not all sex offenders are ‘counterfeit deviants’
While it is commonly thought that men with low IQs sexually offend because of a lack of knowledge or sexual deviance, new research has found the men may sexually offend because of their exposure to “corrective” sex education previously taken.
A team of North American researchers compared two samples of individuals with and without an intellectual disability and a history of sexual offence and found that sexual offenders with intellectual disability who had committed a serious sexual offence, such as rape or pedophilia, actually demonstrated a greater sexual knowledge than non-offenders. This increased sexual knowledge may be from “corrective” sex education that the offender was given in the past. It can then be concluded that the higher level of knowledge of those who had committed some form of sexual offence was the direct result of their exposure to formal or informal sex education.
The data indicates that there may be two categories of persons with intellectual disabilities that sexually offend: Individuals who are knowledgeable and who offend in more serious ways and Individuals who appear to have a lack of sexual knowledge and whose offence may be the result of that lack of knowledge. The latter is termed counterfeit deviance.
“We simply cannot treat all sex offenders as ‘counterfeit deviant’ and excuse their behavior as a result of inadequate knowledge,” says Shelley Watson, a graduate student from the University of Alberta. “We need to establish whether sex education is needed as an element of a comprehensive treatment package.”
As supported in this study, people with intellectual disability were also found to be typically very conservative when it came to sexual attitudes. However, the researchers found that serious sex offenders actually expressed much more liberal attitudes when it came to sex, including same-sex relationships, than sex offenders who only committed sexual inappropriate behaviors, such as public masturbation or inappropriate touching.
“This study provides support for the need to assess sexual knowledge, sexual attitudes and prior sex education when an individual commits a sexual offence,” says Watson. “Only a careful diagnosis will reveal whether the offence is motivated by sexual urges and fantasies consistent with serious sexual offence or by other factors.”
Participants were drawn from a dataset of 276 individuals in Canada and the United States with ages ranging from 16 to 71 years-old. Their intellectual functioning varied from borderline IQ (19%) to severe ID (4%). All participants completed the Socio-Sexual Knowledge and Attitudes Assessment Tool-Revised (SSKAAT-R), which provides a comprehensive assessment of areas of socio-sexual knowledge and attitudes for people with intellectual disability.
J Intellect Dev Disabil. 2007 Jun;32(2):74-81.
Dual Diagnosis Program, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Yona_Lunksy@camh.net
BACKGROUND: Various explanations of sexual offending in men with intellectual disability (ID) have stressed sexual deviance and a lack of developmental socio-sexual knowledge. METHOD: Using the normative dataset of people with ID from the development of the Socio-Sexual Knowledge and Attitudes Assessment Tool – Revised (SSKAAT-R: Griffiths & Lunsky, 2003), two samples of individuals with ID and a history of sexual offence were compared on sexual knowledge to matched samples of individuals with ID and no known sexual offences. RESULTS: Offenders with ID who were identified as having engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviour, such as public masturbation or touching someone inappropriately, did not differ in terms of sexual knowledge from their matched sample of individuals with ID with no sexual offence history, whereas offenders who had committed more serious offences demonstrated greater sexual knowledge than matched non-offenders. When only those individuals who had received prior sex education were compared in terms of sexual knowledge, there were no differences between groups. However, sex offenders (serious offences) expressed more liberal attitudes than sex offenders (inappropriate behaviour) and non-offenders towards same-sex activities. CONCLUSIONS: The study points to the dynamic effect of socio-sexual education on offenders’ knowledge and attitudes, and highlights potential differences in the knowledge and attitudes of different subtypes of offenders.