An investigation of the nature, content and influence of schemas in sexual offending
Objective: This thesis set out to investigate the nature, presence and role of schema-level cognition in sexual offending. Schemas were defined as structures, with cognitive contents, which influence and direct the processing of information. It was hypothesised that schema-driven surface cognition would interact with other factors in the context of negative or ambiguous life events, and that this interaction would lead to the commission of a sexual offence. Method: Indications of schemas were identified from sexual offenders' explanations for their offending. A questionnaire was constructed and administered to two large samples of convicted sexual offenders; and the structure of the questionnaire was investigated using factor analysis. Construct, concurrent and predictive validity of the questionnaire were established. Cluster analysis determined subtypes of sexual offenders based on schema scores. The interaction between schemas and other factors related to sexual offending was explored using case study analysis. Results: A hierarchical structure was found to the questionnaire, consisting of two factors each with two sub-factors. The factors were interpreted as modes (Beck, 1999) and the subfactors were interpreted as schemas. No differences were found in schema scores for different types of sexual offender. Sexual offenders differed significantly from non-offenders on the Disadvantaged mode but not the Dominance mode. However, the Dominance mode was more strongly related to risk. Four clusters of sexual offenders were observed, and the schema patterns suggested by each cluster could be observed in clinical and other assessment material. Conclusions: The findings supported Ward, Hudson, and Marshall's (1995) theory of cognitive deconstruction, and Ward and Siegert's (2002) theory of sexual offending. Schema-driven information processing is relevant to sexual offending for some but not all offenders. The assessment and treatment of sexual offenders should pay more attention to the issue of schema-driven cognition and also to the management of negative affect generated by cognitive schemas.