Sexual offenders

Sexual offenders are considered as one of the most contemptible criminals in any society.  Laws and regulations are being routinely made to outcaste sexual criminals, the most recent one being the Proposition 83 which has been enacted by California in the USA. As a result it is very difficult to rehabilitate sexual offenders. The large number of such cases also creates a problem of availability of trained and motivated personnel for supervision as well as adequate fiscal backing. On the other hand it is felt that there is no firm guarantee that the program will succeed and that the offender will not relapse. This has resulted in further complicating an extremely complex social and law and order problem. The sheer volumes of such people are daunting. In 1995 for instance in America there were 234,000 sexual offenders who had been charged with rape or sexual assault. Two thirds of these were under conditional care.  Only 7 percent of the crimes were committed by strangers, while over one third of these were by those who had been close relations of the family. All these factors raise the degree of difficulty encountered in conduct of a supervisory program. The large body of research available on the subject indicates that the alternatives to close supervision of sexual offenders are limited. Thus supervision of sexual offenders is essential because of the background of sexual predators, gravity of crime, vulnerability of the victim, the psycho social nature of the problem and inherent limitations posed by programs for the same.BackgroundTheoriesSexual predators have been classified as persons who have been convicted of sexually violent offense and who suffer from some mental or personal disorder which leads to their inclination to commit a rapacious sexually violent offense. (Act, Nd). The causes for people becoming sexual predators are many to include behavioral as well as cognitive-behavioral factors. The treatment too has to address these facets. (Brown, 2005). Predators are said to come from all walks of life and are known to demonstrate amiable behavior which indicates limited overt possibility of their indulging in the same. In fact most of them appear to be very charismatic personalities towards whom youth are invariably attracted. (Barton, 2006). Thus typifying a predator appears to be difficult. This adds to the burden of supervision and first timers in  particular are difficult to identify.Some studies quoted by Paul and Vess (2006) have indicated a wide variation in behaviourial patterns which lead to sexual offence to include the newly inducted explorer, an unsocial or limited socially committed exploiter of children, an aggressive offender and a compulsive offender. On the other hand there are some who commit offences impulsively and others who are influenced by group behaviour. The inadequacy of sexual offenders in certain social and other respects is evident and the diversity in their psychological make up has also been indicated. Psychological studies conducted have also indicated that there is higher neuroticism and lower extroversion in such cases. (Paul. Vess. 2006).A desire for power is one of the defining characteristics of people who indulge in sexual offences. The need for control particularly of the opposite sex is seen to be prominent in such persons. (Barton, 2006). That this takes a violent turn may be due to reasons which are in other facets of their psychological personality which deems that physical domination through a violent connection is the response which is most appropriate.A study by Corrections Canada has revealed that sex offenders are more likely to commit another sexual offense or even a non sexual one than a person who has been lodged in prison for other crimes. (Getting out of prison, 2006). These offenders particularly the repeat ones are said to be twice as likely to commit further sex offences or even tend to violate the norms set for conditional release. (Getting out of prison, 2006). Thus the need to carry out close supervision of such individuals needs consideration.As a group sexual offenders are known to be heterogeneous with a diverse range of variables of committing offense and personality differences. The sexual offenders have a network with fellow criminals. Thus they tend to share the same background. (Hanson. Scott, 1996). Notwithstanding the above most sexual offenders are seen to be isolated at the time of committal of crime, though they have a large network of friends and community support. (Hanson. Scott, 1996). There are thus definite indications of the impact of peer group on sexual offenders.LawsThe problem of sexual offenders and predators are multifarious. There is inaccurate definition of the nature of the crime and its reporting is also considerably tardy. (Brown, 2005). More over the definition varies between state to state within the United States as well as in other countries as UK and Canada. This has resulted in the ability of many offenders to get away with the crime particularly when it is against a child whose case cannot be legally followed through.The Jacob Wetterling Crimes against Children Act is the principle act in the United States which is dealing with sexual offenders. Over the years many states have felt the necessity to add provisions to this Act largely due to greater public interest and outcry over the frequent occurrence of