advertisement

Sexual Fantasies of Child Molesters

sexual fantasies

Queen's University

This comes from research that Mr. Looman did on the sexual fantasies of child molesters.

A structured interview was used to collect data concerning the mood preceding and accompanying sexual fantasies, and the way in which the other person in the fantasy was perceived by 21 child molesters, 19 rapists, and 19 non-sexual offenders, all incarcerated in federal prisons. For the child molesters, fantasies about both children and adults were examined. It was found that child molesters did not differ from the other groups in terms of their perceptions of adults in their fantasies, and the adult fantasy was perceived more positively than the child fantasy. Child molesters were more likely to fantasize about children when in a negative emotional state than when in a positive mood, and these fantasies were likely to produce a negative mood state. It is suggested that child molesters may fantasize about a child as an inappropriate way of coping with dysphoric moods, thus enhancing that dysphoria and leading to further inappropriate fantasies. These results suggest that sexual fantasy monitoring should become an important component in the treatment of child molesters.

Research with child molesters has explored in depth the sexual arousal patterns of these men (Freund, 1967). There is little doubt that child molesters as a group become sexually aroused when shown slides of nude or scantily clad children (Barbaree & Marshall, 1989), or listen to audio-taped depictions of sexual activity with children (Avery-Clark & Laws, 1984) to a greater extent than men who have no history of molesting children (Barbaree and Marshall, 1989). Much of the treatment of child molesters has therefore involved attempts to decrease this arousal through conditioning procedures (e.g., Marshall & Barbaree, 1978), following the proposition that sexual orientation is a conditioned response developed in childhood.


 


Storms (1981), however, proposed a theory whereby one's sexual orientation is a result of an interaction between classical conditioning and social learning factors. He concluded that early masturbatory experiences lead to the eroticization of stimuli, and early fantasies serve as the basis of adult sexual orientation. This early classical conditioning is reinforced by environmental influences as the adolescent is encouraged by the peer group to develop and maintain an appropriate sexual orientation.

Similarly, Laws and Marshall (1990) use a combination of classical and instrumental conditioning processes to describe how a man may develop deviant sexual interests by pairing sexual arousal and ejaculation with an early deviant experience. This arousal may be reinforced by such social learning processes as modelling of aggressive behaviours and one's own attributions regarding one's sexuality. The deviant interest may be maintained by continued masturbation to deviant fantasies and intermittent actual deviant sexual contacts.

Given that fantasies are important in the above models (Laws & Marshall, 1990; Storms, 1981) of the development of sexual orientation, in applying these models to pedophiles it seems that it would be important to determine the extent to which pedophiles fantasize about children. The notion that deviant fantasies are an important part of sexual deviance was emphasized by Abel and Blanchard (1974), in their review of fantasy in the development of sexual preferences. They underlined the importance of treating fantasy as an independent variable which may be altered, and of the utility of modifying fantasies as a means of changing sexual preferences.

FANTASIES OF SEXUAL OFFENDERS

Both offenders' self report and phallometric research, which demonstrates that child molesters as a group display sexual arousal to children (e.g., Barbaree and Marshall, 1989), have supported the belief that at least some child molesters do fantasize about children. For this reason, deviant sexual fantasies have become one area of focus in the research on child molesters, as well as other sexual offender populations. For example, Dutton and Newlon (1988) reported that 70% of their sample of adolescent sexual offenders admitted having sexually aggressive fantasies before committing their offenses. Similar findings were reported by MacCulloch, Snowden, Wood and Mills (1983) and Prentky et al. (1989) with adult offenders. Rokach (1988) also found evidence of deviant themes in sexual offenders' self-reported fantasies.

The assumptions that deviant sexual fantasies play a key role in the commission of sexual offenses has had implications for the treatment of sexual offenders. For example, Laws and O'Neil (1981) described a masturbatory conditioning treatment with four pedophiles, one sado-masochist and one rapist in which deviant arousal was lessened and appropriate arousal increased by alternating deviant and non-deviant fantasy themes.

McGuire, Carlisle and Young (1965), exploring the development of deviant sexual interests, reported on the sexual fantasies and experiences of 52 sexual deviates. They found that the majority of their patients reported masturbating to deviant fantasies and that these fantasies were based on their first real sexual experiences. It was proposed that the fantasy of this experience had become paired with orgasm over repeated masturbatory experiences, thus sustaining arousal to it.

Abel and Rouleau (1990) summarizing the results of two earlier self-report studies involving 561 sexual offenders also indicated that there appeared to be a significant trend toward early onset of paraphilias. They found that the majority of offenders had acquired their deviant sexual interests in their teenage years; for example, 50% of non-incest offenders with male victims acquired their deviant interests before the age of 16, and 40% of those with female victims before the age of 18.


