Situational offender in the light of physical abuse of a child

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Published on : October 23, 2012

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Ruchit Thakkar

Situational offender in the light of physical abuse of a child

Martin Haskell and Lewis Yablonsky described situational offender as (1) one who confronted a problem requiring action, (2) took action that violated criminal law, (3) was caught and given the status of criminal, and (4) until the time of the offence was committed to the normative system of the society and was indistinguishable from the society.

In the study of crime, a situational offender is a person who commits crimes only when in an environment which permits or encourages those acts. In sex crimes, a situational sex offender is the one whose offense is associated with situational sexual behavior. This term is in an opposition to the preferential offender, whose offense is associated with the person's preferential behavior.

Situational child molesters generally are socially inadequate, inhibited, and introverted individuals with low self-esteem. They frequently have a substance abuse problem and will deny any involvement in the molestation.

Situational Offender
Most people convicted of a felony are not arrested again. Some studies estimate that it is true for 80% for the first time offenders. Of course, some undoubtedly commit further crimes and are simply never caught, but most do not commit a second offense. The person having committed what happens to be a onetime offense is called a situational offender.

Situational child molesters generally are socially inadequate, inhibited, and introverted individuals with low self-esteem. They frequently have a substance abuse problem and will deny any involvement in the molestation.

Situational Child Molester

The situational-type child molester does not usually have compulsive-paraphilic sexual preferences including a preference for children. He may, however, engage in sex with children for varied and sometimes complex reasons. For such a child molester, sex with children may range from “once-in-a-lifetime” act to a long term pattern of behavior. The more long-term the pattern, the further down the continuum he may move. He will exhibit more and more of the behavior patterns of the preferential-type offender. The situational-type molester usually has fewer child victims. Other vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, sick, or disabled, may also be at a risk of sexual victimization by him. For example the situational-type child molester who sexually abuses children in a daycare center might leave that job and begin to sexually abuse elderly people in a nursing home. Situational offenders are neither “better” nor as “bad” as preferential offenders; are they just different.

Types Of Situational Sex Offenders
Situational child sex offenders do not have a sexual preference for children, but usually become abusers in response to stress or emotional trauma. They tend to be highly opportunistic and some may commit sex offenses against the elderly, the disabled, and others who are physically and/or mentally weaker than themselves, in addition to children. Within this category at least three major patterns of behavior emerge of regressed, morally indiscriminate, and inadequate. These patterns are described below.

• Regressed: Such an offender usually has low self-esteem and poor coping skills, and he turns to children as a sexual substitute for the preferred peer sex partner. Precipitating stress may play a bigger role in his molesting behavior. His main victim criterion seems to be availability, which is why many of these offenders molest their own children. His principal method of operation is to coerce the child into having sex. This type of situational child molester may or may not collect child or adult pornography. If he does have child pornography it will usually be the “best kind” from an investigative point of view — homemade photographs or videos of the child he is molesting.

• Morally Indiscriminate: For this offender the sexual victimization of children is simply part of a general pattern of abuse in his life. Mental-health clinicians refer to this type of individual as a psychopath or having anti-social personality disorder. He is a user and abuser of people. He abuses his wife, friends, and coworkers. He lies, cheats, or steals whenever he thinks he can get away with it. He molests children for a simple reason — “Why not?” His primary victim criteria are vulnerability and opportunity. He has the urge, a child is available, and so he acts. He typically uses force, lures, or manipulation to obtain his victims. He may abduct his victims using trickery or physical force. Although his victims frequently are strangers or acquaintances, his victims can also be his own children or those of his live-in girlfriend. An incestuous father (or mother) might be this morally indiscriminate offender. Because he is an impulsive person whose conscience is inconsistent with society standards, he is an especially high risk to molest pubescent children. Such acts may be criminal but not necessarily sexually deviant. He frequently collects detective magazines or adult pornography of a violent nature. He may collect some child pornography especially that which depicts pubescent children. Even when his child victims are acquaintances, he may still use threats and force to overpower or control those victims.

