Monday, August 20, 2012

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AUSTRALIA - Stress on sex offenders increases risk of re-offending

Original Article

08/20/2012

By Aleisha Orr

Making child sex offenders feel unwelcome could only increase their risk of re-offending, according to an expert in the field.

Melbourne University criminology fellow Mayumi Purvis, who has worked with child sex offenders to reintegrate them into society, said a holistic approach to rehabilitation was needed.

"If we're serious about this we have to be holistic in working with this as they will invariably end up back in the community," she said.

Dr Purvis said while many people supported the idea of rehabilitation in theory, in practise it was not always the case.

She said some concern from parents was understandable but attempts to push a child sex offenders out of a suburb may have harmful effects.

"Stress and inability to cope are often a risk factor to offending," Dr Purvis said.

"That pressure and terrorising of them, abusing them in the streets; that is elevating their risk [of re-offending] tragically."

She said child sex offenders were far less likely to re-offend than most other criminals.

Dr Purvis said rehabilitation programs which were usually initiated after a person was convicted of child sex offenders, helped to reduce these offences in the community.

She quoted a Canadian study in which overall sexual recidivism (repetition of undesirable or criminal behaviour) rates for child sexual offenders was about 12.7 per cent in a five year follow-up period and 9.9 per cent for non-sexual recidivism.

An Australian government report from 2007 put general recidivism rates at between 35 and 41 percent for a two year follow-up period.

Dr Purvis admitted rehabilitation was not what most people thought it was.

"The word 'rehabilitation' makes most people think that once they do it they are fixed or cured."

"In a criminological sense, it's a journey of treatment, the process they go on to understand how it happened and the risk factors involved," she said.

Dr Purvis said most child sex offenders were not what criminologists would call paedophiles.

"People don't realise [paedophilia is] a medical diagnosis and only really applies to a relatively small percentage of child sex offenders overall, about 3.5 per cent."

She said the vast majority were situational sex offenders.

This is in contrast to paedophiles who are preferential offenders, which means even if they had the opportunity to have a sexual relationship with an adult, they would prefer to have a sexual relationship with a child.

"Child sex offenders are highly amenable to change," Dr Purvis said.

"The vast majority don't want to offend."

She said treatment of offenders addressed victim awareness, risk factors and sexual attitudes.

Typically, rehabilitation was done in group therapy but it could also be done one-on-one.

She said different topics were talked through and offenders were then given tasks, like homework in which they gradually worked through the offence and risk factors for themselves.

Tasks could include things such as writing a letter to the victim (which is not sent), as a way of working out how the victim may have felt, or role playing a conversation with the victim (with an adult in therapy.)

"This can be psychologically and emotionally challenging," Dr Purvis said.

They will also set up a support group of people in their life who know about their offending, so if these people see them start to behave in certain ways they can step in.

In the beginning, offenders may have a lot of denial - about the offence, the severity of it or denial over consent.

"By the end of treatment offenders are very good at acknowledging their personal triggers and setting up protective factors in their life to avoid offending in the future," she said.

Dr Purvis said personal triggers could vary for different people.

She said they might be things such as drugs or stress.

"A lot of the time, poor emotional control manifests and presents itself in dysfunctional ways," Dr Purvis said.

She said awareness of how it happened and why it happened was important.

"Essentially, when they offend, they are looking to fulfil some need, they don't have the skills to go about living life in pro-social and personally meaningful way."

"A lot might view it mistakenly as a relationship."

"For them it's about relationship seeking which is completely inappropriate."

"In treatment they build skills for communicating with adults and debunking incorrect beliefs about adults."

Dr Purvis said despite what many people usually thought, sex offenders rarely had mental illnesses other than depression, which he pointed out was common in the general population.

She said the treatment for those diagnosed as paedophiles was similar to that of sex offenders.

"But if they have a desire to have sexual relations with children and not adults, they represent a different type of risk," Dr Purvis said.

She said a containment approach was generally used for those diagnosed as paedophiles and that the numbers of these people were miniscule.

"In 15 years I've come across maybe one or two of them."

Dr Purvis also pointed out that a period of incarceration did nothing to reduce re-offending.

She urged the government to put a greater focus on first time offenders in order to stem the problem of child sexual assaults.

"The government spends enormous amounts of money on tertiary prevention for established offenders but almost no money on primary prevention," she said.

"Unfortunately the Australian government haven't really been proactive; they are waiting until the problem becomes much worse."