Recent research suggests that offenders have difficulties in successfully establishing adult relationships. The authors have developed an attachment-based model that relates offending styles and interpersonal goals, and they have provided some preliminary evidence for it at the level of attachment style and offender type. Here the authors examined offender type, attachment style, and some relevant interpersonal variables. Although only the offender-type differences related to anger, most of the model's predictions were supported. Preoccupiedly and fearfully attached men were the most lonely, whereas fearfully and dismissingly attached men scored highest on fear of intimacy, anger expression, and anger suppression. Fearful men reported the greatest hostility toward women, whereas dismissing men were most accepting of rape myths. The relationship between attachment style and social competency issues appears more fundamental than that between offender type and social competency. As such, approaching the social dysfunctions associated with offending from an attachment perspective has considerable clinical utility.
Several multifactorial models, frameworks, and theories that attempt to explain the onset and maintenance of sexual offending have been developed over the past 20 years. For example, Marshall and Barbaree's (1990) model articulates well the broad factors thought to be involved in generating the conditions needed for offending to be initiated. By way of contrast, the relapse prevention model (Marlatt & Gordon, 1985) adapted by Pithers and his colleagues for sexual offenders (Pithers, 1990; Pithers, Marques, Gibat, & Marlatt, 1983) focuses particularly on the factors and processes associated with relapse. Although these models are not without difficulties (e.g., see Ward, Hudson, & Siegert, 1995), they have provided a broad structure to guide assessment, treatment planning, and implementation. We have argued that the next helpful step in theory development is the provision of middle-level theory that provides a fine-grained description of the mechanisms or lower level processes by which offending progresses (e.g., see Hudson, Ward, & Marshall, 1992; Ward, Hudson, & Marshall, 1995; Ward, Louden, Hudson, & Marshall, 1995).
A frequent observation is that sex offenders have difficulty establishing successful adult relationships (Marshall, 1989, 1993). This feature is likely to be related to sexual offending in a number of ways. Young males who, for a variety of reasons, are struggling to meet the social task demands of adolescence are suggested to be at more risk for sexual offending (Marshall, Hudson, & Hodkinson, 1993); Emotional loneliness, a likely consequence of difficulties in forming relationships with adults, leads to hostile attitudes toward women and children as well as acceptance of violence and interpersonally aggressive behavior (Check, Perlman, & Malamuth, 1985; Diamant & Windholz, 1981). Finally, the fusion of the need for emotional closeness with sexual behavior can lead to sexual preoccupation, promiscuity, and the possibility of increasing sexual deviancy as offenders escalate their attempts to gain intimacy through sexual contact (Marshall, 1989).
Marshall (1989) hypothesized that the development of an insecure attachment style in childhood is likely to lead to intimacy skills deficits in adulthood. Originally, attachment theory was developed as an explanatory system for aspects of emotional regulation in infants (Ainsworth, 1989; Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Anxiety management behaviors designed to maintain proximity to a preferred individual so as to ensure safety persist into adulthood, as do the internal working models of self and significant others. These working models typically concern how trustworthy, accessible, caring, and responsive attachment figures are as well as issues of self-worth. Traditionally, three types of attachment have been described. Secure attachment, the preferred outcome, is seen as resulting from appropriately sensitive and affectionate parenting. In this system there are two types of insecure attachment associated with different developmental experiences: an anxious/ambivalent attachment, which develops as a result of inconsistent responding by parents, and an avoidant style, in which the caregiver is detached and unresponsive.
Bartholomew and her colleagues (Bartholomew, 1990; Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; Griffen & Bartholomew, 1991) have extended this early work using a two-dimensional model (model of self and model of others) that results in four attachment styles depending on whether the views of self and others are positive or negative. In this typology, a secure attachment style reflects a positive view of both the self and others, whereas the preoccupied style, which corresponds to Ainsworth and Bowlby's anxious/ambivalent type, reflects a negative view of the self but a positive view of others. The original avoidant style has been usefully separated into a fearful type, in which both models of the self and others are negative, and a dismissing type, in which the model of the self is positive but that of others is negative.
We have used Bartholomew's system to expand Marshall's original suggestion into a model that relates the four types of attachment to a set of offending styles and related interpersonal goals (Ward, Hudson, & Marshall, 1996; Ward, Hudson, Marshall, & Siegert, 1995). In brief, we suggest that securely attached individuals have high levels of self-esteem and view others as generally warm and accepting and, as a result, experience high levels of intimacy in their romantic relationships. Preoccupied people see others in positive terms, but their own sense of unworthiness leads them to seek the approval of others to an undue level. They typically are sexually preoccupied and prone to sexualizing their need for security and affection (Shaver & Hazan, 1988). Because this style is unlikely to lead to satisfactory relationships, high levels of loneliness are expected together with low levels of aggression (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991).
Fearful individuals desire social contact but avoid such interactions because of their distrust and fear of rejection (Collins & Read, 1990; Hazan & Shaver, 1987). They are likely to express their aggression indirectly rather than directly, experience loneliness as their relationships will tend to be impersonal, and be rather unempathic toward their victims as a result of their negative views of others. Finally, dismissing individuals are skeptical of the value of close relationships and place considerable value on independence from others in order to remain invulnerable. Therefore, they are unlikely to report being lonely and are more likely to fear intimacy. They also blame others for their lack of intimacy and therefore tend to be angry and overtly hostile toward potential partners.