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Can abusers be rehabilitated?

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

I am VERY concerned that the information on your site states that sex offenders can be rehabilitated. Where are you getting this information from? What are the studies cited and the statistics? I believe they can never be rehabilitated. I would love to see the studies and evidence to back up this statement.

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Citizen,

I am glad that you’ve read through some of our FAQs on Sex Offender Treatment and are following up with us with some good questions. For further information, also take a look at our FAQ specific to recidivism. Many people are concerned about sex offender recidivism, and are cautious as you are. I’d like to provide you with a bit more information with studies cited, so you understand why we say what we do. Although it is true that not everyone who offends will be rehabilitated, some do go on to live healthy and abuse-free lives, and yes, it is possible.

To be clear, we are defining rehabilitation as the process of a person, who after committing a crime, has attended and engaged in treatment and is able to live a crime-free, safe and healthy life in society. Adults who have exhibited sexually abusive behaviors are capable of being restored through treatment. This requires a dedication and desire by the person to go on to make life changes and to commit to keeping themselves and others safe, and this starts with a specialized treatment provider. For more information about offender treatment and management, two resources are Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants - Sex Offenders Restored Through Treatment (CURE-SORT) and Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA)

In a study published in 2007 by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, called Sex Offender Recidivism in Minnesota states that “…by the end of the follow-up period (an average of 8.4 years for  3,166 offenders), 12% had been rearrested for a sex offense, 10 percent reconvicted, and seven percent reincarcerated.” Further, “existing research has demonstrated… that cognitive-behavioral treatment in the community significantly reduces the risk of sexual recidivism (Aos, Miller, and Drake, 2006).” These are just a couple of examples, but it's important to note that the average rate of recidivism for non sex-offending crimes is much higher. 

Further prominent research, Hanson et al, 2014*,in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence finds that “the 5-year sexual recidivism rate for high-risk sex offenders is 22% from the time of release (still much less than non sex-offending criminals), and decreases for this same high-risk level to 4.2% after 10 years. The recidivism rates of the low-risk offenders are consistently low (1%-5%) for all time periods.”

It is important to note that rehabilitation does not necessitate or indicate that a person is cured. Why an adult sexually abuses a child are diverse – some for power, some in response to their own trauma or in response to new stress and trauma, others because of sexual attraction to children, mental health and intellectual challenges and yet still a different group of offenders purely because of opportunity - and many other reasons. The types of treatment also needs to be diverse and individual, and of course, these adults have the responsibility to address their harmful behaviors - to be accountable and actively engaged in treatment.

The possibility for a sexual offender to be able to successfully reintegrate into society and not reoffend is reliant on their own commitment to treatment, safety and their ability to find and maintain positive supports. What we know, is that a person who has abused can learn to keep themselves and others safe, and their ability to do so increases when they have supports in place like: housing, employment and therapy.  

You may be interested in some of our Stories of Hope, true stories of adults who have committed themselves to treatment and harm-free lives.

Your question is really important, thank you so much for reaching out.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

*Hanson, R., Harris, A.J.R., Helmus, L., & Thornton, D. (2014). High-risk sex offenders may not be high risk forever. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(15), 2792-2813. doi:10.1177/0886260514526062

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Last edited on: June 29th, 2017