Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Motivation/Sex offenders
Motivation and sex offenders
- 1 Motivation and sex offenders
- 1.1 Introduction
- 1.2 The Motivation of Sex Offenders
- 1.3 Types of Sex offenders
- 1.4 Motivation and Drives
- 1.5 Psychological Theories
- 1.6 Treating the untreatable
- 1.7 Conclusion
- 1.8 References
- 1.9 Multimedia feedback
The Motivation of Sex Offenders
There has been a lot of debate determining the sole motivation for the macabre act of serial sexual homicide. Whilst sexual gratification, power and control and anger have been the most favourable explanations, unconscious motivation and evolution can also play a role. An offender’s upbringing and family life can also have an influence on the development of this sexual offending. Factors such as alcoholism and substance abuse, as well as sexual abuse are considered as factors that can lead to sex offenders behaviour, but are described more in the creation of a sex offender rather than the motivation of their acts. The nature nurture controversy that appears in all psychological fields applies to serial sex offenders also. Evidence suggests that both biological and social factors make up the characteristics and behaviours of a sex offender.
The name ‘serial sexual offender’ is given to those offenders who have murdered 3 or more victims in a sequence using acts of sexual deviance and predatory violence (Meloy & Felthous, 2004).
It is important to notice the difference between a sex offender and a serial sex offender. Whilst not all sex offenders kill their victims, there is still a great deal of perpetrators who do. Those offenders who murder their victims are known as serial sex offenders, compared to those who commit acts of sexual assault. There are various types of sex offenders, which will be listed below. The term ‘sex offender’ is often used as a group term to describe individuals who commit sexually deviant acts, whether they are a once off, continuous or involve the killing of the victim. For the sake of this textbook chapter, the terms sex offender and serial sex offender will be used in its correct form.
This textbook chapter will look at primary sex offenders and the motives of their crimes, but will also look at the methods and fantasy components to the act of killing their victims. This will give a broader understanding to how the acts are carried out, and will complement the case example of a serial sex offender by the name of Jeffrey Dahmer.
Types of Sex offenders
A sex offender is a person who has committed a sex crime which includes but is not limited to rape, statutory rape, sexual abuse, possessing child pornography, pedophilia and child molestation (Min-Chieh, Maxwell & Barclay, 2000). Some sex offenders may only commit one offence in their lives, whilst others may become a sexual predator and commit more than one offence, earning the title of a serial sexual offender.
Types of serial murderers
There are 4 types of serial killers. The motives of serial killers have been placed in these four categories (Holmes, DeBurger & Holmes, 1988). These overlap with the other motives that will be discussed in another section.
This type of serial killers, aim to eradicate a type or group of people they believe should not belong in society, such as homosexuals, prostitutes or people with a disability. Surprisingly, many serial killers who killed homosexuals were homosexuals themselves (Holmes, DeBurger & Holmes, 1988). Jeffrey Dahmer was a homosexual and majority of his victims were also homosexuals.
This type of serial killers believe that they are being channelled to commit their crimes through 'voices' and external sources. The most common are God mandated and demon mandated (Bartol & Bartol, 2004, p145). Dahmer fits this category as he states he was being channelled by demons to kill his victims.
This type of serial killer, kills essentially for fun and thrill, even comfort. Hedonistic killers are primarily motivated by sex of which fantasy is essential for (Bartol & Bartol, 2004, p145). Dahmer seems to fit this category too, by searching for his perfect lover.
Power and Control
This type of serial killer likes to be in control and have power over their victims. Feelings of being powerless or not in control as a child, such as being sexually or physically abused, can lead to these feelings of being powerless. Thus, gaining power anyway possible to reduce theses feelings. Sexual abuse is most common for these types of offenders (Egger, 2000). Again, Dahmer liked to take control of his victims in anyway he could.
Sex offenders and psychopathy
Although many definitions of psychopathy have been proffered most assert that psychopaths are individuals (mostly male) who are aggressive, self-centered, callous, guiltless, impulsive, sensation seeking, interpersonally exploitive, deceptive, low in fear and anxiety, unable to learn socially approved ways of satisfying immediate needs and to develop warm affectional bonds with other persons. Psychopaths are often highly versatile and prolific in their criminal offending and can include sex crimes.
Individual attitudes and personality have an influence on the way a person’s thoughts and behaviours are rationalised. Elements of psychopathy can be drawn from factors or personality traits and can be measured by the Psychopathy Check List-Revised, a statistical measurement designed to predict institutional adjustment and recidivism (Walters, 2003). These elements or underlying personality characteristics are what make people who they are and are often unchangeable.
