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Medium Version
Section 1: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Supervision of Sex Offenders in the Community: An Overview

2 hours, 15 minutes

(30 minutes)


Note: It's very important to include the voices of victims in this part of the training, either as part of the training team or through a reading or video clip. It is difficult for anyone who has not experienced sexual assault or worked closely with sexual assault victims to understand the depth and the impact of the trauma, and personal stories are one of the best ways to make this issue real for participants. "A Rape Victim's Plea for a Maximum Sentence," a victim's statement, is included among the participant materials for Section 1 of this medium version of the curriculum.
Before we proceed to a discussion of supervision, it is important to begin with a focus on the victims of sex offenses. Sexual assault is a destructive crime. It is often shrouded in shame, secrecy, and denial. People who have been sexually assaulted, whether as children or as adults, often struggle for years and decades to achieve a sense of safety and well-being following the assault. As professionals working with people who perpetrate sexual assault, we have the power to promote victim healing in our interactions with victims, as well as the power to help prevent re-offense, in part by hearing what victims have to say about offenders.

A primary concern facing professionals working with sex offenders under supervision or in treatment is preventing sexual re-offense by the offender. Jurisdictions across the country that apply a multidisciplinary model of sex offender management are learning that no single entity can prevent sexual assault alone. Only through the use of collaborative approaches can those responsible for sex offender management contain these offenders and minimize the risk of future sexual victimization. Victims and victim advocates are an essential part of this equation. When probation and parole officers and offender treatment providers engage victims and victim advocates in their work, the goal of victim and community safety is served.

Discussion: It may be appropriate to pause at this point and ask participants to comment on the degree to which their agencies currently involve victims. For some agencies, this will be a clear departure from past and current practice, while other agencies will have significant experience in this area. Please consider time constraints and use this discussion question only if you can do so within the 30 minutes allotted for this subsection.

Sex offender management asks us to reconsider the role of victims. The question is not only "what are we obligated to do for crime victims?" but "what can working with victims of sexual assault teach us?"

Discussion Question? Discussion Question: Is working with victims and/or victim advocates part of your current strategy? What is your agency's policy on working with them?


Note: For additional information on this topic, see CSOM's forthcoming curriculum, The Role of Victims and Victim Advocates in Managing Sex Offenders.

Note: The statistics cited here come mainly from three credible, federally funded studies.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #4: Who Are Victims?
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #5: Findings
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #6: Findings
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The picture of the victims may be surprising to many of us. Sexual victimization is perhaps more prevalent in our society than we realize. Many victims are assaulted in their own homes by people they know. Children—both boys and girls—are just as much at risk of sexual assault as adults are. In addition, many victims remain reluctant to come forward and report the abuse to the criminal justice system. The experience of victimization is a life-altering event. Victims must learn to live with fear.

For many years, our knowledge about the incidence of sexual assault and its victims was ill-founded in fact and research, but that picture is changing. The information under review today comes primarily from three studies: Rape in America; Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women; and the National Survey of Adolescents. These studies are based on victim surveys and clearly indicate that, contrary to what we might believe, sexual assault is a widespread phenomenon that reaches into every socioeconomic group and into all age groups—particularly the young. Every single hour, 78 rapes of adult women take place.3 One in four young girls and one in six young boys will be assaulted by age 18.4 The NVAW Survey indicates that 1 in 6 U.S. women and 1 in 33 U.S. men have experienced an attempted or completed rape as a child and/or as an adult5 (rape is defined as "an event that occurred without the victim's consent and involved the use of force or threat of force, and involved sexual penetration of the victim's vagina, mouth, or rectum"6).

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Cite or draw participants' attention to the following document included in its entirety among the participant materials for Section 1 of this medium version of the curriculum: the NIJ Research In Brief entitled Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey, 1998. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation, 1992 is another document worth referencing. It's available from the National Victim Center, Arlington, VA, for $10.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #7-8: Findings (cont.)
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #9-11: Relationship Between Victim and Offender
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Although the typical victim of sexual assault is often thought to be an adult woman, these studies also reveal that sexual assault is a major threat to children and young people. Rape in America found that 62 percent of victims of sexual assault were under age 18 at the time of their first victimization. The NVAW Survey found that 22 percent of victims were under age 12 and 32 percent of victims were between ages 12 and 17 at the time of their first assault. The National Survey of Adolescents7 found that 8.1 percent of adolescents reported experiencing at least one sexual assault in their lifetime—that translates to 1.8 million adolescents assaulted in their lifetime (based on 1995 U.S. Census data). Sexual assault is a tragedy of youth in America.

