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

(3 Minutes)

Use SlideUse Slide #14: Ethical Practice Standards

As you might imagine, there are many ethical issues relating to the delivery of sex offender treatment. The global issue of who is identified as the client—the offender or the community—raises countless issues in itself. This fundamental conceptual question relates to the dynamic struggle between respect for sex offenders’ privacy versus the need to protect the community. In the delivery of sex offender treatment, numerous issues arise.

An international organization of sex offender treatment providers, evaluators, and researchers called the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), has provided the field with some guidance in managing these many ethical challenges. ATSA has a Code of Ethics with which all members agree to comply.17 Additionally, ATSA has codified practice standards (meaning requirements) and guidelines (meaning suggestions) for the delivery of sex offender evaluation and treatment.18 Although the ATSA code of ethics and these standards and guidelines strictly affect only members of ATSA and are not legal regulations, in fact they have considerable influence because many sex offender treatment providers, at least in North America, are ATSA members. And of those who aren’t, many are still influenced by this self–regulating professional body.

We invite you to peruse the ATSA Code of Ethics and the standards and guidelines manual, called “Practice Standards and Guidelines for the Evaluation, Treatment, and Management of Adult Male Sexual Abusers.” It is very specific about what professionals can, cannot, should, and should not do in their work with sex offenders. Information on ATSA—and document ordering information—can be obtained from their Web site (www.atsa.com).

Use SlideUse Slide #15: A Major Ethical Issue: Informed Consent

Refer to HandoutsRefer to Handouts: “Sex Offender Treatment Contract” and “Acknowledgement of Limited Confidentiality and Waiver” handouts are included in the participant materials.

The range of specific ethical challenges that arise in sex offender treatment is beyond the scope of this presentation. However, as an illustration of the importance of respect for the rights of sex offenders in the delivery of treatment, we want to call your attention to one specific and fundamental aspect of sex offender treatment ethics, namely informed consent. Sex offenders entering treatment should have spelled out to them at a minimum, and preferably in writing, information about the purpose and nature of treatment, its expected duration, its anticipated benefits, costs and risks, and the limits of confidentiality.19 Although this seems fundamental on its face, it is not always the case that sex offenders are informed and given the opportunity to consent to or decline treatment based on this information. Examples of informed consent documents, entitled “Sex Offender Treatment Contract” and “Acknowledgement of Limited Confidentiality and Waiver” are included in your handouts for review.