‘Sexual offenders cannot be rehabilitated’. This is a statement which many people are justifying to be true regarding an increased number of repeated sexual offenses that has been seen over the years. Hanson & Bussiere (1998) noted that despite the fact that sexual offenders go to rehabilitation centers and are taken through the whole program, practically immediately after they are released into society they commit the same crime. Apart from repeating the same sexual offense, they end up murdering their victims, which is something they would never do before the rehabilitation. In addition, Hebenton & Seddon (2009) observed that numbers of abductions are often carried out by a convicted and supposedly rehabilitated sex offender.

However, just like in any other study, there are some contradictions concerning the issue under analysis.

Statistics released by the United States Bureau of Justice in 2003 on recidivism of sex offenders that were released from prison, show an otherwise position. These statistics indicates that sexual offenders, specifically child molesters, have a three percent probability of committing another sex crime against a child within three years after their release (Levenson, Tewksbury & Zgoba, 2007). Another comprehensive research conducted by this bureau using one thousand men convicted of sexual assault, rape, and child molestation showed that they have a re-arrest rate of twenty five percent less than other criminals like thieves, burglars, murderers, and other criminals. This serves as clear evidence that sexual offenders cannot be rehabilitated. This paper examines critically the statement of whether sexual offenders can be rehabilitated.

Who are the Sexual Offenders?

Sexual offenders are the people who commit sex crimes. According to Hebenton & Seddon (2009), sexual crimes may take a number or one of these forms:

  • child molestation;
  • rape;
  • child pornography trafficking;
  • second prostitution;
  • sexing;
  • corruption of a minor, where unlawful sexual contact with the minor takes place;
  • child sexual abuse;
  • and statutory rape among others.

According to Hebenton & Seddon (2009), what is even absurd is that crimes that are related to sexual behavior have been taken to account for nearly only one percent of all indictable crimes despite the fact that they have been the subject of interest among many nations in the world today.

Hebenton and Seddon (2009) noted that sexual offenders are also commonly referred to as sexual predators and they are divided into three categories known as ‘tiers’ in the United States and the United Kingdom. In these two countries, all individuals convicted for sex offence are most often required to register with the sex offender registry of the jurisdiction that they belong to. These registries are usually made public so that people are alerted about their presence in the neighborhoods. Depending on the gravity of the offense committed, an offender can be registered as a sex offender for his entire life while another category may only require registering for a limited amount of time.

The first tier, according to Adam Walsh Act of 2006, covers minor sexual offenses, felonies, and misdemeanors. It requires the sex offender to register for not less than fifteen years together with a mandatory annual verification of their registration in the system (Freeman & Sandler, 2010). Sexual offenses covered in this tier include:

  • public indecency, mostly where the victim is a minor;
  • voyeurism;
  • possession of child pornography;
  • sexual contact without permission.

According to Freeman & Sandler, the second tier covers more serious offenses, specifically nonviolent offenses involving minors. This tier requires the offenders to register in the system for twenty five years and semiannually verify their registration. Offenses in this category include:

  • sex trafficking, contact, or prostitution involving minors of ages from twelve to fifteen;
  • sexual offenses involving those in custody, in which the offender has a supervisory, disciplinary, or custodial authority;
  • any new offence that has been committed by a tier I offender.

Freeman & Sandler further indicate that the third tier is for such categories of sexual offences that are of the highest seriousness.  Sexual offenders who are in this category are required to register for life and verify their registration after every three months. This section covers;

  • sexual offenses with the victim being unconscious, drugged, or intoxicated;
  • sexual offenses involving force, intimidations, or threats as well as acts with those who are mentally and physically incapable of declining;
  • sexual contact with a child under the age of twelve and non parental kidnapping of minors (Freeman & Sandler, 2010).

