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Section 1: Lecture Content & Teaching Notes
Supervision of Sex Offenders in the Community: An Overview

1 hour, 15 minutes

(20 minutes)


Another important aspect of sex offender supervision is understanding the population of criminal offenders with whom we are working. Although it is important to understand that sex offenders as a group may be different than other criminal offenders under community supervision, it is also critical to recognize that all sex offenders are not alike.

Most people are quick to identify child sexual abuse as a sex offense, and child molesters are often the first to come to mind when we think of sex offenders, but the definition is really much broader. A sex offense is any sexual behavior with a child, a nonconsenting adult, or anyone who is unable to give consent due to physical condition (e.g. intoxication) or mental capacity (e.g. developmental disability). It includes crimes of penetration with a body part or other object, crimes of contact (like fondling), and crimes of noncontact (like exhibitionism). It can also include crimes related to the production and consumption of certain types of pornography, especially child pornography.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #17: Overview of Sex Offenders
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One of the first questions that we often ask when attempting to develop the capacity to identify particular kinds of criminal offenders is: "What is their profile?" In other words, are specific characteristics (e.g., physical, mental, psychological, personality, emotional, etc.) common to all or most of a subpopulation of criminal offenders? Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a profile of a sex offender. Sex offenders vary significantly in age and represent all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes. A treatment provider or supervision agent who works with sex offenders would probably tell you that the men in this room look like an average group of sex offenders. Although some sex offenders may display behavior and characteristics that are similar to those exhibited by other types of criminal offenders (e.g., a lack of education; unstable employment and residence; drug and alcohol abuses that interfere with daily life; frequent altercations with families, friends, and strangers; and an overall resistance to authority figures), most of them do not have extensive criminal histories or "traditional" criminal lifestyles.

The vast majority of sex offenders are not mentally ill and do not commit their sex crimes because of such an affliction. Perhaps as few as 4 percent of sex offenders have a severe mental illness. A subset of sex offenders display signs of less serious mental problems such as anxiety disorder and narcissism. Sex offenders engage in their abusive and criminal behavior for diverse and complex reasons, and they often create complex facades to conceal their crimes.14


Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #18: Offense Cycle
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Sex offenses do not just happen. Extremely few offenders commit their crimes without any forethought or planning. For most offenders, the offense is planned hours, days, weeks, or even months before the actual sex crime is physically perpetrated. The vast majority of sex offenders (with the exception of those who are seriously mentally ill), know that their abusive behavior is against the law and that it conflicts with the behavioral norms and ethics they have been exposed to and taught. Although most sex offenders do not believe sexually abusive behavior is acceptable, they manage to rationalize their behavior during their offense cycle. When they perpetrate their sexual abuse, these offenders are likely to have convinced themselves that they are not really committing a sex offense.

Several attempts have been made to create typologies of offenders—categories that provide some framework to classify offenders by their behaviors, their victims, their reasons for offending, and their risk of re-offense. Unfortunately, most typologies either are extremely complex or have little empirical basis (that is, there is no research to confirm that the way in which they separate different types of sex offenders is accurate). There are some distinctions, however, that may be helpful.

Before we go any further into a discussion of typology, however, there's an important caution we need to make. Recent research has demonstrated a predominance of "crossover" behavior among sex offenders; that is, regardless of whatever primary sexual interest or preference or M.O. (modus operandi) an offender has, most offenders also engage in other types of offenses or against other categories of victims. Any insight we gain from using typologies has to be balanced against this information about crossover.


Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #19: Typology of Sex Offenders
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There are a number of typologies that have been developed to allow us to study and respond to sex offenders. We will use a well-known and well-researched typology for adult male sex offenders that was developed by Dr. Nicholas Groth in 1979.15 It breaks down adult male sex offenders into two categories—the Child Molester and the Rape Offender.

Child Molester

Child molesters often utilize persuasion and/or manipulation to perpetrate the sexual abuse. They typically begin their involvement with children by using grooming behavior.16 Grooming behavior is intended to make the victim or potential victim or victim's guardians feel comfortable with the molester and even interested in interacting with him.

In addition, the molester often convinces himself that the child wants to be involved in a sexual relationship with him and that his involvement with the child will meet his adult emotional needs. The molester is usually not interested in hurting the child and wants the child to enjoy the experience. The molester often projects thoughts and feelings he wants the child to have about him onto the child. He interprets the child's positive responses to the grooming and manipulation as acceptance of his behavior and convinces himself that the abusive behavior is not hurtful or damaging.

According to the Groth Typology, there are two different types of child molesters.

*American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Version 4

  1. Fixated or Pedophile

    Pedophilia is a clinical diagnosis that appears in the DSM-IV*. A diagnosis of pedophilia is made when an individual who is over the age of 16 has a primary or overarching sexual attraction to prepubescent children. An individual does not have to act on his primary or overarching sexual attraction to prepubescent children in order to be diagnosed as a pedophile.

    When we describe someone as a fixated child molester, therefore, we are describing men who have a primary or overarching sexual attraction to children. These offenders often see their attractions as permanent and report that they have had them for as long as they can remember.

    Fixated child molesters' offenses tend to be planned and carefully carried out over a period of time. In other words, these offenders do not act impulsively and without forethought.

