Types of Sex Offenders

Sex offenders are typed according to victim preference and behavior. The most famous typology was done by Groth in 1979 (Groth & Birnbaum). Child molesters were divided into two types, regressed and fixated. Regressed offenders were at one time sexually active with adult opposite-sex partners. Situational stressors such as unemployment, physical disability, or loss of sexual confidence led to a transfer of sexual need to less threatening partners (children). Groth found that approximately 51% of child molesters were of this type. Fixated child molester is a person who was attracted to children throughout life and constitutes 49% of child molesters.

Wiklund (1995) discusses the FBI's division of child molesters into situational molesters and preferential molesters. The situational molester is not primarily attracted to children for sexual gratification. The FBI estimates that situational molester has a lifetime average of 81 incidents of child abuse with two victims (p. 17). Situational molesters  have adult sex partners but seek out children for sexual activity for a variety of reasons. Four patterns are listed:
  • Repressed. This type of molester has low self-esteem and poor coping strategies. He will turn to children when stressed. Repressed molesters often abuse their own children or coerce another child into sexual activity. 
  • Morally indiscriminate. This type of molester is categorized as without conscience and engages in other types of abuse, as well as sexual abuse. He will target the weak and vulnerable and is indiscriminate in victim choice, abusing strangers and acquaintances.
  • Sexually indiscriminate. This behavior of this type of molester is most similar to a sex addiction. Variety of sexual activity appears to be the goal. 
  • Inadequate. The inadequate molester is the sex offender who least resembles social and behavioral norms. He is characterized as a social misfit, an isolate, who appears unusual or eccentric. He may be mentally ill and prefers non-threatening sexual partners.   

The preferential molester is primarily attracted to children and are the most dangerous category of child molester. The FBI reports that they have a lifetime average of 282 incidents of abuse with an average 150 victims. The preferential molester is who is highly skilled at grooming, is deceptive, and committed to a lifestyle of seducing children. This group of sex offenders tends to have more professionals with higher incomes. They engage in activities that are predictable and ritualized. They generally access a child  through friendship with adults with whom a strong trust bond is present. The victims do not disclose and no one ever knows. In these situations, the child sees no escape. Types of preferential molesters include:

  • Seducers. This type courts a child over a time period. They often have multiple victims simultaneously, perhaps all from the same ballteam, school class, or neighborhood.
  • Introverted. This type is similar to the inadequate situational molester. Interpersonal skills are lacking, and they target the least resistant child, the youngest and most vulnerable. The introverted type may spend time with children but not engage in direct touching sexual activity. They may masturbate while watching children or expose themselves to children.
  • Sadistic. This is the most dangerous type of child offender. Their goal is sexual activity with a child plus the infliction of pain, both emotional and physical. This is the offender who kidnaps, abuses, and then kills a child. This is the least common type of child molester, and they have the fewest number of victims.

Preferential child molesters have four common characteristics:

  1. Long-term sexual problems. More likely to have been sexually abused as children or grew up in highly sexualized environment. Acted out sexually as teenager and may have history of sex-related problems in adulthood.
  2. Often do not marry or marry as a cover for their preferred sexual activity, exhibiting low sex drive in marriage. May marry to access partner's children. Socially inept with few adult friendships.
  3. Skilled in seduction. Target victims who are needy, neglected, or from home without father figure, then meet need in child. They access children through activities involving children or in work or neighborhood. They groom children with affection and attention and through bribery (gifts and money).
  4. Sexual fantasies involving children. They over-associate with children, and their homes may be filled with children's toys and games. They often collect or produce child pornography.

Courts and Law Enforcement categorize offenders according to risk of recidivism (repeating offenses). A common legal typology of offenders is:

  • Sexually oriented offenders. This type of offender was convicted or plead guilty to a sexual offense but not categorized as a sexual predator or habitual sex offender. He has to check in with law enforcement on an annual basis for 10 years. 
  • Habitual sex offenders. This offender has been convicted or plead guilty to a sexual offense and has a prior sexual charge for which he was convicted or plead guilty. He has to check in with law enforcement on an annual basis for 20 years.   
  • Sexual predators. This type of offender has been convicted or plead guilty to a sexual offense and is believed likely to reoffend. His charge involved sexual violence or the court determined him a predator. He must register and notify law enforcement of his residence every 90 days for his lifetime. Law enforcement is required to notify school superintendents, police chiefs, day care operators, and neighbors within 1000 feet of his residence. 

See Good and Poor Prognosis Factors