Measuring sexual offender recidivism

Recidivism Police Australia

A key dimension of sexual assault prevention is stopping perpetrators from re-offending (often referred to as tertiary prevention). Treatment programs that aim to stop re-offending are available for adult and juvenile sex offenders throughout Australia (MacGregor, 2008). There are also numerous monitoring and surveillance mechanisms aimed at released offenders in various states and territories, the purpose of which is to minimise the chances of re-offending.

One way of monitoring effectiveness in this regard has been through the use of recidivism rates, defined below. Rates of re-offence also assist in understanding and addressing issues in the criminal justice system (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2001). Yet, results from international studies vary quite dramatically, with recidivism rates of between 3% and 70% being reported (Lievore, 2004). In Australia, sexual recidivism rates range from "two percent in some samples to as high as sixteen percent in others" (Lievore, 2005, p. 2). Overall, this is considered low in comparison to other types of offences.

What are the reasons for this variation and what can we reasonably consider recidivism rates to tell us? This summary describes how sexual offender recidivism may be measured and discusses the impact this may have in how rates are used.

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