The Fallacy of Sex Offender Rehabilitation As A One Size Fits All

Serial sex predators. How often do we hear about someone who was assaulted by a person who has a history of sex crimes? The answer is…. all too often.


Recently, in my own small midwestern community, a mother and thirteen year old daughter were raped and killed by a predator who had a history of assault and was in fact waiting to be sentenced for a felony sexual assault.


This begs the question,


Is it possible for sex offenders to be rehabilitated?


This can be a complicated question because all too often our culture wants to paint predators with one broad brush, lumping them all together. The reality is that there are two types of sexual predator; “State” and “Trait”.


“State” rapists are generally reactors, meaning they do not premeditate, but rather they react to a certain set of circumstances. Their level of aggression can vary from being relatively low to the ultimate crime of homicide. Circumstances vary from predator to predator. Pre- incident indicators such as partner issues, job stress, alcohol abuse, an attitude of disrespect for his preferred target, coupled with a need to control all can contribute to the formula for a potential rapist. If, during that specific and lead to a sexual assault. There is no excusing “State” behavior, but the fact is that these types of predators may actually have remorse afterwards. Guilt and remorse sometimes factor into the likelihood that repeat behavior is unlikely. Rehabilitation can be successful with “state” offenders.


Unfortunately most sexual predators are not “State”. My experience indicates the majority are “Trait” predators.


Trait Offenders; Is former Governor Andrew Cuomo one?


Experts have called Governor Andrew Cuomo a “trait” sexual offender. Whether this is true or not we still are not 100% certain of, but the “traits” are there. Multiple accusers, patterns of sexual harassment, etc.


Where “State” are reactors with little premeditation, “Trait” rapists think about creating situations where they can prey upon others. They premeditate, fantasizing about what they are going to do, when they will do it, and approximately 60% of the time who they will do it to. It is not sudden impulse, rather it is a planned act of aggression. They are the repeaters, the serial predators that assault over and over until they are apprehended, become sick, injured or age to a point they no longer feel the need to act out. If caught, their cycle of aggression is interrupted but generally if/when they get out of prison or jail they will soon repeat. Unless young, it is extremely rare to find a “Trait” rapist who does not have a history of sexual aggression.


Is there an answer? Identifying the root causes of why some people assault is important. What factors lead some to be predators and others to be respectful of themselves and others? Is society creating these predators or have they always been there? Are their attitudes molded by their role models, media, and peers? I believe the answer is yes to all.


The bottom line is “Trait” rapists repeat their behavior, so what can WE do to address the behavior while looking at the cause?

  • First, we need to apply the law aggressively. Too often rapists are given lenient sentences due to a variety of issues such as plea bargaining. If rapists are in prison, at least their cycle of aggression will be disrupted for a period of time.

  • Second, parole should be closely monitored.

  • Third, teach effective risk reduction and avoidance based upon the realities of sexual aggression. Generally speaking no amount of simple self-defense will prevent an assault.

  • Fourth, as mentioned, we need to look at why people assault and work to actively address it. Ask what can be done to break that cycle.

  • Lastly, educate and enable bystanders to intercede where appropriate.

No Zebras Productions offers bystander awareness education

Bring No Zebras to your organization, campus or community We work with law firms, military, businesses and college campuses to support and educate about bystander awareness, sexual assault prevention and more. Programs available via Zoom as well.


You can also, get your copy of Steve Thompsons NEW book No Zebras!: Engaging Bystanders in the Movement to End Sexual Aggression