The Difficult Task
Sex offender treatment is a difficult undertaking, made
more so by the wide variety and degree of offenses,
motivational differences, personal history of abuse, and
many other underlying factors. Alcohol and drug abuse,
lack of family and community support, criminal history, and
the inability to maintain healthy and functioning adult
relationships also add to the difficult task of change.
It is important for those who assists victims of sexual
assault to have an adequate understanding of sex
offenders and their treatment needs. That knowledge will
allow them to advocate for those forms of treatment and/or
legal consequences that will best assure sex offenders do
not commit additional crimes.
Who Are the Sex Offenders?
To treat offenders, professionals must first understand how
offenders perceive themselves and their offense. Sex
offenders usually feel victimized by the offense, whether
they are in denial about it or not. Most offenders have
compartmentalized their entire lives, as evidenced by their
test results. They identify with what they accept about
themselves and do not identify with what they do not accept.
What Makes Sex Offenders Difficult to Assess and Treat?
No two sex offenders are the same. The motives, personal dynamics, choice of victims, degree of assault, level of developmental
integrity, and support system vary immensely from one offender to the next. Offenders can be lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, clergy,
teachers, child care providers, family members, friends of the family, or strangers. To further complicate matters, there are many
different kinds and degrees of offenses — rape, child molestation, indecent exposure, window-peeping, obscene phone calls,
harassment, etc. Some offenders are compulsively focused on one offense, while others are on a continuum, increasing their level of
acting-out over time and thus, becoming increasingly dangerous.
Assessment Is Critical
Those who treat and assess offenders use a testing package that includes such tests as the Millon and the Measures of Psycho-
Social Development (MPD). Therapists also make use of police reports, criminal history, pre-sentence investigative reports, and
feedback from the offender's family and friends. Assessment seeks information on the presence of other paraphilias, relationship
history, history of abuse, degree of ownership of behavior, degree of victim empathy, status of sexuality, history of compulsive or
obsessive behaviors, and degree of criminal thinking. All of this is used to determine whether an individual offender is treatable and
what strategies will need to be employed to create fundamental change.
Treatment Needs Vary Widely
Sex offenders must take full responsibility for all the psychological issues they have studiously avoided. They cannot, however, do that
alone. The offender is the proverbial fox in the hen house. He is, by definition, incapable of policing himself. It is the responsibility of
treatment providers to assess, at each step in the process, the degree to which each offender can hold up his end of the bargain.
Treatment needs range from inpatient treatment to intensive supervision during the initial phases of treatment to long-lasting
incarceration. Those needs can change as treatment progresses. All sex offenders need group therapy, the involvement of family and
friends in treatment, accountability to the corrections system, and strategic criteria that must be met before leaving a treatment setting.
Many sex offenders view themselves as good people. They also view the offense as an
aberration due to unusual circumstances — unlikely to ever occur again, if it even occurred
the first time.
Why Offenders Feel Victimized by the Offense
The offender feels victimized by the offense for two reasons. First, the offense is comprised of
psychological dynamics, needs, and emotions of which the offender has repressed
awareness, but which finally "got the better of him" and resulted in the offense. Many
offenders do not identify with these dynamics and therefore feel victimized by them.
Second, the impact of the offense and its consequences if often devastating (though
deservedly so), and the offender initially focuses more on this "unfairness" than on the actual
offense and its impact on others. From the offender's point of view, he suffers many losses.
He loses his freedom, experiences public humiliation, and may lose his job. He must pay for
treatment, fines, lawyers, and court costs. He may have to move out of the family home and be
barred from contacting his children, grandchildren, or others. In the midst of feeling
|The offender has to
work very hard to
genuinely notice how
he has harmed others
or to recognize that
the harm done to
them could be worse
than the disruption
to his own life.
victimized by the offense, the offender has to work very hard to genuinely notice how he has harmed others or to recognize that the
harm done to them could be worse than the disruption to his own life.
An Offensive Reality
The offender's reality is offensive to the victim/survivor and the community, but that does not change it. It simply underscores the
difficult of the task of treatment and identifies some of the initial hurdles that must be overcome. It is very difficult for many offenders to
claim responsibility for the offense, because that changes their self perception. Prior to the offense, they perceived themselves as
good people. Now there is proof they are bad people. It is a very black-and-white judgement. Many offenders prefer to deny or
minimize the situation rather than see their own self-image damaged or destroyed.
Victims Themselves vs. The Victim Identity
Many sex offenders were victims of physical or sexual abuse earlier in life and therefore, taking responsibility for their offense also
means they finally have to come to terms with the effects of their own abuse — a task they have long avoided. Because an offender
avoids this task, he may carry the dangerous residues inherent to any victimization — damage to self worth and feelings of anger,
rage, and vengeance. Many offenders choose to maintain a victim identity, never consciously dealing with the anger and hatred toward
their own abusers. This allows their anger and hate to operate autonomously and to take on the characteristics of perpetration. It also
allows them to escape responsibility for any actions the perpetrator part of themselves commits. Offenders who carry these
dangerous residues choose early in life whether to direct their pain and anger outwards against others or inwards against
themselves. The choice to express their pain toward others makes them more dangerous.
Perpetration is a way to protect areas of shame created by victimization. Anyone who approaches these sensitive areas will be
harmed. The offender's victim identity, as "good" as it appears to be, is constantly distorted by ignored and festering issues lying
beneath the surface. As a result, the offender simply cannot be trusted.
A victim identity also prevents change. Many therapists prefer to work on the victim identity, instead of dealing with the aggressive,
deceptive, and perpetrating part of the offender. The offender's victim identity comes across as cooperative, appreciative, and willing to
change. If a therapist is not adequately trained, he or she will completely miss the offender's core identity and no change will occur. In
fact, the perpetrator part will become wiser and harder to catch.