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Precondition Model May Be Beneficial for Understanding Female Sex Offenders

Forensic Training AcademyThe Precondition Model, typically used with male sex offenders, is useful for understanding progression and motivation for female contact and noncontact sex offenders. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

International Journal of Forensic Mental HealthFeatured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2016, Vol. 15, No. 1, 111-124

The Precondition Model as a Method for Developing Understanding of Female Contact and Non-Contact Sex Offending: A Single Case Study



Sophia Collins, School of Life and Medical Sciences, Department of Psychology and Sport Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK
Simon Duff, Mersey Forensic Psychology Service, Merseycare NHS, Liverpool, UK; The Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK


This research evaluates the use of an established model, typically used for understanding male sex offenders, to understand the behavior of a female sex offender. The Finkelhor (1984) Precondition Model of offending is used to provide a rare opportunity to explore the process of offending for a female contact and non-contact offender, whose offenses were against children. It reviews the efficacy of utilizing this model in the rehabilitation and collaborative risk management of a female sex offender. The results suggest that this approach can be applied to Internet and contact sex offenses to develop understanding of the progression of offending, including issues such as sexual arousal and the impact of a male co-perpetrator. In this case, the results indicate a post-intervention improvement in areas such as affect control, ability to maintain positive relationships, self-support, and reduced dissociation and dysfunctional sexual behavior. This project provides support for the development of a treatment approach that explores the individual nuances of female sex offending.


Female, sex offender, treatment, precondition, model

Summary of the Research

“While research has begun to identify themes and trajectories within female sex offender characteristics, the reporting of these cases is still relatively rare in comparison to the male sex offender literature” (p.111). “Female offenders tend to be younger than their male counterparts, often experience financial issues, have experienced frequent and severe abuse themselves, and show high levels of emotional dependency, amongst other traits. They also tend to use less physical violence and more persuasion and coercion than males. It is not yet clear how these factors may be related to offending behavior nor what are the core issues to be addressed to reduce recidivism. However, there are many features that are shared between male and female offenders, but a recent review concludes that we are yet to reach an agreement on how to accurately conceptualize female offenders” (p. 112).

“The Finkelhor (1984) Precondition Model is described as one of the most promising etiological theories for use in the rehabilitation of sexual offenders, it has had an important role in both research and practice, and has been used as a framework for understanding aspects of male offending” (p. 112). “The model is based on research suggesting that in order for sexual offenses to occur the offender must pass through four planning stages: motivation to offend, overcoming internal inhibitions, overcoming external barriers, and overcoming victim resistance. These stages highlight both the intrapersonal (within perpetrator) and external factors relevant to the offending behavior” (p. 112). “A significant strength of the model is the way it relates a broad range of causal factors to the offense process, providing a useful framework for therapists. Indeed, it was selected for the present study based on this merit, as the model explores specific details of the offending behavior that can inform risk management strategies for the individual” (p. 113).

“The study aims were to increase awareness of a female perpetrator’s perspective of child sex offending and provide evidence regarding the relevance and efficacy of using the Precondition Model in the understanding, rehabilitation, and risk management of female sex offenders. There have been no previously published single case studies of female sex offenders using the Precondition Model.

The aims were to answer the following questions: Q1. Is the Finkelhor Precondition Model appropriate for the exploration of female noncontact (Internet) sex offenses? Q2: Can the Finkelhor Precondition Model be used to develop further understanding of the nature of female contact sex-offending behavior? Q3: Is the Finkelhor Precondition Model efficacious in the rehabilitation/risk management of a female contact and noncontact child sex offender?” (p.113).

“A single case design was utilized. The qualitative data gathered via the therapeutic intervention outlined in this report were analyzed retrospectively, along with quantitative outcome measures that had been administered pre- and post-intervention” (p.113). “The service-user was a female, aged 40–50 of White ethnicity. She had completed a custodial sentence imposed for offenses of sexual assault against a child under 13 years old, making indecent photographs of a child, and possessing indecent photographs of children” (p.113).

“Following an assessment interview, in which the service user’s motivation to engage with a further psychological intervention was established, the service-user engaged with 22 individual 50-minute sessions. Sessions took place at a community Forensic Psychology Service with expertise in the psychological treatment of male and female sex offenders and in the therapeutic use of the

Precondition Model. Sessions occurred weekly over an 8-month period, with allowance made for planned leave from therapy” (p. 114).

“The results demonstrate that the Precondition Model can be applied with a female contact and noncontact sex offender, providing a beneficial framework for the exploration of the offending behavior. The service-user in this case example was able to engage with the model and it provided a platform for empowering the service-user to identify risk factors and develop risk management strategies” (p.118).

“The results suggest that the Finkelhor (1984) Precondition Model can be utilized to explore the process of offending for noncontact (Internet) offending behavior” (p. 118). “In this case, the use of the Precondition Model illuminated several key themes in the development of this offending behavior. The service-user identified her sense of curiosity regarding the sexual abuse of children, which she linked to her own experience of early sexualization and the abuse of her own children by a male partner” (p. 119). “The service-user acknowledged how her curiosity and initial shock had developed into sexual arousal when viewing or thinking about abusive images” (p.119). “The use of the Precondition Model highlighted practical aspects of the Internet offending behavior, such as the use of passwords, secrecy, and taking advantage of other’s lack of knowledge. This created the opportunity to develop collaborative risk management strategies and encourage engagement with Probation-enforced rules around computer and Internet use” (p.119).

“The quantitative outcome measures used did highlight some significant and reliable change for the individual post-intervention. In terms of risk management, the improvement in areas such as affect control, ability to maintain positive relationships, the reduction of externalizing behaviors in reaction to painful internal states, reduced dissociation, improved self-identity and self-support and reduced dysfunctional sexual behavior is highly relevant” (p. 120). “Quantitative content analysis also illuminated the role of cognitive distortion in the selection, grooming, and abuse of the victim. For example, the abdication of responsibility, minimization and justification at the time of offending. Also highlighted was the impaired emotional regulation and interpersonal problems that motivated the offending. This created opportunity to explore and challenge these risk factors, while focusing on the service-user’s strengths and her innate capabilities to overcome these difficulties. This approach is recommended by [researchers] who advocate focus on positive states of mind, personal characteristics, and experiences that provide a viable alternative to the offending behavior” (p. 120).


Translating Research into Practice

“Although female sex offender treatment needs appear similar to those of male sex offenders it is crucial that treatment providers recognize gender-specific nuances in relation to those treatment needs. For example, in contrast to their male counterparts, female sex offenders tend to demonstrate an absence of beliefs associated with an entitlement to sexually abuse children and are often impacted by the negative environment created by a male co-perpetrator” (p. 112).

“Due to increasing recognition of the perpetration of sexual abuse by females, there is a need for services to provide suitable psychological interventions for the rehabilitation and risk management of sex offenders, both male and female. The Finkelhor (1984) Precondition Model is a well-established framework for exploring the process of offending and developing factors such as responsibility and empathy that reduce the risk of future offending behavior in males” (p. 121).

“It is widely recognized that group interventions add a beneficial dynamic in the rehabilitation of male offenders… However, the number of female sex offenders referred for psychological intervention in relation to their offenses is much reduced in comparison to males. Therefore, it will not always be possible, as in this case, for the group approach to be facilitated. It is therefore essential for services to consider the individual needs of female sex offenders, many of whom are likely to have experienced sexual abuse themselves. In this case the gender of the psychologist facilitating the intervention was carefully considered and collaboratively agreed with the service-user” (p. 121).

The following considerations are recommended for the “provision of gender informed services for this population: gender should be central to guiding women out of sexual offending; female-perpetrated sex offenses are more likely to occur in the context of a caregiving situation, and with a male co-perpetrator; these females generally present with an interrelated set of needs, for example victimization, traumatic history, and mental health needs; interventions should target deficits in interpersonal, self-regulation, and distress-tolerance skills and should assist females to establish and maintain pro-social, supportive, and equitable relationships” (p. 121).

“This case study provides a unique insight into the perspective of a female contact and noncontact sex offender in relation to her offending behavior. It also highlights the benefits of using the Precondition Model with a female to address both types of offending, including elaboration on underresearched issues such as progression from noncontact to contact offending and motivation” (p.122). “This study illuminates a number of limitations of the model itself, in particular the absence of focus on factors such as shame and identity. Therefore, a priority for future research must be the development of a framework for exploring the individual nuances of sexual offending that addresses both the cognitive and emotional factors of the offending. Furthermore, the development of suitable outcome measures that have been validated for female sex offenders will greatly support understanding in this field” (p. 122).


Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“In addition, of interest in this case was the element of progression identified by the service-user. This included how the use of abusive images during sexual contact with her adult partner generated further interest in seeking and using abusive images. Also, how it encouraged discussion about how they could commit contact abuse themselves. This is in contrast to research into the progression from noncontact to contact offending of males, which largely suggests that the risk of progression is low“ (p.119).

“It would be of substantial benefit for the study to be replicated with additional female sex offenders. This would provide further insight into this underresearched group and allow for meaningful comparisons of the cognitive aspect of male and female sex offending. Future applications of this model would do well to be supported by collateral reports from other professionals in close contact with the service-user. In addition, replications of this study would reduce bias further by having coding schemes checked by completely independent reviewers” (p.122).


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

Authored by Megan Bandford

Megan Banford is a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. She graduated in 2013 from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. (Honors) and hopes complete a PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

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