The Sexual Offender

There are many terms to describe this individual: perpetrator, sexual predator, sexual abuser, rapist, child molester, and so on. The term, sexual offender, seems to cover all aspects of this person and is a term used by most law enforcement agencies. While this foundation concentrates on the healing of survivors of sexual abuse, it also wants to recognize that families might be able to support the SA survivor if they fully understand the nature of the sexual offender, who is often a family member. Even though women can be sexual offenders, most are men and for that reason the masculine pronoun will be used in this section.

In the book, The Sexually Abused Male: Application of Treatment Strategies (Vol. 2), editor Mic Hunter has outlined treatment therapies and Shirley Carlson contributed a chapter outlining the characteristics of the sexual offender.(1) This book is out of print, but is available from and other online book resellers. Some of the following information comes from this book.

1. Resistant to therapy.

Sexual offenders do not want to participate in therapy and most psychologists agree that, of all types of addicts, they are the most difficult to treat. However, in 1988 Barbaree and Marshall reported in a study that there was a substantial difference in the recidivism rates of extra-familial child molesters who participated in a community based cognitive-behavioral treatment program, compared to a group of similar offenders who did not receive treatment (2).

If the sexual offender has abused a family member, the family may wish to handle the situation within the confines of the family. If rape is committed, this falls into the public arena. But if the sexual abuse is molesting and not rape, families may have a choice. And, based on Barbaree’s research, they should insist that the sexual offender get therapy because it may help to stop his addiction. Families may consider prosecuting a family member if he does not consent to therapy in an effort to stop his addiction and protect others from his sexual abuse.

If the sexual offender is arrested, law enforcement agencies take charge and penalties vary from one state to another. In Ohio, when a sexual offender is released from prison, law enforcement agencies know where he will be living and notify his neighbors of his offense and his tendencies in order to protect the neighborhood.

2. Multiple victims.

Most sexual offenders have such a strong addiction that they will abuse multiple victims. They commonly threaten their victims to keep the abuse a secret under penalty of bodily harm if the victim should tell anyone. This allows them the freedom to abuse others if the opportunity arises. Victims can be inside or outside of the immediate family, though the easiest victims are inside a family structure since trust is high. A niece’s perception that “Uncle Fred” always seems like such a nice fellow gives him the perfect chance to take her on a “private” walk in the woods.

The movie, Not in My Family, portrays two grown women remembering having been abused in their childhood by their grandfather. Often the sexual abuse addiction lessens with age but grandfathers and grandmothers, who have been sexual offenders, still can continue their abuse.

If a family avoids confronting the sexual offender, then they indeed share in responsibility for the abuse of his future victims. If the sexual offender has abused multiple victims, he usually will not reveal this unless he is caught or exposed by the abused.

3. Inwardly a coward.

Many survivors of sexual abuse are reluctant to confront their abuser because of their fear, due to the psychological “power” the sexual offender has over the abused. Outwardly the offender may seem confident and strong. However the mindset of the sexual offender is that of a coward. It doesn’t take much courage to attack a child or young girl: no brave person would do this. And so, when confronted, these people usually offer no resistance.

Often they carry shame and have low self-esteem. This may be due to an adverse childhood experience. Policemen and women who often deal with incidents of sexual abuse admit that these perpetrators are indeed cowardly.

4. Lack of boundaries.

The sexual offender has little sense of boundaries and little respect for privacy. This may include intense teasing, arguing to gain credibility, verbal abuse, walking around the house partly clothed or naked, going through other’s mail or personal possessions (purses, etc.), inspecting closets, cupboards, and bedrooms, and controlling situations and relationships.

In the movie, Sleeping With the Enemy, Julia Roberts plays an abused wife who leaves her husband, hoping that he will think that she drowned. Several months later, her first clue that he has found her is seeing her messy kitchen cupboards that have been neatly cleaned and organized.

