It's understandable to initially have strong reactions about those who have committed some form of a sexual assault. But behind the label of "sex offender" is a person.
A person with a story… or a background.
A person who has also quite feasibly been the victim or witness of sexual assault or domestic violence as well.
Watch this recorded webinar as Dr. Tasha Menaker returns to discuss:
- Current sex offender management and treatment strategies and the effectiveness of these methods.
- Potential harms of current sex offender management techniques.
- Alternative responses to sexual assault perpetration.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): You’ve previously presented on the Dynamics, Tactics and Psychology of Sex Offenders, as well as Typologies, Risk and Recidivism. How is this webinar different or build on the previous sessions?
Dr. Tasha Menaker: The other webinars focused more on the perpetrators themselves—the dynamics of offending behavior, characteristics of people who commit sexual harm, and factors associated with perpetration and repeat offending. This webinar will examine the criminal justice response to sexual perpetrators from the macro-level. We will use information discussed in the prior webinars, such as myths about perpetrators, risk and recidivism factors, and societal attitudes about sexual offending to explore strengths and gaps in our current approach to offender management and treatment.
I would suggest a person-first approach
when working with people who’ve committed sexual harm.
What is their story?
Who is the person behind this behavior?
JCH: Your webinar highlights a number of different management and treatment strategies. In your experience, which treatment strategies are more typically problematic?
Tasha: It is not usually our treatment strategies that are problematic, but our approach to the management of people with sexual behavior problems. As I will discuss in the webinar, most of our criminal justice responses to sex crimes are a result of legislation rooted in misperceptions about sexual offending and proliferating a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
As I have described in prior webinars, sexual violence is a continuum of behaviors perpetrated by a diverse range of people. It is critical that we tailor our responses, management approaches, and rehabilitation strategies to the offender, otherwise we run the risk of creating greater harm and increasing the likelihood of future offending. I will discuss what research has shown about the effectiveness of current management models such as sex offender registries and residency restrictions, and will discuss in detail the strengths and weaknesses of these strategies so we can explore ways to adjust our approach with the goal of safer communities.
It is an oversimplification to say
that all people with sexual behavior problems
are incapable or unwilling to change,
and this assertion is not supported by research.
JCH: What are some of the biggest myths or misconceptions justice professionals might have about treatment strategies for sex offenders?
Tasha: I think the most significant misperception about the treatment of people with sexual behavior problems is that treatment is ineffective and sexual perpetrators are incapable of behavior change. This is simply untrue. Of course, there are people who are resistant to treatment and unwilling to engage in a process of changing harmful beliefs and behaviors. It is also true that some offenders have a more difficult time desisting from sexual perpetration, especially if they are sexually predisposed to children. However, it is an oversimplification to say that all people with sexual behavior problems are incapable or unwilling to change, and this assertion is not supported by research.
Ultimately, most people who come in contact with the criminal justice system after committing sexual harm reenter society and live amongst us in our communities. So, it is actually good news that evaluations of current treatment strategies show promising results for decreasing recidivism rates.
JCH: Dealing with Sex Offenders can be quite an emotionally charged topic. How do you advise justice professionals in terms of managing their own perceptions or attitudes towards these individuals?
Tasha: This is a great question. I agree that sexual offending is an emotionally-charged issue, and we live in a culture where there is considerable shame and stigma surrounding anything perceived as sexual deviancy. Many people are survivors of sexual violence and most people know someone who is. I think this makes it difficult for all of us to separate our emotions from this topic and see people who have committed sexual harm as human beings.
Perpetrators often objectify and dehumanize their victims, and it makes us inclined to do the same to them. I think it’s important to begin by saying it is okay for us to feel angry or disgusted by the behavior of an offender. That being said, a person is not defined by one behavior or characteristic. Everyone has a story and a history, and not all sexual perpetrators are the predators we see highlighted by the media or depicted in film.
Keep in mind that many perpetrators have been victims, and many of us have engaged in behavior that was sexually aggressive if not criminal. In short, I would suggest a person-first approach when working with people who’ve committed sexual harm. What is their story? Who is the person behind this behavior? What brought them to the point of engaging in this behavior? When we allow our implicit biases to overshadow reason and compassion, we become less effective at our work and actually perpetuate a culture where violence and dehumanization are acceptable.