Minimisation is when an offender believes their punishment is or was disproportionate. this is often said to be a counterproductive mentality because it lessens the responsibility from offenders. is this really true ? and does minimisation always lead to counterproductive outcomes and increased risk of re offending ?


Marshall, W. L. (1994). Treatment effects on denial and minimization in incarcerated sex offenders. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 32(5), 559-564. https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7967(94)90145-7


Although much has been written about the fact that many sex offenders either deny they committed an offense or minimize their offense in some way (Murphy, 1990), very little research has focused on changing these stances despite the fact that treatment of other issues cannot proceed until denial is overcome and minimization has at least been significantly changed. Two studies have described the nature of excuses provided by sex offenders (Pollack & Hashmall, 1991; Scuily & Marolla, I984), and it is clear that these excuses represent a form of minimization, generally by shifting responsibility to factors or persons outside the offender. However, in these studies no suggestions were offered about how to eliminate such justifications.

Murphy (1990) outlined several approaches to the modification of the more general category of cognitive distortions and some of these procedures seem relevant to dealing effectively with denial and minimization. The only study, however, which has specifically targeted these problems, is reported by Barbaree (1991). Barbaree found that among 26 incarcerated rapists, 54% denied they had committed an offense and a further 42% minimized either their responsibility for the offense, or the harm they had done or the extent of their offending (frequency, forcefulness or degree of sexual intrusiveness). Barbaree’s incarcerated child molesters showed similar patterns (66% denied and 33% minimized). Treatment reduced the number of deniers who remained in therapy for the full program, from 22 to 3, but 15 of those deniers who admitted to having offended, were still minimizing at the end of treatment. Of the 15 who initially admitted but minimized their offense(s), only 3 gave up all evidence of minimizing as a result of treatment.

Overall, these results are impressive, although the number of offenders who continued to minimize is perhaps less encouraging. However, Barbaree did provide pre- and post-treatment evaluations using the Multiphasic Sex Inventory (Nichols & Molinder, 1984), which gives some indication of the degree of change in minimizing, albeit indirectly. He found significant reductions on 5 of the 6 subscales of the MS1 with the most salient being reductions in Justifications. So although many of Barbaree’s treated offenders continued to minimize, it may be that their degree of minimization was reduced.

Many clinicians, unfortunately, take the simple course of excluding deniers from their treatment programs, while others accept only those who are said to be motivated to change. In the latter cases, it is quite probable that most who are judged to be poorly motivated are also either denying or minimi~ng their offending. Excluding such potential patients seems likely to markedly reduce the number of sex offenders eligible for treatment and may very well eliminate from treatment some of the most dangerous offenders. In our treatment programs (Marshall, 1973; Marshall & Barbaree, 1988; Marshall, Eccles & Barbaree, 1991; Marshall & McKnight, 1975; Marshall & Williams, 1975) we have never refused treatment to deniers, because we expect most sex offenders to initially deny or minimize their ofIenses and because we assume it is our responsibility to facilitate their full admissions. The present report represents our first attempt to both describe our procedures for overcoming denial and reducing or eliminating minimization, and to report the effectiveness of these procedures.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It looks like you have two accounts; you could ask that they be merged using the Contact link at the bottom of the page and the "Account Issues" selection. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 31, 2023 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for adding a link, but it's best to have some sort of context for it: maybe a short quote or at least a paraphrase of what you've gotten from there. Here's an example of another recent question where they've done this: psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/29428/… - see how they make a statement and then use a link to point you to the supporting evidence. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 31, 2023 at 14:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Related: Are Sex Offender Treatment Programmes (SOTPs) effective? $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2023 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking just about sex offenders, or are you also interested in thieves, drunk drivers, and drug dealers? $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2023 at 12:04

1 Answer 1



Diederik F. Janssen, MD, in his article "Paraphilia": Acultural or Anti-Anthropological? [Sexual Offender Treatment, Volume 9 (2014), Issue 2], made an argument that cognitive distortions in general (not just minimization) as it relates to persons convicted of sexual offenses may represent cultural conflicts rather than psychopathology.

