No crime other than murder invokes such negative public reaction as sexual crimes. Many sex crimes involve a male offender against a woman or child. Victim vulnerability increases societal perceptions of the dangerousness of these perpetrators as well as popular disdain for them. This imbalance of perceived strength in a period when the rights of victims are taken very serious adds to the disdain (Quinn, 2003).
Sexual offenses result in significant physical, psychological, and/or emotional distress to victims that can last for years and some victim’s voices will remain entombed in silence. The most profound in its traumatic implications is the violation of trust that occurs when, as with most sexual assault, the offenders are known to their victims. Trauma and the length and level of recovery seem linked to the trust violation. Thus, what some might regard as a relatively minor type of sexual assault (e.g. “just fondling”) can be extremely traumatic to a victim who trusted the perpetrator (English, 1996).
Any offender’s subsequent re-offending is a serious public concern. The prevention of sexual violence is particularly important, given the irrefutable harm that these offenses cause victims and the fear they generate in the community (Bynum, 2001). In the most extreme and rare cases, sex offenders murder their victims (Terry, 2003). During the 1980s and early 1990s, the sexual homicides of Jacob Wetterling, Polly Klaas, and Megan Kanka were catalysts for the majority of sex offender legislation. Due to these homicides, it is not surprising that exceptional policies have been directed toward individuals who have committed such heinous offenses.
The prevalence of sex offenders in the criminal justice system has increased over the past several years. Much of the apparent rise in sex crimes is related to increased reporting rather than increased offending. In addition, enforcement is more aggressive and definitions of sexual offenses are more expansive than ever before. Conduct once tolerated is now criminally prosecuted (Lane, 2003). This gives the appearance of increased criminal sexual offenses when, in reality, much of the discrepancy can be attributed the education of the public by victim advocacy groups, law enforcement, and other professionals.
The key to preventing sexual abuse is to shift paradigms," wrote Robert E. Freeman-Longo and Gerald Blanchard in their 1998 book, Sex Abuse in America. "In addition to viewing sexual abuse as a criminal justice issue, we must also view it as a serious public health problem and preventable social problem." A “cure” for sex offending is no more available than is a “cure” for high blood pressure (English, 1996). But with specialized offense specific treatment by qualified individuals, the majority of sex offenders can learn to manage their deviant behaviors and address their cognitive distortions.
The State of Texas has recognized the increased public awareness and concern with the chronic prevalence of sexual aggression and sexual victimization. Over the past two decades, the Council’s core function has expanded from a mere regulatory agency due to increased public awareness and the concern for community safety. Today, the Council has four primary functions: 1) public safety: by administering the civil commitment program of sexually violent predators and preventing sexual assault 2) public and behavioral health: by treating sex offenders, 3) regulatory: by maintaining a list of licensed sex offender treatment providers and establishing the rules and regulations regarding the treatment of sex offenders, and 4) educational: by the dissemination of information to the public regarding the management of sex offenders. This legal mandate is an innovative domain of the law. These functions may appear to be separate and distinct, however in reality, these functions work together and if they were separated it would be deleterious to public safety. The Council’s functions are synergistic with maintaining the highest level of public safety and preventing sexual assault through effective treatment and interventions in the management of sex offenders.