A Project of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice

Long Version
Section 1: An Overview of Sex Offender Treatment for a Non–Clinical Audience
The Basics of Sex Offender–Specific Treatment
2 Hours

(15 minutes)

Use SlideUse Slide #7: Differences from Other Forms of Metal Health Treatment

Let’s look in more detail at some of the differences between sex offender–specific treatment and other kinds of mental health treatment.5

Involuntary Clients

First, sex offender treatment almost always involves working with involuntary clients. A limited number of sex offenders seek treatment on their own before they are criminally apprehended, and they initially enter treatment either because they know they will be ordered by the criminal justice system to participate, or they do so to make themselves look good for the court. This raises the question of whether treatment can be effective if you compel someone to participate in it. Voluntary sex offender clients often enter treatment because they had a close call with apprehension and they are frightened of being caught. When that acute fear abates, they often drop out of treatment prematurely, against the advice of their treatment providers. This failure to complete treatment might make them more likely to reoffend.6 Another reason why voluntary sex offender treatment is not as effective may be because, as we will see later, sex offender treatment may be more effective when combined with community supervision and other interventions.7 In other words, sex offender treatment providers can’t work alone as effectively as they can in collaboration with supervision officers and other professionals. In practice, offenders often demonstrate signs of resistance at the beginning of treatment. However, as treatment progresses and they begin to experience it as helpful, their resistance usually begins to dissipate.

Victim and Community Focus

We’ve already talked about how the goal of sex offender–specific treatment is to make victims and communities safer from sexual assault. But how does this play out in ways that are different from other forms of mental health treatment?

Use SlideUse Slide #8: Differences from Other Forms of Metal Health Treatment (cont.)

Limited Confidentiality

Sex offenders thrive in the shadows of secrecy. Secrets are the power base of these offenders. Without the ability to hide their behaviors, it is more difficult for sex offenders to continue to commit crimes. Sex offenses almost always occur after the offender has isolated his victim and his behavior from others, and many offenders generalize this strategy to many aspects of their lives to avoid detection or responsibility for their behaviors. To counteract these manipulative tendencies in sex offenders, it is essential that treatment providers and other professionals maintain open and frequent communication with each other about those offenders who are in treatment and under supervision.8 This doesn’t mean sex offenders who are in treatment have no privacy; rather, it means that the professionals working with them will communicate with each other to assure that each is operating with the same information and, in particular, that their collective strategies for working with these offenders are completely consistent. Failing to do so can allow offenders the opportunity to more easily manipulate the people who are working with him.

Provider Sets Treatment Goals

With traditional mental health treatment, the client often plays a significant role in steering the course of treatment into those areas he or she feels are most problematic or promising in terms of improving his or her own distress. In contrast, sex offender–specific treatment is more clearly guided by the treatment provider toward those areas in treatment that are most directly related to a sex offender’s risk to recidivate. This directly supports the primary treatment goal as a way of protecting the community.

Collaboration Among Professions

A central theme of sex offender–specific treatment is collaboration. As previously indicated, unlike other forms of mental health treatment, sex offenders are typically not granted confidentiality. For treatment and other interventions to be most effective, the regular exchange of information—among treatment providers, supervision officers, and others—is critical.9

Note: Ask participants to brainstorm a list of professionals who should be openly and consistently communicating about their work with individual sex offenders.

In many jurisdictions across the nation, case management teams serve as an essential first level of collaboration, with the primary purpose of sharing information about specific sex offenders and cases. Information is shared in a structured and consistent fashion among those most closely involved with the monitoring of offenders in the community, including—first and foremost—treatment providers and supervision officers. In some communities, the case management team also includes polygraph examiners, victim advocates, police officers, and prosecutors.

Local collaborative policy teams also play key roles in addressing policies and practices that guide how sex offenders are managed.10 These teams benefit from involving officials representing every aspect of the system, including treatment providers, supervision representatives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, corrections officials, victim advocates, and others.

Statewide policy teams are generally formed to address policies and procedures at a state level, including the establishment of standards for sex offender management, treatment, and supervision that apply to all localities.11 The composition of these teams mirrors local policy teams.

The important point here is that sex offender treatment providers should not—and cannot—effectively work alone on any level, because the achievement of community safety requires a variety of professionals, each performing their essential tasks, to share information about their work.