How is Sex Addiction Related to Sexual Offending?

Adapted from The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity

Sex offending is a judicial term, referring to committing illegal acts, whereas sexual addiction is a medical term which relates to preoccupation with a sexual activity, the loss of control over it, and its continuation despite adverse consequences. Sex addicts whose sexual behaviors incur legal consequences are one category of sex offenders.

Not all sex addicts become sex offenders. Similarly, not all sex offenders are sex addicts. Approximately 55 percent of incarcerated sex offenders are diagnosable as sex addicts. Child molesters represent the largest group of sexually addicted offenders, 71% of them being sex addicts. Most sex offenders are friends or family members of the victims. In many instances, society will be protected only when violent and dangerous offenders are incarcerated. Some sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated and for public safety must be kept behind bars.

Sexual addiction has progressive features. Whereas some sex addicts may not progress beyond self-destructive behavior, i.e. compulsive masturbation, hustling, cruising, or the extensive use of pornography or phone and computer sex services, others may escalate to victimizing activities such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, child molestation, or rape. For some, sexual dependency may lead to more risky, intense, and exploitative acts. The lack of appropriate assessment and treatment of sexual addiction in its early stages may lead to failure to prevent more assaultive sexual acts.

For many years sex offender specialists have emphasized the non-sexual components of sex offending behavior while minimizing the role of sex itself. A need for power, dominance, control, revenge, sadistic satisfaction, or the expression of anger, has been the most frequently cited causes for sexual assaults. More recently, an understanding of addictive sexual patterns and their mood-altering function offers additional explanations of the many motivations for offending.

The intent of sexually addicted and non-sexually addicted sex offenders differs. Non-addicted sex offenders consciously attempt to inflict pain, do harm, and attack, driven by hatred, rage, and/or anger. Sex addicts who are also sex offenders are motivated by an attempt to use others for self-gratification, and to escape loneliness, shame and low self-esteem, denying the exploitive features and harm or pain they inflict.

With increased professional awareness of the role that addictive sexual disorders play in over half of all sex offenses, it is imperative that treatment specialists and counseling facilities incorporate appropriate sexual addiction assessment and treatment components into their programs. A failure to respond to the addictive features of sex offenders adds unnecessary risk for recidivism (re-offending) and may result in additional victimization.

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