Psychopathic traits are categorised into interpersonal, affective and behavioural traits (Book, 2010). Interpersonal traits include being grandiose, arrogant, superficial, deceptive and manipulative whilst affective traits are their inability to bond, short-temperedness and lack of guilt and empathy. Additionally, behavioural traits are impulsiveness, irresponsibleness and frequent violation of social norms and laws (Book, 2010). Psychopaths tend to have qualities that are not thought possible. They include intelligence, charisma and attractiveness, as well as middle class status and can also be high-income earners (Vaughn & Howard, 2005). Personality traits remain stable over time (Wallace & Newman, 2004).
The PCL-R measures factor 1 and factor 2 traits, on a 20 item clinical rating scale (Hare, Clark, Grann, & Thornton, 2000).
Factor 1 traits are personality traits and consist of:
Glibness/superficial charm Grandiose sense of self-worth Pathological lying Cunning/manipulative Lack of remorse or guilt Shallow affect Callous/lack of empathy Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Factor 2 traits are lifestyle factors and consist of:
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom Parasitic lifestyle Poor behavioral control Lack of realistic long-term goals Impulsivity Irresponsibility Juvenile delinquency Early behavior problems Revocation of conditional release
Motivation can also stem from the 4-element victim selection process. This process is an important feature in a sexual (and violent) offence.
Fantasy – sexual in nature, varies across offenders, varies over time and there is an ideal type of fantasy. Sexual preoccupation is evident in reoccurring sexual and rape fantasies. The use of pornography, massage parlours and sex clubs as well as having uncontrollable sexual urges, are consistent with fantasy. Deviant sexual behaviours such as paraphilias, (voyeurism, exhibitionism and necrophilia) as incorporated into the fantasy. The sexual assaults are well thought of and planned, often scripted and rehearsed, down to the last detail (Myers, Husted, Safarik & Tool, 2006). Over time the concept of fantasy becomes so strong that it continues to be confused with real life feelings and emotions. It can compensate for feelings of happiness, sadness, anger and the distinction between what is right an wrong (Chan, Heide & Beauregard, 2010).
Symbolism – this includes fetishes and partialisms (fetish body parts). Some serial sex offenders have particular objects or parts of the body that need to be integrated into their modus operandi for their satisfaction. This may include feet fetishes (podophilia) and the need for their victim to have a certain foot shape, or even body size or eye colour. In Dahmer's case he would possess the genitalia and skulls of the males as trophies, and biceps and other muscles for consumption. Dahmer later explained he would do this because he felt the person, who he had consumed, came alive in him and made him feel complete.
Ritualism – ritualistic behaviour of both the victim and the killer known is the modus operandi. The ritual needs to go to plan, and needs to be perfect. A serial killer has obsessive compulsive behaviours that are exercised in their ritual. Looking at Jeffrey Dahmer, his ritual consisted of loitering around gay bars and clubs, posing as a photographer and luring his victims back to his apartment where he would drug them, pour acid into holes he would drill in their heads and would have sex with them before dismembering the body.
Compulsion – the compulsion is thwarted and the need becomes stronger. There is often a cool off period after the first offense where the offender is remorseful. This slowly wares off and proceeds with another offence. Jeffrey killed his first victim and then waited 9 years before killing his next 16 victims.
The following case study is of an American serial sex offender by the name of Jeffrey Dahmer. The following case study will look at the nature of his crimes as well as his upbringing and motives (Bardsley, 2010).
Jeffrey Dahmer was born on May 21, 1960 in Wisconsin, USA. He sexually abused and killed 17 men from 1978 to 1991. As a teenager he had fantasies of killing and mutilating men. At the age of 17 he was abandoned at home with no money and food while his parents went through a nasty divorce. Dahmer was sexually molested as a child and was never counseled or supported by his parents. With already low self esteem and a shy personality, the neglect he received in his home life did not assist him and his transformation into adulthood.
Dahmer's unfortunate upbringing does not give excuse or reasoning for his existence as a serial killer who ended up destroying the lives of many young men. His homosexual victims were considered powerless and of a minority that were ‘easy to dominate’. He also hung around common ‘hunting grounds’ such as gay bars and clubs and preyed on mostly black/Asian men. His acts of symbolism were represented by his desire to keep parts of his victims’ bodies in which he would place around his home with lit candles. He would offer young homosexual and bisexual males money to pose for photos or to watch videos and drink beer at his place. He drugged victims into a deep sleep with spiked drinks before strangling or stabbing them to death, having anal sex with the cadaver, and then dismember them with a hacksaw.
