For confidential support and advice

 0808 1000 900    Email us

The offence cycle

A 'cycle' consists of a pattern of behaviour where the end leads you back to the beginning and the whole pattern repeats itself over and over again.

Here is an example of a ‘cycle of sexual offending’ model:



If you have offended, understanding the links and the steps that you took makes it possible to identify positive ways of intervening and stopping the cycle. If you have not yet offended, the cycle highlights the steps in the process which would indicate you were at an increased risk of moving from abusive thoughts to abusive behaviour.

Offence cycles comprise a number of stages:

  • The build-up stage involves the thoughts, feelings, situations and triggers which start the cycle. It also includes precursors such as lifestyle problems or events or pre-existing behaviour/ habits e.g. accessing adult pornography, substance misuse and relationship difficulties.
  • The acting-out stage is when the offence/problematic behaviour occurs.
  • Next are the justification and covering up stages which comprise of what happens afterwards, including feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing, promises to not engage in the behaviour again and attempts to hide the behaviour.

Cognitive distortions (as described on the previous page) are influential in reinforcing the cycle as they usually serve to minimise and justify the behaviour before, during and after it has occurred.


Exercise: The offence cycle and you

(1) Consider how the offence cycle relates to you, paying particular attention to the various stages. How far around the cycle have you gone? Where are you on the cycle now?

(2) Identify the thoughts, emotions, behaviours and thinking errors which triggered and comprised your offence cycle.

Remember, there are many opportunities to interrupt the cycle and it is never too late to stop yourself from offending. However, the closer you get to committing an offence the more difficult it is to stop the behaviour. Early intervention is therefore desirable.


Continue to Module 2: Problems of immediate gratification