Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 17, No. 1, January 2005 (
Developing Empathy in Sexual Offenders:
The Value of Offence Re-Enactments
Stephen D. Webster,
Louise E. Bowers,
Ruth E. Mann,
and William L. Marshall
This paper describes an evaluation of different uses of roleplay to enhance victim-
speciﬁc empathy in sexual offenders. Thirty-three men participated in a treatment
program involving offence re-enactment as described by Pithers (1994) and Mann,
Daniels, and Marshall (2002). A matched group of 33 men participated in a
treatment program that was identical in all respects except that they did not
complete offence re-enactments. Instead, they completed extra roleplays designed
to enhance empathy for the short and long-term consequences for their victim(s).
Results indicated that completing an offence re-enactment led to slightly better
ability to identify some types of negative consequences for abuse victims, and
identify cognitive distortions about their offending and women per se. Rapists in
particular seemed more likely to beneﬁt from offence re-enactment. The non-re-
enactment group showed better understanding of lifestyle disruption effects for
sexual abuse victims. The differences between the groups were not very marked,
and the study only involved measures of cognitive empathy. Given the concerns
about offence re-enactment expressed by Pithers (1997), this procedure should be
used with caution and future investigations should test speciﬁcally for possible
signs of damage caused by the procedure.
KEY WORDS: offence re-enactment; empathy deﬁcit roleplay scenarios; sexual offenders empathy.
The enhancement of empathy as a treatment goal is taken for granted in most
sex offender treatment programs (Knopp, Freeman-Longo, & Stevenson, 1992).
Earlier research focused on establishing whether sex offenders suffered from a
general empathy deﬁcit; more recently, empirical evidence has suggested that
Her Majesty’s Prison Service, London, England.
Rockwood Psychological Services, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at HM Prison Service, SOTP, Room 725, Abell House,
John Islip Street, London, England; e-mail: Stephen.Webster@hmps.gsi.gov.uk.
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.