Section 4: Subtypes and Typologies
45 Minutes


Use SlideUse Slide #1: Understanding Sex Offenders: An Introductory Curriculum


By this point, you’ve heard many times the key message that sex offenders are a heterogeneous population and that there is no profile of a sex offender, which makes sex offender management efforts complex. As I mentioned, however, there are some ways in which researchers and practitioners have tried to identify more similar groups or subtypes of sex offenders. So at this point we are going to talk about some of these subtypes or typologies, and how some of the characteristics of offenders discussed in the last section of this training—in addition to the nature of their offenses and their targeted victims—play out within and across these groups.

Keep in mind that we work with offenders who do not necessarily “fit” within any one of these subtypes, especially given the data that exists about crossover behavior. Nonetheless, these subtypes can provide us with some ways in which we can think about different types of sex offenders, and may help us tailor our intervention efforts according to what might work best with those particular types of offenders.

Classifying Sex Offenders by Subtypes

As you can imagine, attempting to identify subtypes or typologies can be a very challenging endeavor. To be most reliable and accurate, developing typologies requires sound theories about how and why offenders could be classified into subtypes—usually based on specific explanatory ideas, and sets of features or characteristics that define these potential subgroups—and then conduct research on large samples of sex offenders to see if the proposed subtypes actually pan out. In other words, follow–up research needs to be conducted to see if sex offenders reliably fall into these categories or subtypes based on the criteria used to develop them.

At this point in the field, there have been only a few attempts at developing subtypes using both a sound theory and then having significant and consistent research support for those subtypes. There have, however, been some attempts to develop subtypes that are in fact based on a well–developed theory, but the follow–up research hasn’t yet been conducted or is still in the process of being conducted.

Perhaps more common are the attempts to classify sex offenders because of what “seem” to be logical clusters, often based on clinical experiences working with this population. But this approach to classification isn’t always based on a fully–developed theory to explain the rationale for these subtypes. And sometimes, either no research has been conducted to determine whether these typologies are “good,” or there may be some limited research, but the research doesn’t necessarily support these subtypes in a consistent way.

To give you a sense for some of these attempts at creating subtypes or typologies of sex offenders, I’ll highlight a couple of the more common ones.

Groth’s Typologies

Child Sexual Abusers1

Use SlideUse Slide #2: Groth’s Typologies

One of the earliest and very influential classification models about individuals who sexually abuse children suggested that these offenders can be grouped into two subtypes: fixated or regressed. In simple terms, this categorization was designed to cluster sex offenders based on their primary sexual interests and motivations. I’ll briefly describe each of them. However, offenders may not necessarily fall “neatly” into one or the other category.  Rather, they may fall somewhere along a continuum, with these categories representing the anchors of the continuum.


Use SlideUse Slide #3: Groth’s Typologies (Cont.)

Similar to the classification of individuals who sexually abuse children, Groth and his colleagues also identified subtypes of men who rape women, based on the characteristics and patterns of the acts and the different motivations believed to underlie them. Again, not all individuals will fall “neatly” into a single category, as they may display characteristics or motivations that exist within other subtypes.

As you can probably sense, based on the common characteristics of the men within any one subtype, and the significant differences across these subtypes, the ways in which we would intervene would vary, wouldn’t they?

For example, in terms of community supervision strategies, what is one thing that you might do differently when you consider the fixated versus the regressed molester?


And what is one thing that you might do differently from a treatment perspective when considering the sadistic versus the anger rapist?


That’s right. We certainly wouldn’t intervene in the exact same ways with each of these five subtypes of sex offenders. Now let’s take at a look a couple of other examples that illustrate attempts to identify or classify subtypes of sex offenders.

Massachusetts Treatment Center (MTC) Typologies

The research–based work of Knight and Prentky that went into developing these typologies is sophisticated and complex. Over the past several years, they have used statistical procedures to explore and refine these typologies, both for child sexual abusers and men who commit acts of rape. Because of the complexity of these typology models, and because we don’t have the time to go through each of them in a manner that would do them justice, I’ll simply highlight for you the characteristics or factors that determine these subtypes.

Child molesters (MTC: CM3)3

Use SlideUse Slides #4–5: MTC: Child Molester 3 Typology
Slide 4
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Slide 5
Enlarge Slide 5

Let’s start with the typologies for those who sexually abuse children.

For those with low amounts of contact with children, they are divided into subtypes based on the extent to which they caused physical injury to their victims—low or high—and then they are subdivided again based on whether or not they are considered to be sadistic or non–sadistic. This results in four more typologies:

Rapists (MTC: R)4

Use SlideUse Slide #6: MTC: Rapist Typology

For men who commit rapes, the typologies are largely based on what they believed to be four primary motivations to commit acts of rape—opportunity, pervasive anger, sexual gratification, and vindictiveness. Within each category of motivation, rapists were further subcategorized based on several interacting characteristics and developmental, biological, and environmental factors that result in varying degrees of antisocial behavior, sexualized aggression, impulsivity, cognitive distortions, and deviant sexual arousal. Nine different subtypes of rapists were subsequently identified.


Use SlideUse Slide #7: Self-Regulation Model Subtypes

A final—and fairly recent—model that I would like to highlight is known as the Self–Regulation model. Although it is not technically considered to be a typology approach, it is helpful to review because it does classify sex offending individuals into subgroups based on whether or not their primary intent or desire is to commit a sex offense or to avoid committing a sex offense, and according to their–self–management strategies. In other words, it may be helpful to expand our thinking beyond simply classifying or categorizing offenders by also considering the processes that lead individuals toward committing sex offenses. Four distinct categories or offense pathways are outlined.

Just as the case was with the earlier typologies, you can probably start to identify some different intervention implications for the different subtypes proposed in the Self–Regulation model.

And that’s really the bottom line. By identifying various subtypes or typologies of sex offenders—especially if they are well–grounded in theory and supported by research—we will have an informed rationale for tailoring our management approaches in a way that makes better use of our resources and that enhances public safety.


For this reason, sex offender typologies can be tremendously helpful. Typologies illustrate the diversity in sex offenders—the victims they select, their varying motivations to sexually offend, their patterns of offending, and the specific kinds of issues that seem to underlie or drive their offending—which allows us to individualize our approaches accordingly.

But don’t forget the potential for crossover—the data we saw earlier suggests that not all sex offenders fit as neatly into a typology as we might like to believe. Some sex offenders who are identified in official records as being child molesters may have also offended against adults. Some offenders who are considered to be incest offenders may have also abused children outside of their family. These particular offenders do not fit snugly into one subtype of offender or another, and they may require interventions that are very unique or different from those of any one type of offender. And if we rely solely on subtypes to guide our intervention efforts, these individual risks and needs could be neglected.

Additionally, it is possible that motivations and risk factors vary for an individual offender, too. In other words, the reasons that any individual person engages in sexually abusive behavior may not always be the same, or that they change over time.

Finally, we know that the research and theory in this field are always evolving. And as more research is conducted, and additional theories are proposed and tested, we may find additional ways of classifying sex offenders into useful clusters or typologies that can assist us with developing more individualized and effective management strategies.

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