Jeffrey felt that the men could then never leave him and he will no longer be alone. In particular, Dahmer would possess the genitalia and skulls of the males as trophies, and biceps and other muscles for consumption. Dahmer later explained he would do this because he felt the person, who he had consumed, came alive in him and made him feel complete.
After his first murder, Dahmer had a nine year ‘cooling off’ period where he felt guilty and remorseful of his behavior. However; this soon wore off and the emptiness feeling came back, which lead him to his impulsive second murder of a hitchhiker. From then the compulsion escalated. There was not a great deal of planning with each of Dahmer’s subsequent murders. Most of them occurred based on availability and when he felt ‘needy’ or when the ‘emptiness' returned. He lived alone and fed on the company of others, especially men.
The compulsion was too strong for Jeffrey. It started at a young age when he doused animal carcasses with acid and kept their bones, and would put their heads on steaks in his back yard. Dahmer would also conduct lobotomies some victims. Most died instantly as he poured acid into a hole drilled in his victim's skull, causing the victim to stay alive and function in a zombie state for several days. He would then have them perform sexual favors towards him, before eventually killing them, and/or eating them. Dahmer said human flesh "tasted like beef".
On one occasion the police were very close to catching Dahmer. They were called to a house where two girls witnessed a young Asian boy was running around Dahmer's front yard naked and bleeding. He could not speak English fluently and was obvious he was frightened. Once the police arrived at the scene Dahmer, who was eager to get the boy back into his apartment, told the police they were having a 'lover's quarrel' and that all was well. Police returned to boy the Dahmer's apartment, despite what the witnesses saw, leaving him to die. Dahmer strangled the boy, sexually abused him, mutilated the body keeping the skull as a trophy and other parts which he later ate.
Dahmer enjoyed the sick sadistic things he did. He knew his behavior was not encouraged but somehow he kept going back for more alike his heavy consumption of alcohol. In 1994, Dahmer died in the Columbia Correctional Institution where he was incarcerated. He was struck to the head with a bar from a weight machine by a fellow inmate. Dahmer's has been kept for research.
Jeffery Dahmer's motives
Dahmer was very much motivated by the power and control he had over his victims. He loved the sense of control he had over his victims, and when drugged or in a ‘zombie’ state (due to acid which he poured into holes drilled into their heads) his victims would succumb to his desires (Bardsley, 2010).
Dahmer was subjected to the power/control type of serial predator. However, he has also been categorised partially as a possessing hedonistic and missionary characteristics. This is justified in the way that the sex was not consented and it would occur even if the victims were dead. Because Jeffrey was a homosexual it is unlikely that he would have wanted to eradicate homosexuals, due to the fact he is one himself. Nonetheless, he did have a strong connection to the power/control type, which distinguished him from other predators (Bardsley, 2010).
Dahmer had an internal locus of motives, as he intrinsically believed he was fulfilling a mission (Bardsley, 2010). His mission was to honour evil and with his self created shrine of skulls and trophies, he believed he was able to acquire ‘special powers’.
It is known, from literature and past studies on serial predators that victims contribute to their own victimisation. Dahmer’s victims were inveigled by his charm and charismatic personality that they voluntarily followed him back to his apartment. Dahmer would go to these bars and pick up the men that looked vulnerable and compliant, often of a tall, thin physique. He liked to be the one in control as we know.
The following YouTube videos are a sequence of interviews with Jeffrey Dahmer conducted by Stone Phillips a Dateline NBC reporter. The first 3 parts (out of 6) are linked below.
Motivation and Drives
Sexual gratification is the most favourable explanation for the primary motivator for sex offenders. Sadistic pleasure, in particular is the prime pursuit. Sadism is the desired acts of cruelty and humiliation towards another in order to create sexual pleasure and orgasm to one self (Myers et al., 2006). Majority of sex offenders are predominately males, and their victims are predominately females. This is valid due to the normal heterosexual attraction between a male and a female. Additionally, homosexual sex offenders also target other homosexuals (as evident in Jeffrey Dahmer's case). This shows that there has to be some degree of physical attraction to the gender of the victim that is consistent with their sexual orientation (Myers, et al., 2006). Research shows that all serial sex offenders have at least some degree of sexual sadism (Myers, et al., 2006). Sexual Motivation represented the driving psychological force in the crimes (Fedoroff, 2008). Other reasons suggest that inability to love and form close, intimate relationships with others can be the explanation for these sex offences (Holmes & De Burger, 1988). That is, the killer simply never develops any lasting relationships According to Freud, he states that individuals have high levels of sexual energy that needs to be released, otherwise there is build up of sexual energy that can cause anxiety (Heffner, 2004). This anxiety on top of other factors (psychopathy, upbringing and mental state) can cause anti social deviant behaviour such as sex offending. Ted Bundy an American serial killer who's feelings of insecurity, anger, and tendency to run from problems lead him to be a serial sex offender (Myers et al., 2006).
