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In the following essay I will be discussing if dysfunctional familial factors and behaviours are at the origins of sexual offending. I will argue that they are at the origins, but other factors must be present for an offence to be committed. “Adverse family environments provide breeding grounds for sexual offending” (Hanson and Morton Bourgon, 2005:1154)
Dysfunctional family factors and behaviours such as poor parenting skills, lack of supervision of the child, family violence and aggression and drug abuse are some of the factors mentioned in The Risk Factor Prevention Paradigm. (Haines and Case, 2008) (Shader, 2004) It is doubtful that one of these factors cause offending and criminal behaviours but instead is usually a combination of several of them. (Hawkins et al, 2000)
Familial factors and behaviours and the influence parents have on offenders has been noted in numerous criminological theories. When you take into consideration previous aggressive behaviour and demographic variables it was found that a distinct lack of order in the home in conjunction with a lack of structured activities within an adolescents family is a strong indicator of delinquency (Houere et al, 2007) A lack of order in the home is a characterization of poor parenting skills which include no consistent regulation, harsh or no punishment and a distinct lack of supervision. (Wells and Rankin, 1988)
Conflict existing in the household can also lead to violent offending (Mageun, 1995) ‘Drunkenness, abuse (both psychical and sexual), inconsistency, emotional neglect, hostility, criminal activity and social isolation’ are a strong characterization of the background of sexual offenders. (Marshall and Marshall, 2000251)
Violent parenting can create and environment of hostility and resentment causing a negative and unhealthy relationship between the parent and the child. (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990) This unhealthy relationship, or lack of bond can cause a deep ‘vulnerability’ for the sexual offender (Marshall, 1993:109) Violence in the home, specially from a young age, can cause a person to normalise aggressive behaviours, and in turn will learn to act violently (Simons et al, 2008) This types of parents are more likely to expose their children to other violent people and to provide inadequate supervision. (Kobayashi et al, 1995) These ‘deviant’ parents, as described by Kobayashi at al create a poor parental bond with their children. Parents of delinquents are less likely to be affectionate towards their children or to have emotional bonds with them. (Kobayashi et al, 1995)
A poor relationship bond between a parent and their child causes low self-esteem, a lack of ability to empathise and poor social skills. (Marshall, 1993) This poor relationship bond has an obvious negative impact on any relationships the child could potentially form when they become adults. This lack of productive adult relationships leads to strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of intimacy. (Marshall, 1993) Marshall and Marshall (2000) lay out the etiological steps to sexual offending. At the beginning, there is the poor parent bond which leads to vulnerability. This in turn becomes low self esteem, poor coping mechanisms and increases the risk of suffering sexual abuse.
This vulnerability and low self esteem will lead to effortlessly accepting poor social messages which gives feelings of power. Social messages such as male dominance, female submission, women as sexual objects and a denial of the need for empathy and compassion are welcomed by men with low self esteem in order to enforce the ideal of male authority and their own false sense of power. (Barbaree et al, 1990)
As mentioned above, dysfunctional familial factors and behaviours and increase the risk of a child suffering sexual abuse. (Marshall and Marshall, 2000) (Kobayashi et al, 1995) Childhood abuse is a “common predictor” for types of sexual offences (Lee et al, 2002)
Victims of abuse can feel further rejected by family members, isolated and alone. This can create a dependency on the abuser to meet their social needs. (Lee et al, 2002:77) This dependency can create a reality for the abused, in which the abuse suffered is seen as positive and affirms their need for attention. The abused can then turn to abuse as a way to further satisfy this need. (Marshall and Marshall, 2000)
There is a strong correlation between a history of sexual abuse and those who go on to commit sexual offences. Childhoods which are littered with aggression and violence usually leads to violent offences, including sexual offending. Boys who are physically abused are more likely to be arrested for violent sex crimes (Lee et al, 2002) When comparisons are made with the general pop, sex offenders were three times more likely to suffer child sex abuse and they had twice the odds of physical abuse. Sex offenders were also thirteen times more likely to suffer from verbal abuse and were four times more likely to have suffered from emotional neglect (Levenson, Wills and Prescott, 2014) Cooper et al 1996 study showed a stark difference between violent offences and non-violent offenders. Non-violent non-sexual offenders showed a rate of 27% of being abused, while non sexual violent offences showed an abuse rate of 75%, Interestingly, sexual offences showed abuse rates of 76%. (Cooper et al, 1996:106) It is important to note that there is a question of sexual offenders falsifying a history of childhood sexual abuse as an excuse for their own offending. Hindman’s famous study in 1988 shows that adults will lie and understate their actual committed offences, and overstate their own history of abuse. (Hindman, 1988) (Hindman and Peters, 2001)
Sexually abused sexual offenders usually offend earlier, are more likely to abuse both men and women, can exhibit more psychopathic traits and can have more victims. (Cooper, Murphy ad Haynes, 1996)
Finklehor identified children who are most at risk of abuse as being separated from their parents, or having factors which create poor parental supervision skills. (Finklehor, 1994:48)
The cycle of abuse is evident as people with a history of abuse and traumatic experiences allow for the creation of problems with adult relationships, self-esteem and self regulation. (Leveson et al, 2014) Child molesters have admitted to searching for sexual gratification as a way of coping with poor mental states and negative emotions. Or they use abuse as a desire to search for intimate relationships and connections with people. (Maun and hollin, 2007:3) Child abusers also report a fear of intimacy in adult relationships. This may be why they choose children as their victims- as there is less chance of rejection. They also hold the power over the child, resulting in less vulnerability in their actions. This fear of intimacy in adult relationships can also stem from their seeking connection to children and the fear of the adult response. (BUmby and Hanen, 1997:327)
Rapists report more violence at home than child sex offenders (Simons, Wartele, Durham, 2008) Rapists admit to committing acts as a way of dealing with anger, on impulse and as a desire to satisfy their sexual needs. (Maun and Hollin, 2007:3) The majority of rapists report being angry when they commit an assault- with their hostility mainly being directed at women. (rada, 1978)
Poor parenting skills, including violence in the home, lack of supervision and exposure to violent people result in a lack of support for the child, with little or no emotional bond formed between parent and child. These insecure bonds create feelings of low self esteem and a desperate need to form relationships with others. Underlying this need is a strong fear of rejection. These negative emotions manifest in poor coping mechanisms in response to the stress. This negative attempt to cope leads to self-indulgence. (Marshall and Marshall, 2014) This poor parenting is also a casual factor of low self- control, which is an underlying cause of criminal behaviour. (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 2001)
While dysfunctional familial factors and behaviours are at the origin of sexual offending, not every person who grew up in a dysfunctional environment will go on to be a sexual offender. Continuing on Marshall and Marshall’s etiological steps to sexual offending, when someone has a predisposition to commit a sexual offence there is social conditioning along with disinhibiting factors and opportunity. (Marshall and Marshall, 2000:251) “While the influence of parents may be primary during childhood, factors outside the family become more important as the child grows up” (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990: 265) These factors include viewing of violent pornography, societal views on women, possible use of alcohol during offence and opportunity.
