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.

Time is Money...Really?

Author Jeremy Rifkin wrote Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History. He chronicles the human obsession with making every moment count, in which value and efficiency have become minor gods.

Back when we were hunters and gatherers, time was not ours to manage. Instead, we were subject to the vagaries of the season, and the gods we prayed to reflected our understanding. Even after adopting agrarian life, seasons and the weather continued to dictate our behavior. Then came the harnessing of energy: steam, coal, oil, gas and uranium. Along with the Industrial Revolution came clocks, watches and efficiency managers. The year became a week, then a day, and the spring of human time continued tightening until hours are split into meaningful nano-seconds.

When it comes to criminal justice, there is another kind of time war. Defendants are urged to plead guilty in order to spare the court the burden of scheduling a trial. Court dockets are characteristically jammed. So rather that imposing a burden on the court, the defendant is elbowed into a plea. As the US continues to have a romance with "tough on crime", people pleading guilty get sentences that are very long compared to other countries. So, on one hand, the court's time is too precious to waste on the accused, and then time means nothing to society once the guilty are put away in prisons.

Being aware of that dichotomy, I didn't make a ton of money as a treatment provider. Most of my clients, if they were able to find work at all, were making low wages. Shopping around for sex offender treatment, they would be quoted hourly rates of $100 an hour or more. So I lowered my rate according to a person's ability to pay. I also continued to work with people for free, when other priorities in their life: family, court and victim restitution, parole and probation and other fees continued to hound them mercilessly.

By lowering my rates and giving away my knowledge, I was not only doing my clients a favor, I was also helping the community be safer and healthier. Those turned away from sex offender treatment because of funding challenges are at a higher risk of re-offending. In addition to not getting valuable new understanding about their crime and behavior, these people are getting sent a message that they don't matter. If you can't afford it, then you're not worth it, is one of the deep messages buried deep in capitalism's DNA.

In recent years, government-subsidized programs help some of those getting out of prison, with housing stipends, food stamps, bus passes, education vouchers and substance abuse treatment. But sex offenders are not part of that deal. Their sentence continues with them long after release; their treatment fees are not subsidized, and many educational and housing options are withheld entirely. Why should murders and drug dealers get better treatment?

Our slicing of time into smaller and smaller segments is coincident with our ability to make more and more judgments about those not like us, and we have learned how to make time work on our side, while making it work against those we deem undeserving. A verse in the Bible, attributed to the disciple Matthew, goes like this: 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Tell that to the court, to state legislators and to sex offender treatment providers!

 

The Lust of Youngsters: Today, Romeo Would Be a Sex Offender!

The Lust of Youngsters: Today, Romeo Would Be a Sex Offender!

Impressions at a Prison Art Exhibition

Impressions at a Prison Art Exhibition