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Sex Offender Management Webinars

This webinar series, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART), is designed to provide policymakers and practitioners with trustworthy, up-to-date information they can use to identify and implement what works to combat sexual offending and prevent sexual victimization. The webinars are based on reviews of the scientific literature on sex offending and sex offender management and treatment topics conducted by a team of subject-matter experts and published by the SMART Office in October, 2014, as part of the SMART Office Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative (SOMAPI), a multi-year SMART Office project designed to assess the state of research and practice in sex offender management and treatment, inform the federal government’s research and grant-making efforts in this area, and share information about what works with the field.

The webinars in this series focus on evidence from state-of-the-art research, knowledge gaps, unresolved controversies, and the implications of key research findings for policy and practice. Topics include the incidence and prevalence of sexual offending; the etiology of sexual offending; sex offender typologies; internet offending; risk assessment; recidivism; treatment effectiveness, and sex offender management including registration and notification.

The Effectiveness of Treatment for Adult Sex Offenders

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Therapeutic interventions aimed at reducing the likelihood of re-offending are a staple of contemporary sex offender management practice. While there is strong scientific evidence that therapeutic interventions work for criminal offenders overall, the effectiveness of treatment for sex offenders has been subject to debate. This uncertainty about the effectiveness of treatment for sexual offenders arguably is due to several factors, including measurement shortcomings and inconsistent research findings. Both the quality of the evidence and the pattern of findings from research, however, have changed in recent years.

This webinar addresses the effectiveness of treatment for adult sexual offenders. It is based on a review of the scientific evidence on treatment effectiveness from both individual studies and synthesis research. Important considerations for interpreting the scientific evidence, findings from key studies, and the policy and practice implications that emerge from the evidence all will be discussed. Knowledge gaps that emerge from a review of the evidence and pressing needs for future research are also highlighted.

Adult Sex Offender Management & Juvenile Registration

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Adult Sex Offender Management Strategies. Prevention and intervention strategies for sexual offending behavior, including sex offender management, have become increasingly prominent and important in the United States. Despite the intuitive value of using science to guide decision-making, laws and policies designed to combat sexual offending are often introduced or enacted in the absence of empirical support. However, there is little question that both public safety and the efficient use of public resources would be enhanced if sex offender management strategies were based on evidence of effectiveness rather than other factors. The first part of the webinar provides a review of the research related to the effectiveness of various sex offender management strategies, including specialized supervision; polygraph testing; electronic monitoring strategies such as GPS; the Circles of Support and Accountability model; civil commitment; registration and community notification; and residence restrictions.

Registration and Notification for Juveniles Who Commit Sexual Offenses. Sex offender registration and notification (SORN) has been used as a management strategy since the 1930s. Presently, 41 states have some kind of registration for juveniles adjudicated delinquent of sex offenses; 30 states either permit or require public website posting for those juveniles, and that the vast majority require registration and public notification for juveniles transferred for trial and convicted as an adult. Unfortunately, the body of research addressing SORN’s effectiveness with juveniles remains extremely limited today. Nevertheless, the second part of the webinar reviews these studies and their findings for the purpose of informing policy and practice at the federal, state, and local levels. Findings from studies comparing the recidivism rates of juveniles who commit sexual offenses with those of two groups—adult sex offenders and juveniles who commit nonsexual offenses—are also presented to shed light on any comparative differences that exist in the propensity to reoffend.

Adult Typologies

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Sexual violence remains a serious social problem with devastating consequences. The challenge of "making society safer" not only includes the need for resources, but also requires a comprehensive understanding of accurate offense patterns and risk. This knowledge may be used to devise offense typologies, or classification systems, that will inform decisions regarding investigation, sentencing, treatment, and supervision. This webinar addresses adult sex offender typologies. It reviews the most frequently used and empirically tested for child sexual abusers, rapists, female offenders, and Internet sexual offenders. It also reviews recently developed models of the sexual offense process that have been devised to include etiological theories of sexual offending and treatment-relevant factors, as they may ultimately replace traditional typologies to inform treatment and management of sexual offenders.

