Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] pp615-sebu-450814 October 3, 2002 14:20 Style ﬁle version June 4th, 2002
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 15, No. 1, January 2003 (
Trait Empathy and Criminal Versatility
in Sexual Offenders
Stephen W. Smallbone,
and Donna Hourigan
Associations between trait empathy and criminal versatility were examined in a
sample of 88 incarcerated adult sexual offenders (29 extrafamilial child molesters,
26 intrafamilial child molesters, and 33 rapists). Considerable criminal versatil-
ity was observed, with 60% of the whole sample and 88% of recidivist offenders
having previous convictions for nonsexual offenses. Regression analyses showed
signiﬁcant associations between trait empathy and nonsexual offense convictions,
but not between trait empathy and sexual offense convictions. More speciﬁcally,
greater involvement inviolentoffending(e.g., assault,robbery) wasassociatedwith
lower levels of empathic concern and higher levels of fantasy. Greater involvement
in miscellaneous (e.g., trafﬁc, drug, public order) offending was associated with
lower levels of empathic concern. We argue that insufﬁcient theoretical and em-
pirical attention has historically been given to criminal versatility among sexual
offenders, especially among child molesters. In particular, we suggest that devel-
opments in empathy training for sexual offenders may beneﬁt from distinguishing
needs of criminally versatile and non-versatile sexual offenders. More knowledge
about trait empathy in sexual offenders, and about situational factors that may
override otherwise normal empathic responsiveness, is needed.
KEY WORDS: sexual offenders; empathy; criminal versatility.
Broad agreement exists amongcliniciansand researchers that empathy (or the
lack of it) plays a signiﬁcant role in the perpetration of sexual offenses (Marshall,
Anderson, & Fernandez, 1999), and thishas been reﬂected in the widespread incor-
poration of empathy training in treatment programs for sexual offenders (Knopp,
Freeman-Longo, & Stevenson, 1992; Sapp & Vaughn, 1991). However, empirical
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Grifﬁth University, Queensland, Australia.
School of Applied Psychology, Grifﬁth University, Queensland, Australia.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at School of Applied Psychology, Mt Gravatt Campus,
Grifﬁth University, Queensland 4111 Australia; e-mail: email@example.com.
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation