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Human Rights and the Treatment of Sex Offenders

NCJ Number
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment Volume: 19 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2007 Pages: 195-216
Tony Ward; Theresa A. Gannon; Astrid Birgden
Date Published
September 2007
22 pages
After reviewing the concept of human rights, their structure, and justification, the authors apply their own model of human rights to the assessment and treatment of sex offenders.
The underlying principle of democratic societies is that individuals have human rights simply because they are members of the human race and as such are considered to be moral agents. Moral agents are individuals capable of formulating their own personal projects and seeking ways to realize them in their daily lives. This is done without permissible intervention except when the exercise of freedom restricts the rights of another to the same zone of protected action. The ascribing of human rights to sex offenders is opposed by many members of democratic societies. They argue that sex offenders have forever forfeited their human rights because they have violated the rights of their victims. A critique of this logic, however, exposes its restrictive view of human rights and the benefits they carry. Ethically, offenders, including sex offenders, should be afforded the same rights as nonoffenders by virtue of their being human and purposive agents. This means a government's support of human rights requires that all offenders be assisted in acquiring core capabilities, various resources for their well-being, and noninterference in the pursuit of their personal projects and goals. On the other hand, sex offenders also have an obligation not to harm others, and any treatment plan should include evidence that respect for others' rights is a priority in the exercise of one's own rights. Rehabilitation, therefore, should be conducted under a balance between the rights of sex offenders to pursue personal goals that improve their lives and their obligation to respect that they must discipline their behavior so as not to violate these same rights for others. 64 references


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