Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Life As A Sex Offender

I realize the topic of this is not obviously relevant to the topic of this blog, so please bear with me. I am a convicted level 'zero' sex offender, although this will not always be the case. I will not always have to register, because the state looked at my case and determined that, provided I follow the program of probation, treatment, and reintegrating myself, my selfish decision will not impact my entire life. An interesting point is that when I talked with my probation officer about what came of sending my apology to my victim's family? They wanted to move on, and they wanted me to move on and wanted what happened not to affect the rest of my life, and refused to read the letters I wrote to further that goal.

Belief on Reoffending

However, I believe it will impact my life. Not because of the legal system, but because of the changes I have made in my life and the ability to see what got me to where I was. I cannot say I will never offend again, because I think that the minute I say that, I undermine all of what I have learned. It took a rather inviting situation for me to offend in the first place. I cannot say I will never offend again, because that statement, of itself, means that I am ignoring what led to my original offense. It means I ignore my risks, triggers, and needs. It means I think I am above it. Clearly, having sexually abused a child once, I am not above those poor decisions. I do not believe anyone is.

The point I am trying to make has nothing to do with whether I have a commitment to doing what I need to in order to be safe, but my attitude towards safety. Safety starts with me, and no one else. I am responsible for asking for what I need, I am responsible for checking in with my support people, and I am responsible for being aware of how I am feeling, what I am thinking, and what I am doing. No registry, laws, ordinances, or societal attitudes will affect that simple fact.

Sex Offender Registries

Being on a sex offender registry makes no difference to me, given my circumstances. I am only visible to law enforcement, and no one in the community is notified if I move. Why? Because I was honest when the truth came out, honest in my desire to get help, and motivated for treatment, and the prosecutor and judge saw that and gave me a chance to rebuild my life.

Not everyone gets that chance, and some who get that chance do not take it. They fail to keep up with their registration. They get convicted of another crime. They get kicked out of their treatment program (while I was in treatment, this happened four times to other group members, and once to a former group member). Probation officers have a certain amount of discretion in whether or not to violate an offender's probation status, same with parole officers. All of the probation officers I have had clearly wanted me to succeed.

Sex offender registration itself is humiliating, particularly if you are on it and you are public. I cannot speak to being public well, but I can certainly imagine: Community meetings being held whenever you have to move, only being able to have certain jobs (usually lower-paying), not being able to volunteer at many events... From my perspective, being public on a registry, and certain conditions by probation or parole, can easily make someone feel more and more removed from the community they are in. My initial conditions were far more restrictive: No alcohol, stay 300 ft from schools, daycare, and parks. Just those two are enough to make one feel fairly hopeless.

Living in a bigger city, where schools, daycare, and parks are everywhere meant that the requirement was virtually impossible. There are counties where the standard is there regardless of your offense: If it was a sex crime, tough luck, these are your restrictions, suck it up and deal with it. The registry is fairly fear-inducing, because if you are public, anyone can put your full name into a website- a very public website- and find out where you live, where you work, what you look like, and what your offense was.

I have had former group members who had to notify their employer- specifically, separate from hiring practices- what his offense was, what his requirements are, and hope that the employer will still take them. I do not have such a restriction, yet I was turned down at major retailers- Sears, Home Depot, Micro Center, Target, AMC, and countless other employers- simply because of my offense, despite having more than a decade of retail experience.

Registries and the restrictions that are imposed upon sex offenders are horrendous. No other class of criminal is treated in such a manner. And the worst part is that the public is told that sex offender registries improve safety. Very, very rarely will you have a sex crime that was committed by someone on a registry, and the registry was related to them being caught. It is similarly rare for someone on a registry to commit another sex crime: Usually, the crime is unrelated. That is what statistics say.

Other Restrictions

Other restrictions I have heard of are not being able to have any internet access. Do you realize what that means? It means you cannot search properly for jobs. You cannot have any kind of social media presence, like LinkedIn or Facebook (Facebook does not allow convicted offenders on their site at all, though who knows how enforceable that is, and while LinkedIn does, you typically have to have approval for it). Your ability to search for and find work that either pays well or advances your career is greatly diminished.

Even though statistics say that sex offenders offend less when they have strong ties to the community, even though professional treatment organizations like ATSA encourage offenders or at-risk people to have support and a stable life, many of the restrictions imposed on sex offenders do not allow them to have any of those things. Sex offenders are set up to fail, because even evoking the word 'sex offender' brings 80% of people to say things like 'they should die' or 'they should be locked up for life' or 'they should be castrated'.

Emotional Toll

On top of those restrictions, anyone who wants to go through treatment and live a normal life again must learn how to deal with the attitudes towards them. They must answer- or not answer- questions regarding their offense. They must deal with the sometimes silent, 'Why on earth would anyone do this? You're sick.' There is very little understanding, and most people, in my experience, are unable to properly process the real facts of any offender's situation. 

When I was in the mental ward, when I tried to kill myself after the truth came to light, I was concerned about the aftermath- going to jail, getting help, what kind of help my victim would get, if a normal life was possible. I was trying to find a reason to not think that suicide was the only way to prevent me from harming more children. And a nurse, a supervisor nurse, said to me, 'If I were you, I'd be more worried about what you put that kid through.' Like I was already not thinking about that? I had just tried to kill myself, and here a supposed mental health professional told me about the most unhelpful thing I could have heard at that point in my process.

Empathy

Alcohol abuse people understand, because there are chemical reactions going on in the brain and an addiction cycle at play. Drug abuse, people understand for the same reasons. Thieving people understand, because economic times and personal circumstances can make people desperate. But any kind of sexual struggle, and it feels impossible to find someone who understands, someone who can relate, or someone who will simply tell you, 'I don't understand because I haven't been there, but I want to help. Tell me what I can do.' Add to that the fact that you abused a child, and it becomes even harder to find people who understand and want to help you get better.

My Point

My point is not that you should pity me. My point is not that you should pity sex offenders. Pity and empathy are two completely different things. My point is that the average person does not comprehend what a typical sex offender (whatever that means) goes through, and how that is very unhelpful to keeping children protected. They do not understand the impact of the stigma, the restrictions, and the registry, and how that pushes people towards, not away from, committing another offense. And yet despite not understanding any of this, they get to play judge and jury and decide that all of these things somehow improve safety.

If primary prevention is to occur, then we must stop with the lies. We must stop with the pure reaction to the issue. We must be able to look at all of these factors, look at the facts, look at statistics, and listen to what the treatment experts are saying. We must stop putting the burden of stopping abuse on children. We must stop 'prevention programs' that are more like 'disaster preparedness exercises' to address abuse that is already happening. We must, if it is possible, look at this issue honestly and logically, and put ourselves in another's shoes. For all the empathy I have heard that sex offenders supposedly lack, I have yet to see empathy directed at what a sex offender must currently deal with. If I am to have empathy towards my actions and towards my victim and his family, then I think I deserve a little myself. Fortunately, there are some states willing to give it.

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