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What Good Is Sex Offender Treatment?



Why provide treatment for sex offenders? Why not just lock them up? Kill them? Ostracize them? Force them to live under a bridge? Treat the victims but not the offenders?

Who Benefits from Sex Offender Treatment?

Sex offender treatment providers perform a great good. However, it is not the offenders that are the number one recipient of this good. The number one recipient of the good of sex offender treatment is potential future victims. If a treatment provider is successful in treating a sex offender, the ultimate recipient of the good should be unaware that they received the good, because that ultimate recipient is someone who can now go through life not a victim. Isn't that a nice thought, someone who is innocent of what it means to be a victim? Far better to have never been victimized than to have been victimized and treated. That is the reward. Helping one perpetrator to avoid reoffending might save one person or might even save fifty people or more from being victimized. And this has a cascading effect, because we know that some victims would have gone on to become perpetrators, so by preventing their victimization, we prevent a whole host of other victims, so the effect is exponential. This cascading effect also works through victims who, even though victimized, do not themselves become perpetrators. This is because victims, especially those who are untreated, have a tendency to be poor protectors of their children and even attracted to perpetrators, so the presence of untreated victims within society tends to raise the rate of sexual abuse, while anything that reduces the presence of untreated victims within society (such as sex offender treatment) tends to reduce the rate of sexual abuse. When a victim counselor helps a victim, they help a victim. When a sex offender counselor helps a sex offender, they help all potential future victims. The only thing that has more leverage to help victims than working with offenders is to work to pass enlightened, effective laws.

Are Sex Offenders Human?

The number two recipient of the good of sex offender treatment is the offender. By the act of offending they did not become sub-human. To help someone lead a better life is a good thing. Most offenders do not enjoy being offenders. By helping the offender learn to lead a good life that does not include offending, the treatment provider is doing something good for another human being.

The Cost to Society of Sex Offending

The number three recipient of the good of sex offender treatment is society at large. Besides the direct costs to the victims and perpetrators, sex offending costs society at large, through such things as the costs of prosecuting offenders, jailing them and treating victims.

Victims and Offenders

In the special circumstance where a victim can be expected to benefit from future contact with his or her victimizer, then the victim may benefit directly from the offender undergoing treatment. Typically this would be a case of incest where reunification is thought to be in the best interest of and desired by the victim. There would be special duties of the sex offender treatment provider in this case, to prepare the offender and make sure the offender did not retraumatize the victim. In most other case, the offender is discouraged from having any contact with past victims, due to the risk of retraumatizing the victim.

Victim Anger

A victim has every right to be mad at his or her victimizer and to feel however harshly they feel. But this shouldn't inform public policy. We aren't, or shouldn't be, a society motivated by retribution or vindictiveness.

Sex Offender Treatment Effectiveness

Studies have shown that sex offender treatment reduces the rate of recidivism. Offenders are less likely to reoffend after having undergone treatment.

The Goal of Sex Offender Treatment Providers

The ultimate goal of the sex offender treatment provider is to eradicate sex offending.