Book Review: Sexual Deviance: Issues and Controversies

by Tony Ward, D. Richard Laws, and Stephen M. Hudson

Sage Publications, 2002
372 pages, $69.95 USD

Review by David Prescott, Forum Editor

Three years have elapsed since the same authors’ landmark Remaking Relapse Prevention: A Sourcebook critiqued and built upon this most fundamental, yet under-researched element of treatment. Their newest volume (and sadly, Dr. Hudson’s final book) will serve as a blueprint for understanding sexual abusers for many years to come. In Remaking Relapse Prevention, Ward and Hudson propose a self-regulation model that “can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the factors associated with relapse and consequently help clinicians to tailor treatment to individual offenders” (p.99). This model describes the interaction of sexual abusers’ goals and self-regulation styles and illustrates characteristics of those who do and don’t wish to re-offend.

This new volume extends their model outward to develop both explanations of, and responses to, sexual abuse. It will resonate with many and challenge most of its readers by proposing fundamental changes in how we view offenders and their treatment. Dr.'s Ward and Brown (p. 345) sum up the underlying values:

“How can an approach dedicated to preventing something harmful occurring recruit individuals in the task of changing their lives? … Focusing on criminogenic needs is arguably not helpful to clinicians (and offenders) because it tells them only what to eliminate or modify. Negative goals are extremely difficult to achieve as they do not specify what is sought, but merely what is absent… For example, a treatment goal that focuses on the acquisition of relationship skills is more useful than one that simply aims to reduce intimacy deficits.”

They respond by highlighting recent understandings of sexual abuse such as evolutionary aspects of rape and the public health perspective of preventing sexual abuse. Further, the authors place relapse prevention in the context of a “good lives” model of offender rehabilitation. This model stresses giving “offenders the necessary capabilities to secure important personal and social goods in acceptable ways rather than simply the reduction and management of risk” (p. 23). In their view, “risk factors are simply obstacles to the achievement of human goods and point to the need for individuals to possess the internal and external conditions necessary to live more fulfilling lives” (p.24).

Beyond simply advocating a shift in perspective, the authors present numerous applied aspects of their model. These include a method for training community corrections officers using combined education around treatment sequence, motivational interviewing techniques, and understanding offender personalities through dramatic personae developed by John Bergman. A discussion on how individual case formulation can augment treatment curricula is also provided. Devon Polascheck contributes a thoughtful chapter on “The Classification of Sex Offenders”. Developmental antecedents as well as Ward and Hudson’s models of pathways to both offense and re-offense are discussed in useful detail. Richard Laws contributes a chapter on “behavioral economic approaches” to assessment and treatment. He also delivers a harsh critique of the current state of plethysmography.

Ward, Laws, and Hudson make bold assertions challenging our preconceptions of assessment and treatment. However, taking a page from their own model, they develop these in a framework of promising approaches for improving assessment and treatment outcome, giving practitioners new ideas rather than simply providing what Dr. Laws refers to as “a list of Thou-Shalt-Nots”. Although many readers will wish for more explicit applications to special populations (females, developmentally delayed offenders, those in denial), this book will inform the work of virtually all ATSA members. While the authors have focused an ongoing critical eye to our work, this latest volume will challenge many of us to turn the same focus towards ourselves.