How easy is it to rehabilitate a rapist?

I was researching recidivism and rates of breaking parole for rapists in preparation for a story I’m writing, and I thought I’d throw the topic out for any further discussion.

Also, a friend of mine on lj who is also a doper emailed me some interesting comments on the ‘therapy’ that rapists receive in prison, which both he and I found to be woefully deficient in that it basically lead the rapist to believe there was no hope for him, and that he was, for all intents and purposes “unsafe at any speed”.

When, in fact, from this study,

We see that while there IS certainly recidivism, that it seems low.

I guess what I’m saying is that it is my conclusion that since many rapes occur in dating or established relationship situations, and many people still don’t understand WHAT rape is (non-consensual sex that doesn’t necessarily demand a knife to the throat sort of situation), it is easier to convince a rapist that what they did was wrong and should not be repeated. Also, since sometimes a rape is a crime of passion and circumstance, there is probably a large percentage of rapists in and out of prison who regret deeply that drunken slip up at a party, or coercing that prom date or what have you.

And further, while these people should be punished, and all rape is horrible, I do believe that once they’ve paid their debt to society, they should be free to try and pursue life without that label, which brings in to question the idea of ‘registered sex offenders’.


IMHO something like a date rape where the person either coerced a woman or just took advantage of one who had a little too much to drink can probably be rehabilitated. They are still scummy, but there is some hope. I am sure we all know people with horrid judgement. We can offer them counceling and help them to see why they made a wrong choice.

If the rapeist did something to cause someone to be incapacitated, like putting “roofies” or GHB into someones drink then I think it would be a little more difficult to rehab them. They might play up the “I just made a bad choice” defense, but actively causeing a situation is a lot diffrent than causeing the situation. If you seek to incapacitate people then , in my eyes, you are a predator. If you dont think drugging a girl to get her in bed is wrong then there are probably deeper issues at hand.

If the rapeist is the knife to the throat kind I dont think he can be rehabilitated. Carrying a gun or knife is a premeditated act. It is similar to useing drugs on a victim, but a lot worse. With drugs you might make the victim afraid of men or takeing drinks from strangers. With a knife point rape you make the victim afraid of leaving the house. After all, if someone is attacked at random by a total stranger in their mind it could happen again. If you are the type that acts out by attacking people chances are that there are some real issues at hand and the rehabilitation that prison offers isnt going to help much.

Your stats do seem to show that the recidivism rate is fairly low, but is there a stat for what percentage of repeat offenders were of the violent knife point kind and which were the less violent date rape kind. I would be interesting to see which type of rapeist in more likely to reoffend.

If you’re thinking about writing about recidivism and rape, I would recommend you make a distinction between kinds of rapists. Pedophiles, Serial Rapists, and your drunk frat boy are completely different animals when talking about recidivism.

The studies regarding recidivism are all over the place. a newspaper report, a review by Texas both can give a rough idea.

Probably the most used study among those who treat sex offenders is the work done by Hanson and Bussiere. Hopefully those will give you a rough idea of what is out there.

Here in Illinois, and in many other jurisdictions, there is a law that allows civil commitment of sex offenders, even if they’ve finished serving their criminal sentence. You can find the text of it here. Basically it allows the State to civilly commit a ““Sexually violent person” means a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense, has been adjudicated delinquent for a sexually violent offense, or has been found not guilty of a sexually violent offense by reason of insanity and who is dangerous because he or she suffers from a mental disorder that makes it substantially probable that the person will engage in acts of sexual violence.”

I think this kind of statute is a great idea.

Hamlet, for the purposes of this discussion, I would think we should leave out pedophiles as that strikes me as a whole different animal (I don’t know why and I don’t have anything to back that up, other than that’s not what I’m writing about).

But beyond that, I think that the mind set of a serial rapist, one time violent rapist or date rapist is somewhat simple. All of them are exerting their power over a person regardless of what they TELL you the motivations are, and I think it’s unfair to present to victims that SOME rapes aren’t as bad as others.

I guess the bottom line is, does a rapist who truly is repentant for their crime due a second chance at life and in relationships with women?

Sex offender treatment in prison has many problems, and they’re difficult to solve.

  1. In order for treatment to be a “success” the offender must first admit to their crime, which many refuse to do because:

    a.) They’re afraid that admitting to their crime will damage their chances for a successful appeal;
    b.) They refuse to admit that they did anything wrong. Some will insist that the sex was consensual, and the woman later “cried rape,” or that the victim is lying and they were framed;
    c.)They fear of friends and family discovering that they were really guilty.

