The Management of Sex Offenders Leaves People At Risk – time to do something different?


I think it would be hard to find someone who was reviled more than by paedophiles, which leave many with opposing ideas of how we should manage the risk.

So far, the government’s Sex Offender Treatment Programme has been heralded as the key therapeutic intervention in the prevention of repeat offending,  The SOTP is a behavioural program which works with groups of offenders and looks to change offenders’ thoughts and behaviour, yet much of this approach has been shown by those who work on the front line to be at times naïve and irresponsible.

To put it another way. We place some of the most dangerous high risk offenders in a room together and skill them up in how professionals understand sex offending. They form links with each other and swap ideas of how to avoid detection. We then have a policy of dispersal so they are managed by professionals in different areas.

The extent of the naivety of this policy is shown when a group of SOTP graduates were dispersed to different authorities. These authorities were small and so they ended up being a few miles away from each other. They already had the links, the knowledge and brainstormed the best ways to avoid detection. For years this group continued to abuse children right under the noses of the authorities.

It is at times coupled with a penile plesmogaph (a lie detector for a penis) to identify the profile of those at risk from the offender. Those working in the field know that that has meant offenders have masturbated before being tested to reduce arousal to be seen as a lower risk.

The proportion of sexual offenders who are reconvicted of further offending is known to be low.  However, this only means that they have not been caught for offending and not necessarily that they have not reoffended.

A solution focus would start with the end result in mind, which would be that there is no further abuse perpetrated. Any policy or treatment would therefore need to have at the very least a significant reduction in reoffending. However, the actual results for the SOTP are poor with reconviction rate over two years being 2.6 per cent compared to 2.8 per cent for untreated sex offenders; a negligible difference.

It has not escaped everyone that this behavioural focused group work is not working as David Wilson, professor of criminal justice at the University of Central England says these interventions are founded more on political expediency than on solid evidence.

The problem is that people are not talking to those who work with sex offenders who may have good ideas of doing something different and something better. Probation officers themselves have admitted to lacking the skills and training necessary to protect the public from sex offenders making it harder to collect different ideas of what may work.

Canada took a different approach to managing sex offenders in the community by developing schemes aimed at befriending them.  The community works in collaboration with released sex offenders, who are given the chance to become a “core member” of a “circle of support” of volunteers.

The core premise, as it is in solution focused work, is that the community should use the resources it already has. The offender is therefore included in a circle of trust, rather than excluded which would drive him underground – or into the arms of the only people who will want to be his friend – other sex offenders.

This approach reduced re-offending by 70% It was brought to the UK in 2002 and there are currently 63 running across England and Wales. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation who run the projects says of the 35 offenders who have taken part in their circles project so far, only three have been found to have re-offended.

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