The self- indulgence often begins at chronic masturbation, leading the person to equate self- esteem with sex, which can be damaging when their self esteem needs are not being met elsewhere. This, coupled with a lack of ability to process emotions in a healthy way results in a lack of control. When strong negative emotions arise the person can become disinhibited or use sex to meet their needs and as a “soothing strategy” (Ward and Beech, 2006:55) 58% of sexual offenders admitted to deviant thoughts and fantasies prior to the age of 18 which led to deviant acts. Pornography can normalise these deviant behaviours. (Ward and Beech, 2006) Early exposure to pornography predicts higher rates of sexual deviance (Davis and Braucht, 1978). This can be reflected back to parental supervision and self- indulgence as a coping mechanism. Viewing of violent pornography can result in gression from men towards women, as viewing can desensitise a person to the violence of rape. (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990: 267) Rapists have used porn to validate their actions, and it had been shown that men with limited socialisation had a higher chance of being affected and disinhibited by viewing pornography. (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990: 268) Pornography can be used as a way of normalising rape, and creates the suggestion that this behaviour is acceptable (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990: 268)
As mentioned above, the majority of rapists report hostility towards women when committing assaults. The cultural feature of socially acceptable male dominance and prevailing negative attitudes towards women are closely associated with high rates of rape (Kahlra and Bhugra, 2013). There is numerous academic studies contracting rape free and rape prone cultures. An example In Yanomamo which shows high rape statistics in a society where males exert all political power, and women are dehumanised and used as pawns in war (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990: 265) Patriarchal societies experience more rape than others (Sanday, 1981)
Men who endorse rape myths- such as women who are bra-less or wear short skirts are at fault in they are raped had heightened perceptions of sexuality (Abbey and Harnish, 1995). This endorsement is often encouraged by male peer leaders, which can most obviously been seen in fraternities, in the USA. Men reported feeling pressure from their peers who spoke about women, and their sexual ‘conquests’ in derogatory ways. (Abbey and Harnish, 1995).
Intoxication is often used as a disinhibitor to commit sexual offences. Alcohol can be especially effective in this regard as it removes the social constraints and concerns surrounding sexual assault, as it can impair judgement. Alcohol can also increase aggressive ad violent behaviours and increase sexual arousal. (Marshall and Marshall, 2014) It was found in studies of rape that in 70% of cases, alcohol had been used. (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990: 268)
As previously mentioned, Early stressors create the overproduction of stress related hormones associated with hyperarousal and anxiety. (Leveson et al, 2014) Both rapists and non sexual violent offenders reported high levels of stress at the time of their crime. (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990: 266) not able to deal with their feelings as poor parenting
Moods and disinhibitors will generate fantasies in sexual offenders, and they will pursue or create an opportunity to offend. These sexual fantasies often arise prior to an offence. (Marshall and Marshall, 2000:259) Creation of opportunity to sexually offend can happen in many ways, for example through manipulation of a situation, by creating an access point, through grooming and through drug abuse. (Marshall and Marshall, 2000:259) Other opportunities are creating with less awareness of the situation, in which the offender allows the events to continue which creates a situation of opportunity. Once the offence has been committed, it facilitates further fantasies for the offender, and they may then seek out additional opportunity to offend. (Marshall and Marshall, 2000:259)
These opportunities are taken advantage of when dysfunctional familial factors and behaviours were present at the beginning of the sexual offenders life. These dysfunctional factors and behaviours includes drug use, violence in the home, a lack of order and poor supervision which creates a poor emotional; bond between parent and child. The lack of supervision can leave the child vulnerable to abuse, which many sexual offenders have suffered from. The vulnerability and lack of supervision in conjunction with the negative or non-existent emotional bond fosters feelings of low self- esteem, poor coping mechanisms and substandard adult relationships. These in turn allow harmful attitudes towards women, such as the idea of female submission to be readily accepted. These attitudes can be found in the culture the sexual offender is residing in, but also in pornography. The unhealthy coping mechanisms include unhealty viewing of pornography, and equating sex and self esteem. This equation is dangerous when you are not improving your sef esteem from other aspects in your life. This fuels the deviant thoughts and fantasies. Once disinhibitors are included, such as normalisation of non- consensual violent sex and intoxication and opportunity for a sexual assault will be sought.
In conclusion, dysfunctional familial factors and behaviours are at the origin of but other factors such as disinhibitors and opportunity must be created or put in place for an offence to occur.
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