Understanding desistance from sexual offending

  • Mark Farmer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study was aimed at exploring the reasons why a group of men convicted of sexual offences against children desisted from further sexual offending. The research employed a qualitative methodology aimed at gaining a phenomenological understanding of participants' perceptions of the desistance process. A total of 32 participants were interviewed using a semi-structured life story interview. Data was analysed using thematic analysis, looking for commonalities across and within narratives. Theory was developed using a grounded theory methodology. The results show that desistance from sexual offending, for the study group, was largely a process of identity change. It involved a rejection of the label 'sex offender' and the adoption of a more positive, prosocial identity. As part of this process participants were inclined to minimise their offending and distance themselves from the perception that they were an 'offender'. They tended to describe their offending as being situational, and accounted for their offences as being an abberation. Social capital in the form of relationships and work was of great importance to the study group but did not appear to be directly linked to their desistance. However, future planning was a central part of the desistance process and, for most participants, involved plans for the development of new relationships and employment. The above themes are developed into a theory of desistance from sexual offending. The practical implications of the research are discussed. These include proposals to improve the treatment of men convicted of sexual offences: practitioners should emphasise responsibility for future actions rather than past ones, should encourage future planning, and give practical assistance for the development of new relationships and safe employment. They should encourage and support identity change, and should use a 'language of desistance, rather than defining people by the risk they present.

NOT FOR CONSULTATION : Thesis embargoed in perpetuity.
Date of AwardJul 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorAnne-Marie McAlinden (Supervisor) & Ronagh McQuigg (Supervisor)

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