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.

Ex offender Talks about TED (Treatment, Education and Determination)

Ex offender Talks about TED (Treatment, Education and Determination)

At age 18, “Sean” was sentenced for two years to a state hospital as part of his punishment for sexually molesting a six year-old boy. At the time (1990s, in Oregon) that’s where juvenile sex offenders were sent for “treatment.” That’s where Sean met “David”, another offender. They became partners; and not long after they got out and moved into an apartment together, the men began grooming another 6 year-old boy for sexual abuse. After being discovered and convicted, Sean and his partner were sentenced to almost 13 years each for what the court saw as a pattern of predatory sexual behavior.

Sean was released in 2012 and is about 40 years-old. In our book: SO, The New Scarlet Letters, he shares his experience of two distinct forms of sex offender treatment. 

“There are basically two types of treatment,” he said. The first assumes offenders are fundamentally screwed up and that treatment providers are tasked with “breaking you down, confronting your denial, doing anything they can think of to keep you from re-offending – even if it means that you come to hate yourself every minute of every day.” Sean added that the treatment was successful to that extent. “I learned to hate myself with a vengeance!” He also learned that self hatred seeks relief, and that encouraged more fantasies about sex with boys. “When I hate myself, I am many steps closer to offending again,” he said.

The second type of treatment approaches the issue from a different angle, Sean continued. “It assumes offenders are human. We have darkness and light in us, but we are basically worthwhile.” From that vantage point, he was asked to examine himself thoroughly, including his formative years. “I had to discover what was lacking so that I chose to meet my needs in unhealthy ways.”

Sean said that Marilyn Callahan (the co-author) was unique among his treatment providers. In Callahan’s words, “the goal I outlined for all of my clients was to become their own therapist. They must want to change, find motivation and employ skills to avoid a relapse,” she said. Now 83, and retired from active practice, Callahan continues to lead discussion groups in prison weekly.

Part of Callahan’s brand of treatment asks offenders to accept responsibility for their crimes and write a letter of “clarification” to the victims (though the letters are not meant for sharing). In describing the realizations borne from these activities, Sean wrote: “The fact is, I put myself into all these situations. I did this. I broke the boys’ trust. I invaded their boundaries, and I did it repeatedly.” Lamenting the ripple effect of his crimes, Sean added that his last victim became a perpetrator, and is now in prison for a rape committed on a young teenager.

Sean admitted that being “cured” of his sexual preferences may not be as likely an outcome as being successful at managing his behavior. Free from parole and supervision since 2015, he continues to be his own therapist and guide, relying on a blend of ongoing treatment, education, skills development, determination and support.

About four years after his release, Sean talked about the cost of staying healthy, and how that investment is a symbol of his resolve. “I’ve spent about $10,000 since being released – on fees for polygraph tests and offender treatment, for example, as well as classes on subjects like empathy and dating.

“I am still single,” he said, “and my history may always be a barrier for me when seeking a partner.” He added that triggers for old behavior continue to linger, including his attraction to boys, Internet porn, depression, self-esteem issues, and overeating.

“I avoid locations where boys are likely to gather. I continue to have monitoring software on my computer that reports my browsing history to mentors. Other mentors help me address depression and self-esteem issues. And I stay involved in support groups and activities that help me stay positive.

“I am not attempting to fashion a ‘normal’ life,” Sean continued. “Instead, I work to stay very aware of my predilections, my past, and my danger signs. I am working to find a meaningful life somewhere in the middle, where those elusive qualities of self-forgiveness and self-esteem may exist. I am blessed with how many people are willing to support and help me.”

Why this New Book Might Appeal to Social Workers

Some Thoughts on Sex Offender Treatment Providers

Some Thoughts on Sex Offender Treatment Providers