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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00224

Behavioral monitoring of sexual offenders against children in virtual risk situations: a feasibility study.

  • 1Universitätsmedizin Göttingen, Germany

The decision about unsupervised privileges for sexual offenders against children (SOC) is one of the most difficult decisions for practitioners in forensic high-security hospitals. Facing the possible consequences of the decision for the society, a valid and reliable risk management of SOCs is essential. Some risk management approaches provide frameworks for the construction of relevant future risk situations. Due to ethical reasons, it is not possible to evaluate the validity of constructed risk situations in reality. The aim of the study was to test if behavioral monitoring of SOCs in high-immersive virtual risk situations provides additional information for risk management. Six SOCs and seven non-offender controls (NOC) walked through three virtual risk situations, confronting the subject with a virtual child character. The subject had to choose between predefined answers representing approach or avoidance behavior. Frequency of chosen answers were analyzed in regards to knowledge of the subjects about coping skills and coping skills focused during therapy. SOCs and NOCs behavior differed only in one risk scenario. Furthermore, SOCs showed in 89% of all cases a behavior not corresponding to their own belief about adequate behavior in comparable risk situations. In 62% of all cases, SOCs behaved not corresponding to coping skills they stated that therapists told them during therapy. In 50% of all cases, SOCs behaved in correspondence to coping skills therapists stated that they focused on during therapy. Therapists predicted the behavior of SOCs in virtual risk situations incorrect in 25% of all cases. Thus, virtual risk scenarios provide the possibility for practitioners to monitor the behavior of SOCs and to test their decisions on unsupervised privileges without endangering the community. This may provide additional information for therapy progress. Further studies are necessary to evaluate the predictive and ecological validity of behavioral monitoring in virtual risk situations for real life situations.

Keywords: Risk Assessment, Risk Management, virtual reality, virtual environment, child abuser, pedophilic disorder, Pedophilia

Received: 19 Apr 2017; Accepted: 09 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Guenter K. Schiepek, Paracelsus Private Medical University of Salzburg, Austria

Reviewed by:

Alexander F. Schmidt, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Kolja Schiltz, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany  

Copyright: © 2018 Fromberger, Meyer, Jordan and Müller. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Peter Fromberger, Universitätsmedizin Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany,