Sexual offending runs in families: A 37-year nationwide study.
Långström N., Babchishin KM., Fazel S., Lichtenstein P., Frisell T.
BACKGROUND: Sexual crime is an important public health concern. The possible causes of sexual aggression, however, remain uncertain. METHODS: We examined familial aggregation and the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to sexual crime by linking longitudinal, nationwide Swedish crime and multigenerational family registers. We included all men convicted of any sexual offence (N = 21,566), specifically rape of an adult (N = 6131) and child molestation (N = 4465), from 1973 to 2009. Sexual crime rates among fathers and brothers of sexual offenders were compared with corresponding rates in fathers and brothers of age-matched population control men without sexual crime convictions. We also modelled the relative influence of genetic and environmental factors to the liability of sexual offending. RESULTS: We found strong familial aggregation of sexual crime [odds ratio (OR) = 5.1, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 4.5-5.9] among full brothers of convicted sexual offenders. Familial aggregation was lower in father-son dyads (OR = 3.7, 95% CI = 3.2-4.4) among paternal half-brothers (OR = 2.1, 95% CI = 1.5-2.9) and maternal half-brothers (OR = 1.7, 95% CI = 1.2-2.4). Statistical modelling of the strength and patterns of familial aggregation suggested that genetic factors (40%) and non-shared environmental factors (58%) explained the liability to offend sexually more than shared environmental influences (2%). Further, genetic effects tended to be weaker for rape of an adult (19%) than for child molestation (46%). CONCLUSIONS: We report strong evidence of familial clustering of sexual offending, primarily accounted for by genes rather than shared environmental influences. Future research should possibly test the effectiveness of selective prevention efforts for male first-degree relatives of sexually aggressive individuals, and consider familial risk in sexual violence risk assessment.