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

Short Version
Section 3: An Overview of Sex Offender Treatment for a Non–Clinical Audience
Elements of Sex Offender–Specific Treatment
25 Minutes

(5 Minutes)


Use SlideUse Slide #3: Characteristics of Sex Offender–Specific Treatment

What is done in treatment is not random or haphazard.1 The primary methods used in sex offender treatment are based on a combination of a number of theories. This allows for a less narrow focus to treatment and ensures that we are considering behavioral, biological, behavioral, cognitive, socio–cultural, and other issues. Sex offender–specific treatment involves pro–social and life skills learning as a replacement for dysfunctional, anti–social learning.

Treatment Addresses Criminogenic Needs

Treatment must address the factors that lead people to commit sex offenses. Wherever possible, sex offenders’ criminogenic needs should be the beacon that guides treatment.

Treatment Strategies

What sex offender treatment methods have been found to be most effective? The one type that has emerged as the most consistently effective in reducing recidivism is a group of interventions described as cognitive–behavioral.2

Cognitive–behavioral treatment for sex offenders is mental health treatment that focuses on changing both how offenders think and how they behave. With respect to its cognitive dimension, cognitive–behavioral treatment identifies and challenges thinking errors and assists offenders to replace those errors with correct thinking.

Use SlideUse Slide #4: Treatment is Skills Oriented

Treatment is Skills Oriented

Effective sex offender treatment is skills oriented. That is, it helps offenders learn specific skills to avoid sex offending and to engage in activities that don’t harm others. This may seem so self–evident that stating it is unnecessary. But some sex offender treatment programs primarily teach offenders information, such as why they commit sexual assaults, but they don’t adequately teach specific skills and strategies for avoiding recidivism. Skills oriented treatment includes:

  • Defining the skill;
  • Identifying the usefulness of the skill;
  • Modeling the skill;
  • Practicing the skill;
  • Giving feedback; and
  • Practicing the skill again.

For example, offenders need to know how to avoid putting themselves in situations that might place them at risk for committing another sexual assault, or how to solve their problems in ways that reduce, not escalate, their anger.

Use SlideUse Slide #5: How Long Should Sex Offender Treatment Last?

Note: Ask participants to call out what they believe to be an appropriate duration of sex offender treatment.

The Optimal Length of Treatment?

Ask Questions How long should sex offender treatment last? There has been much discussion about the length of time sex offenders should be required to participate in treatment. As we’ve seen, even among this audience, there is disparity of opinion on this question. At one extreme are those who believe that sex offenders should remain in treatment for the remainder of their lives; at the other, there are those who think a year or two of weekly treatment should suffice. Research by Beech et al. (1998) indicates that the length of treatment is best determined by the specific needs of each offender and the risk that they present to the community.3 That is, rather than assigning the same treatment requirements to all sex offenders, a better approach considers sex offenders’ reoffense risk, degree of sexual deviancy and denial, and other factors particular to each individual, and uses this information to develop a specific treatment plan.

Use SlideUse Slide #6: Monitoring and Quality Control of Treatment are a Must

Monitoring and Quality Control of Treatment Programs are a Must

An excellent treatment program has provisions for ongoing monitoring of its activities, both of its programs and its clients.4 This means that while the treatment program might be well constituted and designed, it should be scrutinized by informed evaluators from time to time to ensure, for example, that the treatment methods and styles utilized are truly consistent with the agency’s treatment philosophies.