Marshall, Barbaree and Eccles (1991) also found evidence that deviant sexual interest develops in childhood in a subset of their sample of 129 child molesters. Examining the self-reported histories of chronic offenders (4 or more victims) these authors found that 75% recalled deviant fantasies before age 20, and 54.2% before their first offense. Considering only the 33.8% of the sample who showed arousal to children, 95% of these offenders reported fantasizing about children during masturbation, and 44% having recalled deviant fantasies before their first offense. These men were also found to be higher frequency masturbators.

To summarize, consideration of sexual fantasies is important in understanding the offending behaviours of child molesters (Abel and Blanchard, 1974). Despite the acknowledgement of the importance of fantasies, little controlled research has been conducted in this area. Research that has been conducted on the sexual fantasies of child molesters has not examined content or actual frequencies (e.g., Marshall et al., 1991), or has not compared groups on the content of the fantasies (Rokach, 1990). In addition, these studies have not examined the conditions under which offenders are likely to engage in deviant fantasies, which may be important for the development of relapse prevention treatment approaches (Russell, Sturgeon, Miner & Nelson, 1989). Many of the arousal reconditioning studies have addressed content or frequency issues, but the studies to date are poorly controlled and with samples too small to allow firm conclusions to be drawn (see Laws and Marshall, 1991 for a review of the masturbatory reconditioning literature).

THEORETICAL IMPORTANCE OF FANTASIES IN SEXUAL OFFENDER POPULATIONS

Finkelhor and Araji (1986), suggested four motivating factors in sexual offending against children: (a) emotional congruence, the offender seeks to have emotional needs met by engaging in sexual activity with the child; (b) sexual arousal, the offender finds the child sexually arousing; (c) blockage, appropriate means of fulfilling needs are unavailable or less attractive; and (d) disinhibition, the usual inhibitions regarding sex with children are overcome. These authors proposed that the offender commits sexual assaults against children due to an interaction of two or more of these factors.


 


It is hypothesized here that the process of fantasizing by pedophiles may also be explained by these preconditions. First, it is generally agreed that sexual fantasies about children are related to sexual arousal to children (e.g., Abel and Blanchard, 1974).

A second and less obvious feature of sexual fantasies is related to the emotional congruence component from Finkelhor and Araji's (1986) model. Fantasies not only serve a sexual purpose, they also have a strong emotional component (Singer, 1975). It follows that masturbatory fantasies not only serve to produce arousal, but that they also will satisfy some sort of emotional need for the individual.

Disinhibition may also be a factor as an antecedent to inappropriate fantasies. It seems that pedophiles' sexual offenses are more likely to occur when the pedophile is exposed to extreme stress; for example, after arguments with his wife, getting fired from a job, and so on (Pithers, Beal, Armstrong & Petty, 1989). It can be hypothesized, therefore, that pedophiles may also be more likely to fantasize deviantly when under stress, and appropriately when things are going well in their lives. The results of Wilson and Lang (1981) provide some support for this last hypothesis. They reported that frequency of fantasies with deviant themes (sadism, masochism) was related to dissatisfaction in relationships among non-offender males.

The present study was designed to examine the following hypotheses: 1) Child molesters will report more fantasies about prepubertal children than rapists and nonsexual offenders; 2) In light of Finkelhor and Araji's model regarding emotional congruence and disinhibition factors, child molesters will tend to fantasize about children when in a negative emotional state (e.g., under stress or when angry) and about adults when in a positive emotional state.

METHOD

Subjects

Three groups of subjects from two different medium security prisons participated in the study. One group consisted of men who had been convicted of offenses against female children 12 years of age or younger (child molesters). The second group consisted of men convicted of sexual offenses against females 16 years of age and older (rapists). Only men who had female victims were used in order to facilitate matching the two sex offender groups. As well, the men were chosen from currently running treatment groups, or from a list of men accepted for treatment, and who were admitting responsibility for the offense(s) for which they had been convicted. The third group consisted of men convicted of nonsexual offenses, who reported a heterosexual preference. These men served as a "normal" control group and were volunteers chosen at random from the inmate list of their institution.

One possible source of bias in this study is related to demand characteristics of the prison setting. It is possible that sex offender subjects would report information regarding their fantasies in a manner which they believe would help their case in terms of treatment reports and early release. In order to reduce the possibility of this bias affecting results, subjects were informed in writing that participation was voluntary and confidential, and that the information they provided the researcher would in no way be shared with their therapist. They were also informed that the study was in no way related to their evaluation in terms of the program.


Data collection

The data for this research were collected by means of a combined questionnaire and structured interview which was developed as part of a larger research project (Looman, 1993). Each subject was interviewed by the researcher on an individual basis. The interview consisted of 84 questions concerning the frequency and content of the offender's fantasies, the conditions (emotional, interpersonal) under which they typically engage in fantasizing and other relevant topics. Some of the questions required a response limited to a choice of two to six possible answers, while others were open-ended questions to which the offender was able to answer freely. No questions regarding non-consenting sexual activity with adults were asked because the focus of this research was on fantasies about children. Permission was obtained to search subject's files for information concerning the actual offenses for each of these men.

