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Title: Implicit theories in high secure male child sexual offenders with a mental disorder
Author: Mannix, Karyn
Awarding Body: University of Lincoln
Current Institution: University of Lincoln
Date of Award: 2010
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There is an abundance of research on the aetiology and maintenance of child sexual offending and many factors have been proposed as being influential, including distorted cognitions. These are the focus of this study, in particular, the underlying implicit theories thought to generate them. Ward and Keenan (1999) hypothesised that child sexual offenders hold five distinct implicit theories which account for the majority of their cognitive distortions, and which they use to make predictions about the meaning of children’s behaviour and underlying desires and intentions. These include Children as Sexual Beings, Nature of Harm, Uncontrollability, Dangerous World and Entitlement. However, it is unclear at the present time whether child sexual offenders with a mental disorder have similar or different cognitions which may have influenced their offending. This aim of the current study was to explore this. Semi structured interviews eliciting cognitions were carried out with 12 adult male high secure child sexual offenders. Content analysis indicated that the majority of the cognitive distortions exhibited by this sample of men could be categorized within Ward and Keenan’s (1999) five implicit theories. Evidence of a possible new implicit theory representing deviant sexual interest in children, Children as Sexually Attractive, was also found. Additionally, child sexual offenders whose offending appeared to be associated with intimacy deficits were not felt to be adequately captured under the Dangerous World implicit theory, and the theme of ‘Lonely World’ was felt to be more suitable to represent this group of men. Diagnosis did not impact upon the presence of implicit theories although content differences were found. Participants with a diagnosis of personality disorder (n = 5; 100%) more commonly articulated cognitions associated with the Children as Sexual Beings implicit theory and reported deviant sexual interest in children. In comparison, participants with a diagnosis of mental illness reported beliefs associated with the Uncontrollability implicit theory (n = 5; 100%), and only two men made reference to symptoms of their mental illness. 2 These preliminary findings appear to support previous studies identifying cognitions and personality as risk factors to sexual offending in men, irrespective of diagnosis. It can be concluded from this that psychosis alone is not a sufficient motivator for sexual offending and cognition appears to play an influential role. This is particularly relevant to those with a mental illness as the majority of research into their sexual offending up to now has mostly focused on the role of psychosis. In terms of assessment and treatment, these findings primarily suggest that implicit theories should be addressed in therapy rather than focusing solely on their surface level cognitive distortions, regardless of diagnosis. Further research is necessary in order to advance understanding of implicit theories in child sexual offenders with a mental disorder before any treatment and assessment tools can be adequately developed. Additionally, future research will build on the limited theories and typologies, particularly for those with a mental illness, which in turn should help to advance the assessment, formulation and treatment of these offenders.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Clin.Psy.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: C800 Psychology