The image of the typical sex offender as an insecure loner has been turned on its head by research from a UNSW criminologist.
Philip Birch, a lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, carried out research comparing a sample of sex and non-sex offenders. He found that contrary to popular belief, the sex offenders often displayed attachment styles just as secure as the non-offenders.
"Earlier research found a strong relationship between sexual offending, insecure attachment styles and high levels of emotional loneliness," explains Birch, who has also worked in the prison service and in policy development.
"If we understand that attachment styles can change, it helps us to understand that any of us, in certain circumstances, could be a sex offender," he says.
Attachment styles have been demonstrated to be developed during a critical period in childhood, between the ages of six to 24 months. If insecure attachments are formulated during this time an individual could grow up to have poor intimacy skills and an inability to relate to others.
"What I found instead was that the relationship is not static," says Birch. "It is dynamic and undeniably complex.
Birch says his work has implications for the formulation of risk assessments and treatment approaches for offenders.
The research was presented as part of a seminar series hosted by the School of Social Sciences and International Studies and The Crime and Justice Research Network
Media contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW media unit 9385 1583 or 0422 934 024