Do Motivations for Sexual Offending Differ Depending on Race?

Research Review: Paraphilia and Antisociality Motivations for Sexual Offending May Differ for American Whites and Blacks. Lee, S.C., Hanson, R.K., Calkins, C & Jeglic, E. Sexual Abuse, 32(3), 2020 335-365.

There is a vast array of research pointing to the fact that sexual offenders are a heterogenous group and that it is difficult to generalize across offense types and populations.  Despite the vast amount of research on sexual offenders, there is a lack of scientific studies that look at potential differences in offender characteristics related to race or ethnicity.  This study sought to address this lack of knowledge by investigating any potential differences between white and black men who have committed sexual offenses.

It is well documented that people of color are over represented in the criminal justice system and also are over represented among those people convicted of sex crimes.  The limited research tells us that white men convicted of sexual offenses tend to be more paraphilic and have more sexually deviant arousal than their black counterparts.  White men are also less likely to commit sex crimes such as crimes involving adults or female victims.  Additionally, childhood sexual abuse is reported more frequently in the histories of white men who commit sex crimes than black men who commit sex crimes.

Another noted concern involves the actuarial risk assessment the STATIC-99R.  This instrument, that is widely used to predict risk in sexual offenders, was normed on predominantly white research samples. Black sexual offenders tend to score higher on the STATIC-99R despite having similar sexual recidivism rates. 

The current study sought to address whether white sexual offenders were different from black sexual offenders on risk relevant characteristics.  The second aim of the study was to determine whether the Static-99R predicted sexual recidivism differently for black and white offenders.

Study Details: 

The subjects for this study were 1585 males (788 black and 797 non-Hispanic white) in the New Jersey Department of Corrections system.  The case files of these offenders were reviewed, looking at the following measures:  Static-99R score, MnSOST-R score, Pervasive Anger Score, a general criminality scale, a sexual criminality scale, a paraphilia scale and sexual recidivism.  Recidivism was defined as any subsequent conviction for a sexual offense after release. 

Study Findings:

There were differences in Static-99R scores between black and white offenders with scores for black offenders being higher than for white offenders.  The black offenders were underrepresented in the lower risk categories (Levels I and II) and both racial groups were overrepresented in the higher risk categories of Level Iva and VIAB.  The higher scores for the black offenders resulted from them, on average, being younger and less likely to have been married.  Black offenders were also scored as having higher hostility scores than white offenders. 

Black sexual offenders in this study showed lower indicators of paraphilias, particularly, they were less likely to be diagnosed with pedophilia than their white counterparts.  Black offenders were also less likely to have minor victims or male minor victims.  They were also less likely to use pornography during a sexual contact offense and were less likely to be involved in offenses such as exhibitionism or voyeurism. 

In terms of actuarial risk assessment, the ability of the Static-99R to discriminate recidivism was not related to race. For both black and white offenders, the 5-year recidivism rate was lower than expected though this result only reached significance for white offenders. 

In general, black offenders in this study were found to have more criminogenic characteristics than whites and whites were found to be more paraphilic (pedophilic) than the black offenders. 

Implications for Sentence Mitigation or Aggravation:

For black American sexual offenders, the elevated levels of antisocial behavior may be attributed to many factors that stem from the systemic social oppression and discrimination experienced by Blacks in the United States. There is a large amount of research that shows that there is an association between systemic racism and experiencing unstable family environments and the likelihood of holding anti-social beliefs or engaging in antisocial behaviors.  These social factors may influence the development of anti-social beliefs and behaviors that then influence the commission of their crime. Sentence mitigation reports or psychosexual evaluations should include these factors to help counsel understand the influence of these factors on the clients psychological and behavioral development.

The results of this study also suggest that white offenders use sexual behavior as a dysfunctional coping mechanism for emotional distress which can lead to more engagement in illegal sexual behaviors such as prostitution, exhibitionism etc.  Any assessment conducted on the offender should look at previous history of mental health treatment and should also assess whether the person’s sexual behavior is a compulsive means to manage negative affect.