  2. The Regressed or Situational Child Molester

    According to the Groth Typology, the second type of child molester is known as regressed (or situational). Their primary sexual attraction is to adult females. That is, if you asked them the question about the ideal sexual partner, they would more than likely describe an age-appropriate member of the opposite sex.

    The regressed or situational offender's sexual involvement with children often develops as a result of their responses to external stress and situational difficulties that they experience. In other words, these molesters usually turn to children as a way to cope with the stress they are dealing with in their lives - as a way to feel better about their situations and themselves.

    Unlike the victims of fixated molesters, the victims of regressed/situation molesters are usually female. Most, though not all, incest offenders fit the description of regressed/situation molesters. In general, regressed/situational molesters' victims may be a little older than those of the fixated molester. In addition, while the sexually abusive behavior may begin prior to the time when the victim enters puberty, it may continue after the victim enters puberty. Also, and unlike the fixated molester, the regressed molester typically is involved in consensual, age-appropriate sexual behavior, or has been at some point in his life.

Note: The language here can be confusing. It is important to note that the use of the term "rape" here is not the same as its use in common speech or criminal justice arenas. "Child molesters" can "rape" their child victims (that is, engage in coerced penetration), but their typological category would depend upon the other characteristics of the assault and their behavior.

The other major form of sexual assault behavior is rape, in which the victims are usually, though not exclusively, post-pubescent. Rape is associated with very aggressive though not necessarily physically violent behavior on the part of the perpetrator. He attacks, threatens, and uses hostility and/or physical force to intimidate and overpower his victim.

While this type of offender may use physical force, he may also use threats and intimidation as a method of forcing his victim into sexual activity. It is important to understand this because, as we discussed earlier in our discussion of victims, rape behavior often does not result in physical injury.

When an individual commits rape, he is interested in overpowering and possessing complete control and dominance over his victim. Victims are often viewed by the rapists as weak and easily dominated. Rapists do not care about the emotions of their victims (as some child molesters do), and their primary interests are self-gratification, dominance, and control. Another difference between child molesters and rapists is that some rapists will victimize an individual once, then move on to others, which is much less likely with child molesters. Finally, rapists engage in penetration or specific sexual acts with their victims, as opposed to the high incidence of fondling that is commonly associated with child molestation.

Groth identified three different kinds of rapists in his typology.

  1. Anger Rapists

    Anger rapists, as one would assume, are very angry men. Although they may be angry at women in general, or may react angrily to specific behavior of their victim, they are more often angry about a variety of issues in their lives. They cannot and will not face the difficult issues in their lives directly and in a pro-social manner.

    Anger rapists tend to use a significant amount of physical force when they subdue their victims—in most cases, far more force than is necessary to perpetrate the abuse. This often leaves victims severely battered and bruised on various areas of their bodies. Anger rapists also tend to be verbally abusive during their assaults—which are short in duration and very explosive in nature.

    Anger rapists tend not to plan their specific offenses. Rather, they act impulsively to take advantage of situations that have presented themselves. Victim choice depends solely upon whom anger rapists see as vulnerable and available at the moment they decide they want to offend. Between 25% and 40% of known rapes are committed by men who are considered anger rapists.

  2. Power Rapists

    The second type of rapist in the Groth typology is the power rapist. Power rapists—like anger rapists—use sexual assault as a way to feel powerful and in control. They do not, however, discharge anger during their offenses and they only use the physical force necessary to perpetrate the offense. If power rapists can gain control through threat and psychological coercion (rather than physical intimidation), they will do so. As a result, the physical injuries usually associated with anger rapists are less common with power rapists.

    The offenses themselves may last over a longer period of time than those committed by anger rapists, and may be repetitive in nature. Domestic violence offenders who commit sexual assaults against their partners are often power rapists.

    Power rapists, like anger rapists, often look for potential victims that seem vulnerable. Unlike anger rapists, however, they consider how much intimidation and force are necessary to gain control. Their preference is to attack potential victims who are both physically vulnerable and relatively easy to intimidate. Power rapists usually plan their offenses and may fantasize about how they are going to "look" and "feel."

  3. The Sadistic Rapist

    Finally, sadistic rapists are individuals who have an erotic attraction to power, anger or violence. Sadistic rapists engage in very compulsive, sometimes very ritualized sexual assault behavior. Because they have an erotic response to power and control, extreme violence and torture often characterize their assaults. In many cases, victims of sadistic rapists are murdered during the assaults. Unlike all of the other types of sex offenders in Dr. Groth's typology, sadistic rapists often have very significant psychiatric difficulties that may have a direct relationship to the offense behavior.

    It is fortunate, given the high degree of violence and significant likelihood of victim death, that there are relatively few known sadistic rapists. Estimates are that approximately 2% to 5% of all rapists are sadistic in nature. It is also fortunate that once apprehended, sadistic rapists are usually removed from the community for many, many years or life.

Non-contact offenders

The Groth Typology that we just discussed does not include offenders who perpetrate non-contact forms of sexual abuse (such as voyeurs and exhibitionists17). These types of offenders are important to keep in mind as their recidivism rates are very high and many non-contact offenders have perpetrated or go on to perpetrate more serious, contact types of offenses.18