Why Do People Commit Sex Offences?

why do people commit sex offences

In my years in forensic psychology, I have learned that there a number of factors that are commonly found in people commit sexual offences:

  • Internal motivation – the desire to offend;
  • Overcoming internal barriers – morals, ethics, conscience etc;
  • Victim access – grooming, removal of guardian/s, gaining trust of victim/family etc;
  • Overcoming victim resistance – force, threats, power and control.

There is no such thing as a “sex offender”. People who commit sexual offences come from all ages and backgrounds. Working with people who have committed a sexual offence requires experience, specialised assessment of risk and need, and individual treatment planning.

I am accredited to administer the Static 99R and STABLE 2007 to determine both static risk and dynamic treatment needs, which can inform supervisory and treatment needs.

Why do People Commit Sex Offences?

Most people who commit sex offences think about their crimes ahead of time. Sexual assault is rarely an impulsive act, although sometimes sex offenders take advantage of opportunity to offend. Frequently, people who commit sex offences know their victims and use these relationships to set up situations in which a chosen victim can be sexually assaulted.

Sexual assaults can involve physical violence, threats, or overpowering; in other cases victims go along with the assaults because they are afraid to resist or to try to get away.

Planning and manipulating relationships over time to commit sexual offences is called grooming. In these situations victims may come to believe that they are responsible for what happened even though this is never true. After the assaults, offenders often threaten, pressure or use guilt to keep victims from telling anyone.

Several conditions can contribute to the likelihood of sexual offending. Typically a case involves a combination of factors and circumstances. However, it is important to understand that sex offenders always make a choice when they commit sexual offences, no matter what the reasons are. They decide to act even though they know it is wrong. Also, nothing a victim does can make a person commit a sexual offence.

Treatment for Sex Offenders

Intervention must address the cycle of offending and distortions that enabled the offending behaviour – such as justification, denial, minimisation etc.  It must also address the dynamic factors (that can be changed with intervention), such as emotional regulation, sexual preoccupation, sex as coping etc.

Intervention must examine the cycle of offending including the permission statement which enabled the person to offend (ie make it okay in their mind).

Offenders may justify their behavior in several ways:

  • Denial is used by offenders to avoid facing the consequences of their actions. Denial means that offenders refuse to admit to others or sometimes even to themselves that they have committed sexual assaults. They may say, “It’s a lie. I never did it,” or “That wasn’t really rape, she agreed to it.”
  • Rationalising involves blaming the victim, other people or circumstances. Typical thoughts are, “It wasn’t my fault, she led me on”, “he didn’t fight back” or “I didn’t know what I was doing, I had too much alcohol…”. These are ways of placing responsibility on someone or something else.
  • Minimising is used by offenders to deny the seriousness of the acts or the harm done to the victims. “It wasn’t that bad – he liked it,” or “I didn’t really hurt her.” By minimising their actions, offenders try to make it seem as though what they did was not such a big deal.

Protective factors for those who commit sexual offences include:

  • Accepting responsibility for their offending and understanding their risk factors and thoughts that enabled them to offend;
  • A strong, informed support network who do not enable future offending (significant social influences);
  • Fostering capability for stable relationships and intimacy;
  • An ability to relate to age appropriate peers (vs identification with children);
  • Social acceptance and social competence;
  • A regard for others / perspective taking and empathy;
  • Problem solving skills;
  • Distress tolerance and stress management (versus utilising sex as a coping mechanism);
  • Employment or positive use of time;
  • Emotional regulation and self regulation for states such as stress, anxiety and discomfort;
  • Building a positive, adaptive outlet for sexual needs to be met;
  • Victim empathy;
  • Limited reckless, impulsive or risk taking behaviour.

I am a trained and accredited administrator of contemporary, best practice risk assessment tools and sexual offending interventions, and have a strong and diverse referral and intervention network, so please book an appointment with me if you have any needs in this area.

Trudy Sheffield Psychologist BrisbaneAuthor: Trudy Sheffield, B Beh Sc (1st Class Hons).

Trudy Sheffield has 17 years’ experience working in the field of psychology of forensics/offending behaviour, with a focus on addressing risk of re-offending, protecting the community, and stopping the cycle of offending.

For assessment and intervention for sexual offenders contact Trudy on 1800 877 924 or try online booking – Mt Gravatt today!

Please note: Different charges/fees may apply for forensic cases.