Once a sex offender has served his term and has gone through rehabilitation successfully, they are usually released back into society. Statistics show that the rate of them repeating the same crime is comparatively low. For example, a study carried out by the United States Department of Justice show that recidivism rates was five percent in 2002 with one out of nineteen released sex offenders being arrested for the same crime again (Langan & Levin, 2002). Same studies further indicated that of the people arrested for committing other forms of crime which are non-sexual in nature, sixty eight percent were later rearrested for committing any other crime including sexual offenses.

Langan & Levin (2002) note that these rates could be that low since a good number of serial sex offenders are detained for life. However, according to Shayla (2009), these rates could be higher than the assumed low figures given above considering the fact that a good number of cases go unreported. For example, a British sexual offenses criminal Peter Tobin confessed to raping and killing over forty people after he was found guilty of raping and murdering a Polish student and two teenage girls who disappeared in early 1991 (Shayla, 2009).

The rate of sexual offenders committing the same crime could be low per statistical evidence, but they are definitely high on individual basis. For example, forty percent of released sex offenders who committed another sex crime repeated the act within a year or less from the time they had been discharged from prison (Langan & Levin, 2002). This rate increases the doubt of whether a sex offender can really be rehabilitated.

Sex offenders are perceived to be more dangerous than murderers or any other types of criminals due to the nature of the crime they commit. This danger emanates from the fact that most of their victims are usually children from the ages of two to thirteen and teenage girls from the ages of thirteen to twenty one. They usually target children and young teenagers because of their naivety, lack of physical strength, and inability to defend themselves against the offender (Langan & Levin, 2002).

The seriousness of sexual offenses comes from the view that the victims’ future gets destroyed regarding the fact that that they will be psychologically affected in a way that can result in ending up being sexual offenders in their adulthood or becoming loose prostitutes and immoral people in the society. Due to this danger they pose, a number of states within the United States, Canada, and other Western nations have developed the sex offender registry in which the government authorities can keep track of the released sex offenders. These registries enable the state authorities to monitor all the offenders’ actions, including their residence and daily activities in addition to placing certain restrictions upon them. Such restrictions are the means of prevention from offenders being found near minors, also, at schools and day care centers, or even from using the Internet.

Sex Offenders’ Rehabilitation

The question of whether a sex offender can be rehabilitated should be answered only on the basis of the individual characteristics of a certain offender. For a deeper criticism of the statement that the rehabilitation of sexual offenders is impossible, there is a need to understand what is rehabilitation itself and what does it entail. According to Ward and Gannon (2006), rehabilitation refers to the process of restoring to life or restoring to good condition mostly through education and therapy. Rehabilitation is carried out on the assumption that no one was born a criminal and thus, none should be permanently considered as one since it is possible to restore an offender to a useful life in which they can contribute positively to themselves and to the society (Ward & Gannon, 2006).

Rehabilitation is carried out with a major aim of preventing recidivism or habitual offending through therapy and education by bringing a criminal into a normal state of mind in which they can be helpful to the society. Rehabilitation presents a challenge to its effectiveness considering that it majorly depends on the individual, his or her psychological background, possible motives of committing a crime, and on their desire to stop the habit.

Hanson & Bussiere (1998) note that rehabilitation of sexual offenders, just like of the other criminals, appears to be difficult since a good number of these offenders are psychopaths who derive pleasure from their ignominious acts. The psychopaths are defined by their uninhibited gratification in sexual, criminal, and aggressive impulses together with their inability to learn from their past mistakes. That is why some of the criminals who are out of prison and rehabilitation centers still go on to commit sexual offenses. A study by Hanson & Bussiere (1998) shows that ardent sexual offenders just like other psychopaths do not gain from punishment and other behavior modification techniques. Contrary, these trainings only make them even more cunning, more capable of hiding their behaviors, and more adept at manipulating others (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998).

Attempts to rehabilitate sexual offenders started way back in the 1930’s when they were viewed to be mentally disordered and thus were subjected to psychiatric treatments (Freedman, 1987). In 1970, these approaches were changed, and the treatments that were focused on training offenders to become more self aware and more responsible in controlling their high risk impulses were enacted. Some of the current rehabilitation methods that are offered to sexual offenders include the use of behavior modification programs and chemical castration, which, apparently, is not widely used per se.

