The sexual assault control program: this is how this type of treatment works

Few criminal acts such as sexual assault on women and children they generate so much aversion for our society. People often react with misunderstanding, horror, and shock when it comes to sexual assault, as the perpetrator crosses an ethical, social and legal barrier that so many people have indestructible.

Over the past decades, these criminal behaviors have aroused great interest in the scientific community and in society in general. The objective is to find ways to make this type of act practically disappear, and that is why initiatives such as the sexual assault program (SAC) have emerged. Let’s see how it is and what effects its application can have.

    Sexual Assault Control Program (SAC)

    Many sex offenders commit these acts to feel good, to gain power and control … Getting pleasure this way can be, in part, an escape route other painful or unpleasant experiences such as shame, fear, anger, etc. They perceive that there is no other means available to obtain this gratification, do not empathize with the victim, and display insufficient control to inhibit and direct their actions.

    What answer can we give psychology to these criminal acts? Is there a treatment for this category of people? Can they be reintegrated into society? What guarantees are there that they will not relapse? In this article we will talk about treatment for cognitive-behavioral sex offenders which has given good results in Spain, although we can not say that it is the panacea.

    The Sexual Assault Control Program (SAC) has its theoretical support in the explanatory model of sexual crime devised by Marshall and Barbaree (1989), with particular reference to the confrontation of pro-criminal cognitive patterns, in Walters ‘criminal lifestyle model (1989) and Pithers’ relapse prevention framework (1987).

    The SAC program was designed by Garrido and Beneyto (1996) taking as a reference the previous work of other authors specializing in the field. It is aimed at sexual abusers and is structured in 3 manuals: manual for the therapist, manual for the inmate and the assessment system. The first application of this program was carried out in parallel in two prisons in the province of Barcelona: Quatre Camins and Brians.

      Inclusion requirements and grounds for exclusion

      To access the program, priority is given to inmates who have already served parts of the sentence, Or they have less than 4 years to complete. In addition, prison psychologists highly value the form of volunteering and the acceptance of criminal responsibility as auspicious aspects of change.

      But not all inmates who meet the above requirements can continue with the program: those who react with a loss of will to follow it, those who exhibit behaviors that hinder the progress of the program, as well as the persistence of a personality structure at risk of criminal recidivism will be excluded.

        What are the objectives of the SAC program?

        This program aims to improve the chances of reintegration and non-recidivism of the inmate who has committed a crime of sexual assault, improve the effectiveness of their psychosocial skills.

        It is a semi-structured therapeutic intervention that combines cognitive-behavioral techniques. These are activities that require introspection, confrontation with oneself and others, structured learning of coping skills and the development of self-control.

        This program it is usually applied in group mode, In one or two weekly therapeutic sessions, lasting two hours, for approximately 9 to 11 months.

        As we will see below, the SAC program is structured in several intervention phases, divided into 2 large blocks: awareness and control. Before you begin, muscle relaxation training is done to proactively monitor your stress states.


        Different cognitive and emotional elements are worked on so that the person becomes more aware of their criminal activities and the risk factors that precipitate them (eg: cognitive distortions) which are linked to them. To develop this block, 5 modules are used:

        • Personal history analysis: The subject reviews his own life.
        • Introduction to cognitive distortions: She is therapeutically confronted with her thinking errors and her distorted interpretation of her criminal behavior (eg, “she teased me, she asked me, even if she said no”).
        • emotional awareness: The idea is to improve their knowledge and their capacity for introspection. Acknowledge their emotions and those of others.
        • violent behavior: Aggression and behavior detrimental to victims are analyzed.
        • Defense mechanisms: It is about reducing the justification of the crime by the confrontation. The program manual illustrates up to 107 typical excuses used by sex offenders, such as “I wasn’t that way,” “I’m not perfect,” “I had a bad night,” “I didn’t. didn’t hurt as much as he said, “” he shouted at her with the way he dressed.

        Take over

        If you want that the subject controls his own behavior in order to be able to inhibit his criminal activities. This block consists of 7 modules (of which 2 are relapse prevention):

        • Cognitive Distortions: The subject is made aware of how the distortions work, is helped to identify their internal dialogue, irrational and deviant thoughts are classified, these thoughts are challenged, and they are sought to be replaced by rational interpretations. In adult female abusers, negative beliefs about them are typical, while child molesters rationalize their behavior or accuse their victims of being provocateurs.

        • Positive lifestyle: They are taught to program their daily life.
        • sex education: Information on the functioning of human sexuality, from the scientific aspect to ethics. Particular emphasis is placed on consent, on sex as an activity of communication and mutual respect for people’s wishes.
        • Change in sexual impulse: It seeks to reduce the sexual drive in the face of inappropriate stimuli involving the use of violence or abuse of minors (self-stimulating repackaging or secret awareness).
        • Prevention of relapse.

        Do these types of programs work?

        Unfortunately, sex offenders, as well as the drug addict population, these are the most difficult subjects to reinsert and tend to relapse. Treatment success rates are not as positive as we all would like. However, the most widely used and effective psychological treatments with sex offenders are those of cognitive-behavioral orientation (Brandes & Cheung, 2009; Marshall & Marshall, 20I4; Zäta & Farringtoo, 2016), as is SAC.

        Sexual assault program has worked, Although we must be careful. In a study by Redondo, Navarro, Martínez, Luque and Andrés (2005) showed that after a 4-year follow-up of inmates who had completed the SAC program, only 4% had reoffended for sexual assault (in the control group , untreated, they relapsed 11%).

        In addition, professionals should keep in mind that there are a number of factors that correlate with the best prognosis for treatment (For example, empathy for the victim, the creation of social support, the absence of mental illness, the genuine and genuine desire to change), and will need to be valued individually to empower them.

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