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Characteristics of Juvenile Offenders Admitting to Sexual Activity with Nonhuman Animals

Recent empirical studies have  compared the family characteristics, victimization histories, and number of perpetration offenses of juvenile offenders who admitted to having had sex with animals to juvenile offenders who did not.

These studies found that 96% of the juveniles who had engaged in sex with nonhuman animals also admitted to sex offenses against humans and reported more offenses against humans than other sex offenders their same age and race.

Those juveniles who had engaged in sex with animals were similar to other sex offenders in that they also came from families with less affirming and more incendiary communication, lower attachment, less adaptability, and less positive environments.

Those juveniles who had engaged in sex with animals reported victimization histories with more emotional abuse and neglect and a higher number of victimization events than other offenders.

This would seem to indicate that sex with animals may be an important indicator of potential or co-occurring sex offenses against humans and may be a sign of severe family dysfunction and abuse that should be addressed in the arenas of psychological intervention, juvenile justice programs, and public policy.

Sexual relations between humans and nonhuman animals, sometimes referred to as bestiality, is perhaps the least understood of all human/animal interactions.

Studies of bestiality are difficult to conduct since bestiality carries a social stigma and generally is kept secret by those who have engaged in it. More than 50 years ago, Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin (1948) estimated that between 10 and 20% of the general population of the United States has engaged in bestiality, with a slightly higher prevalence in rural settings and among poorly educated males. Although Kinsey's sampling techniques are considered unscientific by current standards, these high estimations suggested to some that bestiality should be viewed as a "normal" practice among some populations.

This raises questions about who engages in bestiality and whether it should be considered "normal." The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) classifies bestiality among the paraphilic disorders - deviant, but essentially victimless, forms of sexual gratification. According to Cerrone (1991), this classification suggests that bestiality is not a psychiatric problem in and of itself. Alvarez and Freinhar, (1991) found that bestiality may be more prevalent among psychiatric patients with major mental disorders than in the general population.

An alternative viewpoint on bestiality has emerged from the criminal justice literature. Beirne (1997) has proposed the notion of "interspecies sexual assault," arguing that sexual relations with animals parallel sexual assault against women and children, because in both instances there are issues of coercion, pain, and lack of consent. Studies of adult sex offenders appear to support the co-occurrence of sexual offenses against humans and animals among some offenders, with increasing numbers of incidents and animal victims occurring as offenders age (Abel, Osborne, & Twig, 1993).

The purpose of thees studies was to shed light on the question of who engages in sex with animals and whether it should be considered normal.

It has been hypothesized that there would be no differences on these variables between those juveniles who had engaged in sex with animals and those who had not. Although a study of juvenile offenders may not yield direct information about bestiality in the general population, the studies have yielded useful information about the developmental issues for juvenile offenders.

Previous studies of juvenile offenders have indicated that their victimization histories and family characteristics are valuable in understanding the etiology of their offending behaviors (Blaske, Borduin, Henggeler, & Mann, 1989), and case studies with juvenile offenders suggest that their offending behavior can often be understood in the context of poor family relationships and parental conflict (Duffield, Hassiotis, & Vizard, 1998; Cerrone, 1991).

In addition, we hoped that the study might contribute knowledge about how to approach future studies of bestiality in the general population.

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