Assessing and Treating the Problem
PS333 Forensic Psych
Sex offending is defined as the range of behaviour officially classified as sexual offences. Treatment is usually for those who have committed an offence against others who did not or were not able to give consent.
There are three main groups of sex offenders. The first are child molesters, who prey on those who are younger than 16 years of age. The second are rapists, who offend against adults. The third type of sex offender is those guilty of non-physical contact sex offences. These would include exhibitionism, obscene phone calls, child pornography and other nuisances (Notes, 13 Feb, 2004).
Finkelhor has come up with a model consisting of four preconditions for sexual abuse. First, the offender must be motivated to offend. Secondly, the offender must overcome internal inhibitions, such as moral and ethical reasoning. Next, the offender must overcome external obstacles to offending, including availability of a victim, etc. Finally, the offender must overcome the victims’ resistance and be able to physically and emotionally overpower his/her victim. Upon researching paedophilia, Finkelhor and his colleague, Araji, came up with four possible explanations for committing the act. The offender may have emotional congruence with children, sexual arousal to children, a blockage in an adult relationship or a disinhibition and is not deterred by normal prohibitions regarding children and sexuality. This framework can be used in treatment interventions in terms of how these predictions may apply to the individual offender.
From 1979 to 1990, the number of sex offenders in prison jumped from 1,500 up to 3,166, with a little more than 2,000 of them serving a sentence of four or more years. In response to this alarming increase, the 1991 Home Secretary announced the initiation of treatment programs for sexual offenders in prisons (Notes, Feb 13, 2004). There were two types of programs that were started: core programs and extended programs. These programs are based on the cognitive-behavioural model of offending, believing that cognitions and behaviours are important in motivating and maintaining offending. Core programs focus primarily on cognitive distortions held by the offender, preconditions of offending, victim empathy, consequences of offending, alternative behaviours, risk factors and relapse prevention. Extended programs, however, tend to focus on the offence-related behaviour such as anger control and social skills.
Within these core and extended programs, you can break it down further into group work or individualized programs. Group work is often viewed as the most effective intervention method for three reasons: 1) It challenges and breaks down the secrecy which tends to be inherent in such offending, 2) Confrontation is credible and effective from the participation of other offenders and 3) It can reduce denial and increase acceptance of problems. With many offenders thinking that there isnt anything wrong with their behaviour and thinking that society is the problem, this final reason is very important. Issues that are confronted in group work include statutory vs. voluntary involvement, an explicit value stance that sex offenders are socially and morally unacceptable, that such behaviour can be understood and controlled by the offender and confrontation within an educative approach that is supportive of personal change (Bernfeld, pg 117).
Many offenders, as stated previously, do not see a problem with their behaviour and tend to deny any wrong doing and minimize the offence. There are six features of this denial and minimization:
1.Complete Denial: claiming a false accusation, mistaken identity or memory loss.
2.Partial Denial: it wasnt really their fault(victim said they were older), or denial of the problem, saying they would never do it again
3.Minimizing the Offence: Claim there was no coercion or it was an infrequent act.
4.Minimizing Responsibility: Intoxication or the victim said no, but really meant yes.
5.Deny/Minimize Harm Done: Claim the victims problems were caused by some other event.
6.Deny/Minimize Fantasizing: Deny preoccupation or fantasy prior to the offence (Notes, 12 Feb, 2004).
Many of these offenders are suffering from cognitive distortions. These self-serving biases allow the individual to interpret events and their own and others behaviour in a manner which preserves their view of themselves and their worth. Sex offenders often deny and minimize offending to be able to continue to abuse others and not feel guilty about the offence. Treatment elements used to modify these cognitive distortions involve a cognitive restructuring approach. First one would provide the sex offender with an explanation of the role of cognitive distortions in maintaining the deviant behaviour. Next, on would give corrective information and then identify specific cognitive disorders. Finally, the clinician would challenge the cognitive distortions of the offender in an attempt to get them to change their thinking patterns (Mullen, pg.33).
Empathy is another issue tackled in rehabilitation. It is the sharing of an emotional experience and understanding the emotions of others and being able to respond to anothers emotions and circumstances. There are operational definitions that can be used within treatment. The ability of assume the cognitive role of another person is called perspective taking. Empathic concern is the measures of feelings of warmth, compassion and concern for another person. The ability to identify with fictional characters is called fantasy within the working definition of empathy. Personal distress is the anxiety and negative emotions which relate from the feelings of distress from another person. In the realm of empathy and sex offenders, there have been no consistent findings. Marshall has developed a four-stage model of empathy as a process: a) emotion recognition, b) perspective taking, c) emotion replication and d) response decision.
Self-esteem seems to be a large issue involved in the rehabilitation of sex offenders. There is a large discrepancy in what they perceive as their ideal self versus their current self. Sex offenders generally tend to have a lower self-esteem when compared to the rest of the population. In treatment programs, self-esteem is developed and social skills are strengthened and developed as well. Social skills that are worked on include assertiveness, emotional loneliness and forming adult relationships.
