Finding meaning in behavioural predictors of child sexual reoffending: The Offence Characteristic Meaning Framework (OCMF)
In the field of static actuarial risk assessment for sexual offending, the role of theory has historically been undervalued. This is problematic, for only through gaining a better understanding of why risk factors are predictive can we enhance the criminal justice system’s ability to reduce reoffending and protect our communities. To contextualise the importance of theory in risk assessment, we investigated offence characteristics (i.e., crime-scene behaviours); a theme of static risk factors that has shown promising statistical ability to predict risk of recidivism of child sex offenders, but suffers from a lack of theoretical elaboration. To understand why particular offence characteristics are statistically predictive of child sexual recidivism, we knitted together various pre-existing theories and findings in the literature; arguing that offence characteristics are static referents of psychological vulnerabilities and competencies. By abductively inferring what vulnerabilities and competencies underpin an offence characteristic, we can then use offender exemplars to hypothesise how these interact with each other, the potential goals and values of the offender, and contextual triggers to create and maintain risk of reoffending. Via this process, we argue we are able to better understand why the behaviour of interest is statistically predictive of child sexual reoffending. We then gathered the various threads of our theoretical arguments and wove them together into a robust, unifying model called the Offence Characteristic Meaning Framework OCMF). The OCMF is a structured reasoning process the reader can use to aid in understanding why particular crime scene behaviours predictive of risk of child sexual reoffending. The OCMF is a novel, if somewhat indirect, contribution to the burgeoning literature on offence characteristics. An initial evaluation indicates that the OCMF’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and is potentially the first theory to incorporate both competency-based and deficit-based models of risk.