Treatment reduces recidivism among sex offenders

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - 23:00
Teaching empathy, accountability major component of programs

This is the second and final part on a story on sexual assault awareness and resources.

Treatment for adult and juvenile sex offenders reduces the risk of recidivism, according to experts and research, but a lot of offenders’ success in the programs comes down to a major attitude adjustment.

A local who works with juvenile sex offenders said young offenders who begin treatment typically express attitudes supportive of sexual assault when they come in. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to interview by his agency.

“What it comes down to, for all of them, is a lack of empathy,” he said, “and an overall mental justification on their part for their actions, and not taking responsibility for their actions.”

Those who offended against children, he said, will often say the victims were probably too young to remember what happened to them, or that they seemed fine afterward. Juveniles who offended against other teens will typically say she was asking for it.

“Most of them come in and say, ‘If I was put in a high-risk situation where I felt I wouldn’t ever get caught regardless of what I did, yeah, I would reoffend.’”

Treatment consist of helping sex offenders identify their own assault cycle – thoughts, behaviors, and high-risk situations that lead up to them committing sexual assault – and teaching them to be aware of it and alter it. They also learn strategies for identifying and challenging thinking errors; developing empathy for others; and taking responsibility for their own actions, he said.

Programs targeted at reducing recidivism among sex offenders are typically more successful with the juvenile than the adult population, he said.

Going to jail for a sex offense might seem like a steep consequence to a young person, he added, but not being held accountable is likely worse for that person in the long-term.

“It puts him at much higher risk for reoffending, because there’s no connection between what they did and how it affects the person they offended against. Especially when they’re younger, treatment is essential for drastically decreasing their chances of reoffending.”

A UAA Justice Center analysis on the impacts of treatment on adult sex offenders found that length of time in treatment was correlated with less risk of re-offense, and that “Those who completed all stages of treatment through the advanced stage had a zero re-offense rate for sexual re-offenses. This included Sexual Assault offenders (rapists) [sic], who generally tend to re-offend more quickly and at a higher frequency.”


Education and help for victims

Standing Together Against Rape is a non-profit that operates an education and outreach program, a hotline with trained staff receiving calls 24 hours a day to help people who have experienced sexual assault, and a center where victims of sexual assault can meet with an advocate who will help them through any legal, counseling, or other needs they might have. The staff advises clients on their options but doesn’t push them to report to police if that’s not what the victim wants, said STAR events coordinator Megan Young. A middle-ground option could include reporting anonymously, she said, or meeting with a forensic nurse and STAR advocate to collect evidence of sexual assault in case the person decides later on reporting.

In 2013, STAR provided sexual assault awareness and healthy relationships education to more than 15,000 Anchorage School District students, Young said.

Melanie Sutton, an ASD curriculum coordinator, said age-appropriate discussions about healthy relationships and sexual abuse awareness are incorporated in the curriculum in Kindergarten through middle school. High Schools have the option to offer an elective called “Healthy Relationships Sexuality Education,” to juniors and seniors. The class is not available at Eagle River or Chugiak High Schools.

“We don’t do a big campaign around rape awareness, but it’s a topic that’s likely to come up and be addressed,” said Eagle River High School principle Martin Lang. He cited other elective courses, such as “Pursuing Wellness,” “Teen Issues,” and a forensics class, where issues related to sexual violence are covered.

The school’s counseling staff and school resource officers assist with reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus, Lang said.

That can include sexual harassment via social networking technology, he said, which is something parents didn’t face when they were in high school.

In California, the case of 15-year-old Audrie Pott made headlines last year: the teen was gang-raped at a party, with some at the party capturing the assault on their smart phones and sharing it with other students at school the next day. Soon, she started receiving harassing messages on her Facebook page. A week later, she committed suicide by hanging herself in her room.

Cases of social-media based sexual harassment that don’t necessarily involve sexual assault are sometimes termed “revenge porn.” In these cases, people use social media to spread around sexual pictures of a person that might have initially been given to one party as part of a consensual private relationship , or else hacked from a victim’s private computer.

Lang said that kind of harassment is something the administration at Eagle River High School has had to deal with, where students pass around nude or sexual pics of another student to shame or humiliate him or her.

Typically, he said, it’s a photograph someone initially received privately in the context of an intimate relationship.

“It starts out amicable, but the relationship went south, and someone uses it in a derogatory way, sends the picture out,” he said.

The school educates students on appropriate usage of technology on campus, Lang said, including issues related to bullying and sexual harassment. If a student receives a compromising pic of another student and deletes it, he said, the student’s done nothing wrong.

But if he or she forwards it, “they could face disciplinary actions and potentially be investigated for sex crimes.”


The Standing Together Against Rape 24-hour hotline is (907) 276-7273 or (800) 478-8999. For more information including on how to receive services, volunteer or donate, go to To contact the Heart to Heart Crisis Eagle River Crisis Pregnancy Center for services or to volunteer or donate, call (907) 694-1747. For more information about Men Can Stop Rape, go to

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