Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Motivation-facilitation model of sexual offending

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The motivation-facilitation model of sexual offending:
What is it? What does it predict? How can it be applied?

Overview[edit | edit source]

A case study: The case of Larry Evert (Stevens, 2002)


Larry is a 20-year-old male high school graduate. Larry was incarcerated on charges regarding sexual engagement with children. He has a highly aggressive, manipulative, antisocial and antagonistic disposition, and is often described as combative.

Larry stated the motive that pushed him towards sexual activity was "to simply experience a thrill". He expressed boredom with life and stated this sexuality gave him personal and immediate rewards and took his mind off the boredom. Larry exhibited on several occasions sexually aggressive attitudes towards females, claiming he knows "what girls want and I know how to convince them they're right", and they should serve men no matter their age.

What do you think of Larry's case? Keep it in the back of your mind as you progress through the chapter.

Figure 1. There is a major knowledge gap between persistence and onset risk factors for child sexual offending (Seto, 2017)

Understanding the psychology behind the motivation of sexual violence is necessary to support ongoing efforts to reduce victimisation caused by sexually violent behaviour. The motivation-facilitation model of sexual offending (MFM) was officially developed by Michael Seto (2008, 2013). This framework details possible factors that contribute to the onset of sexual offending. This contrasts with the vast majority of prior research that was conducted to discern what risk factors increase recidivism of sexual offending. Seto's reasoning behind this goal was due to onset factors being significantly less developed and understood compared to other areas discussing motivation behind sexual predatory behaviours (see Figure 1). This model is still in the initial stages of its development. It has a strong theoretical foundations and draws upon previous scientific studies that investigates firmly established motivators of sexual recidivism (Pullman et al., 2016). However, this model lacks significant empirical support due to the model only being introduced in recent years.

Focus questions for consideration

  1. How is the motivation-facilitation model of sexual offending able to predict sexually predatory behaviour?
  2. What is the primary practical application of this model?
  3. Is there sufficient recent research to support this model?

Sexual offending[edit | edit source]

The worldwide issue of sexual predation and violence causes immense damage and extensive trauma. As legislation regarding what constitutes a sexual crime varies across jurisdictions, there is no singular definition of sexual offending. Intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and affiliated agencies can shed light on the universal significance, commonality and impact of sexual offences.

What is sexual offending?[edit | edit source]

The definition of sexual offending differs between countries. This is based on two primary components, such as:

  1. What actions or behaviours constitute as criminally sexually predatory and;
  2. What is legally the age of consent.

The definition of sexual abuse proposed by the UN is, "actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions" (UN, 2017, p. 149). This includes acts of coercive sexual acts, rape, groping, and sexual torture. This is expanded to include child sexual crimes (UNICEF, 2020), adding child sexual abuse as child grooming (online or otherwise), sexual activities, child pornography, indecent exposure, and child sexual exploitation. This includes sexual abuse by an adult in a position of trust or authority, or being groomed or sexually exploited online by an adult or older child. For a more expansive explanation on this topic, please visit the book chapters Sexual violence motivation (2014) and Sex offender motivation (2010).

Prevalence of sexual offending[edit | edit source]

Sexual offending is a social problem which has drastic and long-lasting consequences (Lussier et. al., 2021). Global statistics can help illustrate the impact of sexual offending in both adult and child populations. However, these statistics illustrate a small portion of the true magnitude of sexual violence (National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, 2004). The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated 736 million women experience sexual violence by an intimate partner or non-partner in their lifetime (WHO, 2018). This data was collected between 2000 and 2018 and includes 161 countries and areas. A global review into child sexual violence showed 12.7% of the world’s children had been sexually abused before reaching the age of 18 years, with trend data discovering around 90% of the perpetrators were male (UNICEF, 2020).

Relevant psychological theories[edit | edit source]

The psychological theories used in the MFM of sexual offending are derived from two primary psychological theories: Finkelhor’s (1984) preconditions model and the general theory of crime (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). Their influence becomes apparent within several elements of Seto's model. Finkelhor's preconditions model (1984) is directive of the motivational factors in the MFM while Gottfredson and Hirschi's (1990) general theory of crime informs facilitatory and situational factors. The preconditions model and the general theory of crime are used to establish a conceptual base and additional support for Seto's own psychological thinking.

