Abstract: Cognitive Dissonance or Ignorance: Measuring Sex Offender's Perceptions of Their Grooming Behaviors (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

291P Cognitive Dissonance or Ignorance: Measuring Sex Offender's Perceptions of Their Grooming Behaviors

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Doyle Pruitt, PhD, Associate Professor, Keuka College, Keuka Park, NY
Molly Wolf, PhD, Associate Professor, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA
Tracy Leet, MSW, Clinician, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, PA
Background and Purpose: Grooming is the process in which an individual planning to cause sexual harm prepares the individual and, in the case of children, their families and environments, for the offense to occur and go undetected (McAlinden, 2006). It is known that the grooming process is as harmful to the victim as the offense itself (Wolf & Pruitt, 2019). Despite the significance of grooming with both victim and sex offender (SO), limited information exists on grooming behaviors, especially from the perspective of the SO. This study examined adult SOs perception of their grooming behaviors while undergoing specialized therapy. Understanding how SOs perceive and report their grooming behavior provides valuable insight critical in treatment and assessment.

Research Method/Type: Data were collected using a self-report survey from 50 adult males convicted of a sexual crime. The instrument was completed during an outpatient group therapy session. Subjects were 20-72 years old (M=44years). Two measures were used: 1) demographic survey (general demographic information, arrest history, victim information, and treatment history) and 2) Sex Offender Grooming survey (Pruitt & Wolf, 2019) to ascertain treatment information, victim information, general offense information, and general and specific grooming information.

Results: The offenders in this study had between one to fifteen years of sex offender treatment at the time of the study, M= 2.9 years; SD= 2.93. They had a minimum of one and a maximum of ten victims (M=1.96, SD= 1.63). The length of time they knew their victims was between 0 and 15 years (M=2.8, SD=3.6), yet the length of time they spent grooming their victims was between 0 and two years (M=.74, SD= .53). 30% of the SOs did not report even a single instance of grooming, even though all had been arrested and convicted of sex crimes. While 78% acknowledged knowing their victims for years before they committed the crime, many still failed to acknowledge their grooming behaviors, particularly in terms of grooming their environment (such as the child’s parents) in order to have access to their victims.

Conclusions and Implications: Our study found that even within a single session, SOs will alter their reports of grooming behaviors and the number and characteristics of victims. It well established that data is unreliable when collected from SOs, as this population has the propensity and motivation to inaccurately report. The inconsistencies even within the under thirty minutes to complete the instruments suggests they 1) fail to understand the concept of grooming, 2) choose to not provide accurate reports, or 3) truly believe they were not engaged in grooming behaviors. These findings provide further evidence for the need to create a psychometrically valid measure determining grooming behaviors in SOs so this can be accurately targeted in treatment, as well as the need for treatment targeting grooming behaviors specifically.