Book review: Sex offenders the world around

Philip Witt gives a review of "International Perspectives on the Assessment and Treatment of Sexual Offenders: Theory, Practice, and Research"
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Sex Offenders the World Around

International Perspectives on the Assessment and Treatment of Sexual Offenders: Theory, Practice, and ResearchA review of "International Perspectives on the Assessment and Treatment of Sexual Offenders: Theory, Practice, and Research." By Douglas P. Boer, Reinhard Eher, Leam A. Craig, Michael H. Miner, and Friedemann Pfäfflin (Eds.) Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 723 pp. ISBN 978-0-470-74925-8. $199.95

Reviewed by Philip H. Witt

With relatively few exceptions, the major texts on sex offender treatment have originated from researchers, theorists, and clinicians in Canada or the United States. This North American-centric publication history in this area is evident in both early works (e.g., United States: Groth, 1979; Salter, 1988) and more recent texts (e.g., Canada: Marshall, Fernandez, Marshall, & Serran, 2006; United States: Stinson, Sales, & Becker, 2008). This is in part the result of the fact that much of the leading research has been conducted in North America — for example, Hanson and colleagues‘ work on risk assessment (Canada), Pithers‘s and Marques‘s work on relapse prevention (United States), and Seto‘s work on child pornography offenders (Canada). Likewise, a widely used model of criminal rehabilitation — the risk–need–responsivity approach of Andrews and Bonta (2006) — originated in Canada.

The present edited volume, "International Perspectives on the Assessment and Treatment of Sexual Offenders: Theory, Practice, and Research," aims to remedy the parochial nature of sex offender work by systematically including authors from a broad range of countries, illustrating the breadth of thinking across the globe in this area. The editors themselves are from New Zealand, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The chapter authors span all the continents except Antarctica and highlight theories and practices that were developed in other locations, such as the Good Lives model of treatment most often associated with Tony Ward (e.g., Ward & Maruna, 2007) of New Zealand.

International Perspectives succeeds well. Although I have followed the sex offender assessment and treatment literature for over 30 years, I was unaware of how this population is treated in countries outside North America. In fact, the book was written with the support of the International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders, a multinational organization formed after a series of international conferences designed to share information among practitioners and researchers from a range of countries.

The reader of this book will come away with a broader understanding of the range and variety of approaches used throughout the world. There are chapters on a treatment program for rapists in South Africa, a Danish sex offender treatment and evaluation program, the role of culture in sex offender treatment in New Zealand, and treatment of Internet sex offenders in Switzerland.

Moreover, there is a chapter by Helmus, Hanson, and Morton-Bourgon — widely cited risk assessment researchers in the United States and Canada — on international comparisons of actuarial risk assessment tools, as well as an additional chapter on international perspectives on the use of an alternative risk assessment approach (i.e., structured professional judgment tools). I know of no other source that concisely summarizes cross-national research on risk assessment.

There are some features in "International Perspectives" that one will not find in other texts. There is an entire section on human rights and ethical issues as they apply to sex offender assessment and treatment. This section includes an excellent chapter by Levenson on the unintended consequences of American policies regarding sex offenders, a second on human rights issues involved in risk assessment, and another on ethical and legal issues involved in antiandrogen treatment of sex offenders. Some of the chapters are quite topical, such as the chapter on sexual abuse by clergy and the synopsis of the survey research conducted in the United States by John Jay College of Criminal Justice researchers. There is an informative chapter regarding research concerning the relationship between risk and dose—that is, the presumption that higher risk individuals should receive a higher "dose" of treatment. Two chapters address Internet offenders, a growing area of assessment and treatment.

The book closes with a chapter by William and Liam Marshall reflecting on the course of sex offender treatment around the world over the past 40 years. William Marshall is uniquely positioned to write such a chapter. He has been a leading researcher and theorist in this field almost since its inception, and his views have evolved over the decades, paralleling the field‘s own movement from confrontational and mechanistic approaches (e.g., aversive conditioning) to strength-based approaches (e.g., the Good Lives model).

This is not a short book — it is over 700 pages — so the reader must commit considerable time to reading it. There is some redundancy among the chapters; there are only so many ways that actuarial risk assessment or the risk–need– responsivity framework can be described. And in an edited volume of such length and diversity, it is unavoidable that some contributions will be stronger than others.

However, the reader will be rewarded for his or her effort. I know of no other text that provides the breadth of coverage and diversity of viewpoints found in International Perspectives on the Assessment and Treatment of Sexual Offenders: Theory, Practice, and Research


Andrews, D. A., & Bonta, J. (2006). The psychology of criminal conduct (4th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.

Groth, A. N. (1979). Men who rape: The psychology of the offender. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Marshall, W. L., Fernandez, Y. M., Marshall, L. E., & Serran, G. A. (2006). Sexual offender treatment: Controversial issues. Chichester, England: Wiley.

Salter, A. G. (1988). Treating sex offenders and victims: A practical guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Stinson, J. D., Sales, B. D., & Becker, J. V. (2008). Sex offending: Causal theories to inform research, prevention, and treatment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/11708-000

Ward, T., & Maruna, S. (2007). Rehabilitation: Beyond the risk paradigm. London, England: Routledge.