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Understanding Male Sexual Offending: A Comparison of General and Specialist Theories

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 36 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2009 Pages: 1051-1069
Date Published
October 2009
19 pages

This study explored the value of two different theoretical perspectives in explaining the offending behaviors of a sample of men convicted of sexual offenses and referred for civil commitment.


This study explored the relevance of two distinct theoretical perspectives: Gottfredson and Hirschi's (1990) overtly generalist theory and Laws and Marshall's (1990) considerably more specifically focused theory of sexual offending. Results illustrate the applicability of a generalist theoretical perspective to an apparently extremely specialized population. Although some meaningful differences were detected between child molesters and rapists, differences between groups on the variables examined were more substantial when versatile and specialist offenders were compared. A distinct group of specialist child molesters emerged. It was argued that the general theory of crime was useful in explaining the versatile offenders who constituted the majority of the sample. It was also proposed that a second, more sexually specific explanation might be necessary to account for the offending behaviors of a much smaller group of specialist child molesters. Theoretical implications of the findings are discussed. Data were collected from 374 men convicted of a sexual offense and evaluated at the Massachusetts Treatment Center for Sexually Dangerous Persons (MTC) between 1959 and 1984. Tables and references

Date Published: October 1, 2009