Standard deviations in parentheses. Discussion As with other criminal behaviour, the rate of sexual offending decreased with age. The rate of decline was rather gradual, however, and there were significant differences between types of sexual offenders.
Extrafamilial child showed little decline in their recidivism risk until after the age of The highest risk period for extrafamilial child molesters was between the ages of 25 and In contrast, the young year old incest offenders were substantially higher risk than incest offenders from other age groups.
Although the recidivism rates for extrafamilial child molesters and rapists were similar, extrafamilial child molesters were, on average, older than rapists. When age was controlled, the extrafamilial child molesters were at significantly higher risk for sexual recidivism than the rapists. Among the various factors linked to sexual offending, the three broad factors most relevant to the current study are deviant sexual interests motivation , opportunity, and low self-control.
The distribution of these factors across offender types can help explain the age distribution of the offenders and the variation in their recidivism rates. Deviant sexual interests Although all sexual offenders engage in sexually deviant behaviour, most do not have an enduring preference for illegal sexual activities. Deviant sexual interests are more common among extrafamilial child molesters than incest offenders Marshall, It is difficult to directly compare the rate of deviant sexual interest among rapists with the rate among child molesters.
Sexual interests exist on a continuum and it is not clear what level of sexual interest in violence corresponds to an equivalently deviant level of sexual interest in children. Deviant sexual interests are likely to be more common among rapists than among incest offenders; whether rapists are more or less sexually deviant than extrafamilial child molesters is unknown.
To the extent that deviant sexual interests are an integral part of an offender's sexual life, then the persistence of sexual offending should mirror the persistence of the offender's sexual drive. Low self-control The second major factor associated with sexual offending is low self-control or criminal lifestyle.
Low self-control refers to the tendency to respond impulsively to short-term temptation, have little consideration for future consequences, and engage in high risk behaviours, such as drinking, driving fast, and sexual promiscuity. The association between low self-control and criminal behaviour is sufficiently strong that Gottfredson and Hirshi consider it to be the cause of crime.
It is not uncommon for researchers to include measures of antisocial behaviour in their definitions of impulsivity or low constraint e. Self-control increases dramatically from childhood to adulthood. The extent to which it continues to develop in the adult years in less well established. Gottfredson and Hirschi believe that an individual's level of self-control changes little after it is initial formed in the family of origin.
However, the age related decline in almost all impulsive, risky behaviour e. Low self-control is more common among rapists than child molesters.
The research has yet to establish whether incest offenders and extrafamilial child molesters differ in lifestyle instability. Miner and Dwyer found that incest offenders reported less problems with immediate gratification than extrafamilial child molesters, whereas Symbaluk found the reverse: The incest offenders and extrafamilial child molesters from Firestone et al.
Opportunity The third factor related to sexual offending is opportunity. Unlike problems with self-control, which should diminish in early adulthood, and deviant sexual drives, which should diminish in later adulthood, the opportunities for child molesting should increase in middle adulthood.
Most child molesters exploit a relationship of trust with a known or related victim. The opportunities for establishing relationships with children are greatest between the late twenties and mid forties. It is during this age period that men are most likely to have their own children, and to associate with friends and family who have children.
The opportunities for rape, in contrast, should gradually decrease with age. Most rape victims are young women known to the offender. People tend to associated with people their same age; consequently, as men age, they would be expected to encounter fewer potential victims, and fewer circumstances in which rape is an easily available option e.
An interpretation of the age-recidivism findings The three factors of sexual deviancy, self-control, and opportunity are consistent with the age-recidivism findings for the rapists and extrafamilial child molesters. For the rapists, all three factors should decline with age. Self-control should increase in young adulthood, deviant sexual drives should decrease in late adulthood, and the opportunities should gradually decline throughout. If these factors are indeed important, then it is not surprising that most rapists are young and that their recidivism risk steadily declines with age.
For extrafamilial child molesters, competing factors may be influencing recidivism risk during early to middle adulthood. Self-control should improve during the transition from the twenties to the thirties, but the opportunities for child molesting should increase.
It is not until late adulthood that the opportunities for relationships with children decline, and, combined with a reduction in sexual drive, contribute to a reduction in recidivism risk.
This theory is consistent with the findings that child molesters are older than rapists, and that the recidivism rate of extrafamilial child molesters is relatively constant during the early and middle years of adulthood.
The theory outlined above provides only a partial fit to the finding for incest offenders. The peak frequency of incest offenders in the late thirties is consistent with increased opportunity for incestuous abuse during middle adulthood. As well, the low recidivism rates of incest offenders is consistent with their relatively low levels of deviant sexual interests compared to extrafamilial child molesters , moderately stable lifestyles compared to rapists , and reduced opportunity compared to other sexual offenders their available victim pool is restricted to family members.
The high recidivism rates of the young incest offenders, however, was unexpected. In the current study, the victims of the younger incest offenders were unknown, but were unlikely to be their own children. The extent to which these young incest offenders resemble other sexual offenders e. All the offenders in the sample, however, would have been expected to have used overt force or selected a victim much younger than themselves.
Relatively consensual sexual behaviour among siblings rarely invokes the serious criminal justice sanctions that were imposed on most offenders in this study. This decline in late adulthood can be attributed to the confluence of decreasing sexual drive and decreasing opportunity. Perhaps the most salient factor for the oldest age groups, however, would be increasing ill health and eventual death. Medical records were not available for any of the samples analysed in this study; consequently, research has yet to examine the extent to which reductions in sexual recidivism risk should be expected for older offenders who remain in good health.
In the normal population, decreases in sexual interest and activities in later years are closely linked to concomitant illness Panser et al. In summary, this study found that the recidivism risk for sexual offenders decreased with age, but the overall effect was not large and the pattern of decline was different for rapists, extrafamilial child molesters and incest offenders. Extrafamilial child molesters show relatively little decline in their recidivism risk until after the age of fifty.
Sexual offenders released after the age of 60 showed very low recidivism rates 3. Although the factors of deviant sexual drive, low self-control and opportunity provide a plausible explanation for the findings, other explanations need to be considered.
All of the data was cross-sectional rather than longitudinal; consequently, an apparent age-related decline in sexual offending could be explained by cohort effects. Given that there are strong cohort effects in sexual behaviour e.
Another consideration is that offenders' ages were measured at time of release and not the onset of offending. Consequently, the finding that child molesters were older than rapists could be attributed to a greater delay in the detection and prosecution of offences against children than for offences against adults. Much of the age decline in sexual offending could also be attributed to a simple learning effect. With experience, men can learn that sex offending is not an effective route to happiness, or, more disturbingly, they can learn new and better ways to avoid detection.
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