Due to the large number of comparisons to be made, the probability of a Type I error during evaluation of the data was quite high. For this reason, a more conservative alpha level of .01 was used in evaluating the significance of the results.

RESULTS

Twenty-three child molesters responded to the interview, as well as 19 rapist and 19 non-sexual offenders. As expected, none of the rapists or non-sexual offenders admitted to fantasies about children under age 12 years. One of the rapists admitted to fantasies about females aged 12-15, as did 14 child molesters. Twelve child molesters admitted to fantasies about females under the age of 12 years. Two of the child molesters denied fantasies about people under the age of 16 years and were therefore not included in later analyses. In addition, two of the child molesters admitted to fantasies about adult males, and two to males under the age of 12.

Eight of the child molesters were exclusively incest offenders, that is, they offended against only their daughter or step-daughter. Comparisons on all relevant variables were made between these men and the other child molesters. Since no differences were found for the analyses reported below, the data from the incest offenders and other child molesters were combined.


 


Child molester and rapist groups were compared on the age of the adult in their fantasies. There was no significant difference found. The average age of the woman in the rapist's fantasies was 22 (SD=3.76) and in the child molester's fantasies it was 23 (SD=5.34). The age of the female child in the child molester's fantasy was available for 12 of the men. The age of the child ranged from 1 to 12 years, with an average of 8.33 years (SD=2.9). Similarly, the age of the teenaged girl in fantasies admitted to by 14 of the child molesters ranged from 12 to 15 years, with an average of 13.5 years (SD=.855). The average age of the child molesters' actual victims was 8.06 years (SD=2.6), and the average age of the rapists' victims was 26.08 years (SD=12.54). The age of the child molesters' victims and the children in their fantasies did not differ. Only three of the child molesters admitted to fantasies involving persuasion, and these fantasies were reported as occurring only occasionally. One of these men stated that his persuasive fantasies involved only promises of favours to gain compliance, while the other two stated that their persuasive fantasies involved restraint to gain compliance. None of the child molesters admitted to violent fantasies. No further analysis was conducted with these data, due to the small numbers.

Differences in the ratings of child and adult fantasies on the responses to questions regarding the feelings that accompany the fantasies were examined for child molesters. No differences were found for power, mildly angry, extremely angry, desired, sexual, pleasure or anxious, with responses being distributed across the three options (never, sometimes, often). Child molesters were more likely to report feeling scared and guilty and less likely to report feeling relaxed while fantasizing about children than when fantasizing about adults. Happiness was more likely to accompany adult than child fantasies.

Differences were also noted in the reported mood state preceding the fantasies of child molesters about children and adults as a test of Hypothesis 2. Child molesters reported that they were more likely to fantasize about a child than an adult if they were feeling depressed, argued with their wife or girlfriend, felt rejected by a woman or were angry. They were more likely to fantasize about an adult if they were happy, had a good day, or were feeling romantic.

The differences in moods were also examined across offender groups for adult fantasies only. First, an examination of feelings which accompany fantasies about adults found no differences between child molesters, rapists and non-sex offenders on feelings of being: powerful, anxious, scared, relaxed, extremely angry, pleasure, happy, desired and sexual. Although the differences did not reach significance at the .01 level, it is of note that rapists were somewhat more likely to fantasize when mildly angry (X ²=10.31, p=.03). The non-sexual offenders were the only group that never fantasized in a state of anger, either mild or extreme.

With respect to emotional states that lead to fantasies about adults the only significant difference was that child molesters were unlikely to fantasize about an adult if feeling rejected by a woman. As mentioned earlier, there was a trend for rapists only to report a likelihood of fantasizing about an adult when angry.


DISCUSSION

Consistent with the results of Marshall et al. (1991), while all of the child molesters included in this study were convicted of offenses against children under the age of twelve, only 12 admitted to fantasies of children in that age group. Most of the remainder of these men stated that they fantasized about teenagers (age 12-16) as well as adults. This may reflect dishonesty in the responses of these men; a socially desirable defense strategy in the sense that reporting fantasies about post-pubescent, but young, females (i.e., more adult- like) may be perceived as being less deviant than fantasizing about pre-pubescent females. Thus, these men may be minimizing their deviance to appear more "normal". Indeed, data published by Barbaree (1991) showed that even after treatment 82% of sex offenders, of whom approximately half were child molesters, minimize their offenses to some extent.

