In Puritan America, a married woman’s illicit affair with a minister landed her in jail. After her release, Hester Prynne was sentenced to forever wear a big red “A” on her dress. 

Nearly 375 years later, the U.S. continues to be scandalized, tantalized and perplexed by sex, especially about sex offenders. Tough on crime, we’re still struggling to learn: 

  • Why domestic violence and incest are so under-reported by victims? 
  • Why most people think every sexual offender is a serial rapist? 
  • Why, even among therapists, many continue to believe sex-offenders to be untreatable? 
  • Why supervision after offenders’ release tends to-wards punitive rather than restorative? 

It’s time to bring the subject of sex crime out of the dark ages, time to help victims shed the shame and trauma of their experience. It’s also time to allow offenders an opportunity to show they can change, make amends and start to earn back trust and acceptance from society.

The Bias Against Sex Offenders

Bias is a predisposition against — or in favor of — a thing, a person or group. Racism and sexism are examples of the biases that flourish in society. Over time, with continued social pressure from an oppressed group, bias can gradually yield to more fairness, if not equality.

There is a bias against criminals, especially those who commit violent crimes against others. In society, even among criminals, sex offenders are the most reviled.

Given this bias, people with a conviction as a sex offender face more difficult challenges getting a fair shake when coming back into society. Because of their label, they are prohibited from living close to places where children live or congregate. They are also prohibited from working in — or even frequenting — a business where children may be present. I know a man who was refused mental health prescription drugs because the county clinic was located in the same building as the family counseling center. 

With these restrictions, it tends to isolate people convicted of sex offense. Isolation is not a recipe for success, for the offender or the community.

Suggestions:

  • We should refine the definition of sex offender. Yes, we must remain very watchful of those who have a history of serial rape and pedophilia. However it is unnecessary to put all sex offenders under the same microscope. Public indecency and watching adult porn can lead to more serious sexual crimes, but generally those crimes haven’t the same victim impact as child rape. 
  • Education. Parents teaching sex education to their children is very important. Elementary and Secondary schools also have a role in educating students about sexuality and proper sexual conduct. 
  • Sex crimes are often unreported, and society’s bias is part of the reason why. Families don’t want to be exposed to the ridicule and shunning of society, so they keep their dirty laundry secret. Doing so doesn’t help the victim, who is often traumatized. Nor does it expose the crime, so the criminal may go unpunished and untreated.
  • Mentoring. Churches and other community organizations offer education, training and mentor services for victims as well as for offenders. One pastor I know worked many years with his congregation to normalize a strategy for gradually allowing a former sex offender back into the fold. The strategy involved a professionally-staffed transition home for offenders, a rigorous reentry program with defined milestones and a mentorship with trained individuals, who accompanied the individual to event where children would be present.

I welcome ideas and experiences you know about that can continue to broaden the knowledge about this topic, while removing the bias. 

Sex Offender Treatment — How Different from Treating Addictions?

Treatment & Practice

Treatment & Practice