Aggression and anger are different. Aggression has been described as a behaviour intended to inflict harm or behave destructively towards another organism (Hazelwood & Burgess, 2008). Anger on the other hand describes a strong feeling of displeasure and antagonism (Myers et al., 2006). Studies have shown that there a pin pointed areas in the human brain that are responsible for the regulation of anger. They include the hypothalamus, amygdala, and orbitofrontal cortex. The studies also show that it is impossible for a human to feel two incompatible emotions at the same time, namely sexual arousal and anger. Thus, the suggestion that whilst sex offenders might be angry at themselves whilst committing their acts, they have to suppress this feeling before feeling sexual arousal (Beauregard & Proulx, 2002).
Sexual offenders who have been subject to neglect and poor family development can develop high levels of anger and frustration. This can be due to the fact that they have not been given an equal chance at life like many of their peers (Myers et al., 2006). Beauregard and Proulx's study conducted with 36 sexual murderers concluded that 55% of the offenders reportedly committed their acts in a 'fit of rage' (2002).
Power and Control
Power and control over an offenders victims has been seen as the secondary motive for committing sex crimes (Myers et al., 2006). Whilst being a crucial part of the modus operandi and victim selection process the amount of control an offender has in their crime can be dependent on the victim and the environment (Groth, Burgess & Holmstrom, 1977). Domination and control can also act as a way of increasing sexual pleasure and as a way to manage the victim so the offence can occur (Myers et al., 2006). Some researchers also believe that if there is a poor child development in the areas of autonomy and independence, the perceived power and control that the offender has can be low (Egger, 2000). The self esteem of sex offenders is often quite low and can be a cause for the increased need to find a way to feel psychological stable and comfortable (Hazelwood and Burgess, 2008). Jeffrey Dahmer states in an interview (see YouTube video) that power and control was his main motivator.
Enjoyment can be a motivator for some serial sex offenders. In particular a Scottish sex offender named Dennis Nilsen responded in an interview that his motivation was pure enjoyment (Newton, 2000). For an individual to actually find enjoyment in committing these sex crimes they must have psychological issues. These sex offenders can be so confused and caught up in their fantasy so much that there perception of enjoyment is disturbed (Newton, 2000). There enjoyment has been learnt, just as normal human learnt to enjoy them selves and feel a sense of calmness and homeostasis once a need is reduced. Alike these serial killers, the feel a sense of reduced anxiety which has been associated with enjoyment (Myers et al., 2006).
Evolution can be a motivator for sex offenders, but it is not a primary motivator. Myers et al. found that it was a contributing factor especially for male offenders due to a pre-historic hunting theory (2006). This theory was that rape was a way of cheating the mating process by allowing males to spread their genes in a timely way without having to stay around and raise the children (Thornhill, & Palmer, 2000). This is less the case now as victims have the option of undergoing an abortion, and taking over-the-counter birth control pills which can reduce the likelihood of the genes being passed on.
Sigmund Freud is the father or unconscious motivation While most of his theories have been idolized by psychologists all over the world, they have also been widely criticized. The ability to test his theories are very difficult, due to the nature of what they are testing - the unconscious. Jeffrey Dahmer states in his interview that he 'didn't know what he was doing' at some points of his murders. This can show that his disassociation was enough to cause this to happen (Myers et al., 2006). Disassociation describes the 'complete disruption of the normal integration of a person's conscious or psychological functioning' (Holmes & De Burger, 1988). Alike disassociation, other defense mechanisms are used to inhibit the cognitive processing of the sexual act, causing the sex offender not to consciously be aware they are committing the offense (Heffner, 2004). As well as the increasing thwarted fantasy component of their crime, these defenses become all that is left of the individual.
Sigmund Freud believes, and formed as part of his Psychodynamic theory, that theses please seeking drives are battling unconsciously in ones mind, causing anxiety and stress if they are not satisfied. Because this all happens unconsciously, Freud's representation of this is represented by his Topography model, marked by the ID, EGO and SUPER EGO (Heffner, 2004).
