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Rehabilitation for sex offenders

Sex offender treatment is different than other therapies for adults. Sex offender treatment is
a serious and encouraging process which focuses on learning specialized strategies for
stopping abusive behavior, being accountable and taking responsibility for harm done. For
the vast majority of those adults and juveniles who have committed a sexual offense,
treatment significantly reduces the future risk of sexually abusing a child. Treatment does
not offer amnesty or excuse abusive acts, nor is it intended to punish or humiliate
participants. A central focus of treatment is to help an individual create a better life for
him/herself by developing their strengths while managing risk. Sex offender treatment is
offered by therapists who specialize in working with adults and youth with sexual behavior
More than most crimes, sex crimes instill feelings of fear and anger in citizens. When a past sex offender is released
from custody, fear and anger can consume a community. Media stories about sex crimes often serve to enflame
emotions and rarely tell the whole story about the treatment and rehabilitation of sex offenders.As a first step when a
sex offender is incarcerated, criminologists and psychologists who specialize in sex crimes assess the individual to
determine the best treatment program. The assessment process also looks at the life experiences of the individual
and takes into account his/her psychological make-up. The appropriate treatment program is then assigned.
Assessment of sex offenders continues throughout the sentence period and upon release into the community. Once in
the community, correctional services staff supervise offenders and look for signs of a relapse that would put society
at risk. Assessment tools allow them to distinguish between offenders who are doing well in the community and
those who are on the verge of re-offending.
Research shows that treatment of sex offenders does make a difference. Sex offenders who receive treatment are less
likely to re-offend. Offenders who don't receive treatment are likely to re-offend at a rate of 17% compared to 10%
for offenders who have received treatment. Indeed, most sexual offenders do not re-offend after a certain age.
What are Sex Offender Programs/Strategies?
Sex offender programs/strategies represent various approaches used to prevent convicted sex offenders from
committing future sex offenses. These approaches include different types of therapy, community notification, and
standardized assessments. Sex offender programs/strategies are administered in prison and/or in the community to
manage sex offenders. Three common therapeutic approaches to treating sex offenders are:

The cognitive-behavioral approach, which focuses on changing thinking patterns related to sexual
offending and changing deviant patterns of sexual behavior.

The psycho-educational approach, which focuses on increasing offenders' empathy for the victim while
also teaching them to take responsibility for their sexual offenses.

The pharmacological approach, which uses medication to reduce sexual response.

Besides treatment, there are several types of sex offender laws that are intended to deter sex offenders from
reoffending. These include laws that increase the level of supervision or incapacitation imposed on sex offenders.
The most common types of sex offender laws are:

Community Notification. This strategy involves making a sex offender's personal information, including
such factors as location of residence and offense, available to the community in which the offender lives.

Sex Offender Registration. Following their release from prison, sex offenders provide police with
information such as their residence and employment for tracking/monitoring purposes. This type of
registration typically accompanies community notification.

Sentencing Enhancements. Sex offenders may be subject to longer prison terms.

Sexual Predator Laws. Sexual predator laws target certain classes of sexual offenders for additional prison
time, special notification practices, etc.

With all of these approaches and laws, it is important to include all partners who may be involved in the
management of sex offenders such as law enforcement, corrections, victims organizations/advocates, treatment
programs, courts, prosecutors and other stakeholders. These partners can provide valuable information in assessing
the effectiveness and efficacy of sex offender programs and strategies.
Standardized assessment tools are often used to increase the likelihood of treatment efficacy and/or to identify
individuals at high risk of reoffending. Standardized tools have been tested to ensure that they are valid and reliable
mechanisms to inform decision-making related to the management or treatment of offenders.
What happens in treatment for sexual behavior problems?
Programs are often in community-based mental health programs or agencies and generally
require sessions on a weekly basis in a group setting and are facilitated by a trained
professional. In treatment you will learn strategies, develop skills and get peer and
professional support to manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are potentially
There are often ground rules and agreements that all participants must follow in order to remain a member of the
group. Many people are court ordered to sexual offender treatment but others may choose to go on their own.
Treatment plans may include group/individual therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, polygraph (lie detector test),
specialized testing and/or prescribed medications.
3. What are the goals of treatment for sexual behavior problems?
Specialized treatment concentrates on effective behavior management to ensure safety for the individual and for the
community. A central focus of treatment is to help an individual create a better life for him/herself by developing
their strengths while managing risk. Participants address personal accountability, relapse prevention, and possible
aid to victims.
The goals for the person in treatment may include:

Identify his/her own specific risk factors and develop a personalized plan for
preventing abuse in the future.

Recognize and decrease the use of manipulative behavior patterns.

Address denial and accept full responsibility for his/her harmful behaviors, past and

Understand the impact of harmful behaviors on self and others.

Develop healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Explore the impact of ones own childhood victimization if and when appropriate.

Some treatment programs offer an approach to rehabilitation which takes into account the existing strengths and
resources of each participant. Ideally those who have offended can learn to replace the harmful ways in which they
have met their needs in the past, with safer ways to meet these needs in the future.