Chapter 7 - Risk Assessment

Here below: (1) Summary, (2) Some Quotes


Sex offender risk assessment has advanced a lot in the past 30 years, with the
development and dissemination of actuarial risk scales to predict recidivism. Crossvalidation studies support the reliability and predictive validity of these scales,
although recent studies have examined cohort effects in recidivism rates and have
addressed debates about discrimination and calibration (…).

Nonetheless, the use of actuarial risk scales is increasingly common, especially in
high-stakes assessments, such as dangerous offender hearings in Canada and sex
offender civil commitment proceedings in the United States (…).

In the 2014 version of the practice guidelines for members of the Association for the
Treatment of Sexual Abusers Guideline 6.02 states,

  • “Members conducting risk assessments of sexual abusers use empirically-supported instruments and methods (i.e., validated actuarial risk assessment tools and structured, empirically guided risk assessment protocols) over unstructured clinicaljudgment.” (p. 25)

In the first edition of this book, l was excited about the “actuarial revolution” in sex
offender risk assessment and hoped it would spread to other sex offender
populations (female sex offenders, juvenile sex offenders), other offenders, and then
to other areas of forensic and clinical practice. Some progress has been made on
these fronts, including the advent of structured checklists to assess risk for
depression or cardiovascular disease, structured checklists to avoid surgical and
other medical errors (…), and the increasing power and ubiquity of algorithms in
optimizing online functions in search, social networks, and retail.

On the other hand, actuarial risk assessment has been met with some resistance in
the form of new structured risk assessment tools and critiques of well-validated
measures, such as Static-99R, because absolute recidivism rates vary. Unstructured
clinical judgment, either on its own or to adjust actuarial estimates of risk to
reoffend, is still not empirically supported practice.

More work is needed on dynamic risk assessment and how to best communicate risk
to decision makers. A wide-open territory for empirical exploration is the
development of risk assessments for individuals who have not committed sexual
offenses against children, as far as is known, but who represent a concern. This
includes non-offending persons with pedophilia and non-contact sex offenders (e.g.,
child pornography, exhibitionism, voyeurism).

A huge boon for child protection would be a brief, relatively inexpensive screening
tool that could be used for individuals wanting to work with children or youth, such
as teachers, child care workers, coaches, and volunteers for youth-serving
organizations. But once higher risk individuals have been identified, what can be
done to reduce the likelihood that children will be sexually exploited or abused? I
review and discuss interventions in the next chapter.

Some Quotes from Chapter 7

Page 169
The assumption that most sex offenders will sexually reoffend is not correct.
In a landmark meta-analysis, Hanson & Bussière (1198) [*] quantitatively reviewed
sex offender follow-up studies and found that the average sexual recidivism rate for
a total of 9,603 sex offenders against children was 13% [*] after an average follow-up
time of 6 to 6 years.

Hanson & Morton-Bourgon (2204, 2005) found a similar rate of 13,7 % after an
average follow-up time of 5 to 6 years, which data from 84 studies, representing
20,440 sex offenders (not only offenders against children).

For juveniles, Caldwell (2010) found in a meta-analysis of 63 data sets that 7% of
11,219 juveniles who had sexually offended – the large majority of whom have
offended against younger children – committed another sexual offense within a 5-
year follow-up.

In a more recent meta-analysis of 98 data sets, representing 33,783 cases, Caldwell
(2016) reported that the average sexual recidivism rate was 4.9 % over 59 months.
The recidivism rates were lower for a newer cohort [of studies],

  • 2.8 % for studies between 2000 and 2005, compared with
  • 10.3 % for 1980 to 1995.

However, this study did not control for risk scores, only follow-up length.

This cohort difference could reflect changes over time in average risk to reoffend,
how offenders are managed, or societal constraints. For example, one could
speculate that more public awareness about sexual abuse and greater parent
involvement with their children has reduced opportunities to sexually offend.
Some had even speculated that the onset of the Internet and online gaming has
reduced opportunity more generally for antisocial behavior of all kids, which could
then show up in lower sexual offending (…).

Page 170
[An] objection that might be raised is that these studies rely on official records to
study recidivism, whether it is defined as arrest, charge, of conviction. Thus, only
sexual offenses that were reported to authorities and legally acted in some way are
counted; other new offenses may go unreported or are not acted upon, and thus the
official recidivism rate is an under-estimate.

Hanson, Morton and Harris (2003) suggested that actual recidivism rates are 10% to
15% higher than observed rates.
Even if tge gap was higher, it I till correct tha many sex offenders do not sexually
reoffend, even after long follw-up periods.