Empathy training, sex offenders and re-offending

Colin Arthur Wastell, David Cairns, Helen Haywood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Citations (Scopus)


A common treatment focus for work with sex offenders is the development of "victim empathy". It is asserted that by developing sex offenders' empathy towards their victims, re-offending will be reduced. However, the clinical and empirical evidence indicates that re-offending remains a major problem among treated sex offenders. The present paper reports on the evaluation of a programme designed to increase sex offenders' empathic ability. Overall, the programme was very successful in improving offenders’ scores on measures of empathy. However, one area that did not improve was the ability to recognize affective cues in other people. This skill deficiency may offer an important insight into the re-offending cycle of sex offenders. It is proposed that an inability to recognize affect indicators in others, including fear and distress, is a key deficiency leading to re-offending. The findings reported are exploratory, and for that reason tentative, but may provide a fruitful direction for future research of the pattern of sex-offender compliant behaviour while in custody and their subsequent sexual re-offending once released.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-159
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Sexual Aggression
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • sex offender treatment
  • victim empathy
  • affect recognition

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