A Grounded Theory Analysis of Sexual Sadism in Females.

Full Reference:
Pflugradt, D. & Allen, B. (2012). A grounded theory analysis of sexual sadism in females. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 18, 325-337.

This research aims to provide information regarding the characteristics of female sadistic sex offenders, particularly in comparison to their male counterparts. Interviews were conducted with 5 female offenders diagnosed with sexual sadism.

The behavioural characteristics specific to female sexual sadists (and not to males) appear to be:

  • Female sexual sadists have a greater tendency to involve a co – offender
  • Female sexual sadists tend to know their victim
  • Female sexual sadists tend to have a greater arousal to psychological abuse (e.g. embarrassing or ridiculing the victim).

The offenders seemed to believe that the victims deserved the torture and therefore did not feel uneasy about causing pain to their victims. The frequency and intensity of abuse increased over time.

Despite the severe abuse, the offenders sometimes demonstrated nurturing behaviour. This was often used as simple conditioning of the victim; often they were given rewards (e.g. food) for compliant behaviour and punishment (e.g. deprivation of basic needs) for resistance.


This is an area which has seen little research to date and the findings are fascinating. The standard rule with referencing qualitative research, which will by its nature have a small number of participants (referred to in research as a small ‘N’), is that the findings are not generalisable. Hence, you cannot conclude from this research that women who co-offend with others are likely to be sadistic. However, the benefits of this type of research lie in the quality of the information uncovered and the issues they suggest we should explore in similar cases Consequently we should explore the nature and extent of the psychological abuse perpetrated by a woman who has disclosed sadistic sexual interests.

Online Solicitation Offenders are Different from Child Pornography Offenders and Lower Risk Contact Sexual Offenders

Full Reference:
Seto, M. C., Wood, J. M., Babchishin, K. M., & Flynn, S. (2012). Online solicitation offenders are different from child pornography offenders and lower risk contact sexual offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 36, 320-330.

The purpose of this research was to compare convicted offenders of online solicitation (those using technology to communicate with young people for sexual reasons), child pornography offenders and low risk contact offenders. 156 convicted child sex offenders were involved in the study (N=156, for those of you who are paying attention).

The main findings included:

  • The three offender groups were generally demographically similar.
  • The two perpetrator groups whose offending was associated with the internet had more education than the contact offenders.
  • Online solicitation offenders were more likely than contact offenders to view child abuse images online and to have victims who were unrelated or strangers.
  • Online solicitation offenders were similar or less likely to commit future sexual offences against children, than child pornography offenders. It is important to remember that the vast majority of child sexual abuse goes unreported. Furthermore, of the cases that are, very few result in convictions. Therefore data produced by actuarial risk assessments (as used in this study) are limited due to the reliance on reconviction data. However, this research used polygraph testing in addition to actuarial risk assessments.
  • Accuracy of the participants’ responses was measured using polygraph and found similar levels of general deception between the three groups.
  • However, only 29% of online solicitation offenders admitted undetected contact sexual offences when compared to convicted contact offenders (50%) and child pornography offenders (51%).
  • This finding contributes to the notion that online solicitation offenders may be at less risk of future offending. This was surprising as the authors expected that solicitation offenders would place between pornography and contact offenders in terms of risk of sexual re-offending against children.

Michael Seto is one of the most respected researchers in the field of sex offenders in the last 10 years. He has made a significant contribution to our understanding of sex offender behaviour. So anything that he was written or contributed to is well worth spending the time to read in full.

An interesting finding is the numbers of the participants who disclosed undetected contact offences during the study. Almost 1:3 of the online solicitation offenders and 1:2 of those with child pornography (indecent images) offences admitted undetected contact offences. This highlights the dangers of categorising offenders by their known offending. Labelling someone a child pornographer may lead practitioners to wrongly conclude this is the extent of their actual sexual offending.

A Review of Young People’s Vulnerabilities to Online Grooming

Full Reference:
Whittle, H. C., Hamilton-Giachritsis, C., Beech, A., & Collings, G. (2013). A review of young people’s vulnerabilities to online grooming. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18, 135-146.

This article reviews the literature regarding what makes a young person vulnerable to being groomed on the internet.

The main findings include:

  • Factors typically associated with making a young person vulnerable to sexual abuse offline (such as problems within the family, social isolation and low self-esteem), are likely to lead to vulnerability towards grooming online. Furthermore, these vulnerable young people are less likely to be resilient if confronted by a groomer online.
  • However there are some vulnerability factors which are specific to online grooming. These include being an adolescent, lack of parental involvement with internet, risk taking behaviour online and high levels of internet access.
  • Girls are more likely to experience unwanted sexual attention online (including from groomers). However, a significant number of victims are male and the online grooming of boys is likely to under-reported.
  • Recognising which factors increase a young person’s vulnerability towards online grooming can help identify methods of protection. For example, encouraging parents to increase communication with their children about their internet activities could help protect them from online grooming.

Look out for literature reviews in journals as they can save you an enormous amount of reading time. This is a particularly good example of how one paper can provide a wide ranging insight into contemporary thinking on a topic and focus your thinking on the key issues identified by research.

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