“Mixed” Sexual Offending Against Both Children and Adults: An Empirical Comparison With Individuals Who Exclusively Offended Against Child or Adult Victims

Published date01 November 2021
Date01 November 2021
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2021, Vol. 48, No. 11, November 2021, 1616 –1633.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00938548211002882
Article reuse guidelines: sagepub.com/journals-permissions
© 2021 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
An Empirical Comparison With Individuals Who
Exclusively Offended Against Child or Adult Victims
Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg
Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg
University of Cambridge
Individuals who sexually offended against both children and adults might be particularly dangerous. However, studies on this
group are rare due to methodological difficulties. We investigated adverse childhood experiences, criminological variables,
and other characteristics as well as recidivism in individuals who sexually offended against mixed-aged victims (ISOMAVs)
compared to individuals who exclusively offended against adults (ISOAs) or children (ISOCs). Compared to previous stud-
ies, we applied more stringent classification criteria by including only individuals with at least two past sexual offenses.
Analyses revealed that ISOMAVs more often had an extensive history of sexual offending. In addition, they were more likely
than ISOAs to assault males, and more likely than ISOCs to assault strangers. Violent reoffending was more common in
ISOMAVs compared to ISOCs, but ISOMAVs showed no more sexual recidivism. Other findings, limitations, and implica-
tions for research and practice are discussed.
Keywords: sexual offending; victim age; mixed-aged victims; adult victims; child victims
The term “sex offender” is commonly used in the scientific discourse as well as in media
reports, and it suggests that individuals who sexually offended are a homogeneous group
(Galeste et al., 2012). Common beliefs about this group are, for example, that they are
“specialists” in sexual offending, that their risk for recidivism is exceptionally high, or that
AUTHORS’ NOTE: The study has been funded by the Bavarian State Ministry of Justice and independently
carried out at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany). The authors declared no
potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Eva Link, Institute of Psychology, Friedrich-
Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Nägelsbachstr. 49c, 91052 Erlangen, Germany; e-mail: eva.link@
1002882CJBXXX10.1177/00938548211002882Criminal Justice and BehaviorLink, Lösel / Short Title
they are not amenable to treatment (Levenson et al., 2007; Quinn et al., 2004). Such general
assumptions and a lack of differentiation can lead to “one-size-fits-all” solutions in treat-
ment and management policies (Budd & Mancini, 2016; Lösel & Schmucker, 2017; Mancini
& Pickett, 2016; Quinn et al., 2004). Although there are overall encouraging results on
treatment effectiveness (Schmucker & Lösel, 2015, 2017), treatment in prison settings is
still discussed controversially, and some large studies even suggest unintended negative
effects, that is, more reoffending in treated than in control groups (e.g., Mews et al., 2017).
This can be due to various methodological, context, and treatment factors (e.g., Lösel et al.,
2020), but individual characteristics may also play an important role.
Contrary to popular beliefs, individuals who engaged in sexual offending are in fact a
heterogeneous group, and gaining knowledge about etiological mechanisms and risk factors
for different subgroups helps to identify therapeutic needs and to apply specific manage-
ment strategies. Common ground of various typologies with regard to sexual offending
(e.g., Bickley & Beech, 2001; M. L. Cohen et al., 1971; Gannon et al., 2012; Groth et al.,
1977, 1982; Kingston et al., 2014; Knight, 1999; Yates & Kingston, 2006) is the differentia-
tion between individuals who sexually offended against adults (ISOAs) and individuals
who sexually offended against children (ISOCs). Comparative studies support this distinc-
tion (e.g., L. J. Cohen et al., 2007; Francia et al., 2010; Henn et al., 1976; Joyal et al., 2014).
In this study, we focus on the less-noticed group of individuals who sexually offended
against both adult and child victims (i.e., individuals who sexually offended against mixed-
aged victims [ISOMAVs]). Some research suggests that this subgroup might be exception-
ally dangerous with elevated recidivism rates and psychopathic traits (e.g., Harris et al.,
2011; Porter et al., 2000). In the following, we provide an overview of findings on victim
age–based typologies of sexual offending.
In the past decades, most studies on victim age–based typologies of sexual offending
have focused on ISOAs and ISOCs and found substantial differences between the two
groups. Overall, ISOAs seem to have more in common with individuals who have a history
of nonsexual and violent offending than ISOCs in terms of general criminal conduct and
criminogenic factors. ISOAs seem to be more frequently diagnosed with a personality dis-
order, especially antisocial personality, compared to ISOCs (Henn et al., 1976; Jackson &
Richards, 2007). In an early study by Henn et al. (1976), ISOAs displayed a more general
antisocial lifestyle with a greater variety of different offenses during their lifespan, whereas
ISOCs were more specialized in sexual offending. Other, more recent studies, also found
higher rates of general and violent (re)offending in ISOAs compared to ISOCs (Feelgood
et al., 2005; Harris et al., 2011; Lussier, 2005; Lussier et al., 2005; Olver & Wong, 2006;
Rettenberger et al., 2015). The higher rates of general antisocial behavior and violent
offending in ISOAs are in line with findings on elevated levels of aggressiveness (Marshall
et al., 1995; Shechory & Ben-David, 2005) and psychopathic personality traits (Jackson &
Richards, 2007; Olver & Wong, 2006; Porter et al., 2000, 2009; Rice & Knight, 2019). In
several studies, ISOAs scored particularly higher on Factor 2 of the Psychopathy Checklist—
Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 2003), which reflects the social deviance/criminality component of
the psychopathy construct (Olver & Wong, 2006; Porter et al., 2000). Accordingly, the use
of physical force or weapons in the commission of sexual offenses is more likely among

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