Self-Identified Motivations for Engaging in Sexual Offending By Offenders with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
K. L. Payne1, K. L. Maras2, A. Russell3 and M. Brosnan4, (1)Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (2)Psychology, Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (3)Psychology/Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (4)Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are suggested to be over-represented in forensic populations. Research suggests that offenders with ASD are more likely commit certain types of crime (e.g., sexual offences, assault, robbery) than others (e.g., burglary, arson, trespass, driving, drug offences). Rehabilitation programmes largely target specific offences (e.g., sex-offences) and behaviours (e.g., anger) so it is important to understand the specific motivations of a specific group of offenders in order to effectively tailor programmes. This research focussed solely on individuals with ASD who engaged in sexual offending. To date, little is known about the motivations of individuals with ASD who engage in sexual offending. The limited available literature to date highlights potential factors such as social skills deficits, theory of mind deficits and a history of childhood abuse in sexual offending in ASD. Research to date has largely utilised evaluations from professional reports, however taking a person-first approach to addressing the reasons for engaging in offending behaviour is crucial to the success of rehabilitation programmes.


This research aimed to identify the self-identified motivations for engaging in sexual offences in adults with ASD.


Nine male sexual offenders with ASD took part in a semi-structured interview. Participants were recruited from four prisons and two probation services in the UK. ASD diagnosis was confirmed by professionals working with the offenders. The mean age of participants was 29.56 (SD=8.68). Offences included rape, sexual assault (adult and child) and the downloading and possession of indecent images.

Once transcribed verbatim data were analysed using thematic analysis. Due to the subject area being under-researched coding was conducted in an inductive fashion where the researcher did not try to code the data according to a previously determined coding framework or analytic preconceptions; rather the coding was data driven. The identified themes were strongly linked to the data.


Results indicated a thematic separation between internal and external factors within the data. The three externally-occurring motivations for offending included disequilibrium (difficult life events; life instability; major life events), vulnerability (lack of familial support; lack of professional support; immaturity) and substance abuse (drugs; alcohol). The five internally occurring motivating factors identified were social difficulties (social skills deficits; loneliness), misunderstanding (lack of awareness of: the consequences, seriousness, and the rules/law; misbelief as to what is available online; lack of perspective), interpersonal relationships (transgressive relationships; lack of appropriate relationships; misunderstanding people; misunderstanding consent), self-discipline (loss of control; getting carried away) and sexual drive (contact and non-contact sexual drive).


Overall this research concludes that the most commonly occurring motivations for offending revolve around misunderstanding (e.g., regarding the seriousness of behaviour and the law) and social skills deficits coupled with a lack of appropriate relationships. Future research should look to develop early interventions for individuals demonstrating sexually inappropriate behaviours which address the law, social skills deficits, what appropriate relationships are and how to access these.