Attachment status in juveniles who sexually offend



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



It has only been within the past two decades that a new etiological model of sex offending has emerged that embraces attachment theory in order to provide a more comprehensive understating of how early attachment disruptions may contribute to sexually aggressive behavior. Although there is much theoretical support for the insecure attachment-sex offending paradigm, very little work has been done in the area of empirical validation. Furthermore, the majority of the research that has been conducted in this area focuses on adult offenders and primarily relies on self-report measures of attachment. Therefore, this study examined patterns of attachment in a sample of juvenile sex offenders utilizing a projective instrument, The Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP). This new measure assesses the unconscious aspects of one’s representational model of attachment, such as defenses and underlying expectations concerning relationships. In addition to examining the implicit facet of the attachment construct, this study also explored individuals’ conscious perceptions of attachment needs and experiences by means of a self-report measure. Twenty-five male adolescent sex offenders participated in this study. All subjects were administered the AAP and the Inventory of Parental and Peer Attachment. A brief interview was also conducted in order to gather more detailed descriptive information concerning the adolescents’ family relationships and history of sexual offenses. Results from this study indicated that 100% of the adolescents were classified as insecure on the AAP. The majority of subjects were judged to be dismissing (52%), followed closely by the unresolved attachment status (44%). These findings were discussed in terms of the disorganized attachment-sex offending model and in regards to the attachment concept of “failed mourning.” Qualitative data from the subjects’ interviews and AAP stories were used to provide further support for these theories. The divergent objective-projective test scores that emerged from this study were discussed in terms of their utility and the ways in which they complement each other. Overall, results from this study suggested that insecure attachment may play an important role in sexually aggressive behavior and that attachment-based intervention models may be useful when working with this population.