  2. Treatment staff do not have enough time or resources to devote to each individual inmate. Treatment programs are usually group sessions, lasting for twelve to eighteen months in a Residential Treatment Unit, where the inmate lives in a “theraputic” environment. His group sessions can be three to four hours per day, along with “homework” which takes about two hours per evening. Staff usually have about a fifteen man case-load, and while one-to-one counselling is offered, it has been found that treatment is more effective if the inmate admits to his crime in front of his peers. (It helps to induce a rehabilitive cognitive state.)

  3. Rehabilitation is all about changing cognitive state. Basically, it’s “unlearning” the behavior patterns which lead someone to offend. Typically, sex offenders are not caught until their later years, so it’s entierly possible that they have had thirty years or so to develop the rationale to support and even justify their sexual devience . . . to reinforce their mental state that supports their sexual offences. Therefore, you only have twelve to eighteen months to change the mental state which has been ingrained in these people for most of their adult life. Furthermore, these cognitions that lead to sexual offences are usually related to deeply ingrained mental health issues. In other words, these men really do not believe what they are doing is wrong, and the first step to getting them to admit that what they did was wrong may take years in of itself. It’s extremely difficult to deal with this type of offender with the limited time and resources of a sexual offender treatment program.

  4. Rehabilitation is also about WANTING to change. If the offender does not want to change, nothing can induce him to do so. He will serve out his sentance, and then be set free without having changed at all. He may even complete a program by obeying the rules, but not absorb any of the theraputic treatments.

  • Posted by ** jarbabyj ** *

This isn’t exactly true. The program teaches that there is no hope *if the offender continues in his present cognitive state. * They must change their belief system in order not to re-offend. If the offender holds to his negative views, they will continue to offend. There is hope if the offender is willing to change his thought processes.

I should point out that “Recidivism” means “caught”…that “only” 19% of former rapists were subsequently convicted of another rape within 5 years does not mean the other 81% were necessarily “rape free”.

At the present time no empirically validated treatment exists for perpetrators of rape. Generally speaking as “past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior” I would regard the likelihood of recidivism (caught or not) as quite high.

Lissa, I don’t want to name names in case that person doesn’t particularly want to post in this thread (although I will email and ask) but he had some pretty close association with prison rape therapy programs and he, in his state at least, said he found it to be terrible, in that it basically was intended to make the rapist, REPENTANT OR NOT to feel like an animal or a monster for his crimes.

I’m going to email him now and see if he’ll participate.

Rehab’s simple, made up of 3 components…

1 fifty cent rifle round

1 reasonably competent marksman

1 6’x4’ hole.

no more offenses, ever.

>it basically was intended to make the rapist, REPENTANT OR NOT to feel like an animal or a monster for his crimes.<

He ought to.

Rapists should be given something they don’t give their victims: a choice.

A. Castration
B. Death

Castration won’t do any good whatsoever. Many rapes do not involve penile penetration; the rapist may use a foreign object. The purpose of rape is not necessarily instant sexual gratification, but the thrill of power and dominance.

**jarbabyj, ** progams lay it on thick to try to impress upon the offender that what they did was wrong. Considering the cognitive state of many sex offenders, strong tactics are sometimes needed in order to get through to them how bad their acts were.

Think of it much like potty training for a child. We tell the child that soiling their pants is nasty and disgusting, and drill this concept into them to the point where as adults an accident can cause incredible shame. With sex offenders, the concept is to drill the idea that their crimes were abhorant into them until they accept that their acts are wrong, and hopefully, be horrified at the idea of re-offending.

I don’t think it’s “terrible” at all to instill shame. Shame is extremely powerful in its deterrent effects. Should the concept take hold, the offender may reject the urge to rape again out of embarassment. Of course, staff members are human, and personal feelings about sex crimes can flavor their sessions. Some staff may be harsher than others in their attempts to change the offender mindset, but I don’t think it’s abusive in any way if it actually prevents the inmate from re-offending.

As to its effectiveness, it would depend on the offender and on the staff member. If an offender goes into a situation in which there is no attempt at therapy, just disdain and disgust from the staff person, their natural reaction may be defensive, and it would be more difficult to break through to the inmate. Some inmates will consistantly refuse to admit that they were wrong in what they did, and may be ultra-resistant to any tactics which may make him feel bad about himself.

My information comes from a friend who actually worked as sex offender treatment staff. We’ve discussed the pros and cons extensively. He’s of the opinion that while programs may be flawed, they’re better than nothing.

