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This trait-like approach is not well suited to describe and explain why offenders start or stop offending and whether the same factors explain both.Some theoretical models do make distinction for various offending stages but have been limited to a few aspects of sex offending, such as onset and persistence (e.g., Marshall and Barbaree 1990).
The criminal career approach provides a framework to think about how sexual offending starts, develops over time, and stops and whether such distinctions are theoretically, clinically, as well as policy relevant (Table 1).
The age of onset of sex offending refers to the age at which sex offending is initiated.
Not surprisingly, the age of onset based on self-report data is younger than those based on official data (e.g., Gebhard et al. Reports suggest that sexual aggressors of women are typically charged for a first offense in their late twenties, while for sexual aggressors of children, it is typically in their late 30s.
There is a gap between the age of onset reported in self-report studies with adult sex offenders and those found in studies based on police data.
The interest for the criminal career is not new and several commentaries and observations about sex offenders’ criminal activity have been made for quite some time.
Most of these commentaries and observations were focused on the same underlying questions, that is, sex offenders’ dangerousness.This is not an overlooking but illustrates the fact that most theoretical views of sex offending is based on the assumptions that there is a stable propensity to commit sex crime and theoretical models should only be concerned by the description and the explanation of this propensity.These models, therefore, do not recognize the importance of distinguishing such aspects as prevalence, age of onset, persistence, frequency, seriousness, and desistence.Therefore, given these results, one could expect that the average onset age for child molesters would be younger than the one reported for rapists.This is not the case and this could be attributable to sampling differences.Although there is a long history of criminal career research with the publication of Criminal Careers and Career Criminals in 1986 by Dr.Al Blumstein and colleagues, such a framework was introduced to the field of criminal justice and criminology.These controversies certainly did not help to challenge common myths and false beliefs about sex offenders’ criminal behavior which have, in some instances, serve as the foundation to develop new criminal justice policies to tackle the problem of sexual violence and abuse.The current study aims to introduce the criminal career approach and, in doing so, aims to provide a common organizing framework for policy makers as well as researchers from various disciplines such as psychology, psychiatry, sociology, social work, criminal justice, and criminology.Early studies looking at the onset of sex offending has described adult sex offenders as grown-up juvenile sex offenders.For example, in the Prentky and Knight study (1993), 49 % of their sample of adult rapists reported an onset prior age 18, while the rest of the sample reported an onset in adulthood.