• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Self-Identity of a Sex Offender

Attitude, far from being “everything”, is simply an offshoot of the self-identity. People are constantly changing their self-identities, either to project the desired image or to gain personal growth. How do you perceive yourself? How much do you accept what other people want of you? Do their perceptions of you match what you want to portray?

The men and women on sex offender probation have no choice about their identities. They are sex offenders, solely and clearly. Questions about perception and portrayal are nice but hardly applicable. Other people are the sum of their experiences but sex offenders are the sum of their crimes.

This identity is enormously difficult to overcome; most people simply can’t. Most people face minimum sentences of ten years on probation, maximum of life sentences. Even if not in prison, they are always sex offenders to their communities. It is much easier to accept this as your identity than to fight the people who emphasize every week, every day, that you are only a sex offender. (To be clear, I speak here about a group of women who had consensual sexual contact with male teenagers and are on probation. They are considered low-risk because a team of psychologists and polygraphers determined they are not likely to re-offend. All the mothers in this group are legally allowed contact with their underage children.)

Status as