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Behavior modification programs have been effective in reducing changes of recidivism among the sexual offenders. This program majorly uses only two approaches – the operant conditioning and the respondent conditioning (Laws & Marshal, 1990). The operant conditioning approach uses a reward and punishment formula to train new patterns of behavior in the offenders. The respondent conditioning, on the other hand, uses an aversion therapy, which tends to reduce recidivism rates by fifteen to eighteen percent, although still remains an ethical controversy, (Laws & Marshal, 1990).

According to Laws & Marshal, other forms of medication and counseling that are used during rehabilitation are directed to reduce arousal. These are, for example, cognitive-behavioral, psycho-educational, and pharmacological methods. In cognitive-behavioral method, the counselors and the therapist work on the offender’s thought patterns with an aim to change his high-risk and arousal thoughts. The psycho-educational method tries to educate the offender about the risks of his acts with an aim of making him more aware of the consequences and responsibilities of his actions. This training is directed at instilling a concern and humane attitude towards his/her victims so that the offenders become concerned about them and thus not commit the crimes again.

Laws and Marshal (1990) noted that pharmacological methods employ the use of medication on the sexual offender in order to reduce their sexual arousal. Medication used includes Depo-Provera injection which aims at lowering the sex drive of the individual by reducing his testosterone levels. These methods are usually effective when began immediately after the sex offender is incarcerated but, unfortunately, this is not usually the case. The prison environment where the sex offenders are detained usually interferes with their productive treatment considering the fact that it exposes those harbors of such thoughts. Once they are out of prison, the offenders are constantly being monitored as a means to deter them from committing future crimes.

Can Sex Offenders Be Rehabilitated?

According to Hebenton and Seddon (2009), sex offenders are both capable and incapable of being rehabilitated. Rehabilitation depends on the type of sexual offense and the condition of the offender. Chronic sexual offenders are considered psychopaths, because not even imprisonment can prevent them from committing the hideous crimes whenever they get an opportunity to.

Hebenton and Seddon (2009) noted that for this category, rehabilitation is not a solution. According to them, maybe only physical castration or life imprisonment could help them. They argued that whenever a sex offender is caught, chances are high that it was not his first time and, probably, it has developed into a chronic habit that is a part of him. Thus, since it has become a part of the offender’s nature, he will do or at least try to do it again. Hebenton and Seddon (2009) argue that sexual offense is a ‘crime of the mind’; if that term could be allowed. They explain it with the fact that offender first of all flirts with the thoughts and then acts upon them. After doing it several times without being caught, he becomes addicted to it, and his mind programs itself to accommodate such deeds into his system. Since it has become a part of him, whenever the normal desire for sexual fulfillment comes upon him, he cannot find a normal way to release it, like in a heterosexual marriage, but he rather goes for what he’s mind has been programmed to do.

Some of the scientists claim that sexual offense is a chronic addiction and, just like an addiction to cocaine, it can be treated through therapy or educational methods.  However, a good example of why sexual offenders cannot be changed is seen in the cases below.

  1. Allan Dodd

Mr. Dodd had been sentenced to execution for the torture, sodomy, and murder of three boys in 1993, and apparently, he refused all efforts to appeal for a hearing of his case (Fromson, 1993). He had exhausted all the efforts of the society to rehabilitate him considering the fact that he confessed that when released, he would surely kill and rape again. In addition, he confessed that he enjoyed the acts and would be pleased to do it again and again.

  1. Donald Chapman

Donald Chapman was a renowned New Jersey rapist who was released from prison in November 1993 after serving a maximum of twelve years for his sexual offenses (Fromson, 1993). In prison, he was taken through an intensive rehabilitation therapy to prevent him from repeating his crimes. Unfortunately, he was utterly unaffected by it given the fact that he vowed to continue attacking women once released. Due to this threat, this man currently sits in his house in New Jersey under house arrest with a twenty four hour police guard.

