The Yukon Department of Justice is piloting a new group therapy program for convicted sexual offenders in the territory.
The goal is to teach offenders skills that change their behaviour and thinking.
That might include things like recognizing situations where they might reoffend, recognizing the harm they’ve done to victims, and learning about healthy versus problematic sexual fantasy and arousal.
The Yukon’s sexual assault rates are four times the national average.
“I am excited about what might come out of this and (it’s) a treatment that I think is going to benefit the Yukon,” said Leah White, manager of offenders supervision and services, and a former counsellor in the family violence prevention unit.
Sex offender programming is not new to the territory but the Forensic Sex Offender Program (FSOP) adds a group element to what is already offered.
“When you have people with like issues, they will listen to each other more than a psychologist or a probation officer,” White said “Research has told us that groups work better in changing behaviour than individual (programs) as ones and ones, especially sexual offending behaviour.”
The group dynamic provides for more accountability among the offenders too.
“(Offenders are) not just accountable to (their) probation officer, but to this group for showing up, for changing behaviour, for working, talking in the group,” she said.
It also provides the opportunity for those offenders to exchange strategies that have worked for them.
“People will call you (out) on what you’re saying and ask questions.”
The program runs once a week at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and once a week in Whitehorse for inmates serving their jail sentences in the community.
Currently there are four to five people in the group at the jail and six to eight in town.
But White said offenders aren’t simply thrown into the groups. First they’re assessed for their risk factors, including the triggers that exacerbate their deviant behaviour. For example, alcohol can be a big factor.
“(We) work with the person so they understand that when they’re drinking they’re putting themselves and someone else at risk,” White said.
Then the program staff have to make sure the inmates can work in a group.
Inmates convicted of sexual assaults and who have cognitive impairments usually require different programming with a psychologist.
It also requires offenders to get to the stage they’re ready to open up about their behaviour.
“From what I know not a lot of people will say ‘Yeah I’m a sex offender and I want to go into a group (therapy),’” White said. “That’s a hard label to have. For these clients who are going into groups, I have a lot of respect for them for being open and participating in the groups.”
A contract psychologist, a probation officer and a case manager work on the program.
Other jurisdictions in Canada outsource that type of therapy to forensic mental health facilities, White said.
But because the territory doesn’t have such facilities, offenders services looked at developing its own therapy program.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org