Relapse prevention is probably the number one priority involved in the rehabilitation process. Marquis and Pithers developed a model to follow on the prevention of sex offences. The first step is development of an offence chain. Following the offence chain is the generation of plans to manage possible future problems that could arise. Third is specifying warning signs which show the offender slipping back into problematic behaviour. Emphasis is placed on training the offender in problem solving and coping styles (Mullen, pg 47).
Incidents of violent and aggressive offences seem to be increasing every year. Violent and aggressive offenders are a small heterogeneous group that tend to not voluntarily seek treatment. They are often in denial, blame the victim and do not accept responsibility for offending. Individual assessment is needed to screen out instrumental aggressive offenders from anger-mediated offenders for anger management courses. Individual differences in violent offenders categorize them into two groups: a) Over-controlled offenders who are passive-aggressive individuals that commit isolated acts of extreme violence and b) Under-controlled offenders who tend to get into fights when intoxicated.
There are two types of anger offenders tend to suffer from. Directed anger is anger that has been caused by a specific situation or situations. Chronic anger is anger that has been built up over a long history of physical and sexual abuse. Anger management courses have been developed for individuals showing difficulty in managing anger both in and out of prison. Research within prison settings has helped to develop these programs.
Bullying in a penal institution has led to interventions to help deal with the aggression and violence within these institutions, in addition to active research on the topic due to the recognition of bullying as a precursor to suicides within prisons. There are five elements within a prison that define bullying: a) physical, verbal and psychological attack, b) imbalance of power, c) unprovoked action, d) repeated offences, and e) intent to cause fear and harm to the victim. Direct bullying is any form of intimidation or physical or sexual abuse towards another. Indirect bullying is more of the every day stuff, including gossiping, rumours, practical jokes and lying (Bernfeld, pg 42).
According to Ireland there are four typologies of bullying. The first are what he calls pure bullies. They are in the minority and tend to only bully others and not get the abuse in return. The second are called bully/victims, who receive abuse and give abuse. They account for near half of a prison population. A third type is pure victims, those who are only abused and give none in return. These types, like pure bullies, are in the minority. Lastly, there are those not involved, which is self-explanatory (Notes, 19 Feb, 2004).
Within a prison setting, there are several interventions that can be used. Recently, a whole prison approach has been used to decrease the development of bullying. Many anti-bullying strategies have been evaluated in several institutions and have shown to be of some value. Bullying Awareness Training for staff in prisons has also been piloted. Staff members spend half the day training using group brainstorming techniques and role playing to help them understand the minds of these individuals. After the course, it was evaluated, with indications that the training was reasonably successful (Bernfeld, pg 71). Anger Management programs, initially developed in North America, are now becoming more common and popular throughout the world. In Britain, the Novaco model has been used since 1992 and is relatively common. A typical course would be 8-two hour sessions for a group between six and eight participants. There are then three phases to be completed through the program. The first phase is cognitive preparation. This stage gives the offenders information on anger, anger control and helps them with self-monitoring through the use of an anger diary. The second phase consists of skill acquisition. This stage allows self-instruction with coping statements, relaxation techniques and assertiveness. Strategies for handling criticisms and insults are also applied. Finally, the third phase implores application practice of the new knowledge and skills the individuals have gained. The developed skills are applied and tested in graded anger scenarios (Notes, 19 Feb, 2004).
There are many gender differences when treating men and women who offend. The original group work was designed for males and has recently been adapted for female offenders. Women in prison are more often angered by pettiness, bitchiness, lack of space for expression, loss of friend and control of their life. Women tend to bottle up their anger, by nature, rather than express it, which leads to chronic anger that tends to go beyond the conventional anger management programs.
Sexual offenders and violent offenders are often classified in the same group. While some sexual offenders may at times be violent and some violent offenders may have committed sexual offences, each of these issues must be looked at separately to ensure some moderately successful treatments. Sexual offenders often times find their actions to be normal and see nothing wrong with the offences that they are committing. They also have large self-esteem issues to be dealt with. Clinicians must be able to understand that and be able to get into their heads to help them see the delusions that they are suffering from. Violent offenders tend to have more issues in managing anger and have trouble with accepting criticism and interpretation of arguments. Programs tend to work best with these offenders, while individual work seems to be more progressive with sex offenders.
PS-333 Lecture Notes. University of Wales, Swansea. 12-19 February, 2004.Sex Offenders and Violent/Aggressive Offenders.
Bernfeld, Gary A., Farrington, David P., Lescheid, Alan W. Offender Rehabilitation in Practice: Implementing and Evaluating Effective Programs. Pgs 27-121. Wiley Series in Forensic Clinical Psychology. John Wiley and Sons, LTD. 2001.
Mullen, Lawrence Ray, LMSW-ACP. Society and Sex Offenders. Pgs 31-55. Emerald Ink Publishing. 1998