Though the Static-99R has not been normed on a racially diverse population, this study supports it’s use with black American sexual offenders.

Implications for Treatment Recommendations:

This study finds that the motivations to offend differ significantly based on race. All treatment recommendations should follow the Risk Needs Responsivity evidence-based model.  This study is of interest for the responsivity part of the model. Many white clients may need a greater treatment emphasis on both sexual arousal, i.e. pedophilia, exhibitionism, etc. as well as affect regulation skills.  Black clients might need more emphasis placed on criminogenic needs such as antisocial beliefs and behaviors. 

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: Do You Take a Polygraph?

If you have been following our blog series, you know that we are trying to use our years of experience to help you find the best counsel and treatment possible for the issues that brought you into the legal system.  This post may be the only controversial one of the series.

Should you take a polygraph test?

When most people think of a polygraph, they think about something they saw on TV or a lie detector.  The polygraph is not a lie detector but a device that measures physiological responses.  It is often not admissible in criminal court (though it is in some places and can be used for probation violations).  So why am I even talking about it?

Despite it’s issues, the polygraph is routinely used in the treatment of sexual offenders and is considered a standard of practice.  So even if you don’t do a polygraph pre-trial, you will while you are on probation.  While on probation it is used as a therapeutic “tool” to assess whether the person on probation is following rules and regulations of probation and/or keeping any secrets from treatment and probation.  It is a measure used to gather information.

Again, why on earth am I talking about you possibly taking a polygraph examination before you go to court?  Just like it is used as a tool after adjudication, we can use it as a tool prior to sentencing.  In our geographic area, the FBI likes to ask people they are investigating (often within hours of knocking on your door in the wee hours of the morning) to voluntarily consent to a polygraph test.  What are they looking for by doing this?  They are seeking any evidence that you may be a mixed offender.  A mixed offender is someone who is being investigated or arrested for a cybersex crime that ALSO has committed a hands-on sexual offense in their lifetime.  It will come as no surprise that many people to take this polygraph test right away don’t do very well.  There are many reasons for that, anxiety, fear and absolutely no preparation.

As someone being investigated for a sex crime, why might it be helpful to you to do a polygraph?  Honestly, for the same reasons that the FBI does them.  Research now tells us that the assumption that people who look at child pornography must also be contact offenders is false.  However, it is hard for a court or an evaluator to just take someone’s word for it.  Though it is not admissible in court, if you take and pass a sexual history polygraph and have no history of contact offending, this has a favorable effect on your risk of recidivism.

Guidelines for taking a polygraph before sentencing

  1. Make sure your attorney is on board with this decision.  As with an evaluation, you can do this through your attorney so if you don’t have a favorable result from a polygraph it will be protected under attorney client privilege.
  2. Find a polygrapher who is trained, accredited and familiar with working with sexual offenders and giving sexual history polygraphs. You want to take a Sexual History Polygraph.
  3. Do your homework. This means that you and your therapist need to spend a great deal of time going through your sexual history with a fine-tooth comb.  This takes time.  People often have trouble on polygraph tests because they don’t really go through their history.  Work through your sexual history from the first time you kissed someone through the moment you are ready to take the polygraph.
  4. BE HONEST. It is best to be honest and pass than to keep and hold your secrets and have a deception indicated.  Also remember, that though this may be a tool to help you in sentence mitigation, it is ultimately about you getting honest with yourself to help your treatment and growth into a better human!

 

Shame lives in secrecy.  If there are no more secrets you can start to work on shame reduction.  This means that the value of the polygraph can be something more than just another measure your attorney or psychosexual evaluator can use in sentence mitigation.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She specializes in the treatment of sexual offenders and cybersex offenders.  Through her program she provides psychosexual evaluations, treatment and expert witness testimony.  SATS also offers coaching services for those people who are being investigated but are not in Pennsylvania.

Pedophile: What’s in a Label?

