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Sexual and violent offenders’ victim role assignments: a general model of offending style

David Canter & Donna Youngs

Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. Volume 23, Issue 3, 2012; 297-326.



Although distinct offence action patterns have been identified for different forms of sexual and violent crime, a generic psychological framework for this differentiation has yet to be advanced. An innovative framework derived from the emerging criminal narrative approach provides a significant contribution to the differentiation of offending styles. Canter (1994) argues that offenders' empathy deficit leads them to assign a Victim, Object or Person role to their victims within their personal narratives. The evidence for this model is examined across 33 offence actions in 66 stranger rapes, 24 offence actions in 50 stalking offences and 39 offence actions in 50 serial murder offences. Hypothesised offence actions reflecting the Roles are found in distinct regions of Smallest Space Analysis (SSA-I) configurations for all three offence types. This evidence across diverse offence forms leads to the suggestion that the Roles assigned to victims within offenders' narratives provide a generic framework for differentiating offending styles in all interpersonal crimes. The different Victim Roles articulate qualitatively different variants of the established control and empathy deficit components in sexual and violent offending, contributing to the debate about the operation of these components and having significant treatment implications.



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