A study of incarcerated juvenile sex offenders suggests that psychological abuse in childhood may have uniquely damaging effects on mental health.
The findings, which appears in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, shed light on the roots of hypersexuality, which has been found to be a predictor of recidivism.
“I have been doing research on various aspects of sexual aggression for the last four decades. It is clear that primary prevention is the optimal intervention strategy for reducing sexual violence,” explained Raymond A. Knight, the corresponding author of the study and professor emeritus of human relations at Brandeis University.
“Consequently, in my laboratory we have been focusing on identifying the developmental antecedents of various risk factors for sexual aggression. Knowledge of such antecedents is essential for designing and implementing prevention strategies.”
In the study, the researchers surveyed 307 male juveniles who were about 16 years old on average and had committed at least one serious sexual crime. The participants completed assessments of abuse and other adverse childhood experiences.
The researchers found those who reported higher levels of psychological abuse by a male caregiver tended to also report more problematic and excessive sexual thoughts and behaviors. The same was true of those who reported more severe sexual abuse in childhood.
“Psychological abuse, especially in this case of a father toward his son, is a powerful predictor of hypersexuality and indeed in other studies from our laboratory of other prequels to sexual and nonsexual violence. It requires enhanced research scrutiny to unpack the potential causal components it encompasses,” Knight told PsyPost.
Like all research, the study includes some limitations.
“This is a retrospective, not a prospective study. The youths are reporting recent past experiences and behavior. All the methodological problems with such a research strategy apply,” Knight explained.
“Nonetheless, we have replicated these findings with an adult sample, indicating their cross-sample consistency. Prospective studies of psychological and sexual abuse aimed at unraveling the essential causal mechanisms involved in each and examining their consequences are essential.”
The study, “The Relation of Childhood Abuse Experiences to Problematic Sexual Behaviors in Male Youths Who Have Sexually Offended“, was authored by Kathryn A. Davis and Raymond A. Knight.