Understanding Sex Offender Typologies


Sex offenses are a serious social problem with damaging consequences. To ensure a safer society, there is a need for resources and a complete understanding of offense patterns and their risk. An understanding of sex offender typologies will assist in making decisions related to sentencing, treatment, and supervision. Although sex offenders exhibit diverse characteristics, there are many commonalities in their clinical problems and criminogenic needs. In this article, you will learn about the most frequently used sex offender typologies which indicate that victimization is linked to the type of sex offender.


Specialist vs. Generalist Model

The Specialist vs Generalist Model distinguishes sex offenders as specialists who commit sexual crimes frequently or as generalists who commit different crimes over time (Lussier, 2005).


Etiological theory

Regarding Marshall and Barbaree's (1990) integrated theory of sexual offending, the development of deviant sexual interests includes frequent masturbation combined with frequent exposure to pornography, insecure parental attachments, and physical or sexual violence during the offender’s early years.


Self-regulation model

The self-regulation model by Ward and Hudson (1998, 2000) is a model which claims that individuals offend to achieve a desired state — either to satisfy or to avoid offending. This model proposes four pathways that lead to sexual offending. Two pathways are avoidance oriented. They characterize offenders who attempt to avoid offending but do not have adequate strategies to prevent the sex offense from happening. The other two pathways are approach-oriented and characterize individuals who seek to experience positive feelings as a result of the sex offense.


The avoidant-passive pathway consists of an offender who attempts to prevent offending but does not have the ability or awareness to prevent the sex offense, e.g., incest offenders (Bickley & Beech, 2002, 2003).


Similarly, the avoidant-active pathway has the intention to avoid offending, but the offender uses counterproductive strategies to control his/her fantasies. For example, the individual who follows the avoidant-active pathway masturbates to deviant fantasies as an alternative to acting on these fantasies, but this behavior increases his/her likelihood to offend.


In contrast, the approach-automatic pathway is characterized by the impulsive desire to sexually assault, but in this case the person carefully plans his/her offenses, e.g., rapists (Yates, Kingston, & Hall, 2003) and crossover offenders (Simons, McCullar, & Tyler, 2008; Simons & Tyler, 2010).


Furthermore, the approach-explicit pathway is followed by child sexual abusers who offend male victims. They carefully plan their offenses by establishing relationships with their victims (Simons & Tyler, 2010).


Child sexual abusers

Child sexual abusers use force/coercion of a sexual nature as a direct threat or through developing a relationship with the victim to further manipulate him or her into the sexual act (John Jay College, 2004). In this category, the victim is younger than age 13 and the age gap between the victim and the offender is at least 5 years. Or the victim’s age is between 13 to 16 and the age difference among victim and abuser is at least 10 years (Finkelhor 1984). Another defining element of the child sexual abuser is the perpetrator's perception that their sexual relationship is mutual, maintaining cognitive distortions to deny the impact of their actions (Groth, 1983).


Child sexual abusers exhibit poor social skills, feelings of inadequacy or loneliness, and are passive in other relationships. (Groth, 1979; Marshall, 1993). They attribute their offending behaviors as uncontrollable, stable, and internal (Garlick, Marshall, & Thorton, 1996). Child sexual abusers display anxious or ambivalent attachment (Simons, Wurtele, & Durham, 2008; Ward et al., 1995).


In contrast to rapists, child sexual abusers experienced heightened sexuality during childhood. They reported child sexual abuse, early exposure to pornography, sexual activities with animals, or beginning masturbation at an early age.


Pedophilic and nonpedophilic abusers

Child sexual abusers can be pedophilic and nonpedophilic (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998). Not all individuals who sexually assault children are pedophiles. Pedophilia consists of a sexual preference for children that may or may not lead to child sexual abuse, such as watching child pornography (Camilleri & Quinsey, 2008).


A person can be pedophilic if over a period of at least 6 months, the individual has intense, recurrent and sexually arousing urges or behaviors towards a prepubescent child. In the category of pedophilia are included people at least 16 years old and at least 5 years older than their victim (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).


Fixated-Regressed Typology

Another sex offense typology is the Fixated-Regressed Typology which classifies child sexual abusers based on the degree their sexual behavior is entrenched and on their psychological needs.


The fixated offender is known for social and sexual interaction with children, more often with male children who aren’t blood relate