Addressing the motivation to sexually abuse
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Addressing the Motivation to Sexually Abuse. J. Michael Adler, Ph.D. TSOTB Annual Sex Offender Treatment Conference. Experience. 1985 developed adult and adolescent Sex Offender treatment program Have assessed and/or treated approximately 3,000 sex offenders

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Addressing the Motivation to Sexually Abuse

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Addressing the Motivation to Sexually Abuse

J. Michael Adler, Ph.D.


Annual Sex Offender Treatment Conference


  • 1985 developed adult and adolescent Sex Offender treatment program

  • Have assessed and/or treated approximately 3,000 sex offenders

  • Developed Adolescent Sex offender Treatment Continuum

  • Developed Adolescent Sex offender Treatment Continuum

  • Completed over 4,000 Plethysmograph Assessments

  • Developed Behavior Modification Technique for addressing sexual arousal re-conditioning with low functioning offenders

  • Compared three different methods of evaluating deviant arousal (raw change, standard score, & percentage of full arousal) as they related to deviant sexual history confirmed by polygraphs

  • Cross-validated Plethysmograph results (strongest response) to identified deviant behavior verified through polygraph

  • Tested effect of technician Gender on arousal responses of male sexual offenders (N = 69) Presented to ATSA Annual Research Conference San Francisco, 1994

  • Completed Test-Re-test (7 to 10 days) Reliability of Plethysmograph (N = 23)

  • Developed Comprehensive Risk to Re-offend Scale utilizing dynamic & static risk factors identified in 48 adult offenders who had re-offended in treatment.

  • Presently involved in double blind study comparing LVA to the polygraph regarding truth verification with adolescent and adult sex offenders.

Facts concerning Re-Offending

  • In assessing/treating approximately 3,000 sex offenders, every one had multiple offenses

  • Over 125 child pornographers, 122 have had “hands on sexual offenses”

  • The likelihood of getting arrested for child molestation is approximately 3% (Abel et. al., 1987)

  • According to Marshall & Barbaree (1989) re-offending rates based on “official” records was 42% lower than “unofficial” records

  • Of 52 offenders who have re-offended either during the assessment or first year in our treatment program, two were arrested or convicted of a second offense

  • While the re-arrest rate of sexual offenders may be low (6 to 40%), based on our experience sex offenders continue to engage in sexually offensive behavior at a high rate

Sexual Offensive behavior

  • is defined as any sexual behavior that denies another person the opportunity to decline without consequence. (violates any of the four conditions of consent)

Sexual Offender

  • Clinically defined as a person who engages in sexual activity in such a manner that some of or all of the sexual satisfaction/fulfillment is related to:

  • the person not wanting to be sexual or is unable to consent;

  • the sexual activity requires manipulation, coercion, and/or force; and/or

  • harms or has a negative impact on the person’s emotional, social, or physical well-being

Problem Behavior

  • defined as repeatedly engaging in activity in which the expected outcome is undesirable or unwanted

  • Differs from mistake in which the negative outcome is not desired or expected (determined from a known and expected outcome)

Motivation to Sexually Offend

  • Behavior is motivated by needs

  • Needs cause an internal state/feeling called a drive to develop

  • The drive activates a response or series of responses designed to attain a goal that relieves the need temporarily.

  • Needs are in a hierarchy; basic needs followed by secondary needs

  • Secondary needs do not become expressed until basic needs are satisfied and there is a basic amount of order and stability in meeting the lower needs

  • Secondary needs (love, belonging, acceptance, worth, esteem, etc.) require intimate relationships with others to meet

  • Poor relationships result in inconsistent need fulfillment.

  • This results in insecurities and internal anxiety in which the person seeks temporary relief through manipulation, coercion, and force in relationships.

  • The need to belong, experience acceptance, and unconditional love is considered as important as the need for food.

  • Satisfaction of these needs requires consistent positive emotionally pleasing interactions in a stable enduring relationship (Ward, et. Al., 1997)

  • The quality of a person’s early interpersonal relationships has been found to be a predictor of sexually inappropriate behavior in later life. (Prentky et. al., 1989)

Interpersonal Social Skills Deficits

  • Early Interpersonal Relationships

  • 8 out of 10 offenders report feeling “different and less than others” by the age of six. These feelings remained through high school and adulthood. Most common theme; “inferior.”

  • 55% of our offenders reported sexual abuse; average age of first sexual experience is 6.7 years old.

  • Two-thirds report loss of contact with a parent through divorce or separation.

  • Almost 75% report social isolation, few or no close friends and difficulty developing relationships

  • 60% report difficulty with dating

Negative Self-Image

  • Repeated negative evaluations of self through interactions and relationships result in a poor Internal picture of self (condition of worth)

  • As a result of the repetitive negative experiences, offenders develop numerous irrational thoughts and distortions resulting in fears of being unlovable and worthless

  • The offender’s inadequacy in developing stable healthy intimate relationships results in inconsistent satisfaction of secondary needs.

  • Offenders internal fears about themselves result in an external focus (to avoid facing fears).

  • Self deception leads to interpersonal deception. Since they do not believe they are worth love, do not believe or accept love from others.

  • Instead believe to get what they need must manipulate, trick, bribe, or coerce others to temporarily satisfy needs.

  • Targets (victims) are individuals that the offender perceives to be more vulnerable than himself or in some cases those individuals they perceive to be responsible for their dissatisfaction.

  • Sex or sexual contact is substituted for the lack of intimacy.

  • Because the sexual offense relieves the internal discomfort, it (the sexual offense) is a negative reinforcer, thus the behavior is learned and repeated.

  • The sexual response is learned and reinforced resulting in conditioned arousal responses.

  • Conditioned sexual arousal results in cycle of ongoing sexualization of others and sexual objectification.

Deviant Sexual Arousal

  • Deviant Sexual Arousal is the best predictor of recidivism (Hanson & Bussiere; Rice

  • 48 of 52 offenders who re-offended demonstrated deviant arousal responses (the remaining demonstrated no arousal response to adults)

Conditioned Deviant Arousal

  • Conditioned arousal responses are triggered by stimuli (such as a child present)

  • Body begins responding to conditioned responses

  • Thoughts, fantasies and/or masturbation are likely elicited

Positive Reinforcer

  • Sexual objectification, grooming, and sexual acting out are consistent with the conditioned arousal response resulting in experiencing positive reinforcement

  • Difficulties in adult relationships may result in extinguishing conditioned sexual arousal to peers.

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