Finkelhor’s (1984) preconditions model[edit | edit source]

Finkelhor’s (1984) model isolates three factors of motivations to sexually offend against children:

  1. Child sexual arousal (pedophilia);
  2. emotional affinity for children more than for adults (emotional congruence) and;
  3. inability to achieve emotional and sexual satisfaction in adult relationships (blockage).

This model posits these as possible motivators which do not all need to be met for child sexual abuse to occur. For example, one can exhibit all three of these and still not commit a sexual offence. The preconditions outlined in this model include:

  1. Motivation to sexually abuse;
  2. overcoming internal inhibitors;
  3. overcoming external inhibitors and;
  4. overcoming the resistance of the child.

The model therefore states while only one motivational factor can be present, all four preconditions are necessary conditions that must be met for abuse to happen. For example, an offender must first be motivated (e.g. sexual arousal), and has to overcome internal (e.g. use of cognitive distortions such as "sexual experience with an adult is informative not harmful") and external inhibitions (e.g. distancing child from family) and finally must get the child to not resist (e.g. emotional manipulation or physical coercion).

There have been critical reviews about the theory's limitations, such as factor vagueness and atheorectical foundations (Howells, 1994). However it still has value as a broad model and can help guide preventive and treatment programs. These factors are reflective in Seto's work, as it acknowledges the motivational, facilitatory factors (internal inhibitors), and situational factors (external inhibitors and child resistance). Seto mostly focuses on the motivational factors of this model, and investigates child paraphilia more so than the other two factors. Though he cited emotional congruence as a future avenue for exploration within his own model (Seto, 2017).

Gottfredson & Hirschi (1990) general theory of crime[edit | edit source]

The general theory of crime suggests individuals low in self-control will commit crimes if opportunities exist (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). This theory is based on the assumption that individuals who commit crime will also engage in other 'deviant' conduct (e.g. smoking, gambling, excessive drinking, speeding, unprotected sex, etc.) that provides immediate gratification (Pratt & Cullen, 2000). Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) state that people who have a long history of these behaviours will have a 'criminal propensity' due to being unable to resist the immediate gratification of crime. For example, people who are impulsive and take risks will be unable to avoid criminal behaviour as crime takes little forethought and gives them immediate satisfaction.

This is mediated with the idea of opportunity. Opportunity relies on the access to a potential victims or targets, which is influenced by environmental factors such as the presence of obstacles (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). For example, a person who is impulsive may not commit a crime because of the presence of familial supervision or not having access to their desired victims. As this theory has no specific factors, Seto wished to expand on this by explicitly outlining core sexual motivations and possible trait and state facilitation factors.

The motivation-facilitation model of sexual offending[edit | edit source]

The MFM of sexual offending aims to discover what specifically motivates a potential sexual predator to commit their first offence (see Figure 2). It uses previous research focused on sexual recidivism and expanded on this to create a dynamic exchange between factors. This produces an increased or decreased risk of potential sexual offending (Pullman et al., 2016). The model proposes that motivational factors generate the intention or desire to offend. Additionally, facilitatory factors regulate the possibility a sexual offence will be committed, given the related motivational elements are present. Situational factors run adjacent to motivational and facilitatory factors. These factors refer to possible opportunities of offending.

Figure 2. A replication of the updated motivation-facilitation model of sexual offending (Seto, 2017).

Motivational factors[edit | edit source]

Most motivational factors used in the MFM have substantial scientific support. Seto (2017) defines motivation as a psychological process which activates and guides behaviour. Sexual motivation therefore influences perceptions, intentions, and other psychological processes relating to sex. This section emphasises three key sexual motivations:

  1. Paraphilias;
  2. high sex drive and;
  3. intense mating effort.

These elements link to the intention to offend.

Paraphilias[edit | edit source]

Sexual paraphilia is a common feature in the literature studying sexual offending behaviours. It is heavily supported across varies areas of study, especially in relation to high-risk offenders. A study looking into the differences between deviant sexual fantasies, paraphilia diagnosis and levels of psychopathy in 139 high-risk offenders supports this. Results showed 85% were diagnosed with one or more paraphilia(s). Most child molesters had a nonviolent paraphilia and were driven by sexual interests more than specific traits, such as aggression (Woodworth et al, 2013). These effects could be limited by the social desirability bias, as inmates could have avoided exposing the full extent of their fantasies.

