"I Know Correlation Doesn't Prove Causation, but . . .": Are We Jumping to Unfounded Conclusions About the Causes of Sexual Offending?

Abstract

Identifying causes of sexual offending is the foundation of effective and efficient assessment, intervention, and policy aimed at reducing sexual offending. However, studies vary in methodological rigor and the inferences they support, and there are differences of opinion about the conclusions that can be drawn from ambiguous evidence. To explore how researchers in this area interpret the available empirical evidence, we asked authors of articles published in relevant specialized journals to identify (a) an important factor that may lead to sexual offending, (b) a study providing evidence of a relationship between that factor and sexual offending, and (c) the inferences supported by that study. Many participants seemed to endorse causal interpretations and conclusions that went beyond the methodological rigor of the study they identified. Our findings suggest that some researchers may not be adequately considering methodological issues when making inferences about the causes of sexual offending. Although it is difficult to conduct research in this area and all research designs can provide valuable information, sensitivity to the limits methodology places on inferences is important for the sake of accuracy and integrity, and to stimulate more informative research. We propose that increasing attention to methodology in the research community through better training and standards will advance scientific knowledge about the causes of sexual offending, and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of practice and policy.

DOI: 10.1177/1079063217729156

Cite this paper

@article{Nunes2017IKC, title={"I Know Correlation Doesn't Prove Causation, but . . .": Are We Jumping to Unfounded Conclusions About the Causes of Sexual Offending?}, author={Kevin L. Nunes and Chloe I Pedneault and W Eric Filleter and Sacha Maimone and Carolyn Blank and Maya Atlas}, journal={Sexual abuse : a journal of research and treatment}, year={2017}, pages={1079063217729156} }