Key findings

  • Partnership working and inter-agency collaboration is important for both risk management and community integration.
  • The ability of assessment tools to predict and classify sexual reoffending have improved over recent years. Practitioners should focus upon the dynamic aspects of risk, such as deviancy, antisocial attitudes and poor self-management.
  • Intervention programmes have been developed which have a beneficial effect in terms of reducing sexual reoffending, although there is a clear need for evaluations of the latest accredited programmes.
  • Circles of Support and Accountability have been found to reduce risk and increase compliance with registration requirements.


Sexual offending can have lifelong and devastating consequences for victims and public concern is understandably high. As at 31 March 2019, there were approximately 60,000 registered sex offenders (RSOs) in England and Wales. This number has doubled over the last decade due to sentencing trends, the identification of historic sexual offenders, and the long periods of registration required.

Police recorded sexual offences have almost tripled as:

  • new types of offences (such as internet offending) have been added
  • the police have improved recording of sexual offences
  • more and more victims have felt empowered to report offences to the police.

However, the Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that, over the past 15 years, the prevalence of sexual assault among the adult population aged 16 to 59 years has fluctuated between 1.5 per cent and 3.0 per cent.

Prevalence of sexual assault, year ending March 2005 to year ending March 2020

Sexual Harm Prevention Orders and Sexual Risk Orders are available to the courts to restrict risky behaviours, such as certain forms of employment, places of residence or travelling abroad.

The number of women who are convicted of sexual offences is low.

Summary of the evidence

Partnership working

Timely and comprehensive information sharing between statutory and non-statutory agencies, via Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) or other partnerships, is crucial to public safety. There is evidence that partnership working and inter-agency collaboration can contribute to better risk management and reduced reoffending though sharing information and resources, and through the provision of more holistic case management. The importance of a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency approach to integration has also been highlighted, with a focus on the individual, interpersonal, community and societal levels.

Find out more about MAPPA

Associations with reoffending

Comprehensive assessment of risks, needs and strengths is the necessary starting point of effective management and rehabilitation. Research demonstrates the importance of both risk and protective factors. While these factors overlap with other types of offending, the strongest predictors of sexual reoffending are:

  • sexual deviancy
  • anti-social and pro-criminal attitudes
  • intimacy deficits.

Reoffending amongst sexual offenders is lower than that of general offenders. Indeed, those who are deemed lower risk have measured reoffending risks similar to the general population and some researchers argue that the resources to manage such cases would be better expended in primary prevention and victim support. Denial and victim empathy have not been found to be associated with sexual reoffending; however, academics and practitioners note the complex practical and ethical considerations around treatment for deniers and how to handle denial more generally. Nevertheless, practitioners should focus upon the evidence-based predictors of sexual reoffending set out above.


Modern risk assessment tools are better at predicting and classifying sexual reoffending than professional judgement alone. In terms of actuarial tools, the Risk Matrix 2000 tool has been used (by the police as well as probation) to predict sexual and violent reoffending. More recently, the OASys Sexual Reoffending Predictor (OSP) has been developed, which has a simpler scoring process and has been found to be a better predictor of both contact sexual reoffending (OSP/C scale) and indecent image reoffending (OSP/I scale). OSP is thus now being used by the probation service, including when determining eligibility for accredited programmes.

Assessment is a cumulative and ongoing process in sexual offender management; as the supervisory relationship develops, the client may disclose more significant information about their lifestyle and attitudes, and intelligence from partner agencies will enhance the picture. Supervision, and ongoing assessment, of sexual offenders is more effective when practitioners are mindful of acute dynamic risk factors such as:

  • negative mood, especially anger
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • sexual preoccupation
  • access to potential victims
  • poor compliance and engagement with supervision.

The Active Risk Management System (ARMS), which allows for the assessment of both dynamic risk factors and protective factors, was introduced by the police in England and Wales in 2014 and by the probation service in 2016. A national evaluation of the tool found that the potential benefits of the tool had not been realised due to its resource implications, the different needs and siloed working practices of the police and probation, as well as the staggered implementation of the tool across the agencies.

Polygraph testing – which should not be thought of as “lie detection” – is a useful tool to promote disclosure. Research has found that use of polygraph is associated with a much greater likelihood of making clinically-significant and risk-relevant disclosures to professionals. This was true whether participation was voluntary or court-mandated.

Interventions and programmes

Sexual offender treatment programmes have been found to have a moderate beneficial effect on sexual reoffending and to work best in community and hospital settings. Those programmes based upon cognitive-behavioural therapy have been found to be effective in reducing sexual and violent (but not general) reoffending. There is, however, a pressing need for formal evaluations of the latest strengths-based programmes such as Horizon and Kaizen in England and Wales – an initial process evaluation of the Horizon programme was published in 2019.

Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) is an international initiative based upon volunteers providing support and friendship to a released sexual offender. COSA has been found to reduce reoffending and increase compliance by high-risk sexual offenders.

The video below, produced by the Circles South West, provides more information about the COSA approach.

Disclaimer: an external platform has been used to host this video. Recommendations for further viewing may appear at the end of the video and are beyond our control.

Current evidence suggests that women convicted of sexual offences will not require intervention to reduce their risk of reoffending, but are likely to benefit from services aimed at addressing the impact of trauma, mental health and substance misuse, as well as resettlement issues.

Inspection data

In our report on the Management and supervision of men convicted of sexual offences (2019), we were critical of sexual offender management in England and Wales. We reported as follows:

  • the overall assessment of sexual offenders was inadequate in a third of cases and had not always considered the needs of victims and children
  • some staff lacked the appropriate degree of professional curiosity when dealing with these men
  • work inside prison was poor and the risk to the community from those released was not managed well
  • accredited programmes for sexual offenders in the community were underused
  • probation officers did not review progress or risk levels regularly enough.

Key references

Center for Sex Offender Management. (2007). The Importance of Assessment in Sex Offender Management: An Overview of Key Principles and Practices. Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

Howard, P. and Wakeling, H. (2021). Comparing two predictors of sexual recidivism: the Risk Matrix 2000 and the OASys Sexual Reoffending Predictor, Ministry of Justice Analytical Series. London: Ministry of Justice.

Mann, N. and Lundrigan, S. (2020). A National Evaluation of the Active Risk Management System. Chelmsford: Policing Institute for the Eastern Region, Anglia Ruskin University.

McCartan, K. and Fuglestved, M. (2019). Draft recommendation regarding the assessment, management and reintegration of persons accused or convicted of a sexual offence and draft explanatory report. Strasbourg: European Committee on Crime Problems and Council for Penological Cooperation (PC CP).

McCartan, K.F. and Richards, K. (2021). ‘The Integration of People Convicted of a Sexual Offence Into the Community and Their (Risk) Management’, Current Psychiatry Reports, 23:52.

Schmucker, M. and Lösel, F. (2017). Sexual offender treatment for reducing recidivism among convicted sex offenders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Oslo: Campbell Collaboration.

Ward A. and Beech A. (2017). Oxford Handbook of Sex Offences and Sex Offenders. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Last updated: 22 October 2021