Adult Risk Assessment and Adult Recidivism

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Adult Risk Assessment. Risk assessment is a process for estimating the likelihood that an offender will recidivate. The ability to accurately assess the likelihood of future criminal behavior is important to clinicians, policymakers, and the public alike. Indeed, the effectiveness of sex offender management policies relies on the ability of criminal justice professionals to accurately differentiate sexual offenders according to their risk for recidivism (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2005). Estimates of risk for sex offenders are used in a variety of decision-making contexts, including sentencing and criminal adjudications; determination of treatment needs, settings, and modalities; sex offender registration and notification proceedings; and civil commitment proceedings. This first part of the webinar addresses risk assessment for adult sexual offenders. It summarizes what is scientifically known about the topic and identifies policy implications, knowledge gaps, and unresolved controversies that emerge from the extant research and that might serve as a catalyst for future empirical study.

Adult Recidivism. While recidivism has long been a concern of criminal justice practitioners and policymakers, it has received renewed attention in recent years due to the record number of convicted offenders living in our communities. Research has demonstrated that repeat offenders account for a disproportionate amount of crime, and there is widespread recognition today that recidivism reduction should be a key goal of the criminal justice system. This second part of the webinar reviews the scientific literature concerning the recidivism of adult sex offenders. It presents findings about general recidivism, in addition to sexual recidivism specifically, because many sex offenders engage in both sexual and nonsexual crime. It also addresses the recidivism rates of different types of sex offenders.

Juvenile Etiology and Typologies

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This webinar addresses two topics: the etiology of sexual offending by juveniles and typologies for juveniles who have committed sexual offenses. The etiological research that will be reviewed in this webinar addresses the causes or origins of juvenile sexual offending, and the pathways related to the development, onset, and maintenance of sexually abusive behavior in this population. Knowledge about the etiology of sexual offending is important because it provides both conceptual frameworks and specific guidance that can be used to develop more effective prevention efforts across a broad continuum, from primary to tertiary.

The typological research reviewed in this webinar addresses classification schemes based on types or categories of offenders, victims and offense characteristics. Empirically-based typologies provide important information for clinical intervention by identifying key constructs for assessment, possible etiological factors specific to each subtype or typology of juveniles, and unique risk and needs for each subtype that should be targeted in treatment (Faniff & Kolko, 2012, p.7). The information gained from typology research provides the foundation for designing and implementing more effective and efficient treatment programming and supervision protocols that reflect individualized risk and needs.

Juvenile Treatment

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Given the prevalence of sexual offending by juveniles, and the potential links between sexually abusive behavior during adolescence or childhood and sexual offending later in life, therapeutic interventions for juveniles have become a staple of sex offender management practice in jurisdictions across the country. Indeed, the number of treatment programs for juveniles who commit a sexual offense has increased significantly over the past 30 years, as recent research suggests that more than one-half of the sex-offender-specific treatment programs operating in the United States provide treatment services to juveniles. While there is strong scientific evidence that therapeutic interventions work for criminal offenders overall, the effectiveness of treatment for sexual offenders—whether juveniles or adults—has been subject to considerable debate. While inconsistent research findings and measurement shortcomings no doubt have contributed to the ongoing controversy, a body of scientific evidence has emerged in recent years suggesting that therapeutic interventions for juveniles who sexually offend can and do work.

This webinar reviews the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of treatment for juveniles who commit a sexual offense. Focusing on what is scientifically known about the impact of treatment on recidivism; key findings from single studies of juvenile treatment effectiveness as well as from research that synthesizes the results of many juvenile treatment effectiveness studies are presented.

Juvenile Risk Assessment & Juvenile Recidivism

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The assessment of sexual recidivism risk for juveniles who commit sexual offenses serves several purposes. The overall purpose is to estimate the risk of future sexual offending so that the most effective steps to reduce, contain, or eliminate that risk can be taken. A risk assessment can be administered at different points once a juvenile is identified by authorities as the perpetrator of a sexual offense. Regardless of the purpose of risk assessment or point when it occurs, the assessment of risk involves making predictions about the likelihood of future behavior, which is an inherently difficult task.

Whereas the process of juvenile risk assessment was once largely driven by adult risk assessment research and instrumentation, the field of juvenile risk assessment has largely developed in its own right over the past decade. Like adult risk assessment, juvenile risk assessment traditionally has focused on the identification and assessment of factors within the individual that increase (and possibly predict) risk for sexual recidivism. However, juvenile risk assessment can also be used to identify and assess protective factors that mitigate risk for sexual recidivism.