A study on the link between hyper-sexuality and pedophilic diagnosis observed a large portion of their sample reported child-related sexual behaviours within the past week (Wittström et al., 2020). This includes viewing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) or observing children for sexual arousal without committing sexual abuse. This suggests these behaviours can be a diagnostic marker of potential sexual offending. Paraphilias have also been shown to have a strong correlation to sexual recidivism, with this relationship being produced in two major meta-analyses (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2005; McCann & Lussier, 2008). This is despite paraphilias not indicating the likelihood of physical sexual abuse towards children (Pullman et al., 2016). Pullman and colleagues list the paraphilias most associated with sexual offending (see Table 1). Overall, paraphilias are strongly linked with potential child exploitative behaviours without it leading to known sexual offending.

Table 1. Descriptions of all relevant paraphilias commonly associated with sexual offending (Pullman et al., 2016)

Relevant paraphilia descriptions
Paraphilia Description
Pedophilia An atypical sexual interest in prepubescent children (typically below age 11)
Hebephilia An atypical sexual interest in pubescent children (typically between the ages of 11 and 14)
Sexual sadism An atypical sexual interest in the psychological or physical suffering of another person.
Coercive paraphilia (Biastophilia) An atypical sexual interest in cues of nonconsent, including verbal and physical resistance

High sex drive[edit | edit source]

There is strong scientific evidence showing a connection between high sex drives and sexual offending behaviours. However, this is less so compared to paraphilia. This factor concerns the strength of sexual desires rather than the orientation of sexual interest. It is a complicated factor, and can be influences by age, hormones, relationship status, and physical and mental health (DeLamater & Sill, 2005). Seto (2017) states that high sexual drive can lead to excessive sexual preoccupation, with prolonged exposure linked with distress and impairment. These include hyper-sexuality, sexual addiction, and sexual compulsivity. This factor poses little threat when expressed in typical sexual behaviours. Though it can become a motivation for sexual offending when it overcomes inhibitions preventing coercion. This is pressuring someone into sex or having sex with someone who cannot legally agree.

High sex drives are associated with higher levels of child pornography use, leading to use of taboo or illegal pornography use (Kingston & Bradford, 2013). Wittström et al. (2020) explored pedophilic diagnosis and hyper-sexuality (A maladaptive form of a high sex drive) while rating help-seeking behaviours (HBI). It was found these two factors increased the average HBI scores to 53, which was above their cut-off. This means these two factors work together to help predict onset of sexual offending. This is because potential offenders with high sex drives combined with a child-oriented paraphilia will be more likely to seek help from professionals. Another study produced a similar effect, with hyper-sexuality not having predictive validity without links with dissocial or sexual deviant aspects (Sonja et al., 2018).

Intense mating effort[edit | edit source]

Seto (2017) cites the intense mating effort motivational factor as being derived from evolutionary biology. He states that this factor refers to the time, effort and resources allocated to the acquisition of a new mate compared to investing in a current mate and their offspring. This is a unique feature centred on finding a novel sexual partner. Mating effort includes the largest gender variation. A recent study looking at personality, mating effort and sexual coaxing showed men who score higher on intense mating efforts show more sexually coercive behaviour (Koscielska, er al., 2019). Another study demonstrated intense mating effort can lead to greater opportunities to offend as it leads to pursuing more potential sexual partners (Lalumière et al., 2005). Seto (2017) states a notable lack of research about this concept in forensic psychology. This does lower its reliability in predicting onset of sexual offending.


Test yourself!

Which of the following descriptions best aligns with Seto's motivational factor of high sex drive?

It has the most predictive ability when combined with paraphilias.
It has predictive value as a standalone factor.
The factor includes the intensity of a sexual desire and the orientation of sexual interests.
A high sex drive and intense mating effort best predicts onset of offending behaviours.

Facilitatory factors[edit | edit source]

For the MFM of sexual offending to be effective, it is necessary for the model to acknowledge the factors that regulate the likelihood of a sexual offence occurring. This component follows the concept involved in the general theory of crime (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). Seto (2017) defines facilitative factors as being capable of either increasing or decreasing the possibility that a sexual offence will be committed. These are separated into two further categories:

  1. Trait facilitation factors and;
  2. state facilitation factors.

They focus on the individual's condition of self-control, which can vary across individuals (trait factors) and within individuals (state factors). This creates a dynamic interaction where the influence of motivation can change depending on how strong an individual's self-control is.