Many of us also imagine the "typical" rape or assault to be one perpetrated by a stranger preying upon a person in some unfamiliar, inherently dangerous setting—a lonely park or a dark alley. Contrary to the myth of the "dangerous stranger" as the typical assailant, these surveys document that 78 percent of adult women who were assaulted knew their perpetrators. Among children under the age of 12 who were assaulted, 90 percent knew their offender.8 The National Survey of Adolescents found that nearly 3 of 4 victims were assaulted by someone they knew well. Almost one-third of the perpetrators were friends of the victim. About 1 in 5 were family members. Only 23.2 percent were strangers to the victim.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #12: Location of Sexual Abuse
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Again, we think of potential victims being most at risk in public or strange places. The surveys reveal the contrary. In the National Survey of Adolescents, over 30 percent of assaults were reported to have taken place in the victim's own home; 23.8 percent in the victim's neighborhood; and 15.4 percent at the victim's school. The experience of being assaulted by a known person in one's own home or another familiar place may actually increase the trauma of assault. Such a violation of trust may make it all the more difficult to feel any degree of safety again—even in seemingly safe surroundings or with trusted friends.9

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #13: Reporting of Sexual Abuse
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Despite efforts to make the system more responsive to the needs of victims, according to the FBI, only about 10 percent of sexual assault victims actually report their victimization to authorities. Rape in America indicates that 84 percent of those assaulted never report their offense, and for those who do not report within the first 24 hours after an assault, the chance that they will ever report drops off dramatically.10 The National Survey of Adolescents also found that 86 percent of those assaulted did not report the assault to authorities. Only 13 percent were reported to police, 5.8 percent to child protective services agencies, 5 percent to school authorities, and 1.3 percent to other authorities.

Other myths—such as the frequency of false allegation—are subject to confusion. There is really no way to track false allegations. The statistic that is often used to discredit sexual assault victims is based on "unfounded allegations." Reasons for a case to be labeled "unfounded" vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and can depend upon such things as resources and training for law enforcement personnel who respond to sexual assault cases. Cases can be declared "unfounded" for late reporting, the recall of additional facts, specific allegations that are determined to be false, insufficient evidence, or the fact that the victim reported the crime to someone other than law enforcement.11 None of these reasons is equivalent to finding that the assault did not happen and that the allegation is truly false, yet they are frequently discussed as if they were the same thing.

As many as 70 percent of the victims of sexual assault do not experience visible injury. This does not mean, however, that the trauma associated with the assault is insignificant. Victims who have no obvious physical injuries may experience extensive trauma related to the guilt associated with not having the physical injuries to prove that they resisted and are not "at fault" for the assault perpetrated on them. Indeed, some of the most devastating effects on victims include guilt, shame, embarrassment, powerlessness, fear, anger, and a sense of betrayal.12 A typical reaction of someone who has been sexually assaulted is denial that the abuse occurred and a great desire to forget about the incident.13

Why do these myths/misconceptions matter?

Some of you may be asking yourselves, "So what"? Who cares if people have the wrong idea about sexual assault? Unfortunately, this is not just an issue of people having inaccurate information. Rather, the things we believe about sexual assault affect how we as professionals respond to victims and offenders.

One consequence of holding misconceptions about sexual assault is the tendency to question the credibility of victims who do not fit the stereotype of how victims should behave or who they are. For example, common myths about sexual assault can influence police practice, in that cases may be investigated as if the offender is unidentified, when in most cases the offender is known to the victim. Additionally, offenders who do not fit the stereotype of an offender, such as looking like a "dirty old man" or acting mentally "unstable," may be treated with less concern, increasing the risk that they may re-offend.


Note: Burgess and Holmstrom coined the term "rape trauma syndrome" to refer to the long- and short-term physical and psychological responses common to female victims of forcible rape. Trainers are encouraged to reference the article from the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #14: Consequences of Sexual Assault for Victims
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The experience of being involved with the criminal justice system—having to discuss one's experience, appear in public, and testify in court—may result in a victim reexperiencing some of the stages of trauma that Burgess and Holmstrom outline.14

