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Irrespective of Admission or Denial, the CASIC Demonstrates that Behavioral Correlates are Significantly Associated with Sexual Interest in Children

The items on the Correlates of Admission of Sexual Interest in Children (CASIC) assessment represent behavioral correlates that, when summed in a risk tool development sample, are significantly associated with the admission of sexual interest in children. These items are: individuals who have never been married, child pornography content that included sexual abuse videos, child pornography content that included sex stories involving children, evidence of interest in child pornography spanned 2 or more years, individuals who volunteered in a role with high access to children, and individuals who engaged in online sexual communication with a minor or officer posing as a minor. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2017, Vol. 41, No. 3, 305-313

Correlates of Admitted Sexual Interest in Children Among Individuals Convicted of Child Pornography Offenses

Authors

Michael C. Seto, Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, Brockville, Ontario, Canada
Angela W. Eke, Ontario Provincial Police, Orillia, Ontario, Canada

Abstract

Recent research on a risk assessment for child pornography offending suggests that admission of sexual interest in children is a risk factor for any sexual recidivism. Admission is easily vulnerable to lying, however, or to refusals to respond when asked about sexual interests. This may become a particular issue when individuals are concerned about the potential impact of admission of sexual interest on sentencing and other risk-related decisions. In this study, we identified the following behavioral correlates (coded yes/no) of admission of sexual interest in children in the risk tool development sample of 286 men convicted of child pornography offenses: (a) never married (54% of sample), (b) child pornography content included child sexual abuse videos (64%), (c) child pornography content included sex stories involving children (31%), (d) evidence of interest in child pornography spanned 2 or more years (55%), (e) volunteered in a role with high access to children (7%), and (f) engaged in online sexual communication with a minor or officer posing as a minor (10). When summed, the average score on this Correlates of Admission of Sexual Interest in Children (CASIC) measure was 2.21 (SD = 1.22, range 0-6) out of a possible 6, and the CASIC score was significantly associated with admission of sexual interest in children, area under the curve (AUC) = .71, 95% CI [.65, .77]. The CASIC had a stronger relationship with admission in a small cross-validation sample of 60 child pornography offenders, AUC = .81, 95% CI [.68, .95]. CASIC scores may substitute for admission of sexual interest in risk assessment those with child pornography offenses.

Keywords

risk assessment, child pornography, sexual interest, sexual offending

Summary of the Research

“Pedophilia and hebephilia can be assessed in different ways…the most direct way is to ask someone about their sexual interests in adults and in children through interviews or questionnaires. This method is the only way to ask about sexual thoughts, fantasies, or urges; these aspects must otherwise be inferred from behavior or other sources of information. Self-report can also be useful in gathering information from individuals with pedophilic sexual interests who have not offended or those who have committed undetected sexual crimes such as sexual contact with children or child pornography use. Self-report is vulnerable, however, to manipulation” (p. 305).

“Pedohebephilia can also be inferred from behavior, for example, based on officially recorded information about sexual contact with children (e.g., number of prior charges for sexual crimes), children victim characteristics (e.g., number of child victims), or child pornography use…Assessing pedophilia on the basis of behavior has the advantage of not relying on self-report alone or on complicated laboratory procedures. However, this method relies on the person acting upon pedophilic sexual interests: it is not useful for those with pedophilic sexual interests who have not offended or for those with only undetected sexual offenses who deny or minimize details…Is it possible to develop a proxy variable for self-reported sexual interest in children?…The Child Pornography Offender Risk Tool (CPORT)…is a structured risk assessment checklist for ranking the likelihood that men convicted of child pornography offenses will sexually reoffend in any way, whether with contact or non contact offenses…” (p. 306).

“The purpose of the present study was to identify correlates of admission of pedohebephilic sexual interests that would usually be available to police investigators, a key user group for the CPORT. Our interest in identifying correlates was twofold: (a) self-report is vulnerable to manipulation, so creating a proxy measure based on more objective information would be useful in the clinical assessment of pedophilia or hebephilia; and (b) we wanted to determine if a substitute CPORT item could be created because admission of sexual interest in children is a risk factor and it will become vulnerable to faking if the measure becomes better known…Consistent with previous work, we predicted that never having been married or lived common-law would be a significant predictor of pedohebephilic sexual interest, as would having prior sexual offenses, greater child pornography involvement as indicated by organization or time spent collecting child pornography, child pornography content (images of younger children, multiple forms), and interest in seeking contact with children. We were also interested in the comparison between the amount of child pornography and the amount of adult pornography” (p. 306-307).