An alternative explanation is that this may represent honest responding, and may reflect a cognitive distortion on the part of the men about their offending. It may be that child molesters see children as being older than they really are, thinking the child is a teenager when they are actually younger. Thus, they fantasize about someone they identify as being between the ages of 12 and 16, but the acting out of the fantasy involves someone younger.

A third possible explanation may be that the men's offenses were simply a matter of convenience, and had they had access to older children, they may not have offended against the younger ones. This latter suggestion is consistent with the notion of blockage, in that men may offend against children because they do not have access to adults. This explanation is also consistent with the child molester typology described by Knight and Prentky (1990). In this typology not all child molesters are expected to fantasize about children and show deviant arousal; a good number of molesters (e.g., Low fixation Axis I; Low Contact Axis II) offend for reasons other than deviant sexual interests.


 


Also of note is the finding that child molesters and rapists did not differ in terms of the age of the adult female about whom they fantasized, or their ratings of the adult female in their fantasies. This is consistent with results obtained in studies which examine the sexual arousal patterns of child molesters. Most studies have found that the majority of child molesters display arousal to adult females to the same extent as non-child molesters (e.g., Baxter, Marshall, Barbaree, Davidson & Malcolm, 1984). As well, this finding is consistent with the blockage factor proposed by Finkelhor and Araji (1986), i.e., while the child molesters fantasize about and are attracted to women to the same extent as non- sexual offenders and rapists, they have acted out sexually with children. This suggests that perhaps adult females were somehow unavailable to them.

Results also indicated that child molesters tend to fantasize about children when in a negative mood state, and about adult females when in a positive mood, and that fantasies of children are likely to result in a negative mood state. Thus, a self-perpetuating cycle develops, in which negative moods lead to deviant fantasies, which lead to further negative moods, which in turn lead to further deviant fantasies. The more the child molester engages in deviant fantasies, the more likely he is to do so in the future, because the act of fantasizing creates the conditions necessary for it to occur. This finding is consistent with results reported by Neidigh and Tomiko (1991), who found that child molesters are more likely than non-molesters to report coping with stress by using self-denigration strategies; these are more likely to produce dysphoria, which increases the risk of lapses.

The above result also corresponds to the findings reported by Pithers et al. (1989) regarding precursors to actual sexual offenses. These authors found that sexual offenses of both rapists and child molesters were likely to be preceded by negative mood states such as anger and depression. The present study indicated that negative mood states tended to precede deviant fantasies. Careful fantasy monitoring may therefore aid in the prevention of offenses, because child molesters tend to plan their offenses (Pithers et al., 1989), and part of this planning may involve sexual fantasies. Monitoring of fantasies may thus serve as feedback to the offender regarding how well he is doing emotionally, and act as an early warning system for an impending relapse.

Related to the findings discussed above, it is also interesting to note that non-sexual offenders were the only group to report never experiencing anger either before or during fantasies about adult females. Both sex offender groups reported at least sometimes experiencing anger during a fantasy, and 26.3% of rapists admitted experiencing anger before a consensual fantasy of an adult female. As well, consistent with the disinhibition factor of Finkelhor and Araji's model, some child molesters reported at least some anger preceding and during fantasies about children. It may be that non-sexually assaultive males experience anger and sexual feelings as incompatible states, with anger serving as an inhibitor of sexual arousal, while this is not the case for sexual assaulters (Marshall and Barbaree, 1990).

It is commonly believed that child molesters engage in their sexually assaultive behaviours as a means of feeling powerful. Results of this study indicated that child molesters were no more likely to feel powerful or in control during fantasies about children than they were during fantasies about adults. As well, they were not more or less likely than rapists or non-sexual offenders to report feelings of power accompanying fantasies about adults. In addition, child molesters reported feeling more relaxed, less scared and less guilty when fantasizing about adults than children, which also contradicts the common assumptions regarding child molesters. Thus, it is unlikely that a search for power or other positive feelings would be a motivating factor in sexual assaults against children. Rather, it appears more likely that inappropriate attempts to escape dysphoric feelings may be the motivating force in such offenses.

These latter findings are important in the implications they have for the way in which clinicians working with child molesters conceptualize the child molester's motivations for offending. It appears, based on fantasy content, that at least some child molesters may be happier with an adult female than a child, but for some reason feel that this option is unavailable to them. Treatment of child molesters should, therefore, be addressing the blockage and emotional congruence factors, working on changing the man's perception of adult females, and encouraging his meeting emotional needs in more appropriate ways.

To confirm and elaborate on the current findings, future research should examine the relationship between moods and fantasies using other methodologies, such as direct fantasy and mood monitoring.

This article is based on an MA thesis prepared by the author.

next: Thinking About Sexual Fantasies Lessens Pain

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2008, December 8). Sexual Fantasies of Child Molesters, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/sex/psychology-of-sex/sexual-fantasies-of-child-molesters

Last Updated: April 9, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info