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Reducing Deviant Arousal in Juvenile Sex Offenders Using Vicarious Sensitization

NCJ Number
Journal of Interpersonal Violence Volume: 12 Issue: 5 Dated: (October 1997) Pages: 704-728
M R Weinrott; M Riggan; S Frothingham
Date Published
25 pages
A sample of 69 teenage child molesters received a 3-month regimen of vicarious sensitization (VS), a form of aversive conditioning designed to decrease sexual arousal to prepubescent children, within the context of a randomized wait list (WL) control group design.
The teenagers were recruited from outpatient juvenile sex offender treatment programs, private practitioners, and probation officers in the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area and from the Echo Glen Children's Center near Seattle, Washington. To be considered for VS, a youth had to be male, be 13 to 18 years of age at the time of referral, have committed a hands-on sex offense against a child at least 4 years younger, have volunteered for VS to reduce arousal to children, and have at least 6 months remaining in core treatment. Qualifying male youths were randomly assigned to a VS group or to a 3-month WL condition. They were alternately exposed to an audiotaped crime scenario designed to evoke deviant arousal, followed immediately by an aversive video vignette. Aversive stimuli portrayed juvenile sex offenders contending with negative social, emotional, physical, and legal consequences of their sex crimes. Subjects received approximately 300 VS trials over 25 sessions. Results based on phallometric data and self-report measures showed significant decreases in deviant arousal for youths who received VS. WL youths did not improve, despite continuing in weekly cognitive therapy. When VS was later administered to WL youths, they too showed a significant treatment effect. Follow-up data at 3 months indicated treatment gains were maintained. 41 references, 10 notes, 4 tables, and 2 figures