managing sex offenders

How are - and how should  - sexual offenders

against children be managed in the community?


- Jon Brown



There have been very significant developments over the last two decades in the way in which sex offenders are managed in the community. This reflects the development of our understanding of child sexual abuse and how sexual offences against children are committed.


The development of community sex offender treatment programmes can be traced back to the 1980s where there were a small number of individual and group programmes in some

probation services, health facilities and voluntary sector organisations. These programmes were mixed in their approach, ranging from psychotherapeutic to cognitive behavioural and tended to take their influence from offender treatment developments in North America.


With a greater focus on “What Works" within the Prison and Probation Services a process of accreditation for sex offender and other programmes was developed; the Prison Service Sex Offender Treatment Programme was accredited as were, initially, three community programmes.


Knowledge in relation to which treatment approaches are most effective has developed significantly as a result of relatively large scale studies within the prison system (Sex

Offender Treatment Evaluation Programme) and it has been found that cognitive behavioural programmes are most effective, particularly with higher risk offenders. A focus

now on the “Better Lives" approach (essentially giving the offender hope for the future and clear motivations not to re-offend) and a positive therapist/client relationship may also relate to positive treatment outcomes, however further research is needed to demonstrate this.


The knowledge base continues to develop, supported by organisations such as The National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers (NOTA - and ATSA in

the US However, more needs to be understood, for example in relation to the treatment of female offenders, offenders with a learning disability, internet offenders and

children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour.


The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) will now be rolling out one unified modular sex offender treatment programme running throughout the prison system and into

the community based on learning from the prison programme and the three community treatment programmes.


Access to sex offender treatment programmes within the Criminal Justice System (CJS) depends on a number of factors and in particular length of sentence. There are some

concerns that not all offenders who need treatment are getting it. Outside of the CJS assessment and treatment provision for known or alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse is scarce and patchy; there are a few beacons of good practice.


The learning from within the CJS needs to be transported outside of the system to inform the work of local authority Children's Services who are faced with the challenge of historic offenders and those about whom there have been concerns but no conviction living with children. This is something that the NSPCC is addressing in one of its commissions - the development and testing of a practice guide for the assessment of known or alleged sexual abusers of children.


Evidence based and child focused decisions need to be made in these situations. At present local authority practice is varied and concerns can be overlooked or unaddressed because social workers often do not have the skills, resources or knowledge base to effectively intervene.

This approach needs to be supposed by an increased focus on the prevention of sexual abuse, with a particular focus on primary prevention.


It seems that there are three factors which combine to reducing overall levels of sexual  abuse in communities

(i)  deterrence, (ii) treatment for victims and offenders (iii) prevention.


There needs to be a coordinated approach i9n all three of these areas supported and underpinned by a government strategy to address the problem of child sexual abuse in all its forms - interfamilial sexual abuse (the most commonly occurring), child sexual exploitation, the online abuse of children and children and young people who sexually harm other children.


The Home Office has now established a National Group on the Sexual Abuse of Children and Vulnerable Adults with a number of work streams addressing, for example, victims, offenders, online abuse, cultural change and prevention. This is an encouraging step towards a national sexual abuse strategy.


The provision of assessment and treatment services for children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour remains patchy and uncoordinated across the UK.


Approximately one third of all sexual offences against children are perpetrated against other children and young people under 18, so a key prevention task is to increase provision for this group to halt or at least reduce the development of the adult sex offenders of tomorrow.


Some progress has been made in relation to deterrence (more consistent and appropriate sentencing of sex offenders) but there is more to be done here, and treatment  - there is much more to be done and understood in relation to the treatment of victims as well as the treatment of young people with harmful sexual behaviour.


Some progress has been made in relation to prevention the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, the development of Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA), the work of Stop it Now, the NSPCC'S Offence Prevention Line, CEOP'S work in on-line abuse - ''Think U Know?”


COSA development across the UK needs to be promoted. It is an effective and relatively cost effective way of providing support and monitoring to sex offenders by engaging and training volunteers. This is a promising approach, particularly in relation to enhancing community awareness and understanding and to reducing the danger of offenders becoming socially isolated and unsupported, which can be a  risk factor for offenders


Government cc-ordination in relation to the management and monitoring of, particularly, high risk sex offenders has also improved over the last decade Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). The Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides for the establishment of MAPPA in each of the 42 criminal justice areas in England and Wales. These are designed to protect the public, including previous victims of crime, from serious harm by sexual and violent offenders. They require the local criminal justice agencies and other bodies dealing with offenders to work together in partnership in dealing with these offenders. For further information on MAPPA see:



Much more needs to be done with regard to prevention at levels three (treatment after the event), two (work with higher risk groups and communities) and particularly at level one which involves the development of public awareness and education approaches which focus on the provision of:


(i) Non sensationalism and evidence based information about sexual abuse and what individuals and communities can do to prevent it


(ii) The facilitation of discussions and debates about sexual abuse in all its forms


(iii) The empowerment of communities to develop prevention initiatives themselves based on the experiences of other communities where successful primary prevention initiatives have already been developed .


(iv) The utilization of existing community resources to disseminate knowledge and promote understanding and discussion - schools and the children's centre network across England and Wales.


(v)  The development of a primary prevention approach to sexual abuse prevention is fraught with potential problems and challenges. Ways to overcome these can and have to be found.


If the problem of sexual abuse can be seen as a public health problem which needs to be addressed in a similar way to, for example cancer, heart disease or alcohol and drug misuse with a strong national and local government lead and endorsement and with the buy in of local communities, this, ultimately, over more than one generation is how levels of sexual abuse can be reduced in our communities in the longer term.


Key Questions which require further consideration:


How do we best shape a prevention agenda taking into account the fact that a significant minority of adults (predominantly men) have a sexual interest in children? (numbers viewing and sharing child abuse imagery on the internet)?

How many men who view child abuse imagery also commit contact sexual offences against children?

How do we best achieve momentum behind a public health approach to sexual abuse prevention?

What specifically is the role of attachment in sexual offending?

What are the implications for treatment and prevention?




Beckett, R., Beech, A., Fisher, D. and Fordham, A. (1994) Community -Based Treatment for Sex Offenders: An evaluation of seven treatment programmes London: Home Office

Jones, L,  Finkelhor, D (2001) the Decline in Child Sexual Abuse Cases. Juvenile Justice Bulletin January 2001


Radford, L., Corral, S, Bradley, C, Fisher, H, Bassett, C, Howat, N. with Collishaw, S. (2010).

The maltreatment and victimization of children in the UK: NSPCC report on a national survey of young peoples, young adults' and caregivers' experiences. London: NSPCC.


Smallbone, Marshall and Wodley (2008) Preventing child sexual abuse: Evidence, policy and practice, part 1  Whelan Devon






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