When I first started working in the criminal justice system in Montana, I was convinced that I would never be able to work with offenders who have committed sexual offenses. I thought that I knew too many people who had been assaulted and had too many personal experiences and that it would be incredibly difficult for me to be able to work with those types of offenders and remain unbiased. While it is not an easy population to work with due to the varying types of offenses (some of which are incredibly difficulty to learn about), for the most part they are also some of the easiest due to the fact that most of the time they are going through some of the most intense treatment and because they usually are not treated very well at other facilities, so they tend to follow the rules a little more strictly. This is not to say that every type of sexual offender is like this, but I would say that the majority that I have worked with are.
Something that I find really interesting about sexual offenses is the amount of different things that an individual can do to end up with the label of “sex offender.” Anything from streaking at a football game or urinating in public to assaulting multiple people can get you the same label. While I agree that there should be consequences for all of these actions, I do not believe that someone who streaks at a football game should be treated the same as someone who has assaulted multiple people. In my eyes, those crimes are not the same and I think that treating them the same could do more harm than good. Research has shown that when you mix high risk offenders with low risk offenders, the low risk offenders increase their risk instead of high risk offenders lowering their risk. This applies across the board for all types of offenders. A lot of cases that I work with in Montana are statutory cases, meaning that the offender assaulted someone who was either below the age of consent (16 in Montana) or the offender was 18 at the time and the survivor was younger than that. Statutory cases are difficult because the circumstances vary, so even within those types of situations there is an incredible amount of difference from one crime to another. Currently, treatment includes groups sessions as well as individual sessions with an LCSW or similarly licensed counselor. There are workbooks and various assignments that offenders work through, but they are all covering the same material regardless of what their specific crime is. Implementing a blanket form of treatment for anyone isn’t usually the best course of action, but especially with such differences in crimes, in my mind there is no way that each person is getting their needs met and their problem areas addressed.
I am in no way advocating for there to be no treatment or consequences for sexual offenses, I am instead advocating for there to be more treatment options and that we do a better job of considering the circumstances for the offense before just assigning blanket treatment. I understand that that takes more time as well as requires more staffing to accommodate more types of treatment, but I ultimately think that it would be beneficial to have a system more tailored to specific offenses and that allows for higher risk offenders to be separated from the lower risk ones.