Work with sex offenders, adults and adolescents, particularly in the community, can be difficult as well as challenging. Those of us who work in the field know that our primary responsibility is to the safety and protection of the community while we strive to rehabilitate the offender.
It is important to understand that there is a team that has responsibility for the work with this population and while at varying points in the process the team members change, each member has an essential role. These roles need to be clearly delineated with the working partners so that the safety of the community remains the priority for the entire team.
As a clinician, I understand that my role is complicated because I must both set specific limits related to the therapy and the court orders and provide sex offender specific treatment. The degree to which this occurs for the outpatient clinician as opposed to the clinician working with a community residential population may vary in part, based, hopefully, on the risk level of the offender. Many clinicians do not understand the degree to which they must set limits when working with the offender population. However, this is absolutely an essential component of successful treatment
For example, a therapist providing an outpatient group for offenders must not only establish clear boundaries around the behaviors acceptable for the group, such as coming to group sober and taking bathroom/ cigarette breaks before and after group, but must also set the tone for the milieu of the group. This includes questioning cognitive distortions that may be presented, such as, "I couldn't get to group on time because my son's baseball practice got out late or etc..." or "I went to the house to change the locks because my wife thought someone tried to break in during the night and I didn't have time to get your permission before I went over there because she was so scared and it was so urgent." The second distortion listed here moves into the area more likely known by the therapist than the PO.; that is, violations of court orders or if this issue is not addressed in the court order, it may be addressed in your own program rules about "contact" with family/victims.
The role of the PO. is that of the "heavier heavy," the representative established by society and the court to assure everyone the expectations, rules, and laws are being consistently followed. The Probation officer is there to give support in the form of pats on the back, but much more importantly, in the form of folding the lineThe Probation Officer, or Parole Officer, verifies the sex offender is meeting all of his/her requirements and when this does not occur, a warning may be given, but ultimately, consequences must follow, such research conducted today ends up published in obscure journals where it is seldom read by most practitioners in the field, let alone other professionals, or the lay public. In order to be useful, research must be accessible and comprehensible.
Fourth, in order to truly achieve accountability in the field, clinical practice should follow, not precede, empirically validated theory. Until that happens, we will justifiably be subject to the criticism that our clinical efforts and public policy recommendations are guided as much by self-interest as public interest.