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

1 hour, 15 minutes

(15 minutes)


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 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.

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


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.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #2: Who are Victims?
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #3-4: Findings
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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.2 One in four young girls and one in six young boys will be assaulted by age 18.3 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 adult4 (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"5).

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #5-6: Findings
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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 Adolescents6 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.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #7-9: Relationship Between Victim and Offender
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Many of us also imagine the "typical" rape or assault to be one perpetrated by a stranger in an unfamiliar, inherently dangerous setting. 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. Ninety percent of children under age 12 who were assaulted knew their offender.7 The National Survey of Adolescents found that nearly 75 percent of perpetrators were someone the victim knew well. Almost 33 percent were friends of the victim and about 20 percent were family members. Only 23 percent were strangers to the victim.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #10: Location of Sexual Abuse (National Survey of Adolescents)
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In the National Survey of Adolescents, more than 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 can 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.8

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #11: Reporting of Sexual Abuse
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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 short 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.
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 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.9 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.

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.10 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.11


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 #12: Consequences of Sexual Assault
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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.12

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.13 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 #13: Sexual Assault and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (National Survey of Adolescents)
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #14: Initial Mental Health Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
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Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #15: Long-Term 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.

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.

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

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #16: What Is a Sex Offense
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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).