Sex Crimes

Understanding the Motives & Types of Sex Criminals

Prostitute Approaching Vehicle

Usually sex crimes do not result in homicide. But in some cases they are deemed worse than murder both morally and legally. In “Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence”, Dr. David Lisak of the University of Massachusetts Boston points out the thoughts of Alaska’s policy makers with an excerpt from the state’s Bill 218: “In Senate Bill 218, the low end of the range for the most serious sex offenses is higher than the mandatory minimum or low end of presumptive sentences for some crimes that result in death – Death has always been seen as the greatest harm that could be inflicted by an offender. But death can be caused by reckless conduct. Sex offenses are not reckless – they are at the very least knowing and often intentional”.

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Those who survive a brutal form of sexual assault, battery or abuse often live with that experience for the rest of their lives. Their trust in others is shaky, their ability to be intimate with a long term partner is hugely challenged and a myriad of mental health problems, from post traumatic stress and anxiety to depression and addictions may result.

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In a few cases, those who have been victimized during their childhood become sexual offenders as teens or adults creating a vicious cycle. Law enforcement investigators, corrections specialists and legal justice professionals continuously strive to understand what drives someone to commit a sexual crime in order to solve cases, properly prosecute or defend and potentially rehabilitate those guilty of the crime. However, it may surprise you to know that sexual pleasure is not always the motivation behind a sexual offender’s crimes.

Types of Sex Crimes

Voyeurism: Generally voyeurism involves observing or watching one or more non-consenting individuals in a sexual manner, i.e. if they are undressing or engaging in private sexual acts. In some cases those guilty of voyeurism will masturbate as they watch.

Frotteurism: Frotteurism refers to an offender touching or rubbing his or her body against an unwilling or unsuspecting individual.

Prostitution: While legislation regarding prostitution varies, there are numerous criminal offenses related to this area, such as pandering (pimping), solicitation and sex trafficking.

Child Pornography: Producing, possessing and/or distributing child pornography is illegal. Generally, child pornography refers to images, such as videos or photographs, of minors under 18 years of age; the images are deemed pornography if they are characterized by a sexual nature. Nude photographs are not necessarily considered pornography, such as the case of a parent taking a photo of baby’s first bath.

Internet Sex Crimes: Since the dawn of the digital age, the Internet has become a domain for sexual crimes. Internet sex crimes include watching or distributing child pornography or luring a juvenile to meet in person for sexual acts.

Rape: The legal definition of rape may vary according to state laws, but generally it refers forcing someone to have sex or having sex with a minor or a non-consensual adult. Examples include statutory rape and date rape, says the Criminal Defense Information Center.

Child Molestation: Child molestation involves an adult performing a range of sexual acts on a juvenile. Depending on state legislation, a juvenile may be under the age of 19, 18, 17, 16, etc.

Incest: According to Fort Lewis College’s Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld (“Misunderstood Crimes”) incest differs from child molestation in that it involves an adult performing sexual acts on a juvenile who is their blood relative. Sexual Homicide: Dr. Mark S. Carich et al. (in “Sexual Murder and Sexual Serial Killers”) wrote, “It is understood that the vast majority of sexual offenders such as pedophiles and adult rapists do NOT kill their victims”. However, in some cases an offender will commit sexual assault and then murder. Some even become sexual serial killers. Carich et al. add that sexual homicide may also be coupled with heinous acts such as necrophilia or cannibalism.



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It is mistakenly believed that sexual offenders are solely motivated by sexual gratification when they commit their crimes. Dr. Nicholas Groth developed three typologies to describe the motivations of rapists, two of which suggest sexual gratification is secondary. Anger rapists are fueled by rage towards their victims and rape is their way of seeking violent revenge. According to the Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM), these rapists may actually be extremely discontent with another area in their lives and thus take out their frustration on their victims. “Anger rapists tend to use a significant amount of physical force when they subdue their victims – in most cases, far more force than is necessary to perpetrate the abuse,” adds the CSOM. Verbal abuse is also a common component of these types of violations that are generally impulsive – not planned.

Power Rapists

Power rapists on the other hand are less impulsive and rely on psychological manipulation more so than physical violence to subdue and sexually assault their victims. “The power rapist was motivated by his need to control and dominate his victim, and inversely, to avoid being controlled by [the victim],” describes Dr. Lisak. Those who rape their domestic partners are often characterized as power rapists. There are also sadistic rapists who receive sexual or erotic gratification from exerting power and control over the victims they rape. “Because they have an erotic response to power and control, extreme violence and torture often characterize their assaults,” says the CSOM. “In many cases, victims of sadistic rapists are murdered during the assaults”. The CSOM adds that these types of rapes are least common and account for between 2% and 5% of cases in the United States.


