Commission of Sex Crimes

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

Goldstein, et al.'s 1970 data on offenders' and a control group's reaction to a "peak experience" with erotica is reproduced below. "Peak experience" in this instance refers to the most memorable depiction of a stimulus, one "which really stood out in your mind the most" (p. 81). Again, keeping in mind that this sample was an incarcerated sample, the results show that as teenagers, deviants did not differ much from controls in terms of trying to enact the behaviors they had seen. As adults, a quarter of the female-object pedophiles did try the behavior depicted shortly thereafter compared to thirteen percent of the controls, fifteen percent of the rapists, six and seven percent of the homosexuals and transsexuals, respectively.

Table 10

Reaction to Peak Experience with Erotica
(Adapted from Goldstein, et al., 1970)

Control

Rapist

Male Object Pedophile

Female Object Pedophile

Usera

A

T

A

T

A

T

A

T

A

T

Wished to try

30%

48%

35%

80%

35%

65%

25%

40%

58%

66%

Did try

13

28

15

30

15

25

25

20

22

30

N =

46

20

20

20

50

a. People who were currently avid buyers and consumers of commercially available pornography.
A: Adult T: Teen

In Marshall's (1985) sample of eighty-nine sex offenders, slightly more than one-third of the child molesters and rapists reported at least occasionally being incited to commit an offense by exposure to forced or consenting pornography. Pornography as an instigator was not deliberately sought out by every offender in this category to arouse them to offend. For some, pornography as an instigator was simply fortuitous. Fifty-three percent of those child molesters who reported being incited to offend by pornography said their use was deliberate in their preparation for committing an offense, as was the case for thirty-three percent of the rapists. Finally, six of the eight rapists who reported being incited to offend by pornography reported occasional use of "consenting" pornography to elicit rape fantasies which in turn led to the commission of a crime. It is unclear whether the use of this type of material was by choice or because it was the only material available.

Finally, Abel, Mittelman and Becker (1985) evaluated the use of erotica/pornography by 256 paraphiliacs undergoing outpatient assessment-treatment. Regardless of paraphiliac activity, those targeting adults were somewhat more likely to use erotica (60%) than those targeting adolescents (43%) or children (46%).

Categorized according to their primary predispositioning, fifty-six percent of their rapists and forty-two percent of their child molesters implicated pornography in the commission of their offenses.

Again, these comparisons have to be viewed with caution. The disparities in the data can, in part, be accounted for by the questions posed to the respondent and the differences in the samples. In terms of the population differences, Abel's and Marshall's samples are non-incarcerated while Goldstein's sample consisted of incarcerated sex offenders in a maximum security prison. The Goldstein sample was questioned about trying the behavior depicted in the stimulus to which the respondent had recently been exposed, a stimulus "which really stood out in your mind the most" (p. 81). This very specific question regarding the imitation of the most memorable depiction (the "peak experience") likely accounts for the lower figures relative to those obtained in the other studies. The other two studies, on the other hand, used more general questions pertaining to the use of such materials in commission of offenses.

While these figures are suggestive of the implication of pornography in the commission of sex crimes among some rapists and child molesters, the question still remains: is there a difference in the rates of offenses among those who use pornography versus those who don't? The only data available that directly address this issue suggest that these offenses occur regardless of the use of pornography by the offender (Abel, et al., 1985).

Those offenders who did not use pornography did not differ significantly from those who did in frequency of sex crimes committed, number of victims, ability to control deviant urges, and degree of violence used during commission of the sex crime. The longer the duration of paraphiliac arousal, however, the greater the use of pornography.

Table 11

Relationship of Erotica and Paraphilias

Characteristic of Paraphilia

Uses erotica

Does not use erotica

Increased arousal

Decreased arousal

Mean number of sex crimes

302.0

234.0

421.0

189.0

Mean number of victims

139.0

200.0

124.0

153.0

Sex crimes/month

1.7

1.4

2.2

1.3

Victims/month

1.0

0.9

1.0

1.3

Duration of paraphilia(months)

128.0

86.0*

160.0

99.0*

Ability to control behavioura

81.0

82.0

75.0

86.0*

Age

33.3

32.2

33.7

32.9

Coercion during crimeb

3.2

3.2

3.2

3.2

Social skillsc

3.1

2.6*

3.0

3.2

Assertive skillsc

2.8

2.7

2.6

2.9

3.3

3.0

3.2

3.3

86

82

88

  1. 100 = Complete ability

  • 5 = severe coercion
  • 5 = excellent
  • This analysis was conducted on the subgroup that said they "used erotica" (n = 170). The study simply described "increased arousal" in terms of an increase (or decrease) in arousal to their deviant interest. *p <= .001 using t-tests

    Table reconstructed from Abel, 1985.


  • Based on these data, the authors suggest that sexual deviants appear to come from socially deprived environments which stunt their social and other coping skills. The longer the duration of the paraphilia, or the earlier the onset, the more likely the paraphiliac was to have used erotica. It is difficult to say, however, to what extent this early exposure contributed to the onset of the deviance.

    A number of questions are not addressed in the discussion of these data. First, it is not entirely clear what "erotica use" means. Does it mean the offender enjoys viewing the material on a regular basis? Does it mean use for arousal and masturbation? Does it mean use as incitement prior to committing an offense? For a child molester, "use" could refer also to the employment of sexually explicit materials to lower inhibitions of a potential victim and to present behaviors that might be imitated (Russell, 1975). There also appear to be a few inconsistencies in the data. For example, the number of sex crimes of those using erotica (302) is considerably higher than those not using it (224), but the mean number of victims shows a difference in the opposite direction (139 vs. 200). Also, the rationale for the use of a criterion value of p =.001 in combination with multiple t-tests remains unclear.

    In testimony before this Commission, Abel (1985) suggested on the basis of these data that sexually explicit materials play an important role in the maintenance of these paraphilias. Greater numbers of deviants report current use of erotica, its use is associated with length of the deviancy, and it appears to play some role in maintaining arousal and masturbatory patterns. As Abel (1985) pointed out, while the use of pornography might decrease the likelihood for some offenders to commit sex crimes in the short run, in the long term, "the pairing or association of deviant fantasies with the pleasurable experience of orgasm perpetuates the deviant sexual interest." It is clear that the role of sexually explicit materials in this maintenance of deviancy needs to be investigated more thoroughly particularly as they relate to repeated offenses.