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Sex Offender Treatment Programs



Over the years, public fear of sex offenders has led to serious misconceptions regarding sex offender treatment. The atrocious acts carried out by some sex offenders are very hard for the public to understand, and present society with complex challenges. Society often finds it easier to turn a blind eye to the crime, lock up the offender and throw away the key than attempt to address the challenge appropriately. This lack of public understanding toward sex offenders has created the myth that sex offenders cannot be treated, and therefore should never be returned to the community. This paper is intended to dispel the myth of the untreatable sex offender, and provide conclusive evidence that sex offender treatment is not only possible but to a large extent is successful in reducing the recidivism of sex offenders. First, the sex offender population in Canada must be examined so that we know what we are dealing with.

Although many community members believe that sex offenders cannot be treated, an increasing amount of support has been collected that attests to the success that can be achieved by treating sex offenders. In fact, Correctional Service of Canada has continually been implementing more sex offender treatment programs since it began offering sex offender treatment in 1973. Capacity for sex offender treatment increased from 200 in 1987 to over 1700 in 1995 (Blanchette, 1996). In addition, Correctional Service of Canada has recently “expanded and refined its programs for sexual offenders so that it now funds numerous institutional programs” (Marshall, 2000). The massive implementation of sex offender treatment programs by Correctional Service of Canada has put Canada at the forefront of research and knowledge about sex offender treatment, and many of the Canadian sex offender treatment programs illustrate promising results. Therefore, many offenders are able to receive adequate treatment that allows them to lead crime free lives upon release.

The success of sex offender treatment is evident when recidivism rates among treated sex offenders are compared to untreated sex offenders. For example, in one meta-analysis of treatment studies, Hall (1995) found that across several studies, treated offenders sexually recidivated at a rate of 19%, whereas untreated offenders sexually recidivated at a rate of 27% (as cited in Blanchette, 1996). This suggests that, overall, the treatment provided was able to produce an 8% reduction in the recurrence of sexual recidivism for treated sex offenders. This is a very promising result when it is considered that sex offenders often victimize more than one person, and there are usually multiple victims before an offender is caught. Therefore, even a small reduction in recidivism for sex offenders translates into a large reduction in the amount of sexual offences that occur (Blanchette, 1996). Given research such as this and the experience of the John Howard Society in working with sex offenders, the rest of this paper rests on the presumption that sex offenders are treatable and treatment programs do work. Therefore, it is important to determine what specific kinds of treatment methods work best for which sex offenders, so that they may all be treated effectively.

In order to lay the foundation for an examination of sex offender treatment, it is essential to review the academic research that has recently emerged about sex offender treatment. In most research studies, the term “sex offender” encompasses a wide range of offenders who have different treatment needs and different recidivism rates. The two most common types of sex offenders referred to in the research are child molesters who mainly victimize children, and rapists who mainly victimize adult women. Both sex offender types can be further sub-divided based on their relationship to the victim, as either incest offenders (familial relation) or non-incest offenders (not familial relation). Overall, research has shown that sexual recidivism for all sex offenders is quite low, with rates of only 10% to 15% five years after release (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998). However, researchers have found that different groups of sex offenders recidivate at varying rates.

One study using data from 10 follow up studies of adult male sex offenders (a combined sample of 4,673 offenders) divided sex offenders into three separate groups that are believed to be distinctly different from each other and, thus, require different treatments (Hanson, 2001). These three groups consisted of incest child molesters who victimize related children, rapists who victimize adult women, and non-incest child molesters who victimize unrelated children.

For the remainder of this paper: by JOHN HOWARD SOCIETY OF ALBERTA

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