ID: psychological experience of the collective needs for pleasure (include explicit and implicit needs). The ID is often symbolised by a devil. EGO: Is the control centre for these needs and adapts to environment to which these needs present themselves, also known as the 'Reality Principle'. SUPER EGO: is the moral part, by which expresses feelings of guilt and conscious thought to counteract the unacceptable drives the ID presents. The SUPER EGO is often referred to as the conscious because it considers the belief of right and wrong, and symbolised as an angel. Freud states that the ego is the strongest component of the non-conscious (made up of preconscious and unconscious) as it needs to satisfy the needs of the id. If the id gets too strong, impulses and self gratification take over the person's life (which could be a factor in the development of a serial sex offender). If the superego becomes to strong, the persons morals and judgments would be affected causing their thoughts, decisions and behaviours to weaken (Heffner, 2004).
For example in the case of Jeffrey Dahmer his ID was making him seek out his need for power and control. It was his EGO that should have stepped in as the 'reality principle' and redirected his need for power and control to something more appropriate such as sport. His SUPER EGO should have also worked with the EGO. Instead, the ID was too powerful and the SUPER EGO was not able to control the EGO as it adopts several defence mechanisms. The most commonly used defence mechanism is Denial. In Jeffrey's case, his denial stemmed from his disclosed sexual orientation as a homosexual. He preyed on, sexually assaulted and killed homosexual men, purely because it was his way of escaping from his own sexual orientation. Repression is also used by suppressing uncomfortable thoughts into the unconscious. Other defence mechanisms such as displacement, projection, rationalisation, reaction formation, regression, sublimation and suppression are also used (Levenson, 2010). Sexual offenders overly rely on the defenses of displacement, and projection (Myers et al., 2006).
Learning theory suggests that the offender has learnt behaviours which have caused them to behaviour in a sexually deviant way (Chan, Heide & Beauregard, 2010). It has been estimated that 50% of sex offenders have been sexually abused themselves and that 70% of their families had a history of alcoholism (Myers et al., 2006). Abuse and neglect were also present in the upbringing of the serial killer. The sexual abuse and the intense physiological arousal are quickly associated with each other, leaving the offender learning only what is a macabre and sadistic thing to do. Over time sexual arousal is associated with the abuse and violence that comes with it, in turn making a negative relationship between the two.
Nature Vs. Nurture
Are serial sex offenders born or are they socially created? what evidence is there to support both sides?
Like any nature vs. nurture debate in psychology there is research to support both arguments. The amount of twin studies that have been conducted are countless and yet there are still too many factors to consider to make a final conclusion. Nature looks at the biological disposition and considers factors such as hormones and exposure to stressors whilst in the womb.
Genetic factors play a role in an individuals likelihood of committing a criminal act and being diagnosed with an Anti Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) according to Myers et al. (2006). Neurological structures in the brain can determine these findings. In particular research looking at the amygdala, orbito-frontal cortex, and hippocampus shows that sex offenders and those who have committed a criminal act have deficiencies in these areas of their brain (Blair, Colledge & Mitchell, 2001).
Nurture, on the other hand, considers lifestyle factors and the environment of which one grows up in. Early life experiences can dictate the foundation of becoming a serial killer (Myers et al., 2006). Childhood abuse, unfair punishment, alcoholism and substance abuse in conjunction with a predisposition to anxiety and depression can be a deciding factor combining biological and social factors. Bed wetting, fire setting and cruelty to animals have been seen as the triad characteristics of developing serial killers (Meloy & Felthous, 2004). Additionally, day dreaming, chronic lying and headaches as well as running away at least once in childhood are also seen as social indicators.
In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, he motivation is likely to have been socially influenced due to the abuse he received as a child, neglect and poor learning associations (sexual arousal and control). He had a disruptive childhood with parents breaking up and leaving him to fend for himself. Additionally, being an only child he had nobody to turn to. Nurture in this case seems to provide the most favourable outcome. However, biological explanations could explain some of his behaviour, but now that Dahmer is dead they have to rely on his testimonials and lifestyle.
Treating the untreatable
There is much debate as to whether or not serial sex offenders can and want to be treated. Whilst there have been methods created aimed at treated sex offenders, recidivism rates are still high even after treatment. This supports the biological explanation for the creation of sex offenders, but also shows that learnt behaviours can be impossible to change. Also, if recidivism rates are so high, then why waste time, effort and money on treating theses psychopathic individuals?