There have long been calls for culture-sensitive approaches in sex offender treatment (S.O.T.) literature (e.g. Lewis, 1999). This relates in the first instance to the most basic of legal and medical definitions. Authoritative definitions of "sexual abuse" adapted at the WHO level are dubiously drafted to include all sexual liaisons that can be said to "violate the laws or social taboos of society" (WHO, 1999, p. 15). The International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders takes note of "great discrepancy throughout the world as to what constitutes a sexual offense"...(Coleman et al., 2000, pp. 13-14).

Yet it is easy to find contemporary S.O.T. handbooks that have little to say about the dimension of culture beyond single-sentence complaints that available literature is "almost exclusively focused on mainstream western societies" (Jackie Craissati, in Beech, Craig & Browne, eds., 2009, p. 14)....

How notions of culture are factored in or out of this scene of expert knowledge-making thus itself makes for a central anthropological question. Thinking about culture happens to touch upon basic elements of the post-DSM-III conceptual toolkit of S.O.T. A seminal paper on "cognitive distortions" in child sex offenders argued that if an account of such offences does not honor "accepted standards" obtaining in their society, it is "simply a cognitive distortion" (Abel et al., 1984, p. 100). In many subsequent psychometric approaches to such alleged distortions, references to "other cultures" in forensic contexts are specifically labeled instances of exculpatory "rationalizations" or as pillars of dysfunctional "implicit theories"....

This frank but arguable equation between cultural "sync" and fact seems used to cut short and medicialize any contextualizing frame for sex offences that might be construed as contrary to S.O.T. objectives. Ethnographic observation here shrivels into "excuse": it becomes a symptom of the "disorder" said to "underlie" offenders’ deviation from culturally accepted truisms (for a critical review see Janssen, 2012).

What he is referring to here are "accounts" of crimes, given by convicted offenders, that perceive the underlying behavior in ways that the treating clinicians consider to be wrong (e.g. minimized). For example, if a person from a culture in which non-consensual sexual touching is considered either acceptable or only a petty offense travels to the West and gets caught committing such behaviors, they are naturally likely to perceive what they did as no big deal and the punishment inflicted to be grossly over-severe.

For a reversed example that might be easy to relate to, Western countries generally consider Blasphemy to either be not an offense or only a minor one, while some countries elsewhere in the world consider it not only a major felony but potentially a capital one. A non-believing person from a Western country who gets caught up in a foreign criminal justice system for expressing their frustration by blaspheming a local deity is likely to see what is happening to them as grossly unfair. Criminal justice officials from that foreign society, however, are likely to see these expressions as minimizations of what they perceive as gross transgressions against natural order and thus see the offender as psychopathological and in need of treatment.


Janssen, D. F. (2014). "Paraphilia": Acultural or Anti-Anthropological?. Sexual Offender Treatment, 9(2).

  • $\begingroup$ While I see where you are going in most areas, I am having problems with this answer. "For example, if a person from a culture in which non-consensual sexual touching is considered either acceptable or only a petty offense" Do you know of any of these cultures? However, as pointed out in answers and comments to a question in Philosophy.SE related to this, consensual incest is not illegal in many western countries, but I am not aware of anywhere that permits sexual activity with children. $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2023 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers the article I linked gives at least one example, some tribes of New Guinea. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2023 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers here's an article specifically about that. The ritual described is certainly something that would be described, both culturally and legally, as child sexual abuse in most countries. The question we are being asked, are the elders who perpetrate these rituals sick predators who need to be in intensive therapy to cleanse them of pathological cognitive distortions, or are they guardians and role-models of authentic culture? More specifically, who are we to judge? $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2023 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ The Age of Consent in Papua New Guinea is 16 years old. Boys under age 17 cannot consent to another male (see ageofconsent.net/world/papua-new-guinea). "This tradition is kept as a secret by the male cult. Revealing it to his wife means castration and death." Another reason to believe this practice is considered immoral and illegal. The men maintain the secrecy through murder. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2023 at 5:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There is rape of the young in the Democratic Republic of the Congo because it is believed sex with virgins cures sexually transmitted diseases. Age of consent in the DRC is 14 and although inconsistent, life sentences have been issued for rape of children. Anyone over the age who becomes pregnant as a result of abuse is no longer viewed as a child who needs the care and affection of her parents. In the context of the Congolese society, rape is considered to be an "act of marriage" to the perpetrator (web.archive.org/web/20140222205109/http://www.svri.org/…) $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2023 at 6:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.