Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Friends and Family: Resources to Help

One of the hardest things to deal with about sex offenses is the positions of the relatives and friends of the victims or offenders. In other words, someone in the family has either abused someone or has been abused by someone, so now how do you help that family member? In both cases, the family wants to jump in and help. They are confused and want to understand, and help it get better.

Jumping in?

However, there is a huge reason that jumping in is unhelpful: You do not know where they are with what happened. For the victim, they may have unintentionally brought the abuse to light and may not be prepared for the effects of telling the truth about it. They may still view it as okay, and attempts to 'help' can be confusing. They may be traumatized, and bringing it up can be very triggering and upsetting. The best thing to do is to find someone who is familiar with sex abuse victims to help them.

Advice is great, but it can be overwhelming. Offenders, when the abuse comes to light, want first and foremost to limit the legal consequences of their actions so it does not haunt their entire life. Anyone who makes a huge mistake fears the consequences, both for themselves and for those affected. I personally think that the best thing an offender can get is a good treatment program that works well for them, but they must want help. Paying for someone's treatment when they are not motivated will make that treatment even less effective- so the kind act of paying for it should only be done if they show they are motivated.

What offenders want

When I was arrested, I had two major thoughts going on: I want the victim to get help, and I want to be sure that I can be helped. I even asked my arresting officer if I or the victim can be helped, if we will be okay, though there was no mention of that in the police report. I was not in a place to hear how horrible I was for doing what I did, or hearing the real impact of my choices. One of the nurses in the psychiatric ward said something like, 'You know, if I were you, I'd be more worried about what you did to that kid than going to jail'. That still angers me, and this is almost four years after the fact. Words about how atrocious my actions were just hurt, they did not help me at all. They were depressing, and made me feel worse, not just about myself, but worried for my victim.

When it comes to sex offenses and sex offenders, society at large would have offenders believe they are nothing but scum that deserve to be locked up. That only increases the likelihood they will reoffend, because we are mostly not monsters: We are people who got dealt an attraction or fantasy or mental health issue that came from who knows where, and were forced to make choices on how to deal with it. Some choose to give in. Some choose to never get help. Some never admit they have a problem. Some choose to fight. Some have no clue what to do. That stigma likely fuels some offending, because it fuels the secrecy, desperation and fear that go into offending. The fact is, treatment programs are readily available, but they are only really available after a crime is committed.

From the perspective of the offender, they may believe they did everything they could to avoid hurting someone. They may believe they did nothing wrong, and that society should accept what they did and 'who they are'. They may believe their actions did not actually hurt someone. They may believe they were the victim of their disorder. The first thing they need to hear regardless is that they can be helped to live a normal life, and they can manage what they are struggling with so they do not continue to make poor choices. They can change. That can give them the motivation for at least entering treatment willfully. They will feel guilt, whether they want to acknowledge wrongdoing or not, and they will want to ensure at the very least they do not have to go through the process of being found out again.

What victims want

Victims of abuse are in an extremely difficult position, particularly if the police are involved. Some police departments partner with expert organizations that can do a forensic interview of the child in a sensitive manner, so that if the child's testimony is needed, the interview can function as testimony and they only have to talk about it to police once. However, in some cases the police do the interviewing and questioning, regardless of any training they might have to know how to handle victims.

Add to that potential difficulty the responses of friends and family members! A disbelieving response, even casual careless or cruel remarks can rock a victim to their core. The vast majority of the time there has been a disclosure of child sexual abuse by a child, it is accurate: Not that they should automatically be believed every single time, but they must be heard, and they must be believed. Anytime there is a disclosure, the police must know about it so that they can do an investigation. When talking with police, request that the child be taken to a child advocacy center for a forensic interview. Cornerstone (MN), Darkness to Light, and Stop It Now are organizations that will know what resources are available in your area. Stop It Now can be reached for immediate help during normal business hours by calling 1-888-PREVENT.

The biggest thing that victims will need is to talk about what happened at their own pace. What they need to hear is that you believe their allegations, you will support them throughout the process, and that you love them. There are many myths about victims, like the idea that victims are responsible for participating in what happened, or that victims wanted it, or that they will inevitably abuse a child themselves. These myths do not hold up to the facts. The best thing to do is to listen, and find an expert to guide you and the victim on a path to healing. Victims need someone to validate their feelings and what they went through, so that they can know for sure that they were the victim and had no choice in what happened. It is easy for a victim to blame themselves. The best thing a victim can come to eventually do is forgive their abuser: Not for the abuser's sake, but for the victim's, so that they can let the events go and move on.

Final word

The only thing I can recommend for families is to find people who can help you understand what you want to achieve by helping. The best thing to do is find an expert who knows abuse and its issues, from either side of the coin. The link under 'tools and resources' labeled 'get help' can set you up with someone who can answer your questions and help you move forward. Both victims and offenders may not be in a place to even hear difficult questions or harmful stereotypes, and hearing those questions can be very upsetting. Do them a favor, and learn more from an expert. In the meantime, just listen without judging them. Show them that you care about them and that you support them.

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