Ethical Issues in Sexual Offender Assessments*

Letourneau, E.J., & Prescott, D.S. (2005). Ethical issues in sex offender assessments.In S.W. Cooper, A.P. Giardano, V.I. Vieth, & N.D. Kellogg (Eds.). Medical and legal aspects of child sexual exploitation: A comprehensive review of child pornography, child prostitution, and internet crimes against children (pp. 277- 296. St. Louis, MO: G.W. Medical Publishing.

INTRODUCTION. In the wake of recent sexual abuse legislation, sex offender assessments have gained new importance in the prosecution and treatment of male offenders. Clearly, the consequences of such assessments have always been serious, particularly given the frequency with which sex offender assessment results are introduced during the guilt (or sentencing) phase of judicial hearings. Balancing the rights and well-being of the community, victim, and offender remains a challenge to all who practice in legal settings. However, with the introduction of consequences based specifically upon the potential future risk of an individual, such as community notification and civil commitment, the stakes are higher than ever before.

Given the scope of these issues, it is no surprise that researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and other interested parties have all attempted to better understand and identify those at high risk for re-offense. With the emerging evidence-based tools now available come new concerns about their ethical use. Understanding their construction, roper use, and application to diverse legal frameworks continues to challenge those attempting to reduce the harm of sexual abuse.

* The information in this chapter pertains to adult male sex offenders and not to juvenile offenders or female offenders. Data indicate that juvenile sex offenders bear little resemblance to their adult counterparts (Miranda & Corcoran, 2000). There is is little empirical information on the assessment of female sexual offenders, who consistently comprise 5% or fewer of sex offenders in any given study sample (Finkelhor & Russell, 1984).