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Responding to Sexual Offenses: Research, Reason and Public Safety

NCJ Number
Kostas A. Katsavdakis; Marsha Weissman; Alan Rosenthal
Date Published
10 pages
In urging that new legislation on sex offenders be guided by evidence-based research, this paper addresses the assessment of those who commit sex offenses, what works for whom in treatment, and the use and misuse of civil commitment.
Overall, research shows that sex offenders reoffend significantly less often than other offenders, so civil commitment as a general practice must not assume a reoffending risk not supported by research. In discussing these issues, the authors draw upon lessons learned in New York State. Contrary to popular beliefs, not all individuals who commit sexual offenses have the same behaviors, psychological makeups, and bleak prospects for rehabilitation. There are valid and reliable risk-assessment methods that can inform treatment-offender matching and reduce the risk of reoffending. Assessment, classification, and treatment are the keys to preventing reoffending. In discussing risk assessment for sex offenders, the authors cite sources of new research findings on the nature of sexual offender risk assessment. It also notes that the current New York State risk assessment instrument has not incorporated this evidence-based research in sexual offender risk assessment instruments. In discussing the classification of sex offenders, the paper advises that sexual reoffending varies by key factors that must be assessed in identifying the risk an offender poses to the community. These factors include perpetrator/victim relationship, number of previous arrests and/or convictions, age of first sexual misconduct, the number and nature of prior criminal activities, and drug and alcohol abuse. The discussion of treatment emphasizes the importance of tailoring it to the findings of accurate risk assessment and classification; however, there remain significant unanswered questions about the effectiveness of treatment for various types of sex offenders. 45 references