Oh, the poor widdle wapists :rolleyes:

Rapists are scum. All rapists. I personally don’t give a damn how repentant they are.

I don’t believe that genuine remorse by sex offenders really happens very often anyway. Rape is a sociopathological act. It’s not like the occasional “crime of passion” murder (somebody shoots the guy that’s nailing his wife) where an otherwise healthy person may be driven over the edge just once and then regret it. Rape is a fundamentally narcissistic crime. It requires an a priori lack of empathy on the part of the offender. I have felt murderous rages in my life. I have never, ever, ever felt the urge to rape. The urge to kill is a normal part of human psychology. (albeit, one that we repress) The urge to rape comes only from a distorted psychology. Psychopathologies tend to be hardwired at an early age and they are typically not reversible. I don’t believe that the vast majority of sexual psychopaths are remotely rehabilitatable, and I don’t really care how sorry they are. IMO one rape should be punished with life in prison, frat-boy rape included. We, as a culture, should make it clear that rape is not in any way acceptable or forgivable. Victims of rape suffer psychological damage for the rest of their lives. A rapist should suffer at least as long as his victim does.

My understanding of this issue is that rape is NOT a “sex” crime, it is an “rage” crime. I would hope that if the roots of this anger are addressed and adequately dealt with, with the rapist WANTING to have them addressed and dealt with in therapy, then it is possible for the rapist to move on and NOT offend again. (GOOD therapy, which is not always as easy to come by as would be best.)

However, as avalongod correctly pointed out, we are talking about getting CAUGHT raping again. Rape is a largely unreported crime, it appears. The fear of being made to feel as though the victim is somehow at fault… and the humiliation of the whole process of accusing someone appears to make most (or many) women (or men) reluctant to report this crime. Of course, this has improved a GREAT deal over that past…say, twenty years…but there is STILL a stigma attached to being raped. I fail to understand this, but then I fail to understand a LOT of things.

My understanding of “sex/rage” crimes…as in pedophile rapists, which are not rooted just in anger but also in sexual perversion…is that it is NOT possible to rehabilitate them.

Before anyone jumps all over me, I cannot give you cites. My opinion was formed over many years of reading almost anything that comes into my general vicinity…newspapers, magazine articles, books…whatever. ( I read like a fiend.) We had, in my state…not all that long ago, Wesley Allan Dodd. He was a pedophile, with a desire not only to rape, but to kill. He DID kill…three children. That we KNOW about. The last one was saved from his destruction by his mother’s boyfriend…who was keeping a close enough eye on the boy that he saw the attempted abduction and chased Dodd down…saving the child. Thank the good God.

From what I have read, this kind of offender cannot be rehabilitated. From what I have read, a pedophile is not capable of changing their sexual orientation, but… I notice that when an offender is released into our community, they are classified with a number that indicates how likely they are to offend. I assume this means that some are not able to control their urges, some are. I assume that the ones who ARE able to control their urges are the ones who wish to stop. In our newspaper, it is often stated that the lower level offenders attended programs disigned to help them change, or at least control, their urges. I notice that the higher level offenders often have declined to attend these programs. I assume that the ones who are at a high risk of re-offending but DID attend the programs are the ones who are actually sociopathic, since a sociopath is quite comfortable doing whatever is necessary to make it seem as though they are “safe.” (I refer you to Ted Bundy, who was a very likable chap, apparently.) They will do whatever it takes to get them wherever they want to be. Sociopaths, from my reading, see the world only as it revolves around THEM…if it is good for THEM, it is GOOD. No one else is really of any consequence.

I don’t really know what the answer is to any of this. All I know is that if you truly understand that your actions are hurting others and you want to stop, you can. With help.

I fear that many people are so damaged that they don’t WANT to stop…and they don’t WANT help…because they don’t believe they did anything wrong.

So, Diogenes, let’s take the three teenagers who allegedly gang raped a drunk girl at a big drunken party in Chicago for an example. Do you believe they should be imprisoned for life? Or do you feel that through therapy AND prison time they can be made to be accepted into society again? Do these seventeen year olds deserve any sort of second chance at life?

Suffice it to say I disagree with the two posters who suggest the death penalty for rapists.

Lissa, I noted that in your list of reasons convicted rapists fail to admit to their crimes you left out one obvious one – that he is innocent and is honestly maintaining his innocence. We know for a fact that a certain number of the guys in prison for rape are innocent because DNA evidence has forced the overturning of many rape convictions since it came into existence.

