When PTSD is discussed alongside offending behaviour, the majority of academic papers and articles examine the link between child sexual abuse and future child sexual offending. However, PTSD can be relevant to other crime types too.
There have been cases where soldiers returning from combat are suffering PTSD which affects their mental health a great deal. Some are suffering so badly that they go on to commit violent crimes or have psychotic episodes which leads them to commit crimes.
Government statistics from the United States show that veterans form the largest single occupational group within the prison and probation services and that they are more likely to have committed a violent or sexual offence than offenders who have not served in the military.
Other research in this area suggests that some military activities can increase the risk of offending. For example, deploying in a combat role and exposure to trauma during deployment, have been shown to increase the risk of violent offending by military personnel on return. That isn’t to say that all military personnel who experience a traumatic event or serving in a combat role will go on to be violent offenders, it simply increases the risk.
A UK study that of 2,700 men serving in the armed forces under the age of 30, 20.6% had been convicted of a violent offence, compared with 6.7% in the general population. Men who had seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan were 53% more likely to commit a violent offence than those in non-front line roles. And personnel who had multiple experiences of combat had a 70% to 80% greater risk of being convicted of acts of violence.
That particular study states: “More frequent exposure to traumatic events during deployment increased the risk of violent offending. We noted a strong link between PTSD and violent offending. Combat veterans with PTSD and other mental health concerns frequently present with problems of anger and aggression.” However, it also notes that troops who volunteer and are trained for fighting are not chosen randomly.
“In the UK, infantry units have traditionally promoted aggression as a desirable trait and such units frequently recruit individuals who are socially disadvantaged and are likely to have low educational attainment.”
The report goes on to write that the vast majority [83%] of serving and ex-serving UK military personnel do not have any sort of criminal record, and the likelihood of violent behaviour is lower among older veterans [aged over 45] than in the general population.
Of course, PTSD is not limited to those who have served in the armed forces. Those who have a victim of child sexual abuse can also suffer from PTSD. However, it must be noted that being sexually abused does not cause someone to sexually offend and that the majority of those who are sexually abused do not go on to commit abuse.
However, the traumatic events of being a victim appear to have different trajectories for males and females. This is because most victims of child sexual abuse are female, whereas most perpetrators are male.
One study explored these trajectories and identified four factors that may be associated with a boy’s transition from the victim to the offender. They argue that these four factors share a common theme, that is, that they represent experiences of power (for the abuser) and powerlessness (for the victim).
There is a common misconception that being sexually abused ‘causes’ a boy to become sexually abusive. As a result, many men who have suffered sexual abuse are faced with an often overwhelming fear of ‘becoming a perpetrator.’
There are a range of factors that have been identified as being linked to sexual offending, and there are disputes amongst researchers as to which of these is most significant. However, I don’t believe it is at all helpful to examine gender roles within sexual offending. There is a danger of the characterising all men as perpetrators and all women as victims. If we examine the characteristics of male perpetrators, traits will be linked to all men.
Research over the past 40 years has identified a number of risk factors that can contribute to the likelihood of a person committing sexual offences. Compared to the general population, adults who commit sexual offences against children tend to:
- Show greater aggression and violence, non-violent criminality, anger/hostility, substance abuse, paranoia/mistrust, and have diagnosable antisocial personality disorders.
- Be more likely to show anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and external locus of control (i.e. feel that they are not in control of, or responsible for, their own actions).
- Generally have more problematic sexual patterns (including fantasies and sexualised coping strategies).
- Have low social skill/competence, report more feelings of loneliness, more difficulties with intimate relationships, and lack of secure attachment.
- Have poorer histories of family functioning, including more harsh discipline, poorer attachment or bonding, and generally worse functioning of their family of origin, including physical abuse, and sexual abuse.
- Express more tolerant attitudes to child sexual abuse and minimize the perpetrator’s culpability.
In conclusion, then, we should be examining how we can support the mental health of those who have experienced traumatic events. This would reduce the risk of PSTD forming. If we focused more funding on supporting mental health, other services such as police and the judicial system would receive fewer cases.