Monday, December 11, 2006

Isolating sex offenders won’t work

“Sex offender” is a powerful term. We hear what they do, and many of us immediately respond with hatred toward them. We all want to make our society safe. We want our homes, schools and parks to be safe places for our children and ourselves.

So, we ban those who have committed sexual offenses from the parks, restrict where they live and limit the jobs they are able to do. All of this is being done under the illusion that we are doing what is necessary to protect ourselves from the predatory strangers.

Sounds right? Sounds just? But there is a problem with this thinking. Most sex offenders, especially child molesters, know their victims. They already have access to us and to our children in our homes, schools and parks because they are our parents, stepparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends.

Often it is those who are the trusted adults who groom the children to participate in abusive sexual behavior through acts of subtle seduction.

The real danger does not normally exist out on the street corners or playgrounds but inside our homes.

The individuals who commit these acts are attempting to address their needs for association, power and intimacy in inappropriate and sexualized ways. There are many reasons for this type of behavior. A key component in this process is that of isolation. Some of it is self-imposed; some promoted through restricted family life and some is the result of false beliefs about men’s rights in their own home.

To mandate the offender to a ghetto community that restricts an individual’s ability to find suitable housing, and where an individual is prevented from getting or maintaining employment after they have been incarcerated serves to exacerbate the isolation. This continued isolation makes it more likely that we are re-creating the conditions that led to the sexual offending behavior.

Solving the problem of sexual offending to make our homes, schools and parks safe involves a closer look internally to the values and beliefs we are promoting to our children and our families.

These values and beliefs ought to promote high self-esteem, an awareness of one’s surroundings and the ability to make healthy choices with regards to established boundaries. By empowering each one of us we will be able to provide an effective solution to the potential victimization of our children.

Thoughtful legislation, based on sound research, is needed to provide real safety rather then creating the illusion of safety brought on through legislated isolation.

Ronald J. Furniss is director of the Sex Offender Program at Family & Children’s Services. Stephen A. Jarrell is the executive director. They wrote this for The Journal Gazette.


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