Journal of Traumatic Stress

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 393–420 | Cite as

Prior life trauma, post-traumatic stress symptoms, sexual disorders, and character traits in sex offenders: An exploratory study

  • George W. Barnard
  • Gary C. Hankins
  • Lynn Robbins


Fifty-two residents in a forensic treatment center for convicted sex offenders were studied using a computer-assisted assessment methodology regarding prior exposure to seven categories of major trauma, the subsequent occurrence of 15 PTSD criterion symptoms, the occurrence of sexual disorders and pathological character traits based on the DSM-III-R Axis II diagnostic criteria. This sample represented 43% of all individuals in such treatment in Florida during the study month. The results in terms of trauma exposure, PTS symptom, sexual disorders, and character traits are reported and discussed in relation to the relevant literature. A theoretical formulation based on object relations theory suggesting a causal link between trauma, narcissistic character pathology, adult PTSD, and sexual deviancy for some sex offenders is presented and related to the findings. The methodological limitations of the research and its implications for future research are explored.

Key words

PTSD trauma object relations theory pathological narcissism sexual disorders sex offenders paraphilias 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abel, G. G., Becker, J. V., Cunningham-Rathner, J., Mittelman, M., and Rouleau, J. L. (1988). Multiple paraphilic diagnoses among sex offenders.Bull. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law 16: 153–168.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association (1987).Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (third edition-revised), Washington, D.C., pp. 247–251.Google Scholar
  3. Araji, S., and Finkelhor, D. (1985). Explanations of pedophilia: Review of empirical research.Bull. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law 13: 17–37.Google Scholar
  4. Barnard, G. W., Fuller, K. A., Robbins, L., and Shaw, T. (1989).The Child Molester: An Integrated Approach to Evaluation and Treatment Brunner/Mazel, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Boehnlein, J. K. (1989). The process of research in posttraumatic stress disorder.Perspect. Biol. Med. 32: 455–465.Google Scholar
  6. Brecher, E. M. (1975). History of human sexual research and study. In Freedman, A. M., Kaplan, H. I. and Sadock, B. J. (eds.),Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry/II, Vol. 2, Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore, MD.Google Scholar
  7. Burgess, A. W., Hartman, C. R., and McCormack, A. (1987). Abused to abuser: Antecedents of socially deviant behaviors.Am. J. Psychiatry 144: 1431–1436.Google Scholar
  8. Collins, J. J., and Bailey, S. L. (1990). Traumatic stress disorder and violent behavior.J. Traumatic Stress 3: 203–220.Google Scholar
  9. Dimsdale, J. E. (1980). The perpetrator. In Dimsdale, J. E. (ed.),Survivors, Victims, and Perpetrators: Essays on the Nazi Holocaust Hemisphere Publishing Corp., New York.Google Scholar
  10. Ellis, H. (1936).Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 2 vols, Random House, New York.Google Scholar
  11. Feldman, J. B. (1988). Violence as a disintegration product of the self in posttraumatic stress disorder.Am. J. Psychother. 42: 281–289.Google Scholar
  12. Freud, A. (1936).The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense International Universities Press, New York.Google Scholar
  13. Freud, S. (1905). “Three essays on the theory of sexuality,” inComplete Psychological Works, vol. 7, 1953, Hogarth Press, London.Google Scholar
  14. Furby, L., Weinrott, M. R., and Blackshaw, L. (1989). Sex offender recidivism: A review.Psychol. Bull. 105: 3–30.Google Scholar
  15. Greist, J. H. (1990). Computers and psychiatric diagnosis. In Baskin, D. (ed.),Computer Applications in Psychiatry and Psychology New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  16. Gunderson, J. G. (1988). Personality disorders. In Nichole, A. M. (ed.),The Harvard Guide to Modern Psychiatry Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Ma.Google Scholar
  17. Hall, G. C. N. (1989). Self-reported hostility as a function of offense characteristics and response style in a sexual offender population.J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 57: 306–308.Google Scholar
  18. Hamilton, N. G. (1989). A critical review of object relations theory.Am. J. Psychiatry 146: 1552–1560.Google Scholar
  19. Helzer, J. E., Robins, L. N., and McEvoy, L. (1987). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the general population: Findings of the epidemiologic catchment area survey.N. Engl. J. Med. 317: 1630–1634.Google Scholar
  20. Kardiner, A. (1941).The Traumatic Neuroses of War: Psychosomatic Medicine Monograph II–III Banta, Manasha, WI.Google Scholar
  21. Kernberg, O. F. (guest ed.) (1989). Narcissistic personality disorder,Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Vol. 12, No. 3, W. B. Sanders, Philadelphia, PA.Google Scholar
  22. Kinzie, D. J., Boehnlein, J. K., Leung, P. K., Moore, L. J., Riley, C., and Smith, D. (1990). The prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder and its clinical significance among southeast Asian refugees.Am. J. Psychiatry 147: 913–917.Google Scholar
  23. Klein, M. (1975).Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1946–1963 Free Press, New York.Google Scholar
  24. Kohut, H. (1971).The Analysis of the Self International University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  25. Krystal, H. (1984). Psychoanalytic views on human emotional damages. In van der Kolk, B. (ed.),Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Psychological and Biological Sequelae Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  26. Kulka, R. A., Schlenger, W. E., Fairbank, J. A., Hough, R. L., Jordan, B. K., Marmar, C. R., and Weiss, P. S. (1988).Contractual Report of Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study: Executive Summary, Description of Findings and Technical Appendices Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.Google Scholar
  27. Langevin, R. (1983).Sexual Strands Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  28. Neighbors, H. W. (1990). Personal communication.Google Scholar
  29. Pitman, R. K., van der Kolk, B. A., Orr, S. P., and Greenberg, M. S. (1990). Naloxone-reversible analgesic response to combat-related stimuli in posttraumatic stress disorder.Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 47: 541–544.Google Scholar
  30. Reppucci, N. D., and Clingempeel, W. G. (1978). Methodological issues in research with correctional populations.J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 46: 727–746.Google Scholar
  31. Seghorn, T. K., Prentky, R. A., and Boucher, R. J. (1987). Childhood sexual abuse in the lives of sexually aggressive offenders.J. Am. Acad. Child Psychiatry 26: 262–267.Google Scholar
  32. Shearer, S. L., Peters, C. P., Quaytman, M. S., and Ogden, R. L. (1990). Frequency and correlates of childhood sexual and physical abuse histories in adult female borderline inpatients.Am. J. Psychiatry 147: 214–216.Google Scholar
  33. Stoller, R. J. (1975).Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred Pantheon Books, New York.Google Scholar
  34. van der Kolk, B. (1984). Introduction. In van der Kolk, B. (ed.),Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Psychological and Biological Sequelae Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  35. von Krafft-Ebing, R. (1906).Psychopathia Sexualis, ed. 12, Stuttgart, Germany.Google Scholar
  36. Winnicott, D. W. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena.Int. J. Psychoanal. 34:89–97.Google Scholar
  37. Winnicott, D. W. (1960). The theory of parent-infant relationship. InThe Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment International University Press, New York.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • George W. Barnard
    • 1
  • Gary C. Hankins
    • 2
  • Lynn Robbins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of FloridaGainesville
  2. 2.Gainesville

Personalised recommendations