Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 17, No. 3, July 2005 (
The Criminal Activity of Sexual Offenders in
Adulthood: Revisiting the Specialization Debate
Two major hypotheses have been put forward to describe the criminal activity
of sexual offenders in adulthood. The ﬁrst hypothesis states that sexual offenders
are specialists who tend to repeat sexual crimes. The second hypothesis describes
sexual offenders as generalists who do not restrict themselves to one particular
type of crime. The current state of knowledge provides empirical support for both
the specialization and the generality hypothesis. The presence of both generality
and specialization in the offending behavior of sexual offenders is not as con-
tradictory as it may ﬁrst appear. However, methodological problems limit the
possibility of drawing ﬁrm conclusions. Indeed, the specialization hypothesis is
based on just one parameter of criminal activity, that is, recidivism, which only
takes into account two consecutive crimes. The generality hypothesis is focused
mainly on two criminal activity parameters, participation and variety, which do
not take into account the dynamic nature of criminal activity over time. Develop-
mental criminology provides a new paradigm to explore the issue of generality
and specialization in the offending behavior of sexual offenders.
KEY WORDS: criminal activity; specialization; versatility; sex offenders.
In the criminal justice system, individuals having committed a sexual offence
are considered a special kind of offender in need of a speciﬁc intervention (Simon,
1997, 2000). Over recent years, in North America and many European coun-
tries, various treatment programs were elaborated to rehabilitate sexual offenders
(Lussier & Proulx, 2001). Although much controversy surrounded the evaluation
of treatment effectiveness (Alexander, 1999; Hall, 1995; Marshall & Pithers, 1994;
Quinsey, Harris, Rice, & Lalumi
ere, 1993), many efforts were made to develop
the risk management of sexual offenders. These efforts led to the identiﬁcation
School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University,
8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5A 1S6; e-mail: email@example.com.
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.