Psychological interventions for those who have sexually offended or are at risk of offending

  • Kenworthy T
  • Adams C
  • Bilby C
  • et al.
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BACKGROUND: Sexual offending is both a social problem and a public health issue. To date, no positive treatment effects have been found in quasi-experimental institutional treatment programmes. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate effects of psychological interventions on target sexual acts, urges or thoughts for people who have been convicted, or cautioned, for sexual offences. SEARCH STRATEGY: 33 electronic databases including the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (Issue 4, 2002) were searched. Relevant authors and organisations were contacted for additional data. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) involving adults treated in institutional or community settings for sexual behaviours that have resulted in conviction or caution for sexual offences, or offences or violent behaviours with a sexual element. Behavioural, cognitive-behavioural, psychodynamic, and psychoanalytic therapies were compared with each other, drug treatment, or standard care. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Independent assessors selected and assessed studies and extracted data. Data were excluded where more than 50% of participants were lost to follow-up. For binary outcomes, standard estimations of risk ratio (RR) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated. Where possible, number-needed-to-treat or harm statistics (NNT, NNH) and their 95% CIs were calculated. MAIN RESULTS: We included nine RCTs with over 500 male offenders, 231 of whom have been followed up for a decade. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in groups may reduce re-offence at one year for child molesters when compared with standard care (n=155, 1 RCT, RR any sexual/violent crime - 0.41 CI 0.2 to 0.82, NNT 6 CI 3 to 20). However, when CBT was compared with a trans-theoretical counselling group therapy the former may have increased poor attitudes to treatment (corrected n=38, 1 RCT, RR 2.8 CI 1.26 to 6.22, NNH 2 CI 1 to 5). The largest trial compared broadly psychodynamic group therapy with no treatment for 231 men guilty of paedophilia, exhibitionism or sexual assault. Re-arrest over ten years was greater for those allocated to group therapy (result not statistically significant [n=231, 1 RCT, RR 1.87 CI 0.78 to 4.47]). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Limited data make recommendations difficult. One study suggests that a cognitive approach results in a decline in re-offending after one year. Another large study shows no benefit for group therapy and suggests the potential for harm at ten years. The ethics of providing this still-experimental treatment to a vulnerable and potentially dangerous group of people outside of a well-designed evaluative study are debatable. This review proves such studies are possible.




Kenworthy, T., Adams, C. E., Bilby, C., Brooks-Gordon, B., & Fenton, M. (2008). Psychological interventions for those who have sexually offended or are at risk of offending. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2010(1).

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