In previous years, the fear of sex offenders has led the public to believe a fallacy regarding sex offender treatment. The public often start to view anyone who commits a sexual offence to be a high risk sex offender. Society need to understand that some sex offenders are low risk offenders who are very unlikely to reoffend again. The public will easily say ‘sex offenders should be thrown in prison and never let out again’ however this is an inefficient way in helping offenders to stop committing crime. Crime overall is a major problem around the world and a controversial debate that often brings up more questions than it answers. Explaining these criminal behaviours has become more complex as researchers have become aware that crime is a more complicated and confusing situation than they have previously recognized (Burke,2005). This essay is intended to dispel the myth of the untreatable sex offender. In addition it will also cover and provide conclusive evidence from programmes that sex offender treatment is not only possible but to a large extent is successful in reducing the recidivism of sex offenders. Before this is examined, this paper will briefly define what a sex offender is, what derives people to become one and how the government has tried to prevent sex delinquents from re-offending.
A sex offender is a person who has committed a sexual crime, an act which is prohibited by the jurisdiction. ‘What constitutes a sex offence or normal and abnormal sexual behaviour varies over time and place’ (Pakes &Winstone, 2007). Every country has a different perspective on sexual crimes which makes their legislation vary; even the age of consent to a sexual act is a culturally based construction. The age of consent median seems to range from 16 to 18 years, but laws stating ages ranging from 9 to 21 do exist. This means that in some countries sexual activity is illegal and in some it is legal.
Many people tend to think sexual offending mainly relates to adult rape or child molestation (Pakes & Winstones, 2007), but there are many other types of sex crimes such as lust murder, internet grooming, sexual harassment, incest, etc. It is very difficult to distinguish the difference between sex offenders with non-offenders. It is presumed that many sex offenders have various sexual abnormal fantasies or an unusual high sex drive (Elsevier, 2007-PRINTOUT). People tend to believe most sexual offences are committed by strangers but the truth is most victims know their attacker and also they are not any different to normal people (CSOM). Most sex offenders are not mentally ill as shown in this article – Fewer than 5% of people who commit a sexual offence suffer from a psychotic mental illness – (Nota).
Many theories try to explain why people commit sexual offences. ‘Since sexual deviance takes several forms, no single theory maybe adequate to account for all aspects’ (Blackburn, 1993), Ellis (1989) identifies two major theories which will underline the most common approaches to as why a person may want to become a sex offender. Social learning theory suggests people learn and get exposed to certain things in life in which the person start to believe it is the right way to live life. This theory focuses on childhood experiences, especially within the family by either getting victimised by an adult at home or by getting exposure to pornography at a young age. This experience might lead them to being insecure and make them want to be in power instead of being the one subjected. The second theory Ellis supports is the Evolutionary theory which can also be known as the biological theory. This theory connects with genetics and male aggression. There is lacking evidence to support any theory.
Getting victimized by a sex offender can be very traumatising and psychologically damaging. The public and media seem to only worry about two types of crime which are both sex crimes; sexually offending against women or children. ”Sex offenders have been increasingly a focus of attention by the criminal justice system over the past decade” (Thomas, 2000). In recent years, many countries have started to change their laws regarding sex offenders. The criminal justice system is strengthening the legislation and revising punishments as the public believe it is too lenient.
Before the Criminal justice Act 1991, the laws on sex offences were very old; coming back from the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (Pakes & Winstone, 2007). Next came along the Sex Offenders Act 1997, this Act made it easier to manage, and identify the offender on community release. Sex offenders had to register their addresses and names with the police which helped manage and protect the public. It was mainly prepared to reduce the risk within the public so every sex offender can be monitored for up to 5 years. In 1998 the Crime and Disorder Act (Section 58), paid attention to ‘extending the post-release supervision of sex offenders to a maximum of 10 years for a prison sentence of any length, and Section 2 introduced the Sex Offender Order. A sex offender order is a civil preventative order made by a magistrates’ court on application by the police. If the police consider that a sex offender has acted in a way that gives reasonable cause to believe that an order is necessary to protect the public from serious harm by him, then they can apply for an order. The order may place a number of prohibitions as necessary to protect the public from serious harm by that person. For example, he might be prevented from entering children’s playgrounds or visiting swimming pools. The breach of any of these prohibitions carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. ((This can be used to prevent sex offenders from going to specific locations))- legislation.go.uk)). Since this has taken place, the laws in 2003 changed which introduced longer sentences, which allow for lengthy periods of formal supervision in the community, and for high risk sex offenders the life sentence was put into effect (Pakes & Winstones, 2007). The Sexual Criminal Act 2003 also redefined the meaning of rape by including penetration to the vagina, anus or mouth with his penis without lack of consent (legislation.co.uk). Internet ‘grooming’ is defined to be illegal in this Act as well. This is when an adult tries to arrange meetings and/or has sexual conversions online.
So, what happens to those that are convicted? ‘Nearly two-thirds of sex offenders immediately go to prison’ (Homeoffice, 2003c), the rest are taken care of by probation or supervision orders, fines and some are totally discharged. The ones who are convicted or charged are often required to record their names in the sex offender registry. These databases are classified into levels and are open to the public. A serious high risk sex offender must register for the rest of their lives whereas a low risk sex offender has to register for a certain period of time. There are many advantages and disadvantages of the Sex offender Registry. Some of the advantages are that the public can easily access information about sex offenders on the internet, citizens have the right to know if there is a sex offender in their area, and the right of innocent children and others to safety outweighs the right of sex offenders to privacy. The disadvantages are many records are often inaccurate or not updated, this practice makes it hard for ex-offenders to look for a house or job and some seem to believe this information could lead to “networking” within sexual offenders.
According to the Review of Sex offender Treatment Programmes (1998) the highest risk sex offenders appear to be characterised by the following factors: criminal history, convicted of diverse sexual offending (different victim ages, gender, or location), antisocial lifestyle, emotional loneliness, denial, psychopathic personality, low victim empathy and problem solving abilities and lastly sexually deviant arousal or fantasies.
These criminals either being in prison, have been recently released from prison or have not been sent into prison at all run the same type of treatment programmes. A cognitive behavioural approach is mainly used or anti-libidinal medication (Perkins, 1998). The aim of the each programme is to ‘challenge offenders distorted thoughts and reasoning in relation to their victims and to help manage their impulses by providing alternative courses of action which they view as being more rewarding’ (Worall & Hoy, 2005). Many of the treatment programmes are taken place within group format unless the sex offender has a higher risk then it is a one-on-one basis. Sex offender treatment programmes require at least 80 hours of treatment (Evenden, 2008). In the last ten years, the British Prison Service has developed a largely group-based treatment programme for sex offenders to reduce crime rates (Thornton and Hogue, 1993), and this has led to the development of a national Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP), which is now the largest of its kind in the world. The prison offender behaviour Programme Unit manages the SOTP. SOTP have made a criterion for all of the sex offenders in prison or attending programmes outside of prison. This criterion has ten characteristics which a sex offender treatment programme should have to be successful (Journal Site).