There has been a significant amount of attention given in the area of psychopathy with great interest in the area of treatment and recidivism. Researchers have invested time and funds into developing treatments interventions which aim at rehabilitating psychopaths (Hare, Clark, Grann, & Thornton, 2000; Walters, 2003; Wallace, & Newman, 2004). Individual attitudes and personality have an influence on the way a person’s thoughts and behaviours are rationalised. Elements of psychopathy can be drawn from factors or personality traits and can be measured by the PCL-R, a statistical measurement designed to predict institutional adjustment and recidivism (Walters, 2003). These elements or underlying personality characteristics are what make people who they are and are often unchangeable.
Personality traits remain stable over time (Wallace & Newman, 2004). Psychopathic traits are categorised into interpersonal, affective and behavioural traits (Book, 2010). Interpersonal traits include being grandiose, arrogant, superficial, deceptive and manipulative whilst affective traits are their inability to bond, short-temperedness and lack of guilt and empathy. Additionally, behavioural traits are impulsiveness, irresponsibleness and frequent violation of social norms and laws (2010). These traits are seen as stable features of a person’s character, however, Wallace and Newman have come up with three proposed treatment interventions designed to reduce psychopathic behaviours. They consist of a psycho-social, cognitive and behavioural intervention (2004). These have been created to change the attitudes, behaviours and the cognitive processes of psychopaths, which can be reflective of their personality. The psycho-social interventions works by the patient identifying their problem (which can often be difficult as they don’t realise they have a problem), pausing for a moment and then evaluate their response options and select the appropriate alternative (Wallace & Newman, 2004). Cognitive interventions include reprogramming current schemas so that they fit socially accepted behaviour. Behavioural interventions include sensing anger and frustration cues and knowing how to act on them appropriately (Wallace & Newman, 2004).
Although these treatments sound valid, there was only evidence to show that a cognitive intervention would be slightly effective by increasing the movement away from their set schemas and pausing to seek alternate options. However, there was not ample evidence to show that these treatment interventions remain consistent when the psychopaths were discharged from their institutions, exemplifying the concept of behaving in a socially desirable manner to receive rewards.
The common psychopath is notorious for their unmotivated attitudes towards changing their attitudes and behaviour (Wallace & Newman, 2004). Psychopathy is not considered a clinical illness in the DSM-IV and instead is diagnosed as an antisocial personality disorder, implying that this disorder is due to personality. In addition, psychopaths have a strong tendency to blame others, especially for difficulties that they have experienced throughout their lives (2004).
To think that these personality traits can be changed for a greater good is overestimated. The ability to stop possessing a personality trait is very difficult and cannot be done successfully. On a lighter note, looking at somebody who is very generous often finds it hard to be selfish, alike somebody who possesses antisocial, violent and manipulative traits would find it difficult to change. This attitude is expressed by psychopaths as they are often not interested in changing their behaviour and are therefore not likely to participate in treatment programs (Wallace & Newman, 2004). They are unable to use other schemas in situations of which they only use the one most assessable to them (2004). This often results in recidivism.
In conclusion, psychopaths are not able to change their personality in attempt to reduce recidivism. They act in socially desirable ways to earn rewards such as parole and will often adopt new skills from associating with other psychopaths in the same treatment facilities. Whilst conditioning had proven to be effective in other areas of psychology, it is not effective in this area, as psychopaths are unable to be conditioned to change their personality due to innate nature of them. Moreover, when psychopaths are put in a real life situation, their personality traits and existing schemas will prevail.
Psychological theory and research helps to understand serial sex offenders as a heterogeneous group. Through sexual gratification, need for power and control and anger, a serial sex offender is motivated. Unconscious drives and early learning theories also explain the macabre nature of their behaviour. There is still no answer to the nature vs nurture debate among psychology giants, and again, it can not be defined as to whether serial sex offenders are born or made. It can be observed though that a lot of their fantasy and thwarted compulsions do come from their environment but pre dispositions to mental illness and anger problems have been identified. Psychopathy is a valid measure of a sex offender and has taught researchers and the public about how and why they do what they do.
Treatment has been an option for serial sex offenders but its effectiveness has not been found. Recidivism rates are high for sex offenders and its shown that part of their illness or problem is that they cannot physically change their personality traits that make them who they are. The Jeffrey Dahmer case study provides a details look at a sexual serial offender, as well as shows interviews of him talking about his offense.
In summary, human behaviour is complex and that the more it is studied the more that is learnt, and the more it calls for explanation.
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