Date of Award

8-2002

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Jeffrey E. Hecker

Second Committee Member

Geoffrey L. Thorpe

Third Committee Member

Douglas Nangle

Abstract

Various lines of evidence suggest that sex offenders exhibit "thinking errors" or cognitive distortions about their sexually offensive behaviors (e.g., blaming the victim). Numerous clinical reports have documented cognitive distortions among adolescent male sex offenders; empirical research consistently finds evidence of cognitive distortions among adult male sex offenders; sex offender treatments that focus on cognitive distortions as a primary target of treatment have been shown to be the most effective type of treatment for sexual offending; and research on general aggression in adolescent boys and girls consistently demonstrates that aggressive children tend to have distorted beliefs about their aggressive behavior. The present study investigates cognitive processing in adolescent girls with histories of sexually aggressive behaviors, using Dodge's social information-processing theory of aggression in adolescents as a fiamework. In accordance with Dodge's theory, it was predicted that sexually-aggressive girls would exhibit greater levels of cognitive distortions about sexually aggressive behaviors than girls with no histories of sexually aggressive behaviors. For this study, sexuallyaggressive girls were compared to both physically-aggressive and non-aggressive girls on several measures of beliefs about sexual aggression and physical aggression. Results regarding "thinking errors" were as follows. First, the sexually-aggressive girls were more likely than the physically-aggressive and non-aggressive girls to endorse statements reflecting the belief that a sex offender, as described in a vignette depicting offensive sexual behavior, was not responsible for the offensive sexual behavior. Second, the sexually-aggressive girls' perceptions relating to the victim (e.g., that the victim enjoyed the interaction) were moderated by both the degree of sexual contact and the type of victim response described in the vignettes, such that when the victim's response was clearly negative and the degree of sexual contact was more serious, the sexuallyaggressive girls' responses reflected greater distorted beliefs about the victim than the non-aggressive and physically aggressive girls. Third, the sexually aggressive girls were more likely than the non-aggressive and physically aggressive girls to endorse distorted beliefs about general aggression. For instance, they were more likely to endorse the belief that victims do not suffer. Implications for theories of and treatments for sexually aggressive girls are discussed.

Share