Differences of Sex Addiction, Sex Offending & Misconduct? | The Ranch

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Is There a Difference Between Sex Addiction, Sex Offending and Sexual Misconduct?

December 1, 2017 Sex Addiction,Sexual Harassment
woman uncomfortable with male co-worker at desk

By Karen Brownd, CSAT, Director of the Center for Relationship and Sexual Recovery and Associate Clinical Director at The Ranch

Recent accusations of sexual misconduct by celebrities have led to unprecedented revelations of sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse, and questions about the difference between sex addiction vs. sex offender. Many men in prominent positions have been paraded before the public eye for alleged unsavory activities, with new accusations every day.

Still, there is a lot of confusion about the difference between sex addiction vs. sex offending and whether sex addiction is the culprit behind sexual misconduct. In reality, you cannot tell exactly what leads an individual to act out in a certain way until you can sit down with them and follow a special diagnostic and therapeutic protocol. But becoming more educated on these topics can be helpful for everyone.

Is There a Line in the Sand?

It helps to understand the basic differences between a sex addict vs. sex offender, and similarities among sexual addiction, sexual offending and sexual misconduct. When treating individuals, there is some overlap ― or danger of overlap.

Sexual Addiction. This is compulsive participation in sexual fantasies, acts or experiences that the person is unable to stop despite negative consequences. Symptoms may include:

  • Constantly seeking and arranging liaisons
  • Multiple affairs and chronic cheating
  • Frequent visits to prostitutes and sex workers
  • Regular participation in cybersex
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Compulsive viewing of porn
  • Exposing oneself or other exhibitionist behaviors
  • Voyeurism and lurking

Sexual Offending. This generic term relates to a person who commits a crime that involves a sexual act. This means they are on a national registry for sex offenders. The list of offenses is long and varies from state to state. Some of these appear in legal records in various degrees of offense (such as rape in the first degree). Here are some of the most prevalent:

  • Rape and attempted rape
  • Statutory rape of underage teens
  • Molestation
  • Sexual abuse and exploitation of children
  • Child pornography production or distribution
  • Owning or soliciting child pornography
  • Sexual harassment
  • Indecent exposure
  • Incest (each state has clear laws on what constitutes incest)
  • Patronizing a prostitute
  • Sex trafficking

Sexual Misconduct. This is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of behaviors. Most essentially, it is behavior of a sexual nature that is unwelcome. It occurs without consent or through intimidation, coercion or manipulation. This misconduct applies to people of any gender and may occur between people of different or same genders. Usually it occurs between someone in a position of power and a subordinate. The behaviors and acts that fall under this category may include:

  • Touching (frotteurism) without consent
  • Sexual activity with someone while they are intoxicated
  • Persisting in sexual advances when someone says “no”
  • A superior, manager or coach taking advantage of someone below them in status, such as an employee, a student or athlete
  • Sexual assault, such as forced intercourse or other sexual acts
  • Pressuring or compelling someone into sexual activities
  • Intentional yet unwanted contact with body parts such as breasts, buttocks, groin or genitals
  • Forcing someone to touch another’s body parts
  • Tricking someone into performing sexual acts that are secretly videoed
  • Sextortion, using sex as a form of extortion
  • Demanding sex in return for an employment or academic advantage, or some sort of career benefit

How They Do (and Don’t) Intersect

Sex addiction, sexual offending and sexual misconduct have all been lumped into one conversation because they have overlapping aspects. Here are some important points to help clarify:

  1. Consent is key. There is a big difference between unwanted touching, advances and assaults and sexuality between consenting adults. When it’s not consensual, or it involves a child, it’s against the law.
  1. One thing can lead to the next. A sexual compulsion can morph into a sexual offense or misconduct. Sexual misconduct can fall under sexual offending. Some of the same childhood traumas that led to sex addiction can be at the root of offending and misconduct. They are intertwined, yet may begin more distinctly under one category.
  1. Sex addicts may cross a line. A sex addict with exhibitionism may expose himself in public and be arrested for public indecency, leading to a conviction as a sex offender. By the same token, an act of sexual misconduct, such as intercourse with someone who is intoxicated or unable to consent, may result in a rape charge.
  1. Sex offenders don’t all know the laws. Some sex addicts move into the realm of sexual offending when their compulsions lead them to engage in activities that are illegal, but they are not always aware they are breaking the law – until they get caught. The laws vary from state to state, but, for example, in some areas, downloading porn is punishable. However, an individual may not have realized the porn they viewed online was downloaded to their computer. Or, perhaps a 21-year-old begins sexting a 17-year-old. This may be illegal, even if they are dating.
  1. Sexual misconduct can take many forms. When someone in a position of power takes sexual advantage of someone who is not, it’s considered sexual misconduct. For many people in power, sexual misconduct has been business as usual for many years. It is not at all unusual for a legal or public crisis to bring these behaviors into the light. Every situation has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the severity of abuse involved, but time will tell whether accusations will become lawsuits, arrests and convictions.

How to Determine the Correct Treatment

Not everyone will seek treatment, but people with active sexual addiction, sexual offending and sexual misconduct can all use help.

At The Ranch, we make a clear distinction between sex addicts and sexual offenders. Sometimes sex addicts step over the line into sex offending behavior. One of the goals of sex addiction treatment is to halt the progression before this happens. But if that person has been convicted of a sex-related crime and they appear on a national registry, they are not eligible for treatment at The Ranch.

But sex offenders need, and have a right, to help so they are referred to specialized therapists and programs.

For people dealing with sexual compulsions and addictive patterns that lead to sexual misconduct, sex addiction treatment can help. It is important to also consider the victims of sexual addictions, offending and misconduct and the trauma they have been through. They will need help as well as they continue to find the courage to come forward and say, “me too.”

Resources

Sexual Harassment Policies

https://www.state.gov/s/ocr/c14800.htm

https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/sexharassresources.html

Sexual Assault

https://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault

Sexual Misconduct

https://www.nyu.edu/life/safety-health-wellness/sexual-respect/prevention-and-training/what-is-sexual-misconduct.html

Sexual Misconduct on Campus

https://share.cornell.edu/safety-resources/examples-of-sexual-misconduct/

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