Psychiatric, demographic and personality characteristics of elderly sex offenders

Psychol Med. 2002 Feb;32(2):219-26. doi: 10.1017/s0033291701005153.


Background: Psychiatric disorders are purported to play a role in the aetiology of violent crime, but evidence for their role in sexual offending is less clear. The authors investigated the prevalence of psychiatric morbidity and personality disorders in elderly incarcerated sex offenders compared with elderly non-sex offenders.

Method: One hundred and one sex offenders and 102 non-sex offenders aged over 59 years wereinterviewed using standardized semi-structured interviews for psychiatric illness (the Geriatric Mental State) and the personality disorder (Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV personality disorders). Data on demographic, offence and victim characteristics were collected.

Results: Six per cent of the elderly sex offenders had a psychotic illness, 7% a DSM-IV major depressive episode and 33% a personality disorder; and 1% had dementia. These prevalence figures were not different from the elderly non-sex offenders interviewed in this study. Differences emerged at the level of personality traits with sex offenders having more schizoid, obsessive-compulsive, and avoidant traits, and fewer antisocial traits compared with non-sex offenders.

Conclusions: Elderly sex offenders and non-sex-offenders have similar prevalence rates of mental illness. However, elderly sex offenders have increased schizoid, obsessive-compulsive, and avoidant personality traits, supporting the view that sex offending in the elderly is associated more with personality factors than mental illness or organic brain disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • England
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Rape / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Rape / psychology
  • Sex Offenses / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*
  • Violence / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Violence / psychology
  • Wales