Sex Offender Group Therapy: The Never-Ending Story

The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

When does your court required “sex offender group therapy” end?

Who knows?

There seems to be no clear cut answer to what I think is a pretty straight forward question.

When you begin group sessions and ask how long treatment continues, the response that is most likely doled out by your treatment counselor is “well, it’s different for everyone.”

Now, one, five or ten years have gone by and there seems to be no end in sight, for anyone in your group. You’ve done everything you’re supposed to since you’ve started.  You quickly got over the fact that the groups are held in a seedy looking run-down building on the outskirts of town. You have faithfully attended and put forth your utmost effort to participate in every group session required. Every week you have forked over your hard earned money to pay for what is defined by the courts as “sex offender group treatment.” You’ve taken and passed and paid for numerous polygraphs. You’ve taken visual assessment tests that some courts don’t even find credible. You’ve completed all the assignments given to you, you’ve built a life and learned how to navigate within and despite the registry’s ridiculous boundaries and restrictions. You’ve done everything they’ve told you one needs to do to graduate.

And yet you and everyone else in your group seems to have progressed not one iota!

To say that sex offender group therapy moves at a snail’s pace is an under-statement.

Sessions are often monopolized by the same one or two individuals every week, the idea that this is “group” therapy seems lost on the counselors. The presentations that you are required to present get put on hold week after week while one or two individuals use up the entire group session, their monologues never being reigned in by the counselors so that others can participate.  Week after week you pay money to sit and listen to the issues of a few. Issues that may not be even remotely close to your issues. In groups where the range of offenses can be at totally different ends of the spectrum, violent to benign, there is little commonality amongst the group. Sometimes you hear things that you can’t “un-hear”, stories that make your blood run cold, unspeakable acts that are not nor were they ever in your frame of reference. How’s this helping you?

Occassionally a counselor will make the comment, “we need to get moving on these presentations, you all want to graduate don’t you?”

But, in the time you’ve been attending you can’t help but notice that no one has ever “graduated” from treatment. More and more people are added to the group, additional counselors are brought in, but no one ever leaves. It’s like the Hotel California! You’ve been here so long, listened to so many stories, mentally you have checked out but you can never seem to physically leave.

What kind of treatment is this where no one ever seems to progress, never mind graduates out of treatment?

When you again inquire about the length of the treatment program you’re given the vague “well, you know, everyone’s issues are different so the amount of time in treatment varies” line yet again.

You’ve done your homework, you’ve read up on the various treatment modalities. Remember, you’re paying for this, you are the consumer even though it is court required.

You ask about your “individual treatment plan”, you’ve been here almost a year and yet you’ve never seen it and no one has ever discussed it with you.  What are the specific “goals” you need to meet to progress out of treatment?  You want to succeed, you want to move forward and you want to know what you need to be doing to eventually graduate out of this group.

Miraculously, the following week, you, as well as everyone else are shown individual “treatment plans.” You notice that the treatment plans are dated four months earlier. When you mention this, the response is only that “they are sooooo backed up with paperwork!” Not so surprisingly, everyone’s treatment plan is pretty much the same. Maybe there are a few little differences here and there, but for the most part the “individual” treatment plans are fairly generic.

So I wonder, is this required “sex offender group treatment” all just a moneymaker?

In Tennessee you can’t be given polygraphs while you are on probation without “probable cause”, meaning you have to have done something you probably shouldn’t have, something that gives your parole officer cause for concern, something that makes him/her go HMMMMM?

But, if you are in “sex offender group treatment”, polygraphs, plethysmography and VASI (Visual Assessment of Sexual Interest) testing can all be considered part of “treatment”, and no “probable cause” is required.

Get where this is going?

Is sex offender group treatment just a giant loophole to allow polygraphs and other testing of all registrants on parole even when there is no cause for the testing? Is it a way to fill state coffers, at $150 to $250 a pop, those being subjected to these tests, often bi-annually, will definitely feel a dent in their wallets. And the end is no where in sight!

I’m not saying that there isn’t a need for sex offender treatment because we all know there is. A lot of people can benefit from treatment, when it’s done correctly. But “group therapy” isn’t necessarily the correct treatment for everyone, some folks with more intense issues may require more intensive individual therapy. And not surprisingly, there are probably a lot of people in required “sex offender group therapy” that need little if any therapy depending on how benign their offense was. Are murderers, thieves and the like all required to attend therapy so they see the error of their ways and  don’t re-offend?  Of course not. Just because an offense has the word “sex” connected to it doesn’t mean that all offenders  “require” some kind of on-going treatment once they are out of prison. Sex Offender group therapy for sex offenders on parole seems like one of those things that gets added to a sentence so the judge can make society feel like they are somehow safer (oh, rest assured, I’ve done my job, I’ve sentenced him to sex offender treatment)!

Like the good counselor says, “everyone’s offenses are different”, but then so is the amount of time they should be required to spend in court required “sex offender group treatment”.

Court mandated sex offender group therapy that is done poorly, that lumps registrants with all different levels of offenses together, that allows groups to continuously be controlled by one or two individuals, is beneficial to no one. The majority of the group participants become nothing more than a captive audience for a small minority of the group. Doesn’t forcing low level offenders to attend group sessions week after week and listen to what are sometimes horrific accounts by high level offenders seem like it can be detrimental to the low level offenders? Possibly lead to PTSD/post traumatic stress disorder?

When individual treatment plans aren’t discussed with participants, when they are not truly “individualized”, nothing gets accomplished. No one knows exactly what is required of them to meet their individual goals of succeeding in group.  No one progresses.  No one ever graduates.

Perhaps judges that court order sex offender treatment should be required to attend a few of these “group sessions”. Perhaps they need to experience for themselves the “one size fits all” model of sex offender group treatment that they so nonchalantly prescribe at sentencing.

Maybe then they would have a better understanding of our never-ending story.



The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

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