I've spent the last two months volunteering with sex offenders. I volunteered with an adolescent group and an adult group. The adolescents were from age 12 to 17 and the adults were 18 and up. Yesterday was my very last time meeting with them and I am truly going to miss them. I wanted to share with you my experiences with this unique group of people.
When I told people that I was volunteering with sex offenders, a lot of them raised an eyebrow or two and usually had some sort of shocked expression or reaction. I think this is probably because when the majority of people think of a sex offender, they think of someone hiding in the bushes, waiting to snatch a child, and then pull them into some sort of creepy van and drive off. I hate to break it to you guys but that isn't the case.
I think for the most part, the general public is misinformed about what sex offenders are really like. To be honest, when I went to my first group meeting, I had no idea that they were sex offenders. I just thought it was group therapy to talk about whatever issues people wanted to bring up. It was only around the third time that I found out who these men were.
I have never seen anyone work so hard to overcome something as I have seen these men. They go from being purely driven by lust and animal appetites to truly learning how to love and care about someone. Some of these people literally have no social skills because they have used sex and getting that sex as a way to put up a wall, and stop someone from actually getting close to them. That is really interesting if you think about it because sex is usually a way of people getting very intimate--not a way to build a wall.
These men struggle with something I can only imagine. Being gay, I understand that a lot of people don't approve of an attraction that I can't help. I can only imagine how hard it must be for these men to be attracted to people so young. These men can't help their feelings. They can only determine how they will act.
And they've obviously messed up. I am not trying to say that these men didn't do something wrong. My point is that these men are prematurely judged by the general public and are put under some of the most harsh sentencing I have ever seen.
If you are a sex offender in the state of Utah, you are automatically put on the registry for LIFE. That means that anybody with access to the internet can type in their own address, and find out the names of any sex offenders nearby. What a huge violation of a person's privacy! I've heard many of these guys tell me stories of over-zealous individuals who look up their addresses, and then write "child molester" with photos of the sex offender all over the sex offender's door and around the neighborhood in which they live.
Why do people take it upon themselves to humiliate someone like that? I suppose that a lot of it is simply a fear of the unknown. I do not think that kind of behavior is ever appropriate.
Do you know some of the stats about sex offenders? Those who actually go to therapy and complete programs like the one I volunteered in only have a 4% chance of re-offending. That's an incredible success rate! More than most types of therapy actually. And studies have shown that there is absolutely NO proof that being listed on the national registry for sex offenders has any positive change on the people who committed the offense.
Drug addicts, murderers, alcoholics, and abusers are all hailed as "heroes" when they stop their offenses. Sex offenders are not. They are assigned the lowest class in our hierarchy of morality and left to rot there. Even when they haven't offended for years and years, and have more of a depth of understanding of themselves than I have ever seen anyone, they are still on that list.
These men have taught me how to love and support people unconditionally. I have never EVER felt uncomfortable or awkward at all in their presence. I truly respect these men for choosing therapy to tackle their issues head on instead of hiding away in some prison. I have learned more of how to be selfless and how to put others first. I have learned so much about responsibility, putting others first, making boundaries for yourself and others, how to show someone the proper respect, and especially how to love someone and take them for who they are.
We all make mistakes, and most people get a second chance. The best that these men can do is be the best that they can be, and hope that people don't assume the worst because of a mistake that was committed ten years ago.