Therapy ‘No Cure for Sex Abusers’

Psychological therapy for sex offenders can reduce re-offending rates, but does not provide a cure, a study says. Researchers from the Universities of London and Leicester reviewed nine studies involving 567 offenders in the US, UK, Canada and Europe. Some treatment programmes have cut re-offending by up to 40%. But experts said the British Medical Journal report was wrong to talk about curing as it was not a medical problem and could not be solved as such.

Most sex offenders in the UK receive some form of psychological treatment, mostly from the NHS and prison and probation services. It tends to take the form of talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy. Report author Belinda Brooks-Green: “Offenders who successfully complete a treatment programme re-offend less often and less seriously than those who do not show that they have understood and worked through the relevant psychological issues.”

But she warned sex offending cannot always be successfully treated. “Better understanding of the outcomes of treatments – either controlling and moderating or harming and worsening behaviour – could at least focus on the most beneficial and cost-effective interventions.”

The review covered people convicted of paedophilia, exhibitionism or sexual assault.

But Zoe Hilton, policy adviser at the children’s charity NSPCC, said she would like to see more research on the issue, particularly on the differences in re-offending between paedophiles and adult sex offenders. She added: “In many ways it is not surprising, we know with good support and the will of the offender, we can reduce re-offending. “But it does depend on the individual.”

And Donald Findlater, deputy director of child protection charity, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, and who used to run a treatment service for sex offenders, said: “I think it is wrong to believe you can cure a sex offender. You can’t. You can manage the problem and psychological treatment has been shown to do that.

“But you can’t say someone is free of the problem and not a risk at all of re-offending.”