A Study of Recidivism Among Online Sexual Predators.

AuthorKolodner, Hannah

Since the development of internet communication platforms and social media, the online sexual predation of minors has affected as much as an estimated 19 percent of the undereighteen-years-old population. (1) Online victimization against minors includes, but is not limited to, online sexual solicitation, sexual harassment, production and distribution of child pornography, and other illegal affronts against persons under the age of eighteen. (2) Furthermore, it is estimated that as many as 13.4 percent of sexual offenders commit multiple offenses, making recidivism an important topic of study. (3) These data suggest that analyzing the intersection of online sexual offense and recidivism may be a crucial area of study due to the devastating impact these offenses have on human lives. Research suggests that online sexual predation may lead to a number of victim symptom sequelae, including severe trauma, anxiety and depressive symptoms, substance abuse, interpersonal difficulty, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, and other social-emotional challenges. (4) Furthermore, as many as 96 percent percent of children who experience online victimization experience victimization offline as well, compounding the gravity of online victimization statistics. (5)

In a 2015 study, researcher George Palermo reported an overall sexual offense recidivism rate of 13.4 percent, which included a 12.7 percent recidivism rate specifically among child molesters. (6) These data are not specific to online sexual offenses and suggest that it is not uncommon for sexual offenders to commit multiple offenses, even when they have previously been caught, tried, and convicted. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (2019) reports that within nine years of release from prison, sex offenders are less likely than other types of offenders to get arrested, but "more likely than other types of offenders to be arrested for rape and sexual assault."(7) In contrast to the findings of Palermo, The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that sexual offenders had a 67 percent probability of re-offending. (8) A notable gap in the literature is a specific measure of recidivism rates among the specific sub-population of study, internet sexual offenders targeting minors. Although there is not parity in the data on recidivism rates, it is uniformly clear throughout the literature that recidivism is not an unlikely outcome of imprisonment and is therefore a topic that requires further analysis.

The present study seeks to identify predictive factors of recidivism among online sexual predators who have offended against minors. The data analyzed in this report is taken from a representative national survey examining the frequency and characteristics of online criminal sexual offenses against minors in 2012. Ultimately, the study seeks to contribute to a robust body of literature aimed at identifying predictive factors of online sexual recidivism. Literature Review

Through the lens of General Strain Theory, the present study seeks to examine the realities and hypothesized predictors of offender recidivism. General Strain Theory (GST) was chosen as the theoretical paradigm because of its goodness of fit with the population of multipleoffense criminal offenders. From the literature on GST, arises the question of whether or not the strain caused from being a sex offender compounds the likelihood of re-offense. The present study will address whether specific crimes are predictive of recidivism within the observed subpopulation of offenders. The literature on sexual offender recidivism examines a number of other possible hypotheses for why offenders re-offend. Although contradictory and vague, the literature is resolute in the idea that personality and personal history likely play a significant role. (9) This study will also examine whether particular personal history variables can predict the likelihood that the offender has previously offended. In this way, previous literature and the gaps therein beget the variables studied in the present data analysis.

General Strain Theory (GST) is a cousin of Social Learning Theory that posits that individual strain or adversity may result in an increase in delinquent or deviant behavior. (10) Specifically, the theory contends that delinquency is emergent from three typical contexts: 1) strain as the actual or anticipated failure to achieve positively valued goals; 2) strain as the actual or anticipated removal of positively valued stimuli; and 3) strain as the actual or anticipated presentation of negatively valued stimuli. (11) In other words, the allure or deterrent of an identified stimuli may elicit a delinquent response in individuals if an undesired outcome is predicted or experienced. This undesired outcome or strain precedes the delinquent behavior. Through the GST paradigm, an examination of individual factors as well as an analysis of the social environment is critical in analyzing the interplay between social punishments and rewards and individual response. (12)

An empirical body of research testing General Strain Theory (GST) suggests that certain social punishments contribute disproportionately to the experience of strain that leads to delinquency. (13) In particular, social ostracization, negative social relationships, and the experience of anomie are predictors of delinquent behavior. (14) GST ultimately contends that although it is possible for an individual to respond to negative social pressure in a non-delinquent manner, negative social pressure is often the precursor to delinquency. (15)

Studies of General Strain Theory have not only focused on individual experiences that predict delinquency, but also provide a theoretical examination of sexual offender recidivism. For the purposes of the present research study, recidivism refers to the re-commission of a sexual offense. Although empirical literature on the intersection of sexual offenders and GST is extremely limited, researchers Alissa Ackerman and Meghan Sacks conducted a unique study that found that Registration and Community Notification Laws (RCNL) create the strain and negative stimuli that can be a significant predictive factor in offender recidivism(16). Ackerman and Sacks explain, "GST is uniquely situated as a parsimonious theoretical explanation for recidivism post-RCNL, given what we currently know...and the consequences of registration and community notification."(17) Similarly, a study conducted by Joan Reid and Alex Piquero found that caregiver strain and difficulty nurturing generationally transmitted to youth who had increased level of sexual offense commission and recommission later in life. (18) Although examining different perspectives of strain, the literature linking General Strain Theory to sexual offense recidivism suggests that it is an area primed for further study. It is through this GST lens, therefore, that the present research seeks to understand other potential strain factors such as personal history factors and nature of previous crime factors and their power in predicting online

offender recidivism. (19)

As applied to the present study, General Strain Theory...

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