Trait facilitatory factors[edit | edit source]

Seto (2017) identifies three trait facilitative factors:

  1. Antisociality;
  2. self-regulation and;
  3. hostile masculinity.

Offenders who exhibit anti-social behaviours are more motivated by psychopathic characteristics such as thrill-seeking behaviours and proneness to boredom (Woodworth et al., 2013). Individuals high in antisociality are also more likely to sexually or non-sexually reoffend (Hanson & Morton‐Bourgon, 2005). Poor regulation is another substantial trait facilitatory factor, and includes poor executive functioning such as, impulsivity, self‐control, and problem-solving skills (Pullman et al., 2016). A meta analysis across 23 studies with a combined sex offender sample (n=1063) demonstrated the sample exhibited significant neuropsychological impairments relating to self-control, impulsivity and executive function (Dillien et al., 2020). Hostile masculinity can contribute to sexual offending, as it often upholds aggressive attitudes towards females. Men’s attitudes toward women and their attitudes toward violence are shown to be strong predictors of sexual offending (Deli et al., 2021; McDermott et al., 2015; Sigre-Leirós et al., 2016). For example, men who hold the belief that they are superior to women are prone to sexual aggression (Kohut et al., 2021).

State facilitatory factors[edit | edit source]

State facilitatory factors are dynamically different from its counterpart, as they can change across time and situations. The state facilitators include:

  1. Negative affect and;
  2. intoxication.

This list is not exhaustive, but these two factors have the most support. Explanations around male sexual offending have often cited negative mood as a risk factor, with offenders who experience low mood often seek sex to cope (McCoy & Fremouw, 2010). Alcohol use is widely known for lowering behavioural inhibitions, and the same effect have been positively correlated with increased sexual offending (Lussier et al., 2021). A series of structural equation modelling analyses (SEM) on a sample of sexual aggressors of children (n=276) demonstrated alcohol misuse as a maladaptive coping strategy enhances probability of committing a sexual offences (Garant et al., 2021). Studies have also suggested the belief that alcohol has been consumed can lead to larger effects on behaviour than actual consumption (Seto, 2017). This may be due to the offenders subconsciously wanting to avoid responsibility. While these are the core state factors, other elements such as sexual arousal are currently being tested for more conclusive findings.

Situational factors[edit | edit source]

Situational factors are distinctive from motivational and facilitative factors as they focus on person-environment interactions. Seto states sexual offences cannot happen without opportunities to act (Seto, 2017). The environmental factors include:

  1. Vulnerable victims and;
  2. presence of guardians

These factors can intersect with motivational and facilitative factors. For example, someone who uses alcohol in social settings could come into more contact with potential victims, therefore increasing opportunity. The level of vulnerability of a victim can also determine perceived opportunities. Children are often considered less capable and are considered an "easy target". This increases if the child comes from a divided family. Having a responsible party present could decrease the level of a sexual offence and lower the possibility of penetrative acts (Leclerc et al., 2015). However, these findings are relatively weak.


A case study: The case of Larry Evert revisited


Now that we have covered all the key factors supported within the MFM of sexual offending, ask yourself some questions. What factors do you think contributed to Larry's sexual predatory behaviours? What motivational factors do you think are at play? Was it a high sex drive? or simply evidence of a paraphilia? What facilitatory factors were present? If there are, do you think trait or state factors were most salient in this case study? Do you think Larry had good self-regulation? Do you think Larry's attitude towards women impacted his behaviour?

So many options! Have a play and see what factors seem most likely to you.

Predictive value[edit | edit source]

The MFM of sexual offending was specifically designed to identify the onset factors of child sexual offences. It shows high predictive value with online child sexual exploitative material, such as child pornography. There is a significant lack of studies regarding the model's holistic predictive ability, as well as its overall efficacy. This is because the model is only just beginning to grow into an applied model. Its predictive value lies in the validity of the individual factors, as there is a substantial number of studies dedicated to the individual components relating to sexual offending behaviours.