Dr. Groth also devised two different categories of child molesters. The first is called a fixated child molester or pedophile. Pedophilia is considered a clinical diagnosis outlined in the DSM-IV; a pedophile is a person over the age of 16 who has a dominating attraction to children, generally who have not yet gone through puberty. Those who carry out their acts fueled by their attraction to children generally are not impulsive and carefully plan their offenses. On the other hand, the situational or regressed child molester is normally attracted to someone who is age appropriate. This type of molester turns to juveniles as a reaction to stress or difficulties going on in their personal life. Amanda L. Cunningham from Missouri Western State University provides some interesting insight into the mind of some child molesters. “They believe that their victims enjoy the attention and care they receive and that what they are doing to the child is acceptable. In addition, child molesters often believe that they are expressing a romantic love and that their victims are returning this love. They believe that the sexual feelings are mutual”. Cunningham adds that many child molesters do however feel they have to keep the relationship a secret and that they view other molesters’ behaviors as wrong and not based on genuine love like their own ‘relationship’.

Does being sexually assaulted as a child lead to becoming a sex offender?

Dr. Lisak states that neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse during childhood is more common among rapists than non-rapists. The National Institute of Justice adds that those who are arrested for sex crimes were more likely subject to abuse (but not necessarily sexual abuse) during their childhood. However it clarifies that most people who have been sexually abused as children do not go on to commit sex crimes as adults.

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Did You Know?

You may be surprised to know that repeat sex offenders do not necessarily target only one category of victim or offend in the same manner. Dr. Lisak explains that a proportion of sexual offenders are ‘non-specialists’. “Multiple studies have now documented that between 33% and 66% of rapists have also sexually attacked children; that up to 82% of child molesters have also sexually attacked adults; and that between 50% and 66% of incest offenders have also sexually attacked children outside their families,” states Dr. Lisak.

Additionally, many of us tend to think a sex offender will keep on offending until he or she is caught. While in reality, recidivism does happen, it may not be as common as we think. According to Arkowitz and Lilienfeld, approximately 14% of sexual offenders reoffend within a five to six year period and 24% within a 15 year period. While this suggests recidivism is less often the case, it does suggest the longer it takes law enforcement to track down a sexual predator or criminal, the more likely he or she will reoffend.


Case Study – Robert Jason Burdick

From 1994 to 2008, Robert Jason Burdick allegedly raped at least 13 different women throughout Middle Tennessee. He was known as the “Wooded Rapist” because he purportedly targeted most of his victims in their homes that happened to be surrounded by wooded areas, an advantage for a predator stalking its prey. For 14 years, he eluded law enforcement by wearing a mask so his victims could not identify him and avoiding homes with signs of guard dogs or security systems.

Robert Jason Burdick

However, police were finally able to catch Burdick because of the help of one special canine named Bailey. Her owners, Sharon and Doug Cuyler, were sleeping in their camper parked outside their daughter’s home when they heard Bailey growl. They woke up to find a man in a mask lurking outside. They called the police which put Burdick on the investigators’ radar. After several days of 24-hour surveillance, police removed dishes the suspect had eaten off of at a local restaurant and matched his DNA to previous crime scenes associated with the Wooded Rapist.

Nashville’s News Channel 5 got hold of an interview conducted by a criminal psychologist and talked with legal analyst Jim Todd to try and get inside the mind of the alleged Wooded Rapist. In the clinical interview, Burdick shared that he had issues with anger and jealousy surrounding women. He added that it was when he would have an argument with a girlfriend that he would go out and rape, taking his anger out on another. The interview’s transcript reveals that Burdick had different emotional experiences depending on the rape. For one, he stated, “I felt satisfied, that I had conquered something”; for another, he said, “This rape was different. It took care of my needs. I guess I enjoyed it.” Although Burdick’s rapes were often fuelled by anger, they were not completely impulsive. He mentioned that he purposely watched movies that had rape scenes and studied them. Ironically, while living with a girlfriend, he took extra precautions, such as installing a storm door and asking her to pull down the shades, so she would be safe from rapists. As of early 2012, Burdick is serving 112 years behind bars for attempted rape, aggravated rape and other charges.