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.

Prison Follows some Sex Offenders Home

Prison Follows some Sex Offenders Home

I am not an apologist for criminals, certainly not for sex offenders. Each person has responsibility to account for their actions. Our justice system is not perfect, and it works hard to protect society from being victimized. Offenders need to be separated from society until they can demonstrate their trustworthiness. That is, sadly, not an exact science.

Arthur (not his real name) went off the tracks after serving in the Armed Forces. No job, and few marketable job skills, he satisfied his need for money and sex by holding up a drug store and raping the clerk at gunpoint. He was sentenced to more than 10 years in state prison. 

Despite having no sex offender treatment, Arthur managed to carve out a stellar path as an inmate. He made furniture in the prison factory and saved a little money for when he got out. He joined an intensive Nonviolent Communication class and became a peer trainer after three years of study and practice. And he became a devout Christian, earning the support of local ministers who visited him. The Parole Board remarked, just before his release, that he had done a model job of creating a transition plan.

Arthur settled into a life that would drive most adults mad. He wore a GPS device on his ankle. He did regular polygraph and urinalysis tests to determine his innocence. He registered as a sex offender and went to a counselor, who helped him see his pattern of behavior. He stayed free of alcohol and drugs, reporting regularly to a parole officer who tracked his progress. Any dates he might have required a prior okay from the parole officer and his treatment provider. And, he was required to admit to his date that he was a registered sex offender. "Who would want to date a guy that announces that on a first date?" he asked. "It was easier to just not try." Yes, it was his choice to rape a woman and the consequences of his actions were not unknown to him at the time.

Despite the hardship of post prison life, Arthur seemed to thrive. He found a good job as a machinist, bought a used pickup and built a credit history paying off the loan. He lived in a clean and sober group home for formerly incarcerated veterans and attended cognitive behavior therapy classes. He joined a church and, with a chaperone, was able to attend services.

But after two years with this close leash, Arthur apparently grew tired of the constant vigilance. He snipped off the ankle bracelet and drove to a neighboring state to find some sex for hire. He was quickly apprehended and is now back in prison for at least two years. 

Settling back into prison life must be hell for him, but Arthur knew it would be, having lived there before and enduring the bruising from those who hate sex offenders. Now they have something else to hate him for. One of those in a class I facilitate told me, "Guys who screw up after getting an early release from the parole board make it harder for the rest of us. Who are they gonna believe? Here's a guy with a perfect record in prison who fails on the outside...the parole board is gonna be more skeptical with the next ones. It's easier for them to deny parole than to say 'yes' and then have to defend themselves for letting somebody out who wasn't ready."

From my perspective, I would enjoy having an alternative to parole revocation. Maybe a community panel or a judicial review to determine the severity of the relapse. Perhaps a robust Circle of Support and Accountability - including his treatment provider and parole officer - to help channel his urges in healthy, approved ways. Sexual expression is normal for adult men and women. With tight restrictions on them, and a community with little tolerance for accommodating their normal biological and social needs, it's remarkable to me that any sex offenders succeed.

Getting In to Prison is Easy: Getting Out is Another Thing

What Risk are Sex Offenders in Community - And What Support Have We?

What Risk are Sex Offenders in Community - And What Support Have We?