“Our sample was comprised of 286 men convicted of child pornography offenses… There was no preselection of cases; cases were included if there was sufficient information to code study variables…Most (89%) of the cases involved the use of online technologies to access child pornography, although it might not be the only way the individual collected the material and they may not have been detected by police due to their online activity…Our coding was strict in that only clear statements of sexual interest were included; of those who admitted sexual interest, some indicated their feelings were wrong or unacceptable and some indicated their wish to receive help for their thoughts and fantasies…We also coded collateral evidence of a diagnosis of pedophilia or hebephilia…37 in our sample (13%) had a formal diagnosis of pedophilia or hebephilia known at the index offense…As part of the current study, we also examined the CASIC in the small validation sample. When all cases were included, regardless of missing items, scores ranged from 0 to 6 (M = 1.90, SD = 1.16) and the CASIC score was significantly predictive of CPORT item 5…Overall, the CASIC appears robust for missing items” (p. 307-310).

“We found six variables (each dichotomously scored as absent or present) that significantly predicted admission/diagnosis of sexual interest in children: (a) never married, (b) child pornography content included videos, (c) child pornography content included sex stories involving children, (d) evidence of interest in child pornography spanned 2 or more years, (e) volunteered in a role with high access to children, and (f) engaged in online sexual communication with a minor or officer posing as a minor. Not all of the correlates added incrementally in a logistic regression…” (p. 310).

“The six CASIC items are psychologically meaningful. Never being married or living common-law is meaningful because someone who is sexually attracted to children is les likely to engage in marriage or common-law cohabitation with an adult…Never having been married might also serve as a marker for interpersonal difficulties involving adults, such as poorer social skills, being more comfortable with children than adults, or being socially isolated or withdrawn. Having child pornography videos, child pornography stories, or showing evidence of interest in child pornography spanning 2 or more years may reflect level of involvement with child pornography. Someone who only recently started collecting might be acting more out of curiosity or thrill-seeking, whereas someone who is interested in diverse child pornography content or who sustains this activity (whether continuous or episodic) for 2 or more years is more likely to have pedophilia or hebephilia. Videos are more intense sexual stimuli. At the time of data collection, they were also less common than images, and thus more difficult to obtain; more time needed to be spent finding these videos” (p. 310).

“Volunteering in a role with a high degree of access to children may suggest someone who is motivated to be more around children. This is not to suggest that volunteering for youth-serving roles is suspicious on its own; most volunteers have no known history of sexual offending against children or child pornography use. However, among those with a sexual interest in children, volunteering to work with them might be an indicator of emotional identification with children and/or pedophilia; those who are sexually interested in children who self-exclude from access or from being alone with children may be exhibiting higher empathy or other protective factors “ (p. 311).

“Interestingly, being employed in an occupation with high access to children…was not correlated with admission/diagnosis of sexual interest in children. Occupation may be a poorer marker of emotional congruence or interest in children than volunteering because people will choose youth-serving occupations for reasons other than wanting to be around children…As with volunteers, it is expected that most of those who seek employment in youth-serving occupations enjoy being around children for nonsexual reasons. Online sexual solicitation was an indicator of sexual interest in children in this analysis, but it is more likely to be suggestive of hebephilia than pedophilia because of the typical ages of the minors who receive solicitations” (p. 311).

Translating Research into Practice

“The CASIC also appears to be useful in scoring the CPORT, because it can be used as a substitute for admission of sexual interest in children…We demonstrated this in both the development sample and in a new, smaller validation sample. Indeed, substituting the admission item with CASIC score (using a conservative cutoff score of 3) did not impair the predictive accuracy of the CPORT. Given our concern that admissions of sexual interest in children will be affected as individuals became aware of this CPORT item and its potential impact on sentencing and other decisions, the fact that we can predict admission based on other information available to police investigators is promising” (p. 311).

“Future research ideas include validation of the CPORT in other samples of child pornography offenders followed for recidivism, validation of CASIC as a proxy measure for admission of sexual interest in children, specifically as a substitute item for the CPORT, and more broadly as a screening in clinical or research assessments of pedophilia where child pornography use is involved” (p. 312).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians (L2, #2488CD)
“The current research suggests that factors relating to the accessing and collecting of child pornography can themselves be useful in understanding sexual interest in children. Prior research has found child pornography offending itself to be a good proxy for sexual interest in children, though not all those charged or convicted of child pornography have pedophilia. The current research could help better identify or screen those with this sexual interest” (p. 311).

“Admission of sexual interest in children of child pornography is likely to be influenced by other psychological factors such as personality. We might expect, for example, more antisocial individuals to be less willing to disclose a sexual interest in children because they are more willing to lie. We did not have access to psychological assessments in this study, because data were obtained through police investigation files. There is an established line of research looking at denial or minimization of sexual offending that might be relevant, either comparing individuals who admit versus deny their sexual offenses and/or who admit or deny sexual interest in children. Phallometric studies have consistently shown that individuals who admit their sexual interest in children show greater responses to children than those who deny any such interest” (p. 311).

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As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Authored by Amber Lin

Amber Lin is a volunteer in Dr. Zapf’s research lab at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated from New York University in 2013 with a B.A. (honors) and hopes to obtain her PhD in forensic clinical psychology. Her research interests include forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, and the refinement of instruments used to assess the psychological states of criminal defendants.

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