Webinar presenter Dr. Tasha Menaker answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "Understanding Sexual Assault Perpetration: An Overview of Typologies, Risk, and Recidivism." Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Does a suspect with multiple typologies have a greater risk of recidivism?
Dr. Menaker: It's hard to say — it kind of depends on what the characteristics are of the typologies but certainly, certain characteristics of certain typologies are at a higher risk of reoffending. Sadistic offenders are more likely to re-offend. Manipulative offenders are more likely to re-offend because they tend to engage a lot in those cognitive distortions, they're usually more emotionally intelligent and so if something doesn't happen to intervene in the course of their offending, then it's likely that they are going to continue to offend. We know the people who are preferentially attracted to children are more likely to re;-offend because as I said earlier, that's their preference. Same if your sexual preference is toward committing rape and the pleasure is derived from the violence of the act and the taking the control and power away from someone else. If they find pleasure in that, they're going to continue to seek out the pleasure. We have to find ways as a community and as practitioners within the criminal justice system and with the mental health systems and other to intervene so that we can work to help that person distance from that behavior over time.
Audience Question: How would you suggest whether you're in a criminal supervision position, like a probation officer or correctional officer or a police officer, to respond to comments from someone regarding their opinion that pedophilia is a sexual orientation?
Dr. Menaker: That's a tough one because I think a lot of people still feel really uncomfortable about that. It just makes us uncomfortable and for most of us, we don't like to think about people being sexually attracted to children, it's just not pleasant for the most of us. It's entirely up to the listeners as to whether you want to frame it that way. The information I provided was from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is a reputable source and within the DSM, they describe pedophilia as a lifetime condition. I think people can use the language that they want to use. I don't see much difference personally between something being a lifetime condition and something being a sexual orientation — and that's not to pathologize anyone's sexual orientation. But to say like this is something that is someone's longstanding preference. And I think using the language 'sexual orientation', actually can help people conceptualize that that needs to inform the way we approach people who have a sexual inclination towards children. We're probably not going to change the inclination but we can help them with behavior management, coping strategies, and I'll talk about this in the next webinar, really using the relapse-prevention model similar to like you would with substance abuse where the urge is there but you cannot engage in that behavior so you have to find a way to intervene between the urge and that behavior.
Audience Question: Can you identify any reliable studies that link child pornography possession with the risk of future hands-on sexual offense?
Dr. Menaker: I don't know off at the top of my head. I really don't know but I imagine that there is some research like that out there, I ran out of time to talk too much about it, but there's a pretty good body of research looking at the connection between pornography and sexual aggression but it's very nuanced so we don't have a lot of very clear outcomes. But as always, I'd be happy to help anyone look into that as I've mentioned before we have a team here at the coalition that does sexual violence related work. Most of us come from a research background so we're always happy to pull information for people if it will help inform their work, or they're testifying, or any case they're working on.
Audience Question: Is there a particular typology where you would place an adult who was a victim as a child and becomes a perpetrator later on? Does that go to one particular category or can they fall into any of them?
Dr. Menaker: In that situation, that person doesn't necessarily automatically fall within any particular category. Keep in mind even with the categories, there's reason for us to really question the validity of using them in the first place because most people really are going to demonstrate characteristics of multiple categories. Experiencing childhood sexual abuse and childhood trauma is actually, unfortunately, a fairly common experience among perpetrators. And so, the typologies I think are more about offenders’ motivations and the way that they perpetrate and also about the experience that they had that got them to that point.
Audience Question: Have you seen any data regarding recidivism that identifies the peak times for someone to re-offend? Is it in the first three years, or maybe years fourth or sixth? Have you seen anything that identifies the most likely period for recidivism?
Dr. Menaker: I feel like I've pulled a pretty solid amount of research looking at recidivism. I don't know the answer to that off the top my head. If you want to follow up with me, I'd be happy to look back on what I have and see if that's in there.
Audience Question: On risk factors for reoffending, are there any that stand out as being red flag indicators or has no one really quantified the risk factors?
Dr. Menaker: All of the ones that I put forth are ones that in the research so far have been found to be significant. One of the challenges that we have was sexual violence perpetration is there aren't any two or three characteristics or risk factors that we can say someone is engaging in this behavior or someone has that characteristic — therefore, we know that they are likely to go on and commit sexual violence. I think some of the key things to look out for are a combination of attitudes around sexual violence.
If someone is generally dismissive of sexual violence when they hear about it or you're in conversation about it. If they dehumanize victims or blame victims in those types of conversations. If they have low empathy and compassion, someone who essentially dehumanizes other people or seem to, I think that it would be a red flag to me. But unfortunately, that's not something that's easily identifiable unless you're engaged in a conversation with those people. There are also things that tend to emerge later in adulthood. For what it's worth, I think those are to me clear red flags.
I want to add though because I think there's a lot of misunderstanding around this. Trauma I would not say is a red flag. I know many of us have experienced trauma in childhood and most of us don't go on to do this. Although I'm saying that is a risk factor, I don't want to imply that just because someone has experienced trauma it means that they will perpetrate in the future.
Audience Question: You reference a video on YouTube that was an interview with a child rapist. I don't know if you could provide any more keywords so someone else can end up finding that video and watch the whole thing?
Dr. Menaker: I would tell people to go on YouTube, and search 'Anna Salter sex offenders', you will find it. They're old, I talked about this last time, I think she did those interviews in the 90s but they still are very good representations of what we're talking about today. There's not a lot of publicly accessible interviews with sexual offenders. If you search on YouTube you'll find it and there's both of the offenders that I highlighted today. I would strongly suggest for everyone and go ahead and check that out if it's something you're interested in. It's very informative.
Audience Question: Are you aware of any research about the progression of offending? People don't wake up one day saying they're going to offend and they've learned by sitting with and hearing offender that they tend to have a progression into offending.
Dr. Menaker: I think what we see with the risk factors to this question's point, these risk factors emerge at different points in a person's lifespan. It's a combination of having these experiences over time that can get someone to the point of where they might offend. Yes, I think there's a progression. I think there's the childhood experiences of trauma, witnessing interpersonal violence. Then as they get older, if someone is exposed to peer groups that reinforce attitudes that condone sexual violence, that just compounds the risk. If they do engage in some form of sexual violence and there's no intervention and no one finds out about it, then that increases continued risk. Not to mention, we live in a culture where people are receiving messages a lot of the times that are minimalizing sexual violence, are dehumanizing of women in particular. Going back to the rape culture slide, I showed a picture on it with a sticker on the back of a car, which I took at the grocery store and it says, 'Four doors for more whores'. For someone who has been exposed to violence, who's been socialized to not see sexual violence as a problem or dehumanize women… if they grow up and live in a world where that's the messaging that's in their face, that reinforces those propensities that might already be there.
Again, that speaks to the importance of prevention on multiple levels and all of us being conscious of what we're doing that might contribute to a culture where sexual violence is acceptable.
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