’s (2008) emphasis on the
role of ineffective or maladaptive self-regulation, which can be seen in the impact of
facilitation factors. Similar to other models, the motivation-facilitation model draws
on multiple lines of research, as summarized in Seto (2OO8, 2013) and in Pullman,
Stephens, and Seto (2016).

It differs from Finkelhor’s (1984) model by describing antecedents for pedophilia,
including hebephilia, and by considering other sexual motivations for sexual
offending, such as hypersexuality. The motivation-facilitation model differs from
low self-control theory because it specifically considers atypical motivations for
sexual offending (paraphilias, hypersexuality, intense mating effort) and their
origins, whereas low self-control theory is agnostic about the nature of motivations
for sexual offending.

The motivation-facilitation model was later expanded to explain online child
pornography and sexual solicitation offending (Seto, 2013). In principle, however,
the model could apply to other forms of sexual offending, including sexual assaults
of women by men; noncontact offending involving exhibitionism or voyeurism;
and even less common crimes, such as bestiality or other illegal pornography use.

[To] Page 98
The motivation-facilitation model has also limitations. Most research on sexual
motivations for sexual offending against children has specifically focused on
pedophilia. However, hebephilia is a relevant and distinct sexual interest in
pubescent children, and is likely to play a major role in sexual offending against
older but pre-adolescent children.

[Back to] Page 96
[Of] Mitchell & Gallupo (2016)’s … respondents, 69% reported they had never acted
on their sexual interest in children.

Page 97
Baily, Bernhard & Hsu (2016) concluded … … … [that]. Surprisingly, permissive
attitudes about adult-child sex and frequent sexual fantasies about children were not
correlated with sexual offending, whereas sexual abuse history was.