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We're a little crazy, about science!

Do you have the genes of a rapist?

StopRape

Rape, it’s so taboo that victims are sometimes shamed for “letting” it happening. It’s a dirty word, no one likes the word rape so we come up with other names for it — sexual assault for example. Well new research shows that close relatives of men convicted of sexual offences commit similar offences themselves more frequently than comparison subjects. The study suggests that this is due to genetic factors rather than shared family environment. The study includes all men convicted of sex crime in Sweden during 37 years.

“Importantly, this does not imply that sons or brothers of sex offenders inevitably become offenders too”, says Niklas Langstrom, Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet and the study’s lead author.

“But although sex crime convictions are relatively few overall, our study shows that the family risk increase is substantial. Preventive treatment for families at risk could possibly reduce the number of future victims.”

The report is based on anonymised data from the nationwide Swedish crime and multigeneration registers.The research included all 21,566 men convicted for sex offences in Sweden between 1973 and 2009, for example rape of an adult (6,131 offenders) and child molestation (4,465 offenders). The researchers looked at the share of sex crimes perpetrated by fathers and brothers of convicted male sex offenders and compared this to the proportion among comparison men from the general population with similar age and family relationships.

The results suggested familial clustering of sex offenders, about 2.5 percent of brothers or sons of convicted sex crime offenders are themselves convicted for sex crimes. The equivalent figure for men in the general population is about 0.5 percent. Using a well-established statistical calculation model, the researchers also analysed the importance of genetic and environmental factors for the risk of being convicted of sexual abuse.

“We found that sex crimes mainly depended on genetic factors and environmental factors that family members do not share with one another, corresponding to about 40 percent and 58 percent, respectively”, says Niklas Langstrom.

“Such factors could include emotional lability and aggression, pro-criminal thinking, deviant sexual preferences and preoccupation with sex.”

Self-reported sexual victimization rates in Sweden are largely similar to those in other Western and central European nations, Canada and the USA. Other cross-national comparisons of police-reported offences should be done cautiously because of differences in legal definitions, methods of offence counting and recording, and low and varying reporting rates of sexual violence to the police.

If you are scared you shouldn’t be. Fortunately for everyone, even if you were predisposed for something genetically it is not a sure thing. Let me explain, recently a certain celebrity who will remain unnamed came out and surgery because she had a gene that said she was 80% more likely to get breast or ovarian cancer. Don’t quote me on that, I’m not a fan of celebrities in general so I’m not even sure how I know this much on what she did.

Say you get tested for the same gene and <shock!> you have it. This does not mean there is an 80% chance you will get cancer. Pulling magic numbers from the air (meaning this is just an example and not the actual statistic for this),  let’s say as a woman the odds of you getting breast cancer is 10 in 100 or a whopping 10%. I’m not sure what the actual number is, but it’s nice and easy to work with so you can follow along at home.

Now, you have this gene that makes it 80% more likely that you will get cancer. At first 80% sounds scary, but that just means that you are 80% more likely to be one of the 10 (out of 100) women who have breast cancer. What does that look like statistically? Well 80% higher risk means the risk for you is no longer 10 out of 100 women, it is (a lot less scary looking) 18 out of 100 women.

Apprehensive? I don’t blame you, but let’s look at the math. So your normal risk is 10 out of 100, well 80% of 10 is 8  (.8*10). You take that 8 and add it to the 10 you already have (hence 80% higher, or more). It is for this reason you can have statistics that show the risk of lung cancer for men who smoke is 2,300% higher than it is for men who don’t smoke.

More importantly behavioral genetics — such as the less taboo risk for dependence — just means you are at a greater risk of becoming an alcoholic. Not that you will actually be an alcoholic, something to keep in mind.

Soures:
Langstrom, N., Babchishin, K., Fazel, S., Lichtenstein, P., & Frisell, T. (2015). Sexual offending runs in families: A 37-year nationwide study International Journal of Epidemiology DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyv029

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