There is no single “profile” or set of characteristics to describe people who commit sexual offenses. There is no “typical” sex offender. People who commit sex offences come from all walks of life and are “a very diverse and heterogeneous group,” according to the Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM). Many people who commit sexual offenses are often nice, responsible, upstanding, loving and law abiding members of their communities and families... except for when they are committing the abuse.
The words often used to describe people who commit sexual offenses such as "monster," "predator" or "animal" are emotionally charged and dehumanizing. This is problematic because these words can make it difficult for people to see warning signs or harm being caused within their immediate circles of friends, family and community.
Most people who commit sexual offenses do so against people who already know them to some degree, though there are some offenders who prefer to sexually victimize strangers. People who commit sexual offenses do so for a wide range of reasons and use a wide range of tactics to gain access to victims.
People who commit sexual offenses are in families, workplaces and communities. It is important to remember that treatment and management of these people is vital to all of us. As research has evolved, we are learning more each day about effective treatment and management of people who commit sexual offences. For more information on this, visit www.atsa.com.
Here are some facts about people who perpetrate sexual harm:
- Most are juveniles. Sexual assaults committed by youth are a growing concern in this country. Currently, it is estimated that adolescents (ages 13 to 17) account for up to one-fifth of all rapes and one half of all cases of child molestation committed each year (Barbaree, Hudson, and Seto,1993).
- Most adults who perpetrate sexual offenses have been doing so since their adolescence
A person with no tendencies or thoughts of committing sexually deviant or criminal acts will not be caused to do so by alcohol or drugs. However, a person who does have sexually deviant or criminal thoughts and tendencies may use alcohol and drugs strategically to perpetrate and hide their actions:
- Alcohol and drugs lower their own inhibitions about doing something they know is wrong
- Alcohol and drugs increase victim vulnerability
- Alcohol and drugs may be used as a “social insurance policy” – many offenders recognize that the public is more likely to focus on the victim’s use of alcohol (under age or legal age) or use of illegal substances, or to blame the offenders actions on the substances.
- Many people who commit sexual offenses also know that victims are less likely to report what has happened to them when they were engaged in illegal activities such as drug use or under-age drinking.
- While many people who commit sexual offenses have been sexually victimized in some way, most people who are sexually victimized do not go on to victimize others.
- People choose when, where and how they will perpetrate sexual offenses, and against whom. This is a behavior they are making conscious choices to conduct. We know this is true not only from what they tell us, but also because:
- these are crimes that are committed in private, without witnesses
- victims are selected often based upon existing vulnerabilities
- Each perpetrator identifies which vulnerabilities they are looking to exploit – there is no one list of vulnerabilities that includes all of the conditions an offender might exploit. Some conditions that are frequently exploited to perpetrate sexual assaults include:
- Physical, emotional or mental disability
- Victim’s age
- Being unconsciousness – asleep, intoxicated or passed out from alcohol or drugs, or due to a medical condition
- Victim’s physical stature or location
- Lacking basic human needs – conditions such as lacking safe shelter or being homeless, lacking food or clothing or being in need of transportation
Barbaree, H., Hudson, S., and Seto, M., “Sexual Assault in Society: The Role of the Juvenile Offender,” in H. Barbaree, W. Marshall, and S. Hudson (Eds.), The Juvenile Sex Offender (1993): 10-11.
Center for Sex Offender Management (2008). Fact Sheet: What you need to know about sex offenders.