Given the importance of risk assessment in sex offender management and treatment, this webinar reviews the literature on the assessment of risk for sexual recidivism for juveniles who commit sexual offenses. It summarizes what is scientifically known about risk assessment for juveniles who sexually offend and presents key, up-to-date research findings on the defining features and predictive accuracy of commonly used assessment instruments.

Juveniles who commit sexual offenses have come under increasing public and policymaker scrutiny over the past quarter-century. Previously, this population was not seen as a significant public safety threat and was instead viewed with a “boys will be boys” attitude. However, in a series of studies conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s that featured retrospective sexual history interviews with adult sexual offenders, many adults reported they began their sexual offending during adolescence. These findings led practitioners and policymakers to focus more attention on juveniles who commit sexual offenses as a way to prevent adult sexual offending.

In the absence of an empirically-based knowledge base on juveniles who commit sexual offenses, interventions for juveniles who commit sex crimes were constructed utilizing existing theories and practices designed for adults. Whether or not juveniles who commit sexual offenses might be different from adult sexual offenders was rarely considered. Since the 1980s, a significant body of knowledge specific to juveniles who commit sexual offenses has been developed, particularly in relation to the characteristics of these youth and their propensity to reoffend. This webinar focuses on providing a review of recidivism research for juveniles who commit sexual offenses, including both sexual and general recidivism.

Incidence and Prevalence and Adult Etiology

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Statistics on the incidence and prevalence of sex crimes, as well as trend data, can provide important insight into the nature and extent of sexual violence that policymakers and practitioners can use to design and deliver more effective prevention and intervention strategies. The first part of the webinar presents empirically-derived information that helps paint a portrait of what we currently know about the incidence and prevalence of sexual offending and victimization. It also described the strengths and weaknesses of the available data, including under-reporting of sex crimes, so policymakers and practitioners can better assess and interpret the existing knowledge base. The second part of the webinar covers what we know about the etiology of adult sexual offending; that is, the origins or causes of sexually abusive behavior, including the pathways that are associated with its development, onset, and maintenance.

Even though questions about the causes of sexual offending remain difficult to answer definitively, research has generated important insights into the characteristics of various sex offending behaviors (including victim preference), that sex offender management professionals can use to develop and deliver more effective prevention, supervision and treatment interventions. Etiological information can inform discourse and decision-making at the policy level as well, whether the focus is on sentencing, oversight in the community, civil commitment, or any other criminal justice response. In short, knowledge about the etiology of sexual offending can help policy makers and practitioners develop and deliver strategies that reduce sexual victimization and enhance community safety more effectively.

Internet Facilitated Sexual Offending

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There is increasing public and professional concern about internet-facilitated sexual offending, reflected in a greater number of prosecutions and clinical referrals for these crimes (Middleton, Mandeville-Norden, & Hayes, 2009; Motivans & Kyckelhan, 2007; United States Department of Justice, 2010). Internet sexual offending comprises a range of crimes, including possession or distribution of child pornography; production of child pornography; sexual solicitations [1] (online interactions with minors for sexual purposes, including plans to meet offline); and conspiracy crimes, for example, collaborating with others to distribute or produce child pornography or to solicit minors.

The increase in internet sexual offending has been paralleled by a decrease in the number of reported child sexual abuse cases, and violent crime more broadly (Mishra & Lalumière, 2009; Finkelhor & Jones, 2006). This indicates that internet sexual offending is a new phenomenon that may not be influenced by the same contextual factors as other kinds of sexual or violent crime. An important research question is the extent to which internet sex offenders represent a new type of sex offender, or whether they reflect the transformation of conventional sexual offending through the adoption of new technologies (Seto & Hanson, 2011).

This webinar focuses on what is known about internet-facilitated sexual offending, including recent research about the motivations and other psychological characteristics of internet offenders, differences between child pornography and solicitation offenders, history of contact offending, risk of recidivism, and an overview of intervention models.

1] Solicitation offenders have also been called “travelers” in previous research on this population, while child pornography offenders are called “traders”. Briggs, Simon, and Simonsen (2011), discussed in more detail later, have distinguished between solicitation offenders who appear to be fantasy-driven, restricting their sexual interactions to online behavior such as sexually explicit chat, exhibitionism via webcam, and/or transmission of pornography, and those who appear to be contact-driven, where the online interactions are directed at arranging face-to-face meetings where sexual activities might take place.

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