Individuals who commit sexually deviant or anomolous acts are designated sexual offenders. The range of offensive acts varies from so-called 'nuisance' or indecent behaviours like exposing genitalia in public, although such experiences may leave lasting trauma for some victims (Cox & Maletzky, 1980), to more serious offences like rape. The number of incarcerated sexual offenders appears to be rising in many countries (see Borzecki & Wormith, 1987), although this is likely to be due to an increase in reporting, adjudication, and longer custodial sentences imposed by courts rather than an actual increase in incidence. The vast majority of sexual offenders are male, and relatively little is known about women who are convicted of sexual offences (but see O'Conner, 1987, for some case studies of female offenders); thus, most of the studies and comments in this chapter pertain only to men but may apply to women.
Sexual offenders do not represent a homogeneous group psychologically, and even subgroups of sexual offenders (e.g., men who molest children) are very heterogenous (Prentky & Knight, 1991; Quinsey, 1977, 1986). Perhaps partly due to this important consideration being ignored by early researchers and clinicians, we have no generally acceptable theories of sexual abuse despite many attempts (e.g., Johnston & Ward, 1996; Marshall & Barbaree, 1990). Most clinicians who work with sexual offenders today adopt a cognitive-behavioural approach (Houston, Thomson & Wragg, 1994), and perhaps with very good reason. Treatment efficacy of such programmes has been demonstrated (Marshall, Jones, Ward, Johnston, & Barbaree, 1991). The question is: What is meant by cognitive-behavioural? This designation can cover everything from rational-emotive therapy (Ellis, 1962) to social learning theory (Bandura, 1982), among others. Some of us (e.g., Horley, 2000;