5. Master manipulator.

Sexual offenders define the term, manipulator. They are crafty and can manipulate even their therapist. The sexual offender may admit his abuse but will slowly mitigate it by leaving out critical material and trying to blame the victim for seducing him. He is cunning and persuasive and knows that the best way to have others forget about his abuse is to minimize it and convince others to let it go. Time is on his side and the more that time elapses, the more he has a chance to escape being blamed for this.

He could be an effective salesman by making others believe that his point of view is correct. He tries to appear honest, sincere, and will offer any other qualities that he believes his audience will accept in order to forgive him and “move on”, as he will often say. By “moving on”, his family ignores the fact that he is under a powerful addiction that may prompt him to abuse others.

6. High need to control.

He tries to control situations whenever he can. This may include his own family, spouse and his extended family as well. He will try to control his therapist. He likes to win and will do whatever it takes to convince others that things should go the way he wants them to go.

He may apologize and is smart enough to know what measures he has to do to gain control of his family situation. He may even claim to read books on sexual abuse and take classes, all the while resisting any change inside himself, thinking that this will satisfy the abused or family’s need to see him “changed.” His ultimate goal is to have people think of him as normal so that he can resume his life without restrictions. This allows him to continue abusing.

7. Blames others.

The sexual offender, even if he possibly admits his abuse, will try to minimize his responsibility in the offense. He may blame others or his childhood, his children or his spouse, or the one he abused. Although he may have had an adverse childhood experience, he may not want to reveal that, out of shame. He rarely will take full responsibility for his abusive actions, which would be the action of a rational person.

He may say or do things to elevate his own poor self-esteem at the expense of others. He has little concern for feelings of others but only a huge need for security for himself.

8. Strong adherence to the patriarchal form of family.

Most sexual offenders come from a family where the father was the supreme ruler and the mother was placed on a secondary tier of responsibility. In these families, the father’s word was the law of the house and could not be questioned by the mother or children. It would not be unusual for the father to loudly berate the mother in front of the children or even to physically abuse her. Sons may be overvalued, compared to daughters in these dysfunctional families. The father may have had a physical method for controlling the family, such as intense spankings or beatings, and often the sons, upon reaching a mature physical state, would back the father into a corner to let him know that they now were also dominant males and would not take any more physical discipline from the father. Desiring more power is common among sexual offenders and the sexual abuse of women and children gives them ultimate power, according to Shirley Carlson.(1)

9. May prefer different types of victims.

Just because the sexual offender abused his son, it does not mean he will not try to abuse a young girl, a passive female employee, or some other weak individual. Stronger types of sexual offenders may prefer a variety of victims.

10. May have a personality prone to narcissism.

Sexual offenders often border on narcissism, a pathologic self love that places the individual and his needs far above those of others. Derived from Greek mythology, the word comes from Narcissus who was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of a nymph. As a punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus wasted away and changed into the flower that bears his name, the narcissus.

If combined with an antisocial personality trait, this can lead to psychopathic tendencies, which can produce an individual dangerous to society.

11. May have other abusive tendencies.

The sexual offender may also exhibit verbal and physical abuse towards those below him on the pecking order. He may also have other addictions such as alcoholism, drug dependency, gambling, and so forth.

The pattern of abuse can pass from one family to the next generation. The abused can become the abuser in any form: sexual, physical, verbal, or mental. If a dysfunctional family can have enough courage to admit its shortcomings (difficult because many such families have a strong desire to maintain a “perfect” appearance) and seek group therapy, it may be able to break the cycle of abuse. Since the sexual offender does not respond well to therapy, the courts or the family, whoever is in charge, must insist on continual treatment and close supervision. Allowing this person to “babysit” or be alone with small children is a recipe for more sexual abuse.

1. Hunter, Mic. (Ed.) The Sexually Abused Male: Application of Treatment Strategies (Vol. 2) Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, 1990.
2. Barbaree, H.E. & Marshall, W.L. (1988). "Deviant sexual arousal, offense history, and demographic variables as predictors of reoffense among child molesters." Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 6 (2), 267-280.

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