Reflections on Sex Offender Safeguards

Sex offenders are universally vilified (Wakefield, 2006). I am part of the universe, one where objective impartiality—a superhuman position—I am not yet able to accomplish. Good parents wish to protect their children from sexual abuse. Parents who are also sexual offenders, however, wish to isolate their children in order to abuse them (Bhandari, Winter, Messer, & Metcalfe, 2011; Salter, 2003).

Sex offender researcher Anna Salter reports upon asking her audience, “What would it take for you to have sex with a child?” that a male adult in the audience broke the tension replying, “She would have to grow up (Salter, 2003).” The coarse and crushing truth is, that some children grow up being groomed for sexual use. The average age of onset for sexual harm in the home is three-to-eight years old (Browne & Lynch, 1994; Salter, 2003).

Revulsion rises within me even as I type those words. I sit here in the early morning dark while my children sleep safely in their beds upstairs. They have a luxury that I and countless others were not afforded. As a survivor of severe childhood abuse and neglect, I now study what I lived, but not from a dispassionate or sterile distance.  When I say I survived, I now understand that although my father tried to kill me, currently I am alive. Secondly, it means that I have an affinity to those afflicted by abuse. Third, it means that I hold two very dark and heavy realities in broken hands: offenders are human, and offences are inhumane.

What do I do with the human offenders who commit the inhumane? What does society do? We incarcerate. We treat (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2005). We attempt to monitor (Felitti et al., 2006). We warn the public with an open sex offender registry (Socia & Harris, 2016). We banish with residence restrictions (Nieto & Jung, 2006). We civilly commit offenders whom we deem to be the highest risk (Wakefield, 2006). Yet often this is not enough.

In a recent discussion with Ph.D. candidate Stephen deWeger, he aptly stated, “We either need to treat them or get rid of them.” I fear we will not ever “get rid” of the deviants whose predatory impulses result in sexual harm, and I equally fear that our current systemic safeguards (AMBER Alert, the US public sex offender registry, and residence restrictions) are a sham. These supposed “safeguards” provide the impression of public safety without the efficacy of it; in other words, “crime control theater (Marion & Hill, 2018).” These theatrical safeguards, all put into place in response to heinous events rather than proactively, serve to soothe public outrage and promote political gain (Devault, Miller, & Griffin, 2016; Griffin & Miller, 2008; Marion & Hill, 2018; National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2011; Nieto & Jung, 2006). I would submit that there is simply no conscionable place for political theatrics in crime control. It is my opinion that political theater, like psychopaths, lacks a conscience and seems particularly resistant to empathic treatment modalities (Harris, Rice, & Cormier, 1994). Comprehensive, evidence-based, non-partisan policies need to be enacted and enforced.

My personal goal in taking the MA in Child Advocacy and Policy is to learn. I wish to know, not just by experience, but by evidence—the cold, hard, and complex truth about sexual abuse. I confess that find the truth about sexual offenders callously cold, hard, and unspeakably complex.

Speaking of the “answer” to the quagmire of child sexual abuse offenders who are embedded and emboldened in the Catholic Church, Richard Sipe’s dying words return to me. Days before he passed, he spoke this to his long-time friend and fellow advocate Tom Doyle, “Will we ever find the answer (Sipe, 2018)?” I fear we will not. That does not, however, excuse me from trying.

Work Cited

Bhandari, S., Winter, D., Messer, D., & Metcalfe, C. (2011). Family characteristics and long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50(4), 435–451. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8260.2010.02006.x

Browne, K. D., & Lynch, M. A. (1994). Prevention- Actions Speak louder than words. Child Abuse Review, 3, 241–244.

Devault, A., Miller, M. K., & Griffin, T. (2016). Crime Control Theater : Past , Present , and Future, 22(4), 341–348.Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., … United Nation. (2006). The vilification of sex offenders: Do laws targeting sex offenders increase recidivism and sexual violence. Personnel Psychology, 1386(2), 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1080/14443058.2018.1459782

Griffin, T., & Miller, M. K. (2008). Child abduction, AMBER alert, and crime control theater. Criminal Justice Review, 33(2), 159–176. https://doi.org/10.1177/0734016808316778

Hanson, R. K., & Morton-Bourgon, K. E. (2005). The characteristics of persistent sexual offenders: A meta-analysis of recidivism studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.73.6.1154

Harris, G. T., Rice, M. E., & Cormier, C. a. (1994). Psychopaths: Is a therapeutic community therapeutic? Ther-Communities-Int-J-Ther-Supportive-Organ, Therapeuti(4), 283–299.

Marion, N., & Hill, J. B. (2018). Presidential Rhetoric as Crime Control Theater : Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society, 1.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. (2011). National Cente for Missing & Exploited Child Analysis of AMBER Alert Cases in 2010. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Nieto, M., & Jung, D. (2006). The impact of residency restrictions on sex offenders and correctional management practices: A literature review.

Salter, A. (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, & Other Sex Offenders. Who they are, how they operate, and howe we can protect ourselves and our children. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Sipe, R. (2018). About Richard. Retrieved September 14, 2018, from http://www.awrsipe.com/about_richard.html

Socia, K. M., & Harris, A. J. (2016). Evaluating public perceptions of the risk presented by registered sex offenders: Evidence of crime control theater. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 22(4), 375–385. https://doi.org/10.1037/law0000081

Wakefield, H. (2006). The vilification of sex offenders: Do laws targeting sex offenders increase recidivism and sexual violence. Journal of Sexual Offender Civil Commitment: Science and the Law, 1, 141–149. https://doi.org/10.1080/14443058.2018.1459782