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The roots of rehabilitation can be seen in the Latin Maxim “Mea culpa”, which means “a formal recognition of one’s guilt” The idea of rehabilitation is that the offender must first recognize his guilt to take steps for rehabilitation


The roots of rehabilitation can be seen in the Latin Maxim “Mea culpa”, which means “a formal recognition of one’s guilt”[1] The idea of rehabilitation is that the offender must first recognize his guilt to take steps for rehabilitation. With increased sex crime rates and public outrage toward sex offenders, the rehabilitation of sex offenders is a complex task for the judiciary and the corrective institutions. The rehabilitation of sex offenders revolves around various, psychological and social aspects while at the same time considering the safety of potential victims. Sex offender rehabilitation mechanisms seek to make the offender accountable for his actions, reduce recidivism and make the person fit for sending him back to the community.



As per the feminist theory, sexual offences are not only due to sexual drive but are a result of “male dominance” and the patriarchal structure of society.[2] Most feminists argue that male dominance is the result of vast “gender disparity” across cultures. Because of this gender disparity, the line between chivalry and consent gets deluded and sexism is easily disguised under the shade of “being benevolent”.[3] The patriarchal nature of the knowledge structure portrays women as subjugated to men. For instance, in Rousseau’s “Emile”, the concept of consent is problematic. In the book, Rousseau instructs Emile to “say a modest no when she means a yes”.[4] The media portrayal of women’s consent is problematically on the same lines. Studies have shown a “strong association between social attitudes and sexual aggression behaviour.”[5] This dominant culture prompts the man to assume consent in cases where it is not meant to be assumed. This is the reason why men who are driven by the dominant culture find the “fantasy of rape agreeable” and “become sexually aroused by depictions of rape”.[6] Therefore, such fantasies may help in identifying people who are likely to commit sexual offences and those who are likely to re-offend.[7]


Psychological studies so far have been unable to link a “psychiatric condition that might lead to criminal behaviour of sex offender.”[8] Most sex offenders have not reported having any need for any psychiatric diagnosis. To lack of studies there is no conclusive theory that can state the reason for deviant sexual behavior. Thus, the probable explanation that is proposed is the childhood history and history of abuse. If the offender was exposed to deviant sexual behaviours in childhood and perceived them as acceptable forms of behaviour, the same cycle would likely be repeated in adulthood.[9] Thus, it predicted that “boys who were sexually abused in their childhood grew up to be sex offenders”.[10] Thus rehabilitation should focus on childhood history. Studies have suggested that sex is often equated by males as a representation of their “masculinity”[11] Based on this explanation it is stated that a rapist is an “insecure man”, “overwhelmed by the adult life demands”, and constantly struggling with the feeling of him being out of control.[12] Thus, the offence becomes an outlet for the offender to feel a sense of control over his life. This also substantiates the feminist explanation of sexual offences which is related to “male dominance”. Therefore, rehabilitation must focus on the psychology of the offender.



The Cognitive Behavior Model was developed by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck. As per this model, every person develops a “cognitive perception” of the world which influences their behaviours. The mismanagement of thoughts and unregulated perception about the world May lead to “deficiencies in moral reasoning” which later lead to deviant behaviours. People with “cognitive distortions” have negative self-talk constantly playing on a loop. The CBM aims at reducing negative self-talk and replacing it with positive “narratives”.[13]  The use of CBM in prisons and correctional institutions is based on “direct narratives” that are focused on analyzing the individual’s understanding and perception of the offence. The offenders in this model adopt a “strategy” and the adoption of such strategy highlights the moral compass of the individual and gives an insight into the further approaches that could be adopted by the correctional institutions. These “strategies” may include asserting the offence with dominance, playing the victim, and a lack of knowledge about the exactness of the offence.[14]


The community has a dual relationship with the rehabilitation of sex offenders. The community can either promote rehabilitation in the form of group therapies etc., or it can further the hatred towards the individual. Community treatment is an effective mode of rehabilitation because of several reasons –

  1. Sexual offences come with a stigma that “once an offender is always an offender” and this poses a difficulty in reinstitutionalizing the individual back into society. Community treatment helps the offender to grow out of the stigma. Becker’s labelling theory is also seen in this case. As per the theory, a label is attached to the offenders which makes it difficult for the criminals to get out their deviant attitude. [15]Community treatment may help in reducing the effects of such labels.
  2. The sexual offence is a social offence resulting from deviance from social norms Rehabilitation through community aims at helping the offender develop a healthy notion of society. This also helps in preventing recidivism among the offenders.[16]


