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Adverse Childhood Experiences Identified as a Key Risk Factor for Offending

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This essay is going to discuss and conclude whether it is possible to predict the behaviour of a sex murderer. Although there is no sure-fire way or signs that can definitively say who may be or become a sex murderer, there are certain characteristics and behaviours that might be displayed during adolescent years such as the killing of animals and the presence/ signs of sexual sadism, which could foreshadow future behaviour and offending. Looking at other factors like childhood experiences or treatment during childhood like abuse or neglect can also help to possibly predict whether an individual might be at risk of committing sexual homicide or shine more light on the factors that contributed to the decisions of those who have already committed sexual homicide.

In a study conducted by Langevin, it was suggested that sex murderers start their careers at a young age. The torturing, killing of or cruelty towards animals during childhood years if often seen to be a common behaviour exhibited by those who have committed sexual homicide in adulthood. Those who do carry out animal abuse in their adolescent years are known to be at increased risk of carrying out violence towards other people in their lives such as; peers, loved ones, friends or elder family members. Case histories of serial killers and other murderers suggest that many were cruel or violent towards animals in their childhood. Two murderers who committed sexual homicides include of Jeffrey Dahmer and Theodore Bundy. Both individuals had a strong history of perpetrating violence toward animals in their adolescence. This move from violence against animals to violence and murder of humans is referred to as the Graduation Theory/ hypothesis. According to this theory, animal cruelty might be a way of rehearsal for human-directed violence once older.

In a study conducted by Ressler et al., in which 36 sexual murderers’ characteristics were examined, it was found that 36% had perpetrated animal cruelty in their childhood, 46% were cruel to animals as adolescents, and 36% had admitted to having continued their abusive nature toward animals as adults. By examining this significant relationship between animal cruelty or abuse in childhood years and violence and murder of humans in adulthood, it is easy to see there seems to be a correlation between the two.

The paraphilia most often associated with sex killings is that of sexual sadism. Sexual sadism is a “paraphilia that focuses on sexual arousal to fantasies, urges or acts of inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on another human being”. In the case of a sex murderer, it is said that one of the main motivators is the pursuit of sadistic pleasure and so they try to achieve this by committing sexual homicide. Although sexual sadism is most often associated with sex killings, sometimes signs of sexual sadism may not be as easily identifiable in adolescents as it would be in adults, because this paraphilia is still developing in the individual. Adults exhibiting behaviours reflective of sexual sadism are more likely to carry out on these feelings and perhaps commit sexual homicide than those whom have more ‘normal’ sexualities/ do not have these feelings of arousal to inflict pain on others.

In adolescent years, more subtle behaviours might be exhibited that can act as early warning signs or assist in the predicting of future behaviour. These behaviours include sexual aggression towards girlfriends/boyfriends, committing of rape or sexual assault, exhibiting some interest in violent sexual fantasies but not acting on them and more. These behaviours can be early warning signs of more extreme behaviours to come, with this behaviour snowballing until perhaps an act such as a sexually motivated murder occurs. Although an individual exhibiting these discussed behaviours in their childhood and adolescent years isn’t a definitive way of predicting whether they might commit sexual homicide in adulthood, it certainly can be one observation when also combined with others like observing and assessing what the individual’s upbringing was like, that can assist in the prediction of a sex murderer’s behaviour.

In light of new research and frameworks being applied to the study of criminology, it is said that Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) have been identified as a key risk factor for offending. Adverse childhood experiences can influence the trajectory of an individual’s future and influence them to offend in adulthood, whether that offending be a petty crime or something as extreme as committing the act of or becoming a sexually motivated murderer.

Research has recurrently documented that Children exposed to forms of physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse have ultimately perpetrated sexual homicide in adulthood. Within the population of offenders, those who have perpetrated sexually related offences, have been shown to have had extensive ACE. Based on research conducted by Levenson, Willis, & Prescott, it had been found that 53 per cent of 670 adult male sex offenders had been verbally abused, 42 per cent were physically abused, and 38 per cent had been sexually abused during their childhood. Based on this, there seems to be somewhat of a shared consensus that forms of Child sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical abuse and domestic violence in the childhood home were significant predictors of a higher number of sex crime arrests. Considering these indicators, it is possible to say that looking at an individual’s childhood experience (whether this person is already a convicted sex murderer or is suspected to possibly becoming one), can be used as a possible predictor of their behaviour.

Although there is no sure-fire way or signs that can definitively say who may be or become a sex murderer, there definitely are certain characteristics and behaviours that often might be displayed during adolescent years, when combined with assessing other factors in the individual’s life that may help act as possible early warning signs and help with the prediction of a sex murderer’s behaviour. Displays of animal abuse or killings during childhood and adolescent years are commonly exhibited among those who commit murders in adulthood (as seen in cases such as those of Theodore Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer). Aggressive sexual behaviours towards others in adolescence, as well as signs of interest in sadistic sexual fantasies, can also essentially act as possible predictors of future behaviour. Those who have committed sexual homicide in adulthood often had Adverse Childhood Experiences, usually involving abuse either physical, verbal or sexual and/or neglect in the childhood home. By looking at these factors, it is possible that they can be indicators of possible future offending and help to predict the behaviour of a Sexual Murderer. 

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Adverse Childhood Experiences Identified as a Key Risk Factor for Offending. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
“Adverse Childhood Experiences Identified as a Key Risk Factor for Offending.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022,
Adverse Childhood Experiences Identified as a Key Risk Factor for Offending. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Jun. 2022].
Adverse Childhood Experiences Identified as a Key Risk Factor for Offending [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 May 24 [cited 2022 Jun 27]. Available from:
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