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«Sex Offender Laws Failed Policies, New Directions ■ Richard G. Wright, PhD NEW YORK Contents Contributors..................... ...»

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Behavioral therapy assumes that people are conditioned by learning to act in certain ways, and that behavior can also be unlearned with appropriate behaviors replacing deviant behaviors. There are a number of behavioral methods that offer opportunities for change, these include, social skills training, systematic desensitization, assertiveness training, aversion therapy, relaxation training, and modeling amongst others (Dwyer & Laufersweiler-Dwyer, in Reddington & Kriesel, 2005).

With sex offenders, change is induced by using methods of rewards and punishments. With pedophiles, the idea is to eliminate the sexual desire for children and direct it appropriately. Cognitive methods focus on teaching offenders how

50 Chapter 2

to properly interact with others and to help them understand their own dysfunctions. This can be accomplished by teaching them empathy, which involves offenders reading victim impact statements or other related material, and viewing films that highlight the effects of victimization (Dwyer & Laufersweiler-Dwyer, in Reddington & Kriesel, 2005).

Cognitive-behavioral solutions can include a combination of individual, group, family, and aftercare strategies that ostensibly encourage nonviolent, consensual, adult sexual activity. These programs attempt to enhance self-control by increasing decision-making ability that helps offenders to avoid risky thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral programs seek to change cognitive distortions—self statements intending to minimize, justify, or rationalize sexually aggressive behavior. Treatment involves strategies to improve interpersonal relationships by developing social skills and victim empathy; and anger management training to enhance self-control, learning techniques for reducing sexual fantasies, much of which is done through group therapy.

A comprehensive study by Hanson et al. (2002) conducted for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), also included a meta-analysis of 43 treatment studies which included over 9,000 offenders. They found an overall positive effect of treatment for both sexual (12%) and general (28%) recidivism of the treatment groups as compared to 39% for the control group.

Another type of treatment modality is relapse prevention, an intervention strategy which seeks to break the cycle of offending by teaching offenders to recognize their cues (precursors) to offending behavior. Once these cues are identified, it is expected that offenders will take the necessary steps to deescalate their offending and not “lapse” into sexual offending (Dwyer & Laufersweiler-Dwyer, 2005).

This type of strategy also holds that the sex offender must accept lifelong recognition of their offending patterns and take steps to avoid these situations, feelings, and behaviors.

Alexander’s (1999) analysis of nearly 11,000 sex offenders who were subjects in 79 treatment outcome studies found that the rearrest rate was a combined 7.2% for participants in relapse prevention treatment programs compared to 17.6% for untreated offenders. Relapse prevention as a component of treatment is supported by the literature (Allison & Wrightsman, 1993; McGuire, 2000). McGuire (2000) argues The Problem of Sexual Assault that because offending is not spontaneous but rather a conclusion of a series of thoughts and behaviors that can be interpreted, relapse prevention is therefore necessary.

Treatment of Juvenile Sex Offenders Juvenile sex offender treatment parallels many of the same issues associated with treatment of adult sex offenders. The primary problem associated with juvenile sex offender treatment is the lack of research that is related to treatment processes and outcomes. Similar to research on the adult sex offender population, the research on juvenile sex offenders is plagued by methodological difficulties such as ethical constraints, (e.g., dealing with wait-list groups, nontreatment groups, etc.), poor research funding, short follow-up times, nonexperimental designs, and small sample sizes (Burton, Smith-Darden, & Frankel, 2006). These studies have provided very little guidance as to which specific treatment methods should be applied to juveniles.

However, Burton, Smith-Darden, and Frankel (2006) pointed out that guidelines have been proposed that are based on expert opinion and currently accepted clinical practice.

These evidence-based guidelines have been developed from recommendations put together by a consortium of interested parties including the National Task Force on Juvenile Sexual Abuser Treatment, which is affiliated with the National Adolescent Perpetrator Network, and more recently the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (Burton et al., 2006).

As will be discussed in chapter 7, it is unclear how the new juvenile sex offender mandates in the Walsh Act will impact efforts at treating juvenile offenders.

The Safer Society developed a survey in 1986 to provide information about the types of extant treatment programs.

Analyses of these surveys have been conducted over the years by several researchers (Burton & Smith-Darden, 2000, 2001; McGrath, Cumming, & Burchard, 2003). A summary of their findings reveals the following about treatment issues and offers some specifics for working with adolescent

sexual abusers:

■ The 2000 survey reported on 291 programs for adolescents (190 community-based and 101 residential programs).

52 Chapter 2

■ The 2002 survey reported on 937 adolescent programs (726 community-based and 131 residential programs).viii ■ Male to female programs were 2:1 for communitybased programs and 9:1 for residential programs in 2000; in 2002 they were 2:1 and 6:1, respectively.

■ In the 2002 survey respondents were allowed to rank order three theories that best represented their program’s theoretical basis. Between 76 and 84% of male and female community programs and male residential programs chose cognitive-behavioral, relapse prevention, or social learning theory. In 2000, between 82% and 100% of community and residential programs had chosen some form of cognitive-behavioral (including choices of cognitive-behavioral/relapse prevention and classic cognitive-behavioral/behavioral).

■ In the 2002 survey, only 64% of the female residential programs chose cognitive-behavioral, relapse prevention, or social learning. Instead 7.1% of these programs chose sexual trauma.

■ Risk assessment protocols for males were more common than for females. In community-based and residential programs, 21% used ERASOR—the Estimated Risk of Adolescent Sexual Offender Recidivism—and about 31% used J-SOAP—the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol (Burton et al., 2006).ix It has been suggested that different types of sex offenders do not respond to treatment in the same ways (Holmes & Holmes, 2002). Evidence exists that shows treatment for some sex offenders is a viable option because it has been shown to reduce recidivism. What is also clear is that differences in the types of treatment have differing results and the accurate assessment of that treatment is difficult. Problems with research methodologies and differences in research methods demand that we tread carefully when drawing overall conclusions and generalizing based on any one study’s results.

However, public demands and the need to better “control” sex offenders’ deviant behavior require a more effective response from officials. It is not enough to simply punish offenders by incarcerating them for long periods of time; more must be done to help them control their sexual desires by intervening in the behaviors that prompt them to act.

The Problem of Sexual Assault Summary and Conclusion The problem of sexual assault is a complex and diverse topic.

This chapter provides a broad yet brief overview as to the prevalence and patterns of sexual assault, its victims and perpetrators, and what is known about sex offender recidivism. It includes brief sections on issues concerning special populations like female sex offenders, male sexual assault victims, and juvenile offenders. Additionally, the chapter provides an overview of treatment that details current modalities and the efficacy of treatment.

The policy debate will continue as to whether or not sex offenders should be considered a special population of offenders warranting additional and comprehensive controls.

That debate raises many questions about how we should identify, prosecute, and punish sex offenders, which makes it clear that the types of crimes committed by these offenders dredge up strong emotional and physical responses from victims, officials, and the public at large. We must be careful, however, at how we navigate these responses. More and more evidence shows us that simply punishing sex offenders for long periods of time is not the only way to respond and in fact could prove more harmful to certain sex offenders and their victims. It is more important to formulate policies that not only appropriately punish perpetrators but also policies that effectively educate the public, intervene in child abuse and neglect, provide adequate facilities for sex offenders, give guidelines for training and supervision for those who work with sex offenders, and outline treatment goals for both victims and perpetrators that are designed to reduce or eliminate the overall incidence of sexual assault.

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