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

Long Version
Section 4: An Overview of Sex Offender Treatment for a Non–Clinical Audience
A National Perspective on the Current State of Practice
30 minutes

(20 minutes)

Number of Sex Offenders Treated in 2001

Let’s now look at the data another way. Instead of counting programs, let’s look at the number of offenders treated, according to age and gender. As you can see, 60% of all sex offenders in treatment in North America in 2001 were adult males. Females of all ages comprised 11%, adolescent males accounted for 25%, and male children under the age of 12 comprised 4 percent of all persons who were in treatment for having committed sex offenses. Females in sex offender treatment have increased in percentage from only 4% in 2000 to 11% in 2002.

Use SlideUse Slide #11: Number of Sex Offenders Treated in 1998

Trends in Adult Male Sex Offender Treatment and Community Supervision

Sex offender treatment and community supervision are rapidly evolving specialties. As such, there are changes from year to year in how these services are delivered. Noteworthy among these are the increases (from 1986–1992) and the decreases in the number of treatment programs since 1992, and the increase from 2000 to 2002. As we’ve discussed before, there are very little hard data to explain these changes, although we’ve speculated about a number of possible explanations.

Use SlideUse Slide #12: Trends in Adult Male Sex Offender Treatment and Community Supervision

Another key shift in treatment approach is the increasing importance of the victim. There has been a seismic shift in recent years toward a victim–centered approach to sex offender management where the focus and direction of treatment is influenced strongly by the needs, rights, and protection of victims (see, e.g., Carter, Bumby, and Talbot, 2004; Center for Sex Offender Management, 2000; D’Amora and Burns-Smith, 1999; English, et al.,1996). This is probably reflective of the broader emergence of victim advocacy across all types of crimes.

Emerging practice in the field of sex offender management also places critical importance on the collaborative relationships of supervision officers and treatment providers, as well as others involved in the management of sex offenders in the community (e.g., victim advocates, police officers, and polygraph examiners).1 A recent survey on the collaborative relationship among sex offender treatment providers and probation and parole officers indicates that communication between these individuals is valued, common, and frequent (McGrath, Cumming, & Holt, 2002). In fact, 94% of program respondents (N=190) indicate that they require sex offenders to sign confidentiality agreements, allowing treatment providers to share information with probation and parole officers.

Other current trends in sex offender treatment include an increase in the use of the polygraph with sex offenders and a decrease in the use of the penile plethysmograph. The increase in the use of the polygraph with sex offenders is likely related to its acceptance among supervision agencies as well as treatment providers, and a growing sense among those involved in sex offender management that it is a valuable treatment and supervision tool (see, e.g., Ahlmeyer, et al., 2000; Blasingame, 1998; Center for Sex Offender Management, 2000; English, et al., 1996; O’Connell, 2000). Its use is certainly not universal, and there are many jurisdictions where supervision and treatment are provided without it. The decrease in the use of the penile plethysmograph is likely related to such factors as its intrusiveness, questions about its validity, and its cost (see, e.g., Konopasky and Konopasky, 2000; Laws, 2003; Marshall and Fernandez, 2000 (in Clinical Psychology Review).

Refer to HandoutRefer to Handout: Learning Activity 4–1: Participant Observations of Practice in Their Own Jurisdictions.
Note: You may want to consider putting participants into smaller groups for this discussion, if you have enough trainers/facilitators so that each group can have a knowledgeable person available to guide the discussion. Allow no more than 15 minutes for this discussion.
Note: If the group was divided into smaller groups, ask one person from each group to comment on the predominant theme that emerged in the group’s discussion. Maybe group members discussed the fact that cognitive–behavioral treatment is less common than the national survey described, or that medications are widely used in conjunction with therapy. To manage the time, each reporter should be asked to limit his or her remarks to a minute or two. If the group was not divided into smaller groups, simply summarize the discussion before moving on to the Summary portion of this section of the curriculum.

Learning Activity Learning Activity

This has been a rather quick and cursory overview of practice patterns in sex offender treatment in North America. Now we’d like to take a few moments to get your reactions and observations about sex offender treatment practices in your own jurisdiction(s).

  • First, with respect to the now increasing number of sex offender treatment programs, have you observed such changes in your own community?
  • What about the treatment methods?
  • Would you say that relapse prevention and cognitive-behavioral treatment methods are the most commonly in use in your own jurisdictions?
  • What about a victim–centered approach to treatment?

Processing of Learning Activity

I know that we could spend a great deal of time discussing the type of treatment available in each of your communities, the types of treatment provided, whether there is sufficient residential capacity for sex offenders, and the like. Since we have only a limited amount of time, let’s take a minute to summarize the discussion before we conclude this section of the training.