Early exposure

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

Do sex offenders differ from non-offenders in their patterns of early exposure to pornography? Goldstein, Kant, Judd, Rice and Green, (1970) found a high level of exposure to pornography during adolescence among sex offenders (categories in this study included rapists, pedophiles, transsexuals, and homosexuals) but these levels were not significantly different from a nonoffender comparison group. In comparing their samples on exposure to pornography during adolescence, Goldstein and his colleagues found that more rapists than controls had never been exposed to particular types of stimuli. Yet, the differences among the various groups were not statistically significant over the total range of stimuli. Significantly less exposure was reported among rapists to photos of partially and fully nude women and to books describing nudity and oral-genital relations. In fifteen other categories (different themes in different media), the differences were not significant. In their later book elaborating on their findings (Goldstein, Kant and Harman, 1973) Goldstein and his colleagues describe a significantly larger number of rapists as having had exposure to "hard-core" pornography than controls (30% versus 2%) during childhood or between six to ten years old. They also tended to report an earlier age of "peak experience" with pornography, that is, a sexual experience that stood out in their minds the most.

Cook and Fosen (1970) found that among their sample of incarcerated sex offenders and criminal offenders, the latter reported higher rates of exposure to pornography during preadolescence and adolescence. Johnson, et al., (1970), on the other hand, found slightly higher rates of early exposure among a sample of convicted sex offenders who were on probation and receiving therapy compared to the control sample consisting of the respondents in the Abelson, et al. (1970) national survey (44% versus 40%).

Walker (1970) interviewed two groups of male sex offenders, one from a maximum security ward of a state hospital and the second who were prisoners in a correctional facility. Two control groups incarcerated in both facilities for reasons other than sex offenses were utilized in addition to another comparison group of male college students and members of a number of men's service clubs. The latter were more closely matched to the sex offender sample in terms of age.

Data on age of first exposure revealed no overall difference between sex offenders and the combined student and men's club controls. However, portrayals of sexual activities for which the sex offenders had earlier exposure than the men's club control group appeared to be of the more unusual variety: bestiality, group sex, and "sex activities with whips, belts or ropes."

While the student and men's club members had significantly greater exposure to a wider range of sexually explicit depictions than the sex offenders, the latter also had collected pornography for a longer period of time than the men's club members.

Another study conducted for the 1970 commission (Davis and Braught, 1970) found that early exposure to pornography was related to greater involvement in deviant sexual practices among groups of criminal offenders and a comparison group of male students. This was particularly true for what they called "serious deviance," primarily rape. The age-of-exposure variable appears to be crucial as these authors found that exposure to pornography was a strong predictor of sexual deviance among the early age of exposure subjects. They also noted that "exposure to pornography in the 'early age of exposure' subgroup was related to a variety of precocious heterosexual and deviant sexual behaviors."

They found a slightly different pattern among those exposed to pornography at a later age, with the amount of exposure correlated with poor character scores and participation in criminal, deviant, and sexually active peer groups. This result suggests that among those later exposed, such exposure to pornography is part of a deviant and highly active sexual life style. Thus, two separate but related factors-pornography and peer pressure-seem to play some interacting role as sexual behavior patterns develop (Davis and Braught, 1973, p. 194). However, because we do not have age-of-commission data for the more deviant sexual behaviors, a hypothesis that gives a causal status to pornography exposure cannot be supported. Among 476 male reformatory inmates between sixteen to twenty-one years old, a similar association was found between early age of exposure to pornography as well as high exposure and sexual deviance.

Because more recent studies (Abel, Rouleau and Cunningham-Rathner, in press) suggest that over fifty percent of various categories of paraphiliacs had developed their deviant arousal patterns prior to age eighteen, it is clear that the age-of-first-exposure variable and the nature of that exposure needs to be examined more carefully. There is also evidence that the longer the duration of the paraphilia, the more significant the association with use of pornography (Abel, Mittelman and Becker, 1985). On the whole, the conclusion of the 1970 study that "both the extent and frequency of sex offenders' experience with erotic material is substantially less than that of non-sex (criminal) offenders and nonoffender adults during preadolescence and during adolescence" needs to be qualified. These data demonstrate relatively lower levels of exposure among sex offenders when the comparison group is criminal offenders. Compared to "normal" adults, however, the differences appear to be more qualitative than quantitative: sex offenders seem to have been exposed to sexually explicit materials for the first time at earlier ages, and there are some suggestions that the range of material they were exposed to was of the more unusual variety compared to the wider range of materials that control nonoffender groups was exposed to.

It is important to stress that these findings apply specifically to incarcerated samples, particularly groups that were considered serious offenders, given the maximum security facilities housing the Goldstein, et al. sample, the Walker sample and the Davis and Braught sample. A recent study (Carter, Prentky, Knight and Vanderveer, 1985) compared thirty-eight rapists and twenty-six child molesters incarcerated at a state treatment center. No differences were found between the groups in their exposure to pornography in the home (twenty-seven percent of the rapists and twenty-six percent of the child molesters said they had sex materials in their home while they were growing up) and during development (58% of the rapists and 54% of the child molesters had "seen or read sex materials as a teenager"). However, child molesters were found to use pornography more often than rapists in adulthood, were significantly more likely to use these materials prior to and during their offenses, and to employ pornography to relieve an impulse to commit an offense. Because of the absence of a control group of nonoffender adults, it is difficult to determine whether early exposure to pornography in this instance differs significantly from that of a nonoffender sample. The study also does not describe what types of sex materials were involved.

In retrospective interviews with eighty-nine sex offenders (all nonincarcerated and attending an outpatient clinic) and a control sample, Marshall (1985) found that greater numbers in all categories of offenders had been exposed to nonviolent pornography than the comparison group of non-offenders.

The term "pornography" in this case was limited to two categories of materials: "hardcore materials," or "those available only in specialized stores and depicting sexual acts with nothing left to the imagination" (p. 14), and materials depicting "forced sex." These were described to the subjects as those portraying "sexual relations between adult males and adult females where the female displayed a clear unwillingness to participate by both her verbal refusals and her physical attempts to prevent the attack, and the male in the depiction was said to recognize this refusal but ignored it by forcefully enacting his sexual wishes."

Marshall found that over a third of the rapists (35%), two in five homosexual child molesters (41%), a third of the heterosexual child molesters, and only a fifth of the control adults (21%) had been exposed to materials that did not depict forced sex. Only four percent of the rapists and eight percent of the controls were exposed to sexually aggressive portrayals (forced sex) during pubescence. Because of the terse description of "hardcore" sex materials used in this study, it is difficult to reconcile these findings with those of earlier ones suggesting early exposure to depictions of more deviant activities.

It is apparent that these studies cover a variety of comparison situations (no non-offender controls, comparison with nonsexual criminal offenders only), populations (incarcerated, non-incarcerated and in therapy) and a range of measures for early exposure. Certainly, the notion that sex offenders have significantly less exposure to sexually explicit materials than normal adults does not appear to hold for nonincarcerated groups (Marshall, 1985; Johnson, et al., 1970) and, for incarcerated groups, appears to be true when the comparison group is nonsexual criminal offenders. Compared to nonoffenders, rapists differ only on specific types of material (Goldstein, et al., 1970). Only one study (Marshall, 1985) shows somewhat higher levels of exposure than non-offender adults.