Sex-Offender Advise for Prisons

By Mariza Fiamengo
The Australian [Australia]
July 20, 2004

FRESH from advising the Pope, a world-renowned expert on the treatment of sexual deviant behaviour has arrived in Victoria to work with the state's correction workers.

Australian-born Professor Bill Marshall, now based in Canada, hit the spotlight in the 1970s when he advocated the revolutionary idea that money should be spent to rehabilitate sex offenders in prison.

Since then he has advised 20 countries on the treatment of sexual offenders and recently helped the Vatican develop a policy to address sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

He is in Melbourne this week to brief Corrections Victoria staff and therapists on the latest international developments in the treatment of sex offenders.

Professor Marshall said that it was only eight years ago that Victoria established a formal program to treat sexual offenders in prisons, with his help.

Before then the state's prison system had no formal program to treat sex offenders and they were rehabilitated in a "haphazard manner", he said.

Professor Marshall's treatment involves psychological intervention to help sexual offenders "stamp out their attraction to deviant behaviour".

It aims to make sexual offenders take responsibility for their behaviour and the harm it inflicts on victims, improve their self-esteem, give them skills to improve their relationships and to deal better with life's ups and downs.

"They have the same needs as we have but they access them in inappropriate ways," Professor Marshall said.

"This treatment tries to teach them to meet them (their needs) in appropriate ways."

Professor Marshall said that early indicators in Victoria's program showed promising signs. Similar systems in other countries found that nine per cent of treated offenders reoffended, compared with 18 per cent of untreated sexual offenders.

"It would be nice if 9 per cent were zero, but it's better than 18 per cent," Professor Marshall said.

"That (9 per cent) is a pretty significant cost saving in terms of suffering."

Professor Marshall said world opinion about the treatment of sexual offenders had changed dramatically since he and some other specialists revolutionised the system.

"I spent a lot of time in the '70s telling people 'we're not doing this because we want to be soft on these guys, we're doing this to stop innocent people from suffering'," he said.

While at the Vatican, Professor Marshall was impressed by the Catholic Church's commitment to the issue.

The church's policy on sexual offenders created with the help of Professor Marshall addresses the selection of priests, monitors them once they graduate and suggests treatment for them if they become sexual offenders.

"When I went there I had an expectation that this might be some sort of publicity thing, but I was quite wrong," he said.

"They were absolutely dedicated to the protection of children."


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