The lack of understanding of the perception of the offender can render the rehabilitation measure useless. Some studies show that offenders view rehabilitation based on their version of the story of the crime. The same is mentioned as follows- [17]

  1. The offender who believes himself to be the victim of the circumstances is easily rehabilitated if proper care and direction are given to him. Such offenders participate more in spiritual and religious practices in prison and have a goal of self-improvement.
  2. The offender who committed the crime is in the “illusion” of getting better control over life and may be rehabilitated if the person accepts his crime. Such offenders are the victims of childhood trauma and proper therapy should be arranged to help them reinforce themselves and to stop letting the trauma be the “central force” of their lives.
  3. The last and most difficult category is the righteous offenders. These offenders believe that their act of crime was. Such offenders do not wish to be rehabilitative because their fantasies fuel them and help them cope with the “cognitive distortions”. Moreover, they have accepted that sexual fantasies are the only solution to their problem; thus, any form of change in this thinking pattern is threatening.


The current society is considered to be a “risk society”[18] where risk is predicted at every moment. The correctional institutions approach rehabilitation from the perspective that sex offenders are always at risk of recidivism and thus the focus shifts from “rehabilitation” to “prevention”. The institutions train the offender to control their “sexual fantasies” which further highlights that the goal is to enable the person to “control himself and not cure himself.”[19] Thus rehabilitation becomes “risk management”.[20]


Rehabilitation is not a single-dimension approach but rather it is much more complex. The focus of rehabilitation should not be on curing offenders but it should also be on reducing the risk of recidivism. The theories discussed above suggest that the cause of sexual offences is also deeply rooted in the patriarchal nature of society, which calls for a healthy outlook on women. The focus of rehabilitation should be to understand the underlying motive behind the commission of the offence. The offender’s exclusion from society is not proven to be a beneficial measure to control sex offences. The main effort in rehabilitation is that offenders should not internalize their identity as offenders. Thus, the rehabilitative approach should focus on ways to reinstitutionalize the offender back into society.

Author(s) Name: Sakshi Sharma (Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad)


[1] Jonathan Kaden, “Therapy for Convicted Sex Offenders: Pursuing Rehabilitation without Incrimination” 89 JCLC 347.

[2] Lee Ellis & Charles Beattie, “The Feminist Explanation for Rape: An Empirical Test”, (1983) 19 JSR 74.

[3] Courtney Fraser, “From “Ladies First” to “Asking for It”: Benevolent Sexism in the Maintenance of Rape Culture” (2015) 103 CLR 141.

[4] Robert E. Goodin, Philip Pettit & Thomas Pogge, “A Companion to Contemporary Political Theory” Vol 1, Blackwell Publication 2nd Edition (1993).

[5] Judith Lewis Herman, “Considering Sex Offenders: A Model of Addiction” (1988) 13 UCP Signs 699.

[6]Id, pg. 697.

[7] Id, pg. 699.

[8] 26 Paul Gebhard, J. Gagnon, W. Pomeroy, and C. Christenson, Sex Offenders: An Analysis of Types (New York: Harper & Row, (1965).

[9] Judith Lewis Herman, “Considering Sex Offenders: A Model of Addiction” (1988) 4 UCP Signs 704.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Courtney Fraser, “From “Ladies First” to “Asking for It”: Benevolent Sexism in the Maintenance of Rape Culture” (2015) 103 CLR 141.

[12] Judith Lewis Herman, “Considering Sex Offenders: A Model of Addiction” (1988) 4 UCP Signs 708.

[13] James B. Waldram, “Moral Agency, Cognitive Distortion, and Narrative Strategy in the Rehabilitation of Sexual Offenders” (2010) 38 AAA Ethos 254.

[14] Id, pg. 259.

[15] Becker, H.S. Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (1963).

[16] Olive Travers, “Community Treatment of Sex Offenders”, (1999) 50 the Furrow 387.

[17] Marina D. Gamo, “Voices Behind Prison Walls: Rehabilitation from the Perspective of Inmates” (2013) 61 PSR 205.

[18] Dany Lacombe, “Consummated with Sex: The Treatment of Sex Offenders in Risk Society” (2008) 48 BJC 55.

[19] ibid

[20] Id, pg. 72.