Clinical psychologists (e.g., Abel, Blanchard, & Becker, 1976) have found that many of the sex offenders they treated had poor heterosocial skills, that is, they lacked the social skills necessary to function heterosexually (Barlow, Abel, Blanchard, Bristow, & Young, 1977). These observations have spawned a large body of research examining the social competence and heterosocial competence of rapists and child molesters.
In the research literature on social skills, various terms have been identified and sometimes used interchangeably. These include social competence, social skills, heterosocial skills, and heterosocial competence. For example, McFall (1990) distinguishes social competence from social skills in that competence is the evaluation of a person's performance of a particular task, while skills are the underlying processes that enable a person to perform that task competently. Neither of these concepts implies that the social tasks involve interactions with a member of the other sex.
On the other hand, heterosocial skills and heterosocial competence assess a person's ability to successfully interact with members of the other sex. So, based on McFall's definition, heterosocial competence could be conceptualized as the evaluation of a person's performance in heterosexual interactions, while heterosocial skills could be defined as underlying processes that enable a person to successfully interact with members of the other sex.
The purpose of this study is to examine the heterosocial competence of rapists and child molesters. For purposes of this analysis, heterosocial competence has been operationally defined as the ability to competently interact with members of the other sex. Since a number of different measures could be defined this way, a fairly broad set of measures was included in this analysis. Self-report measures of heterosocial competence indicate the person's own evaluation of his or her ability, while performance measures indicate the person's performance on a task, such as a roleplaying situation, involving a person of the other sex.
Barlow et al. (1977) argue that rape and child sexual abuse are sexual deviations and that they result, in part, from an inability to establish normal sexual relationships. Freund (1988) identifies rape as a "courtship disorder," that is, an anomalous performance of courtship behavior. However, this only applies to the minority of rapists who have an erotic preference for rape over consensual intercourse (Freund, Scher, & Hucker, 1983). Ward, McCormack, Hudson, and Polaschek (1997) suggest that sexual offenders fail to achieve and maintain close relationships and are insecurely attached to their romantic partners. Presumably, these individuals use sexual coercion to compensate for their inability to achieve intimacy.
The research evidence on the relationship between heterosocial competence and sexual offending is mixed. For rapists, some studies have found that they do not differ from nonrapists in heterosocial competence (e.g., Koralewski & Conger, 1992), while others have found that rapists show less heterosocial competence than nonrapists (e.g., Lipton, McDonel, & McFall, 1987). However, for child molesters, most studies have found that sexual abusers of children are deficient in heterosocial competence (e.g., Bumby & Hansen, 1997). Thus, there may be a stronger relationship between heterosocial competence and sexual offending for child molesters than for rapists.
Some of the studies reviewed here (e.g., Overholser & Beck, 1986) compared sex offenders and non-sex-offenders from different populations. Specifically, rapists and child molesters who were in prison (i.e., incarcerated sex offenders) were compared with college students or other volunteers who were not in prison (i.e., nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders). In some cases, these incarcerated sex offenders were specifically selected to undergo psychiatric treatment (e.g., Hudson & Ward, 1997). The problem with comparing incarcerated sex offenders with nonincarcerated sex offenders is that individuals in prison may have worse social skills in general than nonincarcerated individuals (Muehlenhard & Falcon, 1990). Also, sex offenders with poor social skills are probably more likely to be convicted of sexual crimes than those with good social skills (Clark & Lewis, 1977). Thus, incarcerated sex offenders would be expected to have lower heterosocial competence than nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders.
Other studies (e.g., Hudson & Ward, 1997) compared sex offenders and non-sex-offenders from similar populations. Some compared college students or other volunteers who indicated in self-report measures that they had committed rape (i.e., nonincarcerated rapists) with nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders. Unfortunately, there are no data on nonincarcerated child molesters. Others compared incarcerated sex offenders with prisoners who were not sex offenders (i.e., incarcerated non-sex-offenders). These studies may not find large differences between sex offenders and non-sex-offenders. Sex offenders in prison might be expected to share similar levels of heterosocial competence with other prisoners. Likewise, sex offenders who are college students might be expected to share similar levels of heterosocial competence with other college students.
I conducted a meta-analysis on the research on the heterosocial competence of sex offenders. I predicted that effect sizes would differ based on the type of sex offender sampled (rapist or child molester) and whether the samples were incarcerated or nonincarcerated.
The first analysis compared the heterosocial competence of all rapists (including both incarcerated and nonincarcerated samples) with that of all non-sex-offenders (including both incarcerated and nonincarcerated samples). Overall, I predicted that rapists would have significantly lower heterosocial competence than non-sex-offenders. However, I anticipated this effect would be relatively small because comparisons involving sex offenders from different populations would yield large effect sizes but comparisons from similar populations would yield small effect sizes.
Based on the reasoning that incarcerated individuals would have less heterosocial competence than nonincarcerated individuals, I predicted that the difference in heterosocial competence between incarcerated rapists and nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders would be significantly larger than the difference between incarcerated rapists and incarcerated non-sex-offenders. Based on the same reasoning, I predicted that the difference in heterosocial competence between incarcerated rapists and nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders would be significantly larger than the difference between nonincarcerated rapists and nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders.
I predicted that child molesters would have lower heterosocial competence than both incarcerated and nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders. Since most of the studies I reviewed showed significant differences between child molesters and non-sex-offenders, I expected a significant overall effect size.
I predicted that the difference in heterosocial competence between child molesters and both incarcerated and nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders would be significantly larger than the difference between rapists and both incarcerated and nonincarcerated non-sex-offenders. Research suggests that heterosocial competence is more of a problem for child molesters than for rapists (e.g., Bumby & Hansen, 1997).
Based on the reasoning that incarcerated individuals would have lower heterosocial competence than nonincarcerated individuals, I predicted that the difference in heterosocial competence between child molesters (all of whom were incarcerated) and …