The Psychological Profile of a Sexual Offender

There are currently numerous individual and group sexual assaults being committed. What psychological characteristics do the perpetrators exhibit?
The Psychological Profile of a Sexual Offender
Isabel Ortega

Written and verified by the psychologist Isabel Ortega.

Last update: 14 March, 2023

Did you know that only around two percent of all sexual assaults suffered in the world are detected? The figures are similar for Europe. Therefore, it’s difficult to make a true estimate of the number of attacks that take place, although they occur in many different contexts and cultures.

In recent years, crimes against sexual freedom and indemnity have experienced an increase of 30.1 percent. Approximately 215,000 violent sexual crimes were recorded in the EU in 2015 (Eurostat).

The typical sexual offender

The most frequent sexual crimes are those perpetrated by two or more men against a woman. In the US, an estimated 91 percent of victims of rape and sexual assault are women and 9 percent are male. Nearly 99 percent of perpetrators are male (Supporting Survivors).

There’s little research on sexual crimes committed by women. However, some studies have shown that women can be involved, though much less frequently, in these types of crimes. But, leaving aside the perpetrator of the crime, it shouldn’t be forgotten how the victims may feel.

Psychological characteristics of the male sexual offender 

Each sexual offender is different. That said, there are certain psychological characteristics that have been observed more frequently in these individuals.

Low self-esteem, negative views about women, and substance abuse issues often characterize the sexual offender. They also might suffer from emotional and sexual regulation problems, trauma, or personality disorders.

In some cases of sexual offenders who act alone, there’s a relationship with the presence of paraphilic disorders, such as frotteurism and exhibitionism. In other cases, individuals might present externalizing behaviors (eg aggressiveness) and antisocial personality disorders.

A study conducted in Germany pointed to the presence of sexual sadism and schizoid personality traits in sexual murderers who acted alone.

Women sexual offenders

Different studies indicate that the factors related to sexual violence in men are also present in female perpetrators. For example, substance abuse, certain beliefs about crimes, difficulty in interpersonal skills, and paraphilias. They also exhibit an alteration in their emotional regulation and may suffer from trauma and certain personality disorders.

However, it’s been found that, in women, there’s a greater presence of psychological problems, but less substance use and incidence of paraphilias compared to men who commit the same crime.

Shadow of a woman on the ground
It’s been detected that the majority of sexual offenders were victims of the same crime during their childhood.

Do group sexual offenders have the same psychological characteristics as individual offenders?

In group attacks, other motives and non-individual factors have been observed that could explain these behaviors. Harkins and Dixon (2013) proposed a model known as the multifactorial model of multiple-perpetrator sexual offending (MPSO). It claims that there are different risk factors that influence when a group perpetrates a sexual assault.

They include individual factors, such as impulsivity; sociocultural, such as determined beliefs about gender roles; and situational, such as the legitimate use of violence. In addition, the presence and convergence of these three factors increase the probability that behaviors of this specific sexual nature will be carried out.

Making a comparison between group sexual offenders and those who act alone, it’s been noted that the latter act motivated by their own impulses. On the other hand, in group sexual aggression, there are other triggering factors.

These are group influence, decision-making, group thinking, de-individuation, and the existence of a leader. In fact, there’s no solid evidence that the individuals who carry out group criminal behaviors act due to the presence of mental disorders or specific personality types.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Carvalho, J. y Nobre, P. J. (2019). Five-factor model of personality and sexual aggression. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 63(5), 797-814.
  • De la Torre-Laso, J. (2020). ¿Por qué se cometen agresiones sexuales en grupo? Una revisión de las investigaciones y propuestas teóricas. Anuario de Psicología Jurídica, 30(1), 73-81.
  • Drury, A. J., Elbert, M. J. y DeLisi, M. (2020). The dark figure of sexual offending: A replication and extension. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 38(6), 559-570.
  • Harkins, L. & Dixon, L. (2013). A multi-factorial approach to understanding multiple perpetrator sexual offending. In J. Wood & T. Gannon (Eds.) Crime and crime reduction: The importance of group processes (pp. 75-95). New York: Routledge.
  • Hill, A., Berner, W. y Briken, P. (2018). Perpetrators of sexual homicides in Germany: medical, psychiatric and psychological characteristics. En J. Proulx,. A.J. Carter., E. Beauregard., A. Mokros., R. Darjee., J. James, J. (Eds.), Routledge international handbook of sexual homicide studies (pp. 219-236). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
  • Miller, H. A. y Marshall, E. A. (2019). Comparing solo-and co-offending female sex offenders on variables of pathology, offense characteristics, and recidivism. Sexual Abuse, 31(8), 972–990.
  • Petrella, A., Harkins, L. y Eastwood, J. (2018). Considering the role of leadership and dominance in multiple perpetrator sexual assault. Instituto de Tecnología de la Universidad de Ontario.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.