Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Child Sex Offenders

"There's No Cure"

Patch: Colorado Department of Corrections
Patch: Colorado Department of Corrections

David Bell, a former deputy sheriff in Ohio, served nine years as a case manager for the Colorado Department of Corrections, and he saw his share of sex offenders. "They're like alcoholics," he says. "There's no cure." He estimated the recidivism rate at 85% and said that most child sex offenders that he saw had been sexually abused or assaulted as children — and, in fact, they often assaulted victims at the age at which they themselves had been subjected to abuse. Bell understood the high burnout rate of the prison sex counselors, because they saw plenty of deception and little success. "The offenders do what they're expected to do," Bell stated, "just so they could be freed. Then they go out and do it again. They offend because they want to, but most will say that their victims wanted it.  They don't experience guilt." He also noticed that, along with such rationalizations, offenders tended to distance themselves from their crimes. "They'll say 'this occurred' not 'I did it.' They don't take responsibility." 

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow
Dr. Stanton E. Samenow

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, an authority on the criminal personality and a former member of Reagan's task force on crime victims, believes that a criminal's way of thinking is vastly different from that of responsible people and that their "errors of logic" derive from a pattern of behavior that begins in childhood. Criminals, he says, choose crime by developing a preference for the role of a victimizer, yet assigning the blame for their behavior to others. Thus, they gain no insight into their intentions. They devalue people and exploit others insofar as those others can be manipulated toward ends to which the criminals feel entitled. They act inappropriately because they don't think correctly.

Book cover: Understanding Attachment
Book cover: Understanding

Psychologist Jean Mercer adds to this in Understanding Attachment, where she writes about the early development of emotional disturbance. "When attachment experiences are poor," she states, "individuals' working models of relationships seem to develop along distorted lines." If primary relationships with parents or caretakers are difficult or unsafe, the beliefs that a child develops about those relationships will be "problematic." Mercer says that these children start on a life trajectory that has fewer opportunities to revise and reverse their negative expectations. She does point out that aggression is not a major feature of attachment disorders, but if the child is subjected repeatedly to abuse, there's little doubt that his or her beliefs about both sex and relationships will be distorted. And no all child abusers act aggressively. Inappropriate kissing, touching or fondling constitute abuse as well.

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