Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Psychopathology and Sexual Aggression in Nonincarcerated Men

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Psychopathology and Sexual Aggression in Nonincarcerated Men

Article excerpt

Men who self-reported rape or attempted rape (N=47) were compared to sexually active men who denied perpetrating sexual aggression (N = 56) on psychopathology. Men were surveyed using the Sexual Experiences Survey (Koss & Gidycz, 1985), and completed structured clinical interviews. Sexually aggressive men reported a pattern of symptoms indicating impulse control problems; they had more conduct-disordered behavior in childhood, and abused alcohol and illicit drugs more than nonviolent men. These symptoms were clinically significant: a higher proportion of sexually aggressive men met criteria for child conduct disorder, and alcohol and drug abuse diagnoses than nonviolent men. Sexually aggressive men also reported more personality disorder symptoms than nonviolent men, suggesting that they had less empathy, and were more self-centered and manipulative than nonviolent men. These findings suggest that undetected sexually violent men have fairly severe and long-standing problems with impulsivity and add to the growing literature on common factors in criminal and nonincarcerated samples.

Research with judicially identified sexually aggressive men has consistently supported a relationship between psychopathology and perpetration of rape. As a result of their work with sex offenders, Groth and Birnbaum (1979) hypothesized rape to be the result of "psychological dysfunction," and the resultant incapacity to deal with stress. They noted a high incidence of personality disorders and heavy alcohol use in offenders that placed these men at risk for perpetration. Recent research using modern diagnostic criteria has replicated the association between personality disorder and sexual aggression. Studies using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM; American Psychiatric Association, 1987) criteria have found that incarcerated rapists can often be classified with a cluster B personality disorder (i.e., histrionic, narcissistic, borderline and antisocial), and most often as antisocial personality (Ingram & Knight, 1990; Prentky & Knight, 1991). No study, however, has examined personality disorders in nonincarcerated sexually aggressive men.

The relevance of psychopathology models to the perpetration of sexual aggression in nonincarcerated samples has been questioned (e.g., Koss & Leonard, 1984). The research literature on this topic has yielded inconsistent findings; for example, some studies find an association between antisocial traits and sexual aggression (e.g., Malamuth, 1986) whereas others do not (Koss, Leonard, Beezley, & Oros,1985). Nonetheless, the heterogeneity noted among perpetrators warrants examination of different factors that might contribute to perpetration in the general population. The goal of this study was to examine the association between psychopathology and sexual aggression in the general population using structured interviews. Based on previous work with convicted sex offenders, sexually violent men are expected to evidence higher rates of child conduct disorder, alcohol and drug abuse, and personality disorder than nonviolent comparison men.

METHOD

Participants. This sample has been previously described in detail (Ouimette & Riggs, in press), hence a brief summary will be provided here. A total of 902 men, enrolled in undergraduate courses at a large public university, volunteered to complete a sexual aggression screening questionnaire during classtime, and were offered the opportunity to sign up for a potential follow-up interview (for money or course credit) by writing their first name only and phone number on a separate form. Men were told at both the screening (and interview) that their participation was voluntary and confidential, and were informed of the procedures maintained to insure confidentiality (e.g., participants' last names would not be taken during the study; identifying information would be kept separate from research data). …

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