Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Child Sex Offenders

"Like Drug Addicts"

McGrain points out that prison programs for drug offenders have shown lower rates of recidivism, so we should take note of that for sex offenders, whose behavior is also about addiction. "They may respond in a similar fashion if we treat them in a way that teaches them how to override their compulsions. We don't put the money into sex offenders that we do into drug treatment, but we may need to spend more. Before investing in civil commitment, for example, we could provide treatment in a prison setting and release an offender once to see what happens. Like drug addicts, some could actually learn and change." 

McGrain thinks the most effective treatments involve a combination of cognitive and behavioral approaches, especially those that assist offenders to learn how to live all over again. "Therapeutic communities for sex offenders offer education and homework," he points out, "as well as support from others with the same issues. These offenders cannot return to the zones in which they may find the same behavioral triggers." Nevertheless, he admits that for some people, there is no effective treatment. 

Narcissists and psychopaths don't value others and may have no internal hindrances toward offending and reoffending. In that case, they may have to be committed in some manner for life. Still, McGrain insists, decisions about pattern offenders should not be in the hands of a judge or jury but made by "a panel of trained professionals whose primary purpose is the determination of insanity or risk. A board of professionals should be the only means of certifying someone as a continuing threat."

It seems, then, that in order to effect viable treatment, we must attempt to understand the offender as a human being with complex bio-sexual impulses. The Woodman, a film starring Kevin Bacon and released in 2004, attempts to achieve this by depicting the loneliness of a child sex offender who has served his twelve-year sentence and has been released back into the community. He's in treatment and under supervision, and he's determined to make it work, despite the strong compulsions he must fight. He lives near an elementary school, so he sees his target victims daily, and, although he meets a woman who cares about him, he cannot get past his attraction to children. Nevertheless, when he attempts to persuade a child to accommodate him, he suddenly realizes her suffering and lets her go. The film depicts both the sordidness of the crime and the difficulties for the offender of repressing compulsive sexual desire. In this case, the offender does feel remorse, but only after gaining insight into the victim's distress. 

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