Understanding the Difference Between Preferential (Jerry Sandusky) and Situational (Most Incest Cases) Child Sexual Abusers

There are significant differences between those who molest other people’s children and those who molest their own children. This is part of the reason why some people cannot comprehend that a family member did sexual things to a child. They don’t see any parallel between the accused, and what is commonly believed about sexual predators, or like what has been seen in the Jerry Sandusky case.

In Why Me? Lynn Daugherty describes “regressed child molesters” as people who have wives or partners whom they are sexually active with, but who still abuse their own children. When this type of man comes under tremendous stress, he degenerates to touching or having sex with the child. The preferred sexual choice of these abusers is adult women, even finding them more stimulating than a child, but these men have poor impulse control and when extreme difficulties occur, they turn to children. These men are often controlling, and may feel that their life is out of control. The only way to regain power is to assault a vulnerable child who cannot fight back.

Former FBI Agent Ken Lanning, calls the difference between the two types of offenders, “preferential” and “situational.” Preferential offenders are most often pedophiles (preferring pre-pubescent children), and are the type of molester who will seek out children by becoming a football coach, camp counselor, Boy Scout leader, or a helper sick or disabled children.

“Situational” offenders are usually fathers, mothers, and other relatives that end up committing incest upon children who happen to be available because the child is a family member. Sometimes situational offenders are step-fathers or step-mothers who molest their step-children.

Situational offenders end up molesting the child for various reasons. They may feel attracted to the child or stimulated by being close to them. Situational offenders often have low self-worth, cannot deal with stress and take advantage of the child as the result of the extra pressure. Other dynamics might be a wife who has stopped having sex with the offender.

Situational child molesters may be the kind of person who verbally abuses their wife, friends, or employees. They are also more likely to use force. The abuse of the child might only materialize in times of high stress. Therefore, it would be sporadic and impulsive. This type of perpetrator usually only chooses female children, and in the abuser’s mind, he feels the child is a suitable sexual partner because he can pretend that she is older than her true age. “Regressed child molesters” could account for why so many accusers in cases of repressed memory came from a middle or upper class home where everything appeared “normal” to outside observers.

Unlike pedophiles, situational offenders do not have a preference for pre-pubescent children. They are usually not aroused by child pornography but will still sexually abuse a very young child if the conditions allow it.  Preferential offenders deliberately set themselves up to be in a situation with children and are more likely to have multiple victims. At the same time, the two types of abusers can share the same pattern of behavior and motives.

Preferential offenders are more likely to be deviant in their behavior and are over twice as likely to molest only male victims.  They typically think more of their needs, instead of the danger of being caught. This might explain someone who sleeps in the same bed with little boys every night without worrying about what others might think or do……. or someone who will repeatedly rape children in a shower stall at a University locker room.

Preferential molesters tend to use more paraphernalia, pornography and fetish props. They also tend to be more ritualistic in their behavior. However, the situational offender may progress into having more of the preferential type of behaviors if he (or she) continues to molest his children or grandchildren over several years.

My father had all the characteristics of a regressed “situational” offender. I do not think my father would have gone out looking for children to molest if he had not procreated. His aberrational behavior most likely developed within the dynamics of my childhood home.

______________________________________________________________

Sources:

Why Me? Lynn B. Daugherty, Ph.D., Mother Courage Press, 1984, pages 24-25

Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis for Law-Enforcement Officers Investigating the Sexual Exploitation of Children by Acquaintance Molesters, Fourth Edition September 2001, Kenneth V. Lanning, Former Supervisory Special Agent Federal Bureau of Investigation, Copyright 2001 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, pages 22-51.

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11 Responses to Understanding the Difference Between Preferential (Jerry Sandusky) and Situational (Most Incest Cases) Child Sexual Abusers

  1. Helen says:

    “Situational, regressed” describes my father perfectly. Thank you so much for this post, because the distinction between the two different types of SA really helps me to understand my father, and to understand what happened to me and why it happened.

    I also want to say that I have been reading and searching for information about SA for more than 20 years in an effort to understand why he molested me, and I have to say that this is the very first time I have heard of “situational, regressed” sexual abusers.

    • Alethea says:

      Hi Helen :)

      Thanks for the comment. I too was helped by this info. when I first read about it because I could not grasp the vast differences in sexual abusers we hear about so much in the news, and my own father. Now I know there are many differences between the two types of offenders.

  2. little nel says:

    “These men are often controlling, and may feel that their life is out of control. The only way to regain control is to assault a vulnerable child who cannot fight back.”

    I remember my father telling me that if he wasn’t the “biggest asshole bully” then someone else who was a “bigger asshole bully” would control him. All the while, he was trying to coerce me with death threats for sex in a threesome with my step-sister.

    • D.Juana Flowers says:

      I just wanted to say, to little nell, I am so sorry that happened to you. I sincerely care that you believe yourself to be a much loved child of God. I think maybe I am lucky to remember so little.

      • little nel says:

        D. Juana,

        Thank you for your kindness. I do want to remember everything so that I can observe everything as an adult and remember how I responded to it emotionally, physically and mentally throughout my life.

        I want to assess the damage and acknowledge my growth and my recovery by my responses today.

        I do not consider myself a victim anymore. Adversity can be a tool that will give some measure of my progress.

        I like to look back to see how far I have come in my goal to recover what was lost in childhood, and to attempt to understand the motives behind my adult behavior.

        Freedom, growth and happiness is my goal.

        • D.Juana Flowers says:

          I admire your courage and I really do understand your goals for living the best life you can. I am not a young woman. Despite not having specific childhood memories, I have been doing all of that “research” and introspection for years. It was slower and perhaps harder, considering that I had to wait for confirmation from other friends and family members, before I could even claim to be a victim. I will not complain because I have children who have grown into “good” adults and parents, married to a good guy(2nd husband) and healthy grandchildren who love me as much as I love them. So much to enjoy! It is far too common to hear of kids who suffered worse, every day. Good luck to you.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well written, Alethea. Now look up cognitive distortion and I think you will know why I used that term.

      Little Nel, your story seems sadder and sadder all the time. So much in such a young life.

      What a complex mess this is and I am sorry we are all involved in it.

      • Alethea says:

        “What a complex mess this is and I am sorry we are all involved in it.”

        Peace Singer, you put out the feeling to us that you are just as much of a victim as those who have actually suffered from child sexual abuse.

        “We” are not involved in anything. You are involved with having been married to a child sexual abuser. “We” here, have had our vaginas ripped open, our virginity stolen, betrayed by our mothers, threatened with death with knives and guns, told the sexual abuse was OUR fault, told that if we do not keep the secret then we will die, and have lived with DECADES of deep-seated shame that you cannot ever imagine having.

        Do not include yourself in “we.”

    • PDD says:

      I speculate my mother was SA’d by her father (or brothers) when she was a girl. Later, she married my father, another dominating figure. I think she felt her life was out of control, she had no say in her own life. The only male figure she was able to dominate and control was her pre-teen son. As a boy, I was the only male in her life she could assault as some sort of vicarious revenge against all those men she hated….

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