The early interpersonal relationships of sexual offenders : an attachment perspective (1998)
AuthorsMcCormack, Julie Cherieshow all
Recent theoretical and empirical research suggests that the adult attachment styles and intimacy deficits associated with sexual offending may have their origins in disruptive and traumatic early interpersonal experiences. The purpose of the present study was to identify the perceptions of early interpersonal experiences of sexual offenders and two criminal comparison groups. The participants in this study included child molesters (55), rapists (30), violent nonsexual offenders (32), and nonviolent, nonsexual offenders (30). The participants were interviewed and a set of categories developed from this data using a grounded theory analysis. Responsiveness, consistency, acceptance and boundaries all emerged as significant aspects of the offender's perceptions of their relationships with their caregivers. Emotional regulation, autonomy, and self-evaluation appeared as important facets of the offender's experience of self in interaction with their attachment figures. Experiences of sexual deviation and abuse, physical abuse, loss, conflict, safety and positive mediating interactions all arose as meaningful contextual aspects of sexual offenders perceptions of their early interpersonal experiences. In the second part of the study these categories were used to identify differences in the perception of early interpersonal experiences of sexual offenders and the comparison groups. The findings also suggest that sexual offenders experience overwhelmingly negative early interpersonal experiences. These experiences are to a large extent shared by the violent offenders, and to a lesser extent by the non-violent offenders and therefore are not specific to sexual offenders. Fathers are generally perceived as more negative than mothers, in particular by rapists and violent offenders. These perceptions of early interpersonal experiences appear to represent a general vulnerability factor involved in the development of a variety of offenses and life problems. Attachment style was related to biases in the presentation of information, most notably dismissively attached individuals were found to minimise negative content. The theoretical, research and clinical implications of the findings are discussed.