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The role of cognitive distortions in paedophilic offending: Internet and contact offenders compared

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Cognitive distortions are held to contribute to sexual offending against children in a number of theoretical explanations of such crimes. However, not only is there little or no direct evidence in support of the centrality of cognitive distortions in offending but recent research has questioned whether the concept has explanatory power. Cognitive distortions are variously seen as necessary for the offender to offend against children, as post-offending justifications for the offence, or as reflecting distorted patterns in the offender's upbringing. This paper explores the role of cognitive distortions in sex offending by comparing the distortions of contact sex offenders against children with Internet child pornography offenders without contact offences against children. A new cognitive distortions questionnaire was developed which was suitable for administration to Internet offenders who had no contact offences against children as well as being suitable for contact offenders. It was found that some cognitive distortions are frequently agreed with by sex offenders against children whereas others were seldom or never agreed with. Little support was found for earlier typological approaches to the cognitive schema of sex offenders against children. Contrary to the expectation that contact offenders would have more cognitive distortions, it was found that Internet offenders had more cognitive distortions that children are sexual beings. Furthermore, there were no differences in cognitive distortions justifying the offence. However, offenders with a previous history of offending were more likely to admit to cognitive distortions which justify their offending. It is accepted that cognitive distortions are readily recognized in interviews with sex offenders against children. Nevertheless, it is argued that there is a need for new research to stimulate a new understanding of the nature and role of cognitive distortions in sex offending.
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Keywords: Cognitive ditortions; child pornography; cognitive scheme; internet pornography; paedophiles; paedophilia; sex offenders

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, Loughborough, UK 2: University of Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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