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.



Every year at this time, my wife and I go to a Trappist Abbey for a silent meditation retreat. This year, I chose a word - remembering - to consider during the four-day silence. Remembering, in this sense, is a skill that can be helpful  to include as part of sex offender treatment.

The act of remembering our essence is the centerpiece of becoming present to our behavior. Who we are, fundamentally, does not change because we were convicted of a crime. Who we are is not what we've done. Fundamentally we are more than our bones and flesh. We are more than our achievements and blunders.

On the other side of connecting to that essence is accommodation, maybe even forgiveness. The fact that forgiveness is possible allows us hope and inspiration. In the act of forgiveness - whether self forgiveness or forgiving someone else - we are restored to wholeness in our community...or at least we're back on the path to wholeness.

Mindfulness meditation is one of the ways in which people in treatment find their way to remembering their essential self. Prayer, contemplation and meditation help create a quiet place inside where connection to that essence is renewed. From that foundation, it is more possible to tackle the hard work ahead - being accountable for the harm we have brought forth, making atonement and forging ahead with pro-social behavior.

During the retreat, I reviewed some of my self-talk and limiting beliefs that contribute to my unskilled behavior. I also read a couple of books to help set a mood for considering remedial action. And then I walked in the old woods on the Abbey's 1300-acres, and that's where the connection happened for me.


Rain, then snow fell as the elevation steepened on St. Terese’s trail along the brook. Fear of losing my way, fear of being alone in the world at the end of my life, I trudged upward, silently muttering, over and over: “Fear is a product of victim thinking”. That helped. And when the weight lifted, so did my gaze, less fixed, it seemed, on a future unseen.

 I stopped climbing, the snow had slacked,  and I sat  for awhile on a wet stump,  meditating, eyes open, sipping the environment, it sipping me. 

The clouds parted in the eastern sky, and then began a “Jesus beam” parade. Mist rising off heavy fir and cedar boughs, ethereal, spiritualized by sunlight. Drips paused at the end of things, unsure whether gravity or evaporation would be the next step. Green so green, anything else might have envied. Holy moments, no thoughts of my life or my death. Me ceded to we. Cycling silently, uniform in metamorphosis between life and rebirth, there was motion and peace, if not exactly warmth.

 Then I felt my ass wet through heavy jeans. I said, “Thank you, I remember now,” and headed back down St. Terese’s trail.

NPR Affiliate Features one of the Clients in Chapter 6 of the Book

Sex Abuse, St. Valentine, and Geoffrey Chaucer

Sex Abuse, St. Valentine, and Geoffrey Chaucer