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July 30, 2007

’We Are Not Our Behavior’

"We are not our behavior...."

The line jumped out at me as I read a recent article on sex offenders. The quote from an offender began, "I... realize there is goodness in me, that God doesn’t make crap." It seems, however, that many would disagree.

I'm well aware that there are a plethora of feelings out there in regards to the topic of sex offenders. Clearly, if one views criminals as the scum of society, then one probably sees sex offenders as the fungus that feeds on the scum (to partially quote from My Best Friend's Wedding). And society is afraid of this fungus.

That's exactly why I bring up the topic again. Society deserves the truth. It's time to squelch the fearful myths of the public and shed some light on this dismal topic -- both for our benefit, and for the benefit of the offender.

Myth one: Sex offenders overall have a very high recidivism rate.
Truth: Actually, sex offenders have a significantly lower recidivism rate than average offenders. The national average for recidivism is 66%, compared to 5-18% for sex offenders.

Myth two: Sex offenders, once released, will continue to victimize the community unless we take precautions (i.e. registries, online identification tools, etc.)
Truth: Sex offenders pose a relatively low risk to the general public. In fact, most sexual victimizations take place within families and among friends -- called the “zone of association.” For instance, victimization of juveniles occurs 93% of the time with friends and family (73% for adult victims). Consequently, the people who need to know the most about the offense learn about it as soon as it is revealed. They do not need public registries to tell them the location of the perpetrator. Often, they already know it.

Myth three: There is no hope for sex offenders... once an offender, always an offender.
Truth: How sad... and how not true. Yes, there is hope for sex offenders. Society has remained concerned over this particular issue due to the lack of scientific studies proving otherwise. But here is where our worldview comes in. We know through the sanctifying blood of Christ that there is hope for ALL. And our daily sins are no worse than theirs. Did you hear me?

Myth four: Sex offenders are to be feared.
Truth: You could probably count on one hand the number of sex offenders on the nearest big city registry that you should really fear. Perhaps the biggest problem with the "sex offender" label is its application to the individuals in society who slept with their under-age partner. Our registries are clogged with non-violent sex offenders... clouding out the truly dangerous pedophiles and serial rapists. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, along with many others, in how our society approaches sex offenders.

Myth five: Sex offenders aren't sorry for what they've done.
Truth: Absolutely the opposite. Just like many other offenders, some are not sorry for their actions, but a majority of them are. It's built into our nature to be remorseful for our bad actions, especially those that hurt others.

Many of you know that I work in the criminal justice reform arm of Prison Fellowship advocating the principles of restorative justice. These principles encourage responsibility, forgiveness and reconciliation between offenders, victims and communities, and offer hope to ALL criminals, including sex offenders. In the original article I mentioned above, the second quote that jumped out at me was this one:

"I would like to let my victims know that they are not at fault at any time, that I carry with me the vision of their hurt every day."

Victims of sexual offenses need to hear that... and the offender needs to say it. I believe the community needs to hear it too, and all can benefit from the forgiveness that could take place.

You see, sex offenders needn't be the scum of society. There is hope, and who better to tell them the good news than us? Working with the sex offenders among us isn't necessarily a "Good Samaritan" activity... it's ministering to the leper -- the "scum" of society. Are you brave enough to welcome a leper? How about a brother?

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Comments

Sue Pearl

Faith, thank you so much for posting this! My younger brother is a sex offender. I worked as a civilian in law enforcement for close to a decade and cannot count the times I said that all sex offenders should be taken out and shot on conviction; we were taught by "experts" within my major-city department that sex offenders are incurable. Then I found out about my little brother! He himself was victimized during elementary school; he was molested by my best friend. Let's not forget that most of these sex offenders are themselves victims, of a predator,of our over-sexed, pornography-filled society.

The hysteria over sex offenders is such that, in the state where my brother is living, a man suffering from the early stages of dementia, who forgot to zip up his pants after using a public restroom, is labeled a sex offender and a man who had to urinate at the side of the road in an area where there were no bathrooms and very little cover has also been convicted.

The registries do not differentiate among offenses; a young man who had premarital sex with his teenage girlfriend is required to register next to a repeat rapist and a one-time child molester who had contact with a same-sex victim, a family member or close friend. With no differentiation, the registries increase the hysteria, making it appear that there is a predator on every block and that every child is a potential kidnap/rape and murder victim.

Church support for the offenders is practically nonexistent. Since generally they are barred from any contact with juveniles, they cannot even attend regular church services. And many state-mandated "counseling" actually serves to increase the offenders' despair at regaining a normal life since they are brainwashed into believing the popular image.

In fact, it appears that there is only ONE Christian-based sex-offender counseling program available,anywhere in the U.S., run by a psychologist who is on staff with Focus on the Family and happens to run a counseling service on the side as a ministry.

Pornography is not only pervasive, it is invasive,becoming mainstream, increasing the number of potential offenders. According to my brother, the one common denominator among the members of his counseling group, is pornography addiction. Pornography objectivizes the chosen gender,cheapens the sexual relationship and is addictive. As any addict will tell you, after a time, he requires more and more of the "drug" or more and more excitement, to get the same result. Take this far enough, and you can see where it leads.

Our first thought when faced with a sex offender, today, must be, "but for the grace of God, there go I."

Kevin

My brother is currently serving a 30 year sentence for three counts of sexual battery on a juvenile. He will be in his early seventies when he comes out. The prisons are unairconditioned and the temperatures have been over 100 degrees lately. I was there when he was sentenced and the judge specifically said that he believed my brother would reoffend and that he had to protect society. So the bottom line is my brother was sentence based on public hysteria not the facts. I have searched every where on the internet and can’t find any statistics that support the public perception that sex offenders are incorrigible.

Shelley

And how about how family members of sex offenders are treated? As the girlfriend of a registered sex offender (his offense 21 years ago was a false accusation of rape, followed by prosecutorial overreaching and a very frightened young man). Anyway, what have I and the hundreds of thousands of other family members done to rate having OUR addresses, vehicle license numbers, and other personal identification information on the internet?

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