Publish Date: December 2020 | Download PDF |


Sexual abuse is a public health issue. It is a pervasive yet preventable worldwide problem that impacts everyone – individuals, communities, institutions, and society as a whole. The dynamics that drive sexual offending are complex and multifaceted. Individuals convicted of sexual crimes are extremely diverse in terms of the frequency, types of offenses, reasons for, and future propensity of sexually abusive behavior. Because the majority of individuals convicted of sexual crimes eventually return to our communities, effective treatment and management are essential for preventing further abuse. Research consistently demonstrates that “one size fits all” approaches are not effective (Catalano, 2006; Black et al., 2011; Hanson et al., 2004; Hanson et al., 2009; Harris & Hanson, 2004; Hanson et al., 2014; Snyder, 2000). Evidence suggests that the most effective practices are based on a continuum of services available at a range of service level intensity, both community-based and within secure settings, and applied based on the individual’s identified areas of risk and need in a manner that engages the individual by considering their individual characteristics (Andrews & Bonta, 2010a).

Sexual offender civil commitment (SOCC) laws permit the involuntary confinement of individuals with mental conditions and an exceptional risk to sexually recidivate. Similar to other mental health civil commitments, SOCC statutes are premised on the idea that the state must act with authority to protect citizens whose mental health condition is such that it places them or others at risk for harm. Civil commitment is a legal mechanism that may be one component of a comprehensive continuum of responses to sexual offending, which is reserved for individuals with exceptional risk and treatment needs. The U.S. Supreme court has clarified that the constitutionality of SOCC statutes rests on a treatment focus, non-punitive nature, strict procedural safeguards, and immediate release upon sufficient change in dangerousness (Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S., 346, 1997; Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 2002).

In order to provide a review of civil commitment, the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network (SOCCPN) and the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) co-published evidence-based documents in 2015 and have again joined in a collaborative effort to educate professionals, policy makers and communities about civil commitment in this 2020 update. The purpose of this document is to provide an overview of civil commitment and the role civil commitment may play for individuals convicted of sexual crimes within the broader continuum of sexual-offense-specific management and treatment. By imparting this information, neither ATSA nor SOCCPN is taking a position for or against the existence of SOCC.

Publication Type:
Policy Papers