Pornographic exposure over the life course and the severity of sexual offenses: Imitation and cathartic effects (2011)

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Volume 40, Issue 1, January–February 2012, Pages 21–30



Extant scholarship has examined pornography's putative link to the commission of sex crime. Yet, virtually no research speaks to whether an offender's exposure to pornography during many different stages of life elevates the violence of a sex offense. The current study addresses this gap.


Using retrospective longitudinal data, we systematically investigate the effect of offender pornography exposure during adolescence, adulthood, and immediately prior to the offense on the level of physical injury as well as the extent of humiliation experienced by sex crime victims.


Findings indicate that adolescent exposure was a significant predictor of the elevation of violence—it increased the extent of victim humiliation. Results also suggest a tempering, or cathartic effect of pornography—using pornography just prior to the offense was correlated with reduced victim physical injury. No effects, however, were observed for adult pornography exposure.


Pornography use may differentially influence offenders’ propensity to harm or degrade victims over the life course.


► We examine whether pornography exposure elevates the violence of a sexual crime.

► Only adolescence exposure was associated with increased victim harm.

► Immediately prior exposure decreased the extent of victim physical injury.

► Research and policy implications are discussed.

  • Corresponding author. Tel.: + 1 561 297 3173; fax: + 1 561 297 2438.