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.

Knowing and Not Knowing

In treatment, whether for an addiction or a behavioral issue, a centerpiece for change is the willingness and ability to assess oneself. Whether in a 12-step program, a guided mentorship or formal treatment with a therapist, the client is often starting in a place of not knowing or not understanding. Whether the person has not gained the maturity to see themselves through another, more objective, lens, the process of treatment helps them to get there.

I was struck last week with a poem sent me by a friend, written by a skilled mountain climber. The poem basically said that “those who’ve been to the high country can see everything below, while those below cannot say the same about what’s above them.” His metaphor has, I think, some value. He meant that with age, people use their life experience to make decisions that are products of that wisdom.

My problem with his metaphor however is that not everybody who reaches numerical maturity also reaches emotional maturity. Some who have been to the tops of mountains continue to see the world through their ego. Some of them use their money and privilege to act superior to the sherpas who serve them. Some of them treat their romantic partners and close friends like an afterthought, and see the world centered on their greatness. Some would call this narcissistic, others merely say the person’s on an ego trip.

The antidote to this can begin with early childhood education, with parents and perhaps a faith tradition helping the child to understand their place in the world. Likewise, a shock in life, a big mistake that results in harm to others, or oneself, can also be the genesis for change.

Regardless of the impetus for change, it’s a hopeful thing that anyone who wants to change can do so, though the older one gets, the more difficult it is to accomplish. And, one doesn’t have to be wealthy or privileged to change. All it takes is desire, courage and discipline. It may be that one can get there without a therapist, but therapists often have the knowledge and experience to fast-track the process.

Jeffrey Epstein - The Crimes and the Punishment

Jeffrey Epstein - The Crimes and the Punishment

Empathy and Honesty - Cornerstones of Good Treatment