Remember the offender

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be part of some team reporting, which gives me a taste of what it must have been like back when newspapers had big budgets. After Cara Schulz detailed the challenges faced in one Wiccan community when complaints of sexual misconduct were brought forth, I followed up with some best practices for handling sex-abuse cases in Pagan groups.

Team reporting makes me better at this job, but it can become frantic.  I regret leaving out a point which probably is as controversial as it is important: abandoning abusers isn’t a solution.  When we banish, ostracize, or push out offenders, we hand the problem off to strangers and miss the opportunity to fix things.

While the high recidivism rate for sex offenders is a common topic of conversation, I learned through my interviews that treatment actually works.  While pushing someone out of one’s group might solve the immediate problem, without the tools to deal with the problem it’s pretty likely that there will be other victims at some point.  Is kicking the can down the road an ethical response?

Some sex offenders are ready to admit they have a problem, I now understand.  Among them, there’s a fear of reprisal and consequence for coming clean; being able to accept that fact is part of treatment.  Are there ways to continue to include a known offender without putting people at risk?  Of course, but it’s going to take work, and it’s going to take compassion for someone who may well have done some terrible things.  There’s also the question of potential offenders, who would prefer not to harm anyone but are afraid to admit they have a problem due to rejection.  Isolation does not help that work, which is all but impossible to do without help.

In Pagan and polytheist communities, we are moving toward a better understanding of how to support victims.  That includes believing them, and encouraging them to talk to the police.  We are not there yet, and it’s been a painful process to get even this far.  Finding ways to support offenders as well as victims is going to be a lot more painful, but I think it’s work we need to do if we are actually interested in healing.

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3 thoughts on “Remember the offender

  1. Two important points worth making about offender treatment:
    1. Offender treatment, while crucial, should never be funded at the expense of services for survivors.

    In an ideal world, there would be money enough for both. How I wish we lived in that ideal world! But we don’t, and it actually is important to keep this principle in mind. Too often, communities stand behind offenders more visibly than their victims. I have been aware of many instances of a community rallying around a popular offender, while turning their backs on his victims… One situation in particular comes to my mind, of a church that let a man’s family go hungry after Dad was jailed for abusing the kids, but who promptly provided the offender with a vehicle as soon as he was released. The message that sends to a victim is not a pretty one…

    We need to be careful not to replicate that when it comes to funding programs.

    2. Offender treatment is a specialty; counselors in this field don’t just attend a couple of workshops and dive in. Even with twenty years of experience as a psychotherapist specializing in survivors of sexual abuse, I would consider myself guilty of malpractice if I represented myself as having had the training, supervision, and education required to treat offenders.

    Why is that important to mention? Because often, courts want a reason not to punish sexual abusers, who, as you noted in your article, can come off as “nice guys.” Mandating therapy is often seen as a desirable alternative to traditional punishments, and it could actually be so–but ONLY where the treatment is likely to be effective. Without offender-specific training, even an experienced therapist’s work is going to be about as effective in preventing recidivism as acupuncture or finding Jesus.

    It’s important to understand that point, to avoid making false promises of future safety to our communities, based on the mere good intentions of idealistic therapists or opportunistic agencies. This is an area where the work needs to be done properly, or not at all.

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    • Both are excellent points, and I appreciate your weighing in. Ineffective treatment, or support at the expense of victims, can only make things worse. There is no easy way forward, but I still believe it’s possible to serve the needs of all.

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  2. That’s a problem with both government-funded & private charities, it ends up being this patchwork of who is eligible & who is not for various things. Like people w/ kids vs. not, and what types of disabilities, degree of disability yada yada, which drug you’re addicted to, which crime you committed. Getting funding for the unpopular sub-groups of any population is always hard, we’re all about ineffectively punishing & shaming people in American culture. It’s like we even have deserving & undeserving victims & offenders which is super-strange. Considering we already have a shortage of therapists, I suspect people are even less likely to get trained to work with offenders, I’d think whoever works in prisons would have the most outdated treatment. People want to get paid decently after going to grad school, and I don’t blame them. Maybe we should have subsidies for folks who agree to work with underserved populations in general, like the set-up with loan forgiveness for inner-city teachers. (Which I doubt is still in place, but y’know) This is scary. I’ve known Keith since I was 16 & we were in the same Seeker’s class as students. Glad I didn’t join WiCoM!

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