Salient factors in child molestation: Moral development, social competence, and type of offender

Colleen Catherine McCoury, Florida International University


The current study was designed to build on and extend the existing knowledge base of factors that cause, maintain, and influence child molestation. Theorized links among the type of offender and the offender's levels of moral development and social competence in the perpetration of child molestation were investigated. The conceptual framework for the study is based on the cognitive developmental stages of moral development as proposed by Kohlberg, the unified theory, or Four-Preconditions Model, of child molestation as proposed by Finkelhor, and the Information-Processing Model of Social Skills as proposed by McFall. The study sample consisted of 127 adult male child molesters participating in outpatient group therapy. All subjects completed a Self-Report Questionnaire which included questions designed to obtain relevant demographic data, questions similar to those used by the researchers for the Massachusetts Treatment Center: Child Molester Typology 3's social competency dimension, the Defining Issues Test (DIT) short form, the Social Avoidance and Distress Scale (SADS), the Rathus Assertiveness Schedule (RAS), and the Questionnaire Measure of Empathic Tendency (Empathy Scale). Data were analyzed utilizing confirmatory factor analysis, t-tests, and chi-square statistics. Partial support was found for the hypothesis that moral development is a separate but correlated construct from social competence. As predicted, although the actual mean score differences were small, a statistically significant difference was found in the current study between the mean DITP scores of the subject sample and that of the general male population, suggesting that child molesters, as a group, function at a lower level of moral development than does the general male population, and the situational offenders in the study sample demonstrated a statistically significantly higher level of moral development than the preferential offenders. The data did not support the hypothesis that situational offenders will demonstrate lower levels of social competence than preferential offenders. Relatively little significance is placed on this finding, however, because the measure for the social competency variable was likely subject to considerable measurement error in that the items used as indicators were not clearly defined. The last hypothesis, which involved the potential differences in social anxiety, assertion skills, and empathy between the situational and preferential offender types, was not supported by the data.

Subject Area

Social work|Psychotherapy|Criminology

Recommended Citation

McCoury, Colleen Catherine, "Salient factors in child molestation: Moral development, social competence, and type of offender" (1998). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI9913914.