In the cases where a man who is innocent is being rehabilitated he must admit to a crime he did not commit and be “rehabilitated” of it or serve the full sentence for the crime.

This is fundamentally insane and to my mind is the biggest problem with this approach.

So, let me get this straight. Jarbabyj offers us a well-documented cite for her opinion that rapists may not be nearly as recidivist as is generally thought, others chime in with their own well-researched cites, but we’re supposed to believe your contradiction of their conclusions because you do such a magnificent job of arm-waving? Come on! Then you get into pedophilia without establishing any equivalence between them and rapists.

Man, you used a lot of words to present us with all that nothing.


Probably not, but even if they can be rehabilitated, I still don’t think they should be let out.

No. The crime itself is heinous enough to merit a life sentence. There are plenty of murderers who would never do it again but we don’t let them out of prison.

jarbabyj, I suspect you might feel differently if it was your own daughter who was the victim of a gang rape.

Yes. Sorry I took up your time. And just for your further enjoyment, I am a woman.

However, I did tell you that I wasn’t going to present cites early on, so you could have skipped it if you were so inclined. It was, as stated ( by me), just what I believe from things I have read over many years. I don’t care if you believe me, honey. This is my opinion, based on myriads of things read over the years. I thought I made that clear? I don’t know the truth of this question. I wasn’t trying to refute jarbabyj in any way…I was just stating my opinion.

See, I don’t really care to change whatever opinon you might hold, unless it is an opinion that might harm someone else. [sub]In which case I would be militant about trying to do so. For instance, if YOU were a rapist, I would do my utmost to try to either CHANGE your opinion, or to notify the authorities. Actually, I would certainly do both. You AREN’T, of course, but we e just supposing here.[/sub]

I also don’t expect anyone ELSE to change their opinon based on my opionion. I was just telling you what I thought. I thought I made THAT clear too, but apparently I was mistaken. Mea Culpa.

Should jarbabyj feel that I was inappropriate in her thread, I will be very happy to apologize. I like her. I should, however point out that the J in jarbabyj is not in caps. I don’t want to be cranky, but really…get the NAME right when you think you are defending someone who doesn’t need to be defended from someone who isn’t attacking them, okay?

Thank you.

You are quite right. It is a bitter irony when an innocent man must confess to a crime he didn’t commit in order to receive a lesser sentance.

But try to see it from the point of view of the criminal justice system. A jury of twelve people have declared a person guilty, and a judge has upheld the conviction, and sentenced them. Thus, to the prison, you are guilty, no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it. The prison employees cannot make a further judgement of guilt or innocence: they must accept the rulings of the court. (They cannot set a man free, for example, if they feel he’s innocent.) They must enforce the judgement of the court system, regardless of individual opinions on the matter.

Simply put, they must espouse the view that if you’re in prison, you are stone-cold guilty of your crime. Legally, there * are * no innocent men in prison. It may come out later that they were not guilty, but until the court system has declared as much, you must be treated as a man convicted, and guilty of, an offense against the laws of the state.

My friend has told me of a few inmates that he personally felt were innocent, or didn’t deserve to be in the prison, but nevertheless, he must treat them as the court has ordered.

**Diogenes the Cynic, ** the problem with life sentences for rape is that it removes the motivation for a plea. It is very difficult to convict on a sex offense. Lack of physical evidence, intimidated or ashamed witnesses or victims, and the fact that it often comes down to a he-said-she-said argument of consent all combine to make it difficult to convict. Often, prosecutors will plea a culprit down to a lesser charge to at least get * some * prison time out of him rather than risk an all-or-nothing trial and risk an acquittal. If the sentance for rape was raised to automatic life without parole, it may “bump up” the sentences for lesser charges, causing suspects to be less likely to cop a plea, instead opting to try to beat the charge at trial.

Add this to the fact that the higher the penalty, the more squeamish the jury becomes. The defense argument that they may be putting a man away for life when his guilt is not cut-and-dried may make jurors hesitate, whereas if the time is less, they’re more willing to vote to convict.

The problem is jarbabyj that the quote you used in the OP included this:

That 13% is very questionable from everything else I’ve heard about pedophiles and thus the accuracy of the entire statement is tainted.

I understand this from an intellectual and pragmatic point of view. I realize that it’s not realistic to always impose life sentences on rapists, I guess I was just speaking idealistically. I truly despise rape and my heart says bury the bastards, but I know it’s impractical to do that in many cases.