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10 April 2018

Planning services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism who sexually offend

A new report, jointly published today by the Prison Reform Trust and University of Leeds, examines sexual offending amongst people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

Building on an expert, multi-sector seminar held in 2017, this new report provides a stimulus for further discussion, looking at the challenges faced both by the individuals themselves and the professionals and practitioners who work with them, suggesting practical ways forward and recommendations for improving outcomes.

The report explores some of the reasons why people with learning disabilities and/or autism may get into trouble over an alleged sexual offence. At times their actions may be influenced by factors that are similar to those affecting non-disabled offenders, such as lack of empathy, poor impulse control, or attachment problems. However other reasons that are particular to the experiences of people with learning disabilities and/or autism may include a lack of opportunity for appropriate sexual expression; limited knowledge about sex and sexuality; and cognitive distortions or poor understanding of the social sanctions attached to sexual offending.

Several local, regional and national authorities and multi-agency partnerships have overlapping responsibilities for their health and wellbeing, and the array of support agencies can be confusing and hard to access—both for the individuals themselves and family members seeking help on their behalf.

The report concludes that an effective response to people with learning disabilities and/or autism who sexually offend requires professional health, social care and justice services to integrate support. It recommends that a focus on prevention and early intervention would improve outcomes for individuals, make communities safer and reduce the number of victims, and lessen the high cost of crisis intervention and secure care or imprisonment.