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Identification of five fundamental implicit theories underlying cognitive distortions in child abusers: A preliminary study

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Qualitative analysis of interviews with 22 child abusers found strong evidence for Ward and Keenan's (1999) proposal that there are five implicit theories in child abusers that account for the majority of their cognitive distortions/thinking errors. These implicit theories are: Child as a sexual being where children are perceived as being able to and wanting to engage in sexual activity with adults and also are not be harmed by such sexual contact; Nature of harm where the offender perceives that sexual activity does not cause harm (and may in fact be beneficial) to the child; Entitlement where the child abuser perceives that he is superior and more important than others: and hence is able to have sex with whoever, and whenever, he wants; Dangerous world where the offender perceives that that others are abusive and rejecting and he must fight to regain control; and Uncontrollable where the offender perceives the world as uncontrollable and hence he believes that circumstances are outside of his control. There was no evidence for any other type of implicit theory. Results of the study also indicated that there was a significant difference in terms of the endorsement of the Dangerous world implicit theory between participants reporting a history of child sexual abuse and those who did not. Offenders against male victims were significantly more likely to endorse the Child as a sexual being and Dangerous world implicit theories compared to men who had offended against female children.

Keywords: Child abusers; child molesters; cognitive distortions; implicit theories

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, Australia 2: Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand 3: University of Birmingham, U.K 4: University of Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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