Sexual violence offenders

Sexual violence offenders

Male sexual violence against women and children continues to be a significant social problem in Australia. Increasing attention has been given to prevention and treatment of sexual offending. Treatment responses have been restricted by an individualistic focus on offenders and tenuous conditions for successfully prosecuting offenders.

This Issues paper on sex offender treatment programs critically examines how theoretical explanations of sexual violence have shaped intervention and community responses. The paper does this by examining the influence of the predominant perspectives that focus on the psychopathology of sex offenders. It is argued that contemporary feminist theory and critical studies in masculinity that address social practices of gender relations provide an important perspective to address sexual violence on a larger scale, but have been largely ignored in treatment perspectives. In this context, prevalence and definitions of sexual violence are examined critically to show that sexual violence is a relatively common experience for many Australian women, especially, for example, when practices such as sexual coercion, which are constructed as part of normal heterosexual relations, are included as acts of sexual violence. The paper also provides a critical analysis of the different treatment paradigms used in Australia. The authors assert that, in general, the responses to sexual violence are not comprehensive and intersectoral, nor do they prioritise accountability to victims. This can be attributed to the distinct theoretical influences in treating sexual offenders, sexual violence prevention and support for victims. The authors conclude by examining the ways in which both treatment and prevention strategies can better address the widespread occurrence of sexual violence in Australia.

Sexual violence in Australia is more widespread than criminal justice statistics indicate. This is primarily because sexual violence often goes unreported (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 1996, 2002a; Mouzos & Makkai, 2004), due to the majority of sex offenders being known to their victims. Common misconceptions locate sex offenders as 'deviant predators', when in fact most men who perpetrate sexual violence are connected to their victims as family members, partners or friends (ABS, 1996, 2004a), and thus operate under a fa├žade of 'normal', 'caring' or 'mutual' relationships. This misconception is underpinned by societal structures and attitudes that presume all sexual violence is committed by 'deviant' men unknown to their victims. These factors limit the focus, conceptualisation and approach to social policies and programs aimed at stopping sexual violence and the treatment of sex offenders. This paper outlines the underpinning theoretical perspectives and prevalence of sexual violence, and what is known about sex offenders, responses to them and their treatment. The authors take the position that sexual violence is a gendered phenomenon, requiring a comprehensive application of contemporary theory, across relevant sectors, that ethically accounts for the experience of victims who are criminally violated. The focus of this paper is male sexual violence against women and children. In instances where this is not the case, it will be specified.

The paper provides an overview of literature concerning explanations, definitions and prevalence of sexual violence in Australia. These are important in order to understand how community, legal and treatment responses have been shaped. Historical and contemporary approaches to preventing sexual violence and a review of evaluated sex offender treatment programs are discussed. A number of aspects about sex offender treatment programs and sexual violence prevention initiatives are then reviewed. Finally, suggestions for future practice and research in the area of sex offender treatment programs are identified.

Dr Donna Chung, Dr Patrick J. O'Leary and Tammy Hand work with the Research and Education Unit on Gendered Violence, School of Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia.

Thanks to our two external reviewers (Dr Denise Lievore and Mr Patrick Tidmarsh) and institute staff who provided comments and reviews (Dr Melanie Heenan, Dr Daryl Higgins and Ms Lara Fergus).

ACSSA Issues
54 pp.