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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Punishment or therapy? The ethics of sexual offending treatment

Tony Ward
Journal of Sexual Aggression 
Vol. 16, Iss. 3, 2010


The claim that sex offender treatment is a form of punishment and as such cannot be covered by traditional ethical codes is a controversial one. It challenges the ethical basis of current practice and compels clinicians to rethink the work they do with sex offenders. In this paper I comment on Bill Glaser's defence of that idea in a challenging and timely paper and David Prescott and Jill Leveson's rejection of his claims. First, I consider briefly the nature of both punishment and treatment and outline Glaser's argument and Prescott and Levenson's rejoinder. I then investigate what a comprehensive argument for either position should look like and finish with a few comments on each paper.


The Core Argument

The ethical problem concerning treatment and punishment is straightforward and can be outlined in terms of two broad possibilities, with some suboptions. First, do actions associated with punishment and treatment coexist within a sex offender treatment programme? And should they? Secondly, if not, is this because (a) they are functionally separate with punishment occurring outside the therapeutic orbit or (b) because only (or primarily) punishment is actually apparent within the therapy context? Prescott and Levenson argue for (a) and Glaser opts for (b). My own preference is for the rather messier option of coexistence, namely the first possibility.

The entire article is here.