The Sexual Assault Control Program: this is how this type of treatment works
Few criminal acts such as sexual assaults perpetrated on women and children they generate so much aversion in our society. People usually react with incomprehension, horror and shock when talking about sexual assault, because the aggressor is crossing an unbreakable ethical, social and legal barrier for many people.
In recent decades, this type of criminal behavior is awakening a high interest in the scientific community and in society in general. The goal is to find ways for this kind of acts to virtually disappear, and that's why Initiatives have appeared such as the sexual assault control program (SAC) . Let's see how it is and what effects its application can have.
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Sexual Assault Control Program (SAC)
Many of the sexual aggressors commit these acts in order to feel good, to have power and control ... Getting pleasure in this way can be, in part, an escape of other painful or unpleasant experiences such as shame, fear, anger, etc. They perceive that there is no other available way to obtain that gratification, they do not empathize with the victim, and they show insufficient control to inhibit and direct their actions.
What response can we give from Psychology to these criminal acts? Is there any treatment for this kind of people? Can they be reinserted into society? What guarantees exist that they will not reoffend? In this article, we are going to talk about a treatment for sexual aggressors of a cognitive-behavioral nature that has given good results in Spain, although we can not say that it is the panacea.
The sexual assault control program (SAC) has its theoretical basis in the explanatory model of sexual delinquency devised by Marshall and Barbaree (1989), with special reference to the confrontation of pro-criminal cognitive patterns, in Walters' (1989) criminal lifestyle model, and in the relapse prevention structure of Pithers (1987).
The SAC program was designed by Garrido and Beneyto (1996) taking as reference previous works by other authors specialized in the area. It is addressed to sexual aggressors, and is structured in 3 manuals: manual for the therapist, manual for the inmate and evaluation system. The first application of this program was carried out in parallel in two penitentiary centers in the province of Barcelona: Quatre Camins and Brians.
- Related article: "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?"
Inclusion requirements and exclusion grounds
To access the program, priority is given to those convicted inmates who have already served ¾ of the sentence , or they have less than 4 years to comply. In addition, prison psychologists value very positively the form of voluntariness and the acceptance of criminal responsibility as aspects favoring change.
But not all inmates who meet the above requirements can continue with the program: those who respond with loss of voluntariness to monitor it, those who show behaviors that hinder the progress of the program, as well as the persistence of a personality structure of risk of criminal recidivism, will be excluded.
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What are the objectives of the SAC program?
This program is designed to improve the possibilities of reintegration and non-recidivism of the inmate who has committed some crime of sexual aggression, improving the effectiveness of their psychosocial skills .
It is a semi-structured therapeutic intervention that combines cognitive-behavioral techniques. These are activities that require introspection, confrontation with oneself and with others, structured learning of confrontational skills and the development of self-control.
This program is applied regularly in the group modality , in one or two weekly therapeutic sessions, lasting two hours, for about 9-11 months.
As we will see below, the SAC program is structured in several intervention phases, divided into 2 large blocks: awareness and taking control. Before starting, muscle relaxation training is carried out to proactively control their tension states.
Various cognitive and emotional elements are worked on with the objective that the person becomes more aware of their criminal activities and the risk factors that precipitate them (eg, cognitive distortions) related to them.To develop this block 5 modules are used:
- Analysis of personal history : the subject makes a review of his own life.
- Introduction to cognitive distortions : her errors of thought and distorted interpretation of her criminal behavior are confronted therapeutically (eg, "she was provoking me, she was asking me, even if she said no").
- Emotional awareness : the idea is to improve your knowledge and introspection capacity. Recognize your emotions and those of other people.
- Violent behavior : behaviors of aggression and harm to victims are analyzed.
- Defense mechanisms : it is about reducing the justification of crime through confrontation. The program manual exemplifies up to 107 typical excuses used by sexual offenders, such as: "It was not so bad", "I'm not perfect", "I had a bad night", "I did not do as much damage as he said", "I was screaming for him with his way of dressing".
Take the control
The intention is to that the subject dominates its own behavior to be able to inhibit its criminal activities . This block is composed of 7 modules (2 of them are relapse prevention):
- Cognitive distortions: the subject is informed of the functioning of the distortions, is helped to identify their internal dialogue, irrational and deviant thoughts are classified, these thoughts are challenged and replaced by rational interpretations. Negative beliefs towards them are typical of adult female aggressors, while child abusers rationalize their behavior or accuse their victims of provocative behavior.
- Positive lifestyle : they are taught to program their daily lives.
- Sex education : information about the functioning of human sexuality, from the scientific aspect to ethics. Particular emphasis is placed on consent, on sex as an activity of communication and reciprocal respect for the wishes of the people.
- Modification of the sexual impulse The aim is to reduce the sexual impulse to inappropriate stimuli that involve the use of violence or abuse of minors (self-stimulatory reconditioning or covert sensitization).
- Prevention of relapse .
Do these types of programs work?
Unfortunately, sex offenders, along with the population of criminals addicted to drugs, they are the most difficult subjects to reinsert and tend to relapse . The success rates in the treatment are not the positive we would all like. However, the most used and effective psychological treatments with sex offenders are those with a cognitive-behavioral orientation (Brandes and Cheung, 2009, Marshall and Marshall, 20I4, Zata and Farringtoo, 2016), as is the SAC.
The sexual assault control program has obtained good results , although we must be cautious. In a study carried out by Redondo, Navarro, Martínez, Luque and Andrés (2005) showed that after a follow-up of 4 years of inmates who had gone through the SAC program, they only relapsed 4% for sexual assault crimes (in the group control, not treated, relapsed 11%).
In addition, professionals should keep in mind that There are a series of factors that correlate with the best treatment prognosis (eg, empathy towards the victim, creation of social support, not presenting mental illnesses, genuine and true desire to change), and should be assessed individually to enhance them.