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

Short Version
Section 1: An Overview of Sex Offender Treatment for a Non–Clinical Audience
The Basics of Sex Offender–Specific Treatment
30 Minutes

(6 minutes)

Reducing Future Victimization

Use SlideUse Slide #5: The Goal of Sex Offender–Specific Treatment

The thought of providing treatment to sex offenders elicits varying reactions from different people. Some people believe that sex offenders don’t deserve anything but punishment and that they should not be provided treatment because of the terrible acts they have committed. Although this attitude may satisfy understandable urges to punish sex offenders, punishment alone is unlikely to lessen the risk that they will recidivate. Unlike other forms of mental health treatment where the goal is to reduce clients’ distress and improve their well–being, the goal of sex offender treatment is to reduce offenders’ likelihood of committing another sex offense. In other words, we provide treatment not to make the sex offender feel better or function better in general, but rather to protect the community. As we will see, sex offender treatment has been shown to reduce the likelihood that sex offenders will reoffend.1 Thus, if we embrace the concept that our ultimate goal in managing sex offenders is fewer victims, then sex offender treatment is not only consistent with, but is an important part of, achieving that goal. In fact, since sex offender treatment reduces reoffense risk, you can make the argument that failure to provide treatment makes communities less safe.

You’ll notice the term on the slide “criminogenic needs.” What does this mean? It means that in order for sex offender treatment to be effective, it must address the characteristics in the offender that contribute to his committing sex crimes. In other words, if depression significantly contributes to the commission of a sex offense, then we must treat that offender’s depression. However, if depression is unrelated to sexual offending, then it should not be a part of the offense–specific treatment plan for that offender.

Note: This training focuses on treatment of adult male sex offenders. The majority of sex offenders are male adults; hence we are talking about the largest single group of sex offenders. It should be pointed out that because adolescent sexual offenders, abuse–reactive children (pre–adolescents who have sexually violated other children), and female sexual offenders constitute sufficiently unique groups, with unique problems and treatment needs, they will be the subject of separate training curricula.

The term “criminogenic need” also relates to the fact that since sex offenders are not all alike, the risk–related characteristics of any particular offender need to be assessed and addressed in treatment. For example, if a sex offender is erotically attracted to children, treatment for him should include attempts to reduce that sexual attraction. It is surprising to some people that not all child molesters have a sexual interest in children, but for those who do, this aspect of their sex offending must be addressed. Although this may seem obvious, in fact not all sex offender treatment is oriented around the principle of targeting criminogenic needs. Many sex offender treatment programs treat a wide variety of aspects of offenders’ lives that may have no direct bearing on the offenders’ recidivism risk. As a result, some of these treatments have been shown to be less effective.

In summary, it is important to understand that we treat sex offenders to make our communities safer, and we do it by targeting the aspects of offenders’ lives that contribute to their likelihood of committing future sex offenses.