sexual crimes. Sex offenses are said to be misdemeanors as well as felonies. With the physical conduct of the act classifying as a felony, there is scope for many who can get away with minor violations which add up to major crimes.A number of states in the USA have taken recourse to legal options which provide for cities to bar sexual offenders from staying near schools or playgrounds. This is evident in 15 states including some who have introduced it for the first time while two states have expanded the laws already in existence. (Koch, 2006). Some states as California and Pennsylvania have even barred offenders on parole or probation from staying close to areas as schools which may incite them towards such an offence. While there has been regular uproar over such restrictions, the courts in America have invariably upheld such restrictions including ordinances made by cities. (Koch, 2006). This does militate against the accidental triggering of such incidents and reduces its occurrence. This is also evident with the reduction in number of sexual offences in America.California has recently passed a law which is known as Proposition 83 in 2006. It provides sweeping laws to restrict the sex offenders from residing within 2000 feet of a park or a school or any other location which is deemed to be vulnerable from risk of a sexual offence. There is a provision for life time satellite monitoring of sexual offenders who are accused of committing felony. 15 years to life sentence has been kept for rapists and parole period would be 10 years instead of 3 years in respect of those accused of serious sex crimes. There are various other stringent clauses such as classification of sexually violent predators after one rather than two offences earlier and enhanced penalties for child pornography. (Proposition 83, 2006). However it is commonly believed that such laws are not practically enforceable. Another view states that this may eventually result in sexual offenders getting concentrated in certain areas which may be even more dangerous given their tendency to network with each other. Thus Proposition 83 is facing numerous challenges in court.Famous court cases as that of John Couey who was accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting and killing a 9 year old girl, Jessica Lunsford had perhaps led the Californians to adopt a strict regulation. John Couey was known to have a criminal record of over 30 years including for burglary and sexual offence. (Proposition 83, 2006). Despite this it took a long time to put the individual to trial for the crime as the defense continued to look for an impartial jury. This only underlines the need for having practical laws which are implement able within a short period of time in such cases.Supervision of sex offendersProbationThe strategies for supervision of sexual offenders have been categorized into four main themes. These being timely assessment by employing tools which are based on evidence, reducing the risks by opportune interventions, manage risks and develop options for accommodation which are characterized by the nature of risk. The key principle of supervision is to ensure that the public is protected. With the high level of sexual offences which have been noticed across the USA, there is a need to ensure that the measures taken do not compromise public safety in any way.Thus the debate over probation vis a vis incarceration has raged in America over the years. Proposition 83 has proscribed probation in lieu of incarceration keeping in view the nature of some of the sexual offenses such as rape of a spouse or lewd and lascivious acts. Rehabilitation programs have to be based on offence specific as well as non specific objectives. (Brown, 2005). While people are unaware of the programs for treatment of sexual offenders, it is seen that they have a positive approach towards the treatment of sexual offenders but only if the same is accompanied by punishment. (Brown, 2005). This is probably due to the general human inclination to associate crime and punishment. Corrective action is envisaged to be related to punishment and is not envisaged to be purely supervisory in nature. Probation is a corrective action and hence does not meet public approval.Probation which follows a relapse prevention programme has greater weightage as it is said to be realistic and is dependent on multiple sources of information.  While a cure is said to be more difficult. (Getting out of prison, 2006). Relapse prevention treatment can prove effective in control of the tendencies by providing training in anticipating such behavior and providing assistance to cope with relapse. Such activities have to be included in the probationary period and this cannot be restricted to prohibitive controls.Behavioral changes would be an ideal means of ensuring that there is a likelihood of intent of sexual violation. The choice of treatment should also be dependent on the nature of crime committed. The higher the degree of crime and the frequency of committal, the greater will be the likelihood of the sexual offender requiring incarceration and not just probation which would follow after the period of imprisonment.Electronic home monitoringAn increasing tendency to segregate sexual offender’s locationallly is evident with a recent report in the USA Today that a company in Texas, I&S Investment Group, has barred registered sex