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
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
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
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
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 - www.nota.co.uk) and ATSA in
the US www.atsa.com.
However, more needs to be understood, for example in relation to the treatment
of female offenders, offenders with a learning disability, internet offenders
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
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
(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.
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?”
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
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:
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
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
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?
is the role of attachment in sexual offending?
What are the
implications for treatment and prevention?
Beech, A., Fisher, D. and Fordham, A. (1994) Community -Based Treatment for Sex
Offenders: An evaluation of seven treatment programmes London: Home Office
Finkelhor, D (2001) the Decline in Child Sexual Abuse Cases. Juvenile Justice
Bulletin January 2001
Corral, S, Bradley, C, Fisher, H, Bassett, C, Howat, N. with Collishaw, S.
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