Problems of working with sex offenders

The scale of the problem

Victim Services. About Us. Browse by Title. Browse by Subject. How does the Adam Walsh Act change the law regarding management and supervision of sex offenders? How have civil sexual predator statutes changed criminal plea bargain options? Offender participation in treatment? Management of treatment programs?

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How can you take full advantage of developments in the collection and use of DNA evidence? Yet our society is also responsible for erecting many of the barriers that stand in the way of the recovery that sex offender therapists and our clients strive to achieve. Understandably, victim advocacy is far more palatable than the thought of treating a population that most would prefer to exile. However, the sad fact is that punitive barriers such as limited jobs, housing restrictions and sex offender registration raise significant risk factors for recidivism.

These barriers often negate the efforts of sex offender therapists and those clients who possess legitimate desires to recover and return as productive members of society. In fact, our society may be contributing to future victimization — just the opposite of our primary goal. As we all know, hopelessness is like a vampire to therapy. As our restrictive policies and biases feed that hopelessness, treatment and recovery are undermined, and relapse can become more likely.

This particular battle is not restricted entirely to public sentiment. And I should point out that those in our counseling community are not immune. Some of the common myths about sex offenders are as follows. Most sex offenders are predators. Reality: The most common sex offender is opportunistic, has one victim and is known to the victim. Most sex offenders are dirty old men, strangers and pedophiles who will grab children off playgrounds.

Reality: First, pedophiles those sexually attracted to children are not necessarily child molesters, for most do not commit offenses regardless of their attraction. Most sex offenders and child molesters are relatives or otherwise known to the family; only percent of such offenses are committed by strangers. An estimated half of all child molestations are committed by teenagers. Once a sex offender, always a sex offender most sex offenders will reoffend. Yet contrary to popular belief, studies and statistics including those from the Bureau of Justice indicate that recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower than those for the general criminal population.

A five-year study from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services noted a rate of recidivism ranging from 6 to 23 percent, depending on the offense incest had the lowest recidivism rate, while molestation of boy victims had the highest recidivism rate.

The Center for Sex Offender Management cites a recidivism rate of percent but adds that many such offenses are underreported. Treatment for sex offenders does not work. Reality: This statement has been a source of debate for decades. The effectiveness of treatment depends on a number of factors, including the type of offender, the type of treatment and how much management, supervision and support the offender has. Although the risk of recidivism exists even in the best of cases, most offenders can and will lead productive and offense-free lives after treatment.

Most sex offenders were sexually abused when they were children. Reality: Although sex offenders are more likely to have been sexually abused than nonoffenders, the vast majority of individuals who were sexually abused will not go on to commit sex crimes. A study by Jan Hindman and James Peters found that 67 percent of sex offenders initially reported sexual abuse in their history.

Yet, when subjected to a polygraph, that figure dropped to 29 percent, suggesting that reports of sexual abuse were initially exaggerated to justify or rationalize their offenses.

In this issue

Others in law enforcement and victim advocacy programs often repeated the question. The implication from some is that a counselor who treats the instigators of sexual abuse cannot also identify with the victims of such abuse. That argument could not be more fallacious. In our sex offender treatment program at a state hospital, a primarily forensic mental institution, our first challenge is getting patients with sex offenses into our program.

We run an evidence-based program, principally using cognitive behavior therapy CBT , that serves all risk levels and populations that have regular and diminished cognition with a variety of biopsychosocial diagnoses. No matter why they are here, any patient with a history of a sexual offense or who engages in inappropriate sexual activity is referred to our sex offender treatment program.


When referred, a sex offender risk assessment is conducted to evaluate risk and appropriateness for sex offender therapy and to provide recommendations. Their fear is warranted; many are labeled with terms such as chi mo child molester , pedophile or predator and become targets for possible physical assault. Many sex offender patients carry so much shame and guilt that any suggestion of judgment can keep them from engaging in treatment or create a setback.

Because our team operates in a state institution, we face some challenges not seen as often in private practice or other counseling venues. Our patients have mental illness, with everything from schizophrenia spectrum disorders to various personality disorders. In addition, more than one-third of the members in the groups we facilitate have diminished cognition. This represents another barrier to effective treatment, especially when considering that CBT and adjunct approaches such as dialectical behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy are the most foundational and evidence-based practices when working with sex offenders.

Indeed, the dynamic risk factors between the populations vary considerably. As stated before, therapists in this field often deal with criminogenic thinking. Although we may expect that with many clients on postprison supervision, it is easy to forget in this hospital, where we are working with those who have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness.

But the guilty except for insanity plea and accompanying diagnoses do not preclude criminogenic thinking. We witness manipulation, victimization and other criminal activities all too frequently. Given all these factors, providing sex offender therapy in our program is sometimes like looking through a fractured lens and still trying to divine a clear image of each patient and how to work with that patient for engagement and progress. Those of us currently in this field, as well as those counselors who may one day work with sex offenders, must realize that our approach to treatment will be negatively affected should we hold on to the same misconceptions and biases that are so prevalent in society.

We are already familiar with the more general bias toward mental illness.

Sex Offender Problems

Consider how much more that can play out in a charged atmosphere of offenses with the prefix sex. Consider that a U. Department of Justice report from said studies suggest that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. That same report estimated that 60 percent of rapes go unreported. As a counselor, you may be just as likely to work with a client who has committed a sexual offense, even though the client comes to you for another unrelated reason, as you are to work with a client who eventually discloses that he or she was sexually molested.

Given the underreporting of sexual crimes, it is not unthinkable that you may have a client who has offended and is coming to you due in part to the guilt that he or she is experiencing. Or you may have someone well into therapy for a different reason for example, depression , only to finally have that client confess to sexual offending. So, how should you prepare?

Rethinking Sex-Offender Registries

As with any area in counseling, seek out information, research and guidance. All provide forums for research and to improve the work we do, both in treatment and in support for recovery. ATSA has many organizations under its umbrella on a state level that offer workshops on sex offender therapy and related topics. It also hosts an annual conference with a plethora of research and presentations. For those inclined to explore or promote advocacy, these organizations as well as others produce important educational information.

  • A Publication of the American Counseling Association.
  • frederick county land records liber folio.
  • Sex offender therapy: A battle on multiple fronts - Counseling Today.
  • william storms public records clarksville tn?
  • Answers to 10 Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Viewpoint: Why I'm right to work with sex offenders.

Speaking of which, another misconception exists that if a therapist advocates for a recovery-minded approach in treating sex offenders, that person is precluded from advocating for victims. In doing so, we often treat individuals who are both victims and offenders.

Current research indicates that the most evidence-based therapy for sex offenders, with the best outcomes, is CBT. In addition, a person-centered approach has been demonstrated to be most effective. This is understandable given the shame and suspicion felt by many offenders.

An interdisciplinary team that communicates well is another key factor for optimal treatment and supervision. When working with clients on postprison supervision in private practice, this team would include the therapist, the parole officer and other professionals such as polygraphers. Other programs, such as one begun in Canada called the Circle of Support and Accountability COSA , have recognized the need to provide ongoing support and guidance as sex offenders leave treatment and attempt to make their way back into society as productive members.

Studies involving the original COSA and those established in states such as Minnesota have demonstrated a significant reduction in recidivism — in some cases, in excess of 70 percent. In turn, this has had a positive fiscal impact by reducing prison time due to relapse and reconviction. Barbara A. Weiner J. Luke's Medical Center, W. Harrison St. Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation.

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