The Expected Utility of Sex Offenses: Testing Perceptual Deterrence and Rational Choice Theories on a Population of Convicted Sex Offenders

Michelle L. Meloy, University of Delaware

Deterrence and rational choice theories are rarely employed to explain sexual violence because the prevailing wisdom is that this class of offenders suffer from a medical abnormality or psychopathological condition that render them powerless to their sexually aggressive tendencies. The hypothesis set forth in this research challenges this assumption. Rather, perceptual deterrence and rational choice ideologies are employed to test their explanatory power on the criminal decision-making processes of sexually violent men. Convicted offenders were presented with surveys depicting hypothetical sexual assaults that most closely resembled their own offending behavior. Subjects were asked to assess the level of risk they perceived associated with the act, the severity of potential consequences from legal and extralegal sources, morality-based perceptions of the particular behavior, and the level of pleasure they perceived associated with the act. In addition, subjects were asked to assess their own likelihood of committing additional sex crimes. Preliminary results support a utility-based explanation for this type of offending behavior.

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Updated 05/20/2006