Although this topic definitely does not make for good dinner conversation, attempting to understand the causes of sexual offending against children is an ongoing endeavour. But we’ve done pretty well so far. Much is known about the causes of child sexual abuse generally. Two key motivational factors that have been highlighted are atypical sexual interests and antisociality. However, much less is known about the causes of incest. Incestuous sexual offending is puzzling not only from a social and moral perspective (i.e., the incest taboo), but also from a biological perspective. Inbreeding depression (what happens when we have offspring with close relatives) increases the likelihood of birth defects and infant mortality. Presumably, we have evolved strong mechanisms for avoiding incest because sex with our relatives is bad for the survival of our genes!
The endorsement of offence-supportive cognitions has been discussed as a contributing factor in initialising and maintaining sexually abusive behaviour against children. Ward and Keenan (1999) propose that, for child sex offenders, their offence-supportive cognitions emerge from five implicit theories, about the nature of their victims, the world, and themselves. These five theories are labelled Children as Sexual Objects, Entitlement, Dangerous World, Uncontrollability of Offending Behaviour, and Nature of Harm. The aim of some research colleagues and myself recently conducted was to explore, and further our understanding of, the cognitions of individuals with an offence related to child sexual exploitation material (CSEM).