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. 2003 Jan;15(1):49-60.
doi: 10.1177/107906320301500104.

Trait Empathy and Criminal Versatility in Sexual Offenders

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Trait Empathy and Criminal Versatility in Sexual Offenders

Stephen W Smallbone et al. Sex Abuse. .

Abstract

Associations between trait empathy and criminal versatility were examined in a sample of 88 incarcerated adult sexual offenders (29 extrafamilial child molesters, 26 intrafamilial child molesters, and 33 rapists). Considerable criminal versatility was observed, with 60% of the whole sample and 88% of recidivist offenders having previous convictions for nonsexual offenses. Regression analyses showed significant associations between trait empathy and nonsexual offense convictions, but not between trait empathy and sexual offense convictions. More specifically, greater involvement in violent offending (e.g., assault, robbery) was associated with lower levels of empathic concern and higher levels of fantasy. Greater involvement in miscellaneous (e.g., traffic, drug, public order) offending was associated with lower levels of empathic concern. We argue that insufficient theoretical and empirical attention has historically been given to criminal versatility among sexual offenders, especially among child molesters. In particular, we suggest that developments in empathy training for sexual offenders may benefit from distinguishing needs of criminally versatile and non-versatile sexual offenders. More knowledge about trait empathy in sexual offenders, and about situational factors that may override otherwise normal empathic responsiveness, is needed.

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