Rape in America indicates that women and girls who have been victims of sexual assault are much more likely to experience serious consequences later (e.g., prostitution, psychiatric problems, homelessness, HIV, eating disorders, suicide, substance abuse, self-esteem problems, and teen pregnancy) than women who have not experienced sexual victimization.15 Secondary victimization—impact on the family, friends, and partners of victims—may also occur. Nonoffending parents and siblings of incest victims are often resistant and confused and need specialized supportive services.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #15: Sexual Assault and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #16: Initial Mental Health Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
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The National Survey of Adolescents found that adolescents who are the victims of sexual assault experience long-term risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other consequences, such as substance abuse and a greater likelihood of becoming involved in delinquent activities. That study documented the initial and long-term effects of child sexual abuse on its victims. Initial effects include fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, anger and hostility, sexual behavior problems, aggressive/delinquent behavior, substance use/abuse/dependency, impaired social functioning, distorted cognitive schemata, and impaired affective processing.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #17: Long-Term Mental Health Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
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Long-term mental health effects include sexual disorders, PTSD, depression, suicide attempts, anxiety disorders, substance use/abuse/dependency, sleep disorders, personality disorders, dissociative disorders, low self-esteem, impaired social relationships, and increased vulnerability to other victimizations and traumatic experiences.


Understanding and anticipating possible victim responses may make it easier both for you and for any victims with whom you will work. It may help to ensure that victims' needs and rights are respected and supported as you do your work. In addition, it will assist you in doing whatever you can to assure that victims are safe from revictimization. You may also be able to use these insights to design responses to the offenders on your caseload that are more beneficial to victims and others in the community.

The following are descriptions of the range of responses victims might experience as a result of the assault:

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #18: Range of Victim Responses
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  • Fear: Victims may still experience a tremendous amount of fear, regardless of how much time has passed since the last assault. Fears can be varied and numerous and be about physical safety and reassault, exposure to loved ones or the public, or retribution by the offender or his allies. Victims may be as fearful of the criminal justice system and process as they are of these other things. Both child and adult victims may have been threatened with violence or other consequences for disclosure. They may believe that cooperating with you will make the experience worse for them.

  • Anger: Many victims are angry at the offender, the legal system, their families and friends, and/or themselves. Their lives have been transformed by the assault and its disclosure. They may act angrily toward you, even though your role is to help them. Don't take this personally, and don't hold it against the victim.

  • Guilt: Many victims believe the myths about their own responsibility for the assault or assaults. In cases of intrafamilial assault, victims may see themselves as responsible for whatever may happen to the family in the aftermath—the economic impact of the offender losing his job, divorce, or fighting within the family. Some family members may blame victims as well and accuse them of fabricating the abuse. For children, this can be very confusing. Many victims need reassurance that the problem was caused by the offender's behavior, not by their reaction to it.

  • Shame: Victims often feel embarrassed, exposed, and ashamed. They may feel as if they have been made dirty by what was done to them and that they are now unacceptable to others in some way. They may find it very difficult to talk explicitly about what the offender did to them.

  • Ambivalence: One of the hardest things for many people to understand—especially when abuse happens within a family or intimate relationship—is that many victims still feel love for the offender. They don't want their relationship with the offender to end completely; they just want the abuse to stop. They may not want to see the offender hurt or punished, just prevented from re-offending. It's important to recognize and acknowledge these feelings.

  • Boundary issues: Children rely on adults to teach them about appropriate relationships. When a child has been sexually abused by an adult, especially a parent or caretaker, the child can have a difficult time determining the appropriate boundaries in relationships and setting or recognizing limits. This is also true of adults who were sexually abused as children.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #19: Victims' Major Needs: Research Findings
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #20: Victims' Major Needs: Practical Applications
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Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Included in the participant materials for Section 1 of the medium version of this curriculum are two items that will be of practical assistance in working with victims: a Victim Impact Resource Package that provides suggestions and examples of how to develop and utilize a victim impact statement and a nationwide list of toll-free numbers for organizations that provide assistance on victims' issues.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #21: Collaborative Approaches
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The aftermath of sexual assault or its disclosure can cause a lot of disruption in a victim's life. Adults may find it hard to work or to be with people they formerly trusted; in general, their lives may feel chaotic to them. Don't be surprised if they are not always consistent in their attitude toward you and toward the offender. The next section discusses ways to work with this information.

Research can be helpful to us in understanding what the needs of victims are as we work with them either directly or indirectly. The major needs of victims are for information, for being believed, and for not being blamed. The practical application of these ideas suggests that, in order to meet these needs, the system should provide: safety and security; ventilation and validation; prediction and preparation; and information/education.

One of the lessons that we are also learning is that victims' concerns can better be addressed through collaborative approaches to supervision that involve victim advisory councils and focus groups, training and cross-training among different agencies and professions, consistent information and referral, program evaluation and performance measures that change to reflect victim concerns, and the development of victim/offender programming (this approach must be pursued with extreme caution, always respecting the victim's right not to participate).