offenders who are convicted of such offence from buying into its scheme of housing in a 154-lot development in Lenexa, Kansas. (Koch, 2006). The validity of such measures is seriously questionable, especially so when there are reasonable alternatives of electronic monitoring at home. GPS monitoring of sexual offenders has been made mandatory for registered sexual offenders under Proposition 83 in California. The cost of such monitoring will be borne by the offenders. In other countries too, there is a move towards, electronic tagging which is being attempted in England after 2004. (Strategy, 2004). This move has ensured greater vigilance and also acted as a measure for dissuading the sexual offender from undertaking a heinous act as he is conscious that he is likely to be apprehended for the same.Role of Probation OfficerBanning strangers from localities or incarceration may not be a strategy which is likely to be effective as per La Fond (2005). Most of the offenders are said to be well known to the victims, in fact 80 percent are said to know the victims in some way or the other, which reduces the impact of a scheme which bans strangers from specific localities. (LaFond, 2005). Thus schemes have to be practical and realistic to ensure that these can be applied in the given social milieu. A probation officer is one such effective measure who is a guide as well as trigger to notice any changed behavior in the offender. A probation officer thus has to not only observe the offender but also his acquaintances to be highly effective. Monitoring the overall activities and behavior of such people is important. As the offender is aware that he is being watched, it is more than likely that he will undertake his activity when he is under least observation.There is a need to train parole and probation officers in various aspects of their duties to include monitoring of pre events which may lead to offence, having an information and contact network and a working relationship with mental therapists who are actively involved in providing support to the offender. The focus of the probation officers should thus be on relapse prevention. (Getting out of prison, 2006).SupervisionThere are inherent problems for supervision of personnel who have been released on parole. Firstly there is increasing tendency for segregation of such individuals particularly with moves seen in many cities not to permit people charged with sexual offences in a particular housing area. Thus the NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) syndrome seems to be taking over. While there is increased necessity for community support to supervise offenders who have been released on parole. This important facet needs to be considered while granting parole to sexual offenders. It is also felt that while those who agree to a community based action would favor having a treatment centre in their area, it is more than likely that the voices of opponents to this scheme will prevail, thus underlining the need for high level of commitment. (Brown, 2005).The involvement of the community in supervision has also been highlighted by a number of experts in the field. Duane Dobbert (2004) is perhaps one of the most prominent who has very clearly outlined that it is not just the probation officer, but the community at large which will have to bear the overall responsibility of reduction in sexual crime. This is so as a large number of these predators are released back into the community. Therefore it is essential that their activities remain tracked not just by the probation officers but also the community. The probation officers would also do well to seek assistance of the community in carrying out their job. These especially the close associates of the offender can act as his eyes and ears and thus there is a need to win over their confidence. This may not be easy as there would be inherent resistance to invasion of privacy, but building a confidential relationship between the probationary officer and the community would overcome this drawback.HalloweenAll across the United States, sexual offenders are prevented from coming out on Halloween as it is noticed that this period is particularly exploited by them to undertake heinous acts. Thus most states require that sexual offenders should stay indoors during Halloween time on fears that they may exploit masks on such occasions to prevent being identified openly and exploiting anonymity. The frequency of counseling sessions during such periods are enhanced to ensure that there is no relapse exploiting the nature of the event.ConclusionSupervision of sexual offenders is essential because of the background of sexual predators, gravity of crime, vulnerability of the victim, the psycho social nature of the problem and inherent limitations posed by programs for the same. States as California have implemented very stringent laws to prevent proliferation of sexual crimes; however these need to be practically enforceable. On the other hand a community based approach where probationary officers are assisted by the people to carry out their task without invading privacy appears a sound alternative. Technology can also be used effectively but the final measure is to obtain full cooperation of the offenders themselves by their acceptance of the problem and facilitating overcoming the same. 


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