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Book Reviews   |    
Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate, and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children
Reviewed by Fabian M. Saleh, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2004; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.55.6.727
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by Anna C. Salter, Ph.D.; New York, Basic Books, 2003, 272 pages, $26

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Anna C. Salter, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized psychologist and lecturer who has called on two decades of work with sex offenders and their victims as the source material for this text. She has authored numerous books and has been the recipient of several awards, including a significant achievement award from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

This volume is organized into 11 chapters and is written in a generally clear way, devoid of jargon and superfluous terminology. However, it lacks substance and rigor. Indeed, while I was reading Salter's book, I wondered whether the author intended to educate or incite the reader. Did she, as she said she would, use her expertise to "dispel the myths surrounding sexual offenders—how they think, how they deceive their victims, and how they elude the law"? Did she meet her professed goal of demystifying sex offenders? Unfortunately, she failed in this endeavor despite presenting numerous and powerfully written case examples. Rather than being informative and enlightening, Salter's writing seems to instill in the reader a sense of fear, hysteria, and even panic.

Although Salter indicates in the introductory section that "this book is a more personal account of what I've learned from sitting in rooms with predators," I was struck by her extensive use of stereotypes and generalizations. Her use of language at times seemed quite condescending and inflammatory, as though she intended to inculcate a sense of moral repulsion in the reader. Generally, promoting stereotypes only adds to popular perplexity and may prove counterproductive when the stated goal is the demystification of sex offenders.

This book has been published at a time when there is a great interest in and awareness of sex offenders—in particular, their assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation. It is imperative to note that sex offenders, despite their common behavioral denominator, do not constitute a homogeneous population. To the contrary, sex offenders are quite heterogeneous, particularly with respect to phenomenologic, clinical, and, where known, etiological characteristics. Although many sex offenders may be motivated by criminal intent, it is important to point out that some of the individuals who engage in illegal sexual activities may be more prone to do so because of an underlying psychiatric disorder. In fact, a subpopulation of sex offenders may have a paraphilia or sexual deviation syndrome. Yet others may be psychotic or manic or may have cognitive proclivities that render them more vulnerable to committing criminal acts, including sexual violence. Although Salter addresses issues related to psychopathy and antisociality and differentiates "child molesters" from "rapists" and "sadists," she unfortunately does not offer, notwithstanding her considerable expertise, an in-depth analysis of the differential diagnosis of sexually offending behavior. Omitting such a discussion substantially undermines efforts to explicate behaviors that may constitute a sex offense.

In conclusion, I was rather intrigued by Salter's passionate writing style. However, she has yet again missed an opportunity to provide a thoughtful analysis of complex behavioral and mental phenomena as seen among individuals who engage in sexually offending behaviors.

Dr. Saleh is assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

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