Social learning, sexual and physical abuse, and adult crime

Richard B. Felson, Kelsea Jo Lane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


This research examines the relationship between childhood physical and sexual abuse and the types of crimes committed by male adult offenders. We use the method of discriminant prediction to determine whether independent and dependent variables are related in ways that theories predict. Our analyses of data from the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities suggest that offenders model specific behaviors to which they have been exposed. Male offenders who were sexually abused as a child are more likely to commit sexual offenses, particularly sexual offenses against children, than nonsexual offenses. Offenders who were physically abused are more likely to engage in violent offenses than nonviolent offenses. Further analyses show that sexual offenders, and to a lesser extent violent offenders, are likely to specialize in those offenses. Our results are consistent with a social learning approach. They address a heretofore neglected issue: what exactly do children model when they are mistreated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-501
Number of pages13
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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