The news is awash with reports of famous men, actors, directors, and politicians whose victims are coming forward to report the sexual abuse and sexual harassment they have been subject to at the hands of these people. I applaud the bravery of each and every victim who has come forward to share their painful story. It takes an immense amount of courage to break through years of shame and silence to confront one’s abuser. Bravo. I am glad that these men and women’s voices are being heard and hopefully they can find some sort of justice or closure.

My writing today is not for those brave men and women but for the media. As someone works with sex offenders every day I have a pet peeve. That pet peeve, which sometimes gets me in hot water in facebook posts, is the fact that people throw around the word pedophile every time someone is found to have abused a minor. Besides frequently being inaccurate, it sends a message that pedophiles are the only people who abuse children. It generates fear. If we are truly going to protect children from sexual abuse by adults, we need to spread accurate information and create effective prevention plans.

So, let’s talk about attraction. When we specifically are looking at age, attraction is clinically categorized three ways.

Pedophile: A person who is attracted to PRE-PUBSECENT children. Doesn’t matter the gender of the child. The attraction is to the lack of sexual development.

Hebephile: A person who is attracted to pubescent children. Again, gender does not matter. The attraction is to a child who is in early adolescence and has signs of sexual development.

Teleiophile: A person who is attracted to adults. This attraction is to fully sexually developed adults.

A person does not have to fit into just one category. There are people who are what we call fixed pedophiles. This means they are only attracted to pre-pubescent children. Other people are attracted to several categories of sexual development. I work with many men who are attracted to pre-pubescent children, pubescent minors AND adults. They do not have a fixed attraction but find all ages of people to be sexually arousing.

The next piece of this puzzle is that ATTRACTION DOES NOT EQUAL ACTION. Many people who have a pedophilic or hebephilic attraction do not ever have any sexual contact with minors. They live with this attraction but have the awareness to know that they cannot act on these urges and they can inhibit any behavior toward minors to whom they may be attracted. In the clinical world, we call these folks non-offending pedophiles.

In Germany, there is a great program called Project Dunkelfeld that offers free treatment to any person who identifies as attracted to minors to help ensure they do not act on those attractions. This project runs ads on buses or billboards and runs public service announcements on television. These folks are getting prevention right.

The next piece of the abuse puzzle is that people offend against children for many reasons, only one of which may be sexual attraction. There are many, many reasons why adults sexually abuse children. There are too many to go into here (future post on this topic forthcoming). Only one of the reasons a person sexually abuses a child is attraction. I have worked with many contact sexual offenders against children who were not sexually aroused to children. This may make no sense at all to someone who doesn’t work in this field, but it is true. Why else might someone abuse a child? Power, control, emotional identification with children, using a child as replacement spouse (frequently seen in incest), and/or antisociality to name a few.

As I am sitting here writing this, I am trying to determine why the misuse of the term pedophile pokes my buttons. I think that if we throw around the term pedophile to label anyone who sexually abuses a child we can put them in a metaphorical box. It makes it easy to put abusers into a category and then not think about it as much. We can think, “oh watch out for pedophiles, they abuse children”. Even if it were true, how do you identify one? They look just like you and me and act just like you and me. There is no way to know someone’s sexual preference by looking at them. Labeling gives people a false sense of security that children are abused by people in this category and not by anyone else.

If we put child molesters in this lump category we diminish the complexity of the issue. It is not just about attraction to minors. The people perpetrating the abuse most often are not “the others.” They are most frequently family members or close friends of the family of the children. They are frequently people in positions of power who have the trust of the child and the child’s parents. Abusers are, most often, people that know you and your child. (the exception here being cyber cases).

If we are going to truly protect children from sexual abuse, we need to make sure that everyone has accurate information. Creating a fear reaction to a clinical label does nothing to enhance child safety. What can you do to enhance your child’s safety? Learn the truth about the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Create an open and safe relationship with your child so that you can talk to them about sex, sexuality, sexual boundaries. Learn what grooming is and help them to identify behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable, so they can come to you immediately. Arm yourself with knowledge, not fear.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of SATS, an out-patient program that treats sexual offenders, problematic sexual behavior and trauma.

Her book The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about pornography and cybersex in the digital age is available on amazon.