This model displays high levels of intersectionality between factors. Sexual deviance, antisociality, psychopathy, and problems of self-regulation are associated with peculiarities in brain structure or functioning (Mokros, 2018; Wittström, 2020; Woodworth, 2013). This is an insight into a larger neurological common ground between the factors. This does increase predictive ability, such as between sex drive and paraphilia. A weakness to the model is its reliance on casual inferences and correlational data. That means links between the factors and sexual offending remain mostly theoretical. Additional gaps in the model appear due to exclusion of factors such as gender, age and emotional congruence or affinity with children. This diverges from Finkelhor’s (1984) preconditions model.


Test yourself!

What are the main reasons for the MFM's predictive value?

Substantial research has been done to test the overall efficacy of the model.
This model has no predictive ability.
Paraphilia is the main cause of its predictive value.
Paraphilia and sex drive work together to produce moderate predictive ability but more research needs to be done.

Primary application[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Recent studies have shown social media sites create more opportunities for sexual predators to engage is sexual behaviour with children (Seto, 2021).

The primary application intended for the MFM of sexual offending is specifically to predict use of online child sexual exploitation material (CSEM). The model is meant to prevent these sexual predatory behaviours from progressing into contact child sexual offending (see Figure 3). This application is because of high correlations between paraphilia and online sexual offending. It is possible to be diagnosed with a paraphilia relating to children without engaging in physical child sexual actions. This allows for an opportunity to implement preventive measures to stop these behaviours from escalating.

Recent studies have suggested antisocial tendencies (e.g., impulsivity, apathy, poor self-regulation, etc.) has increasing relevance to risk of reoffending and CSEM (Babchishin et al, 2018). This has not yet translated to the MFM, and does not align with Seto's assumption that CSEM offenders typically having high self-control (e.g. low facilitatory factors) but high on sexual interest (e.g. high motivational factors). This is because CSEM is mostly associated with paraphilia (Seto, 2021). High sex drives are also connected to CSEM, as they are linked to higher levels of illegal pornography use (Wittström et al., 2020).


A case study: The case of John Doe


John has been developing an increasing level of sexual interest towards children. John's original thought was to simply ignore it, as he felt no inclination to act on this and hoped it would go away. However, John starting to experience strong feelings of sexual desire. He found he could not stop thinking about children in a sexual way, with this sexual preoccupation leading to John downloading child sexual materials. John struggled to stop, which led to John feeling high levels of distress as he could no longer experience sexual gratification from conventional pornography. John realised he needed professional help, and reached out to a professional who could help him with his rising difficulties in managing his sexual behaviour.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter provided an overview of the motivational, facilitative, and situational factors identified in this model. Most of these concepts are supported, with some more than others. Paraphilias, high sex drives, psychopathy and intoxication showed the most connections to child sexual offences. The model does have predictive value, but it is moderated by the lack of inclusion of emotional congruence or affinity with children in the model. This is also inconsistent with the model's theoretical base. The primary application of this model is to do with predicting onset engagement of online child sexual exploitation material, with the intention of stopping these behavioural patterns from escalating into contact offending. Overall, the model shows promise in its potential uses, but major future research needs to be conducted to test its practical applications and to make necessary modifications to correct several key functional gaps in the model's makeup.

The take-home message: The motivation-facilitation model of sexual offending is still in its relatively early stages, but shows promise in its future predictive value in online child exploitation, with favourable prospects in expanding its breadth to include conventional contact offending. Most factors have strong empirical support individually, with new research continuing to test their combined efficacy in predicting child sexual offending.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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DeLamater, J. D., & Sill, M. (2005). Sexual desire in later life. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 138–149. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490509552267

Deli, C., Garant, E., Gauthier, A., & Proulx, J. (2021). Hostile masculinity and emotional negativity as pathways to hostility toward women. PsychArchives. https://doi.org/10.23668/PSYCHARCHIVES.5142

Dillien, T., Goethals, K., Sabbe, B., & Brazil, A. (2020). The neuropsychology of child sexual offending: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 54, e101406. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2020.101406

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Wittström, F., Långström, N., Landgren, V., & Rahm, C. (2020). Risk factors for sexual offending in self-referred men with pedophilic disorder: A Swedish case-control study. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, e 571775. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.571775

Woodworth, M., Freimuth, T., Hutton, E.L., Carpenter, T., Agar, A.D., & Logan, M. (2013). High-risk sexual offenders: An examination of sexual fantasy, sexual paraphilia, psychopathy, and offence characteristics. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 36(2), 144–156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2013.01.007

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External links[edit | edit source]