• Inadequate: This pattern of behavior is difficult to precisely define and includes those suffering from psychoses, eccentric personality disorders, mental retardation, and senility. In layperson’s terms he is the social misfit, the withdrawn, the unusual. He might be the shy teenager who has no friends of his own age or eccentric loner who still lives with his parents. Although most such individuals are harmless, some can be child molesters and, in a few cases, even child killers. This offender seems to become sexually involved with children out of insecurity or curiosity. He finds children to be nonthreatening objects with which he can explore his sexual interests. The child victim could be someone he knows or a random stranger. In some cases the child victim might be a stranger selected as a substitute for a specific adult, possibly a relative of Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis - 37the child, whom the offender is afraid of approaching directly. Often his sexual activity with children is the result of built-up impulses. Some of these individuals find it difficult to express anger and hostility, which then builds until it explodes — possibly against their child victim. Because of mental or emotional problems, some might take out their frustration in cruel sexual torture. His victims, however, could be among the elderly as well as children — anyone who appears helpless at first sight. He might collect pornography, but it will most likely be of adults. This offender usually lacks the interpersonal skill to effectively groom or seduce his child victims. Almost any child molester might be capable of violence or even murder to avoid identification. In spite of a few notable exceptions, most of the sexually motivated child murderers profiled and assessed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have involved situational-type child molesters who display the morally indiscriminate and inadequate patterns of behavior. Low social competence seems to be the most significant risk factor in why a child molester might abduct his victims (Lanning and Burgess, 1995).

Preferential Offender
Preferential-type child molesters have definite sexual inclinations. For many those inclinations or preferences include children, and they are the ones it would be most appropriate to refer to as pedophiles.

Some preferential-type sex offenders without a preference for children do, however, molest children. They might do so in order to carry out their peculiar sexual fantasies and preferences with young, less threatening, less judgmental, and highly vulnerable victims they meet in person or online. Some of these offenders’ sexual activity with children may involve deviant acts they are embarrassed or ashamed to request or do with a preferred adult partner. Such offenders, even if they do not have a sexual preference for children, would still be preferential sex offenders and, therefore, engage in similar patterns of need-driven behavior.

Difference Between Preferential And Situational
The preferential offender is characterized as having a persistent, continual and compulsive attraction to children. They are usually diagnosed with pedophilia, or recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies of at least six months in duration involving pre-pubescent children classifies these offenders as exclusively involved with children and points out that they are usually not related to their victims and are attracted to children from adolescence. The offender has not fully developed and shows characteristics of a child. In particular, preferential offenders do not develop past the point where they find children attractive and desirable. The preferential offender's actions are typically premeditated in nature and do not result from any perceived stress. In addition, this type of offender is often unable to attain any degree of psychosexual maturity and, during adulthood, has had virtually no age-appropriate sexual relationships. The preferential offender is more likely to choose victims who are male and not related to him.

It is the preferential offenders who are most dangerous to society, constituting "a public health problem" as well as a "criminal problem". These offenders develop relationships with vulnerable children (vulnerable in either an emotional or situational sense), and they typically recruit, groom and maintain the children for a continuing sexual relationship. The offenders delude themselves into believing they have established a caring, supportive role with the child and that the child is able to derive pleasure and educational experience from the interaction.

The situational offender’s behavior, on the other hand, usually emerges in adulthood and tends to be precipitated by external stressors. In this early classification system, sexual offending is the product of environmental stressors and disordered childhood relationships. These two variables intersect in such a manner as to render the offender powerless to control his behavior, thus culminating in an offensive act. At the time of the creation of this classification system, it was unable to specify childhood precursors to offending; however, there has been extensive research evaluating the nature of stressors. These stressors can be situational, such as unemployment, marital problems and substance abuse, or can relate to negative affective states such as loneliness, stress, isolation or anxiety. These stressors often lead to poor self-confidence and low self-esteem, thereby undermining the abusers confidence in them as men. Sexual involvement with children is not fixed, but is instead often a temporary departure from the offender's attraction to adults. This type of offender is more likely to choose victims who are female.

A situational offender is a person who in a particular set of circumstances has violated the law but who is not given to criminal behavior under normal circumstances and is unlikely to repeat the offense.

The situational child molester does not have a true sexual preference for children, but engages in sex with children for a variety of reasons, some of which are quite complex. For these types of offenders, they may victimize a child only once in their life or it may become a pattern of behavior. Although there are few absolutes in human behavior, situational-type sex offenders tend to be less predictable; more “criminally” intelligent; less likely to intentionally retain corroborative evidence; more vulnerable to appeals to their need to have their egos flattered; and, when confronted with the facts of the case, more willing to make a thought-driven deal with the criminal-justice system to limit the legal consequences of their behavior.
# Todd R. Clear, American Corrections, Cengage Learning, 2006.

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