Preventing Sex Crimes, Not Just Reacting to Them

Is there a way to prevent sexual offenses, aside from reacting after the event?

As it stands today, sex offenders are caught and punished after they have committed a crime. If sex crimes are thus prevented, it’s on the assumption that would-be or potential sex offenders are deterred by the publicity surrounding the sentencing of other sex offenders.

If some form of treatment intervention can be provided for men with sexually deviant tendencies, crime can be prevented. More than two decades ago, a BC psychologist recommended a period of amnesty for practicing, but undiscovered, pedophiles. He believed that these men might turn themselves in for treatment if there was no fear of legal consequences for so doing.

An indication that this approach is useful is provided by Moore (1985) who showed that self-referred sex offenders who had no contact with the criminal justice system in Florida comprised 21% (n=194) of patients in that state’s community treatment programs. A more recent study in the UK concludes that “research has consistently demonstrated that a significant number of people with paedophilic behaviour or interest have successfully completed a treatment programme and do not re-present as paedophilic offenders” (Hossak, Playle, Spencer & Carey (2004, p. 131).

Many other therapists are united in their conclusions that the locus of treatment for some offenders (those with a first conviction) should be in the community. While this “self- referral-without legal-consequences” may not adequately address societal demands for retribution and incapacitation, it does have the possibility of reducing the incidence of some types of sexual offending.

The stigma surrounding sexual offending contributes to its problematic nature. One of the greatest impediments to dealing with sex offences against children is the obligation of the therapist to report offenders to legal authorities and/or the Ministry of Children and Families (as it is in British Columbia). The law makes it unlikely that active or potential child molesters will volunteer for treatment, especially if doing so runs the risk of criminal charges and possibly jail.


Hossack, A., Playle, S., Spencer, A., & Carey, A. (2004). Helpline: Accessible help inviting active or potential paedophiles. Journal of Sexual Aggression: An international, interdisciplinary forum for research, theory and practice, 10(1), 123 – 132.

Moore, H., Zusman, J., & Root, G. (1985). Non-institutional treatment for sex offenders in Florida. American Journal of Psychiatry, 142(8), 964-967.


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