From these two cases, we can assert that it is impossible to totally rehabilitate sex offenders since they are completely obsessed with it and would do anything just for a chance to repeat the offence. A 1992 research of seven hundred and sixty seven child molesters in Minnesota revealed that those who completed their psychiatric treatment were the ones arrested more often for new sex crimes than the ones who never treated at all (Hebenton & Thomas, 1996). Further researches carried out in Britain and Canada on child molesters for twenty years revealed that they had a forty three percent recidivism rate irrespective of the rehabilitation therapy (Hebenton & Seddon, 2009). The offenders who carried out more violent and sadistic offences were more likely to repeat their offenses than the others. Rehabilitation becomes impossible since these sexual offenders have a need for seeking higher and higher levels of stimulation. Their desires do not wan with time but, on the contrary, they tend to reinforce with every single act.

Hebenton & Seddon (2009) noted that sexual offenders do not outgrow their behavior but they reinforce it. For example, sexual offender or a potential one watching child pornography will eventually experiment it by molesting children. Sexual offenders tend to be narcissistic, in that they laugh at the society’s futile attempts to rehabilitate them. Sexual offenders often feel no moral repulsion for their deeds and a good number of them perceive their victims, who are majorly women and children, as sexualized beings whose work is to reciprocate their erotic desires. In addition, some of these offenders are cunning in that they can deceive the authorities that they have been totally healed of their chronic desires and instincts. In addition, rehabilitation in itself involves the person and their strong desire to actually be treated. However, there is no scale that can be used to measure a person’s correction or to justify that one has been totally rehabilitated.

Sexual offenders cannot be rehabilitated; they can only be deterred and prevented from repeating their crimes. The methods that can be used to deter them include either physical or chemical castration, life imprisonment, or the death sentence. There exists a law in Washington that permits an indefinite confinement of sexual offenders that are deemed dangerous if released. Though critics of this law argue that there are no means to justify a person dangerous, and it is among the best ways to deter these people from committing such offenses. While in prison, sexual offenders will be denied the opportunity to commit their crimes since they have outmaneuvered every effort of rehabilitation.

Hebenton and Seddon (2009), as it was mentioned before, identified chemical castration as one of the methods of rehabilitation. According to them, this method is reversible immediately after medication is stopped or by use of black market medicine, which makes it pointless. Chemical castration, if done in public, shall deter a good number of offenders from repeating their acts. This injection is aimed at destroying their ability to have intercourse again. Some may consider it cruel, but what is crueler: to let a sexual offender at liberty to attack other innocent children and women or to deny him the chance of sexual intercourse if he does not know how to control himself? It is more beneficial for the society if they are deterred from attacking innocent people again.

Another means of rehabilitating sexual offenders is by physical castration, especially for chronic sex offenders. According to Soothill and Francis (1997), though it appears cruel, physical castration is the most effective form of rehabilitating sex offenders. In addition, it does not affect the lifespan of the men and their normal functionality – it is only that their unusual sexual urges are done away with. Sex offenders pose a great threat to the society. That is why the registered sex offender list, which is in accordance with the Sex Offender Act of 1997, works to increase the society’s awareness of their whereabouts (Soothill & Francis, 1997). This list, to a certain extent, acts to deter sexual offenders from repeating their crimes due to the shame of being associated with it.


Sexual offenders, especially the chronic ones, are sociopaths who have crossed the osmotic membrane and cannot step back to the other side. Sexual offense is a form of addiction that has gone to the extreme end; it is an irreversible process which seems utterly impossible to break. Though many sex offenders would desire to break the habit, it has become part of their nature, and that is why a good number of them after imprisonment still repeat the same acts. In addition, the rehabilitation methods are somehow flawed and challenged due to the lack of a conducive environment to carry out the exercise. The statement that sexual offenders cannot be rehabilitated is true, they can only be deterred. The only sure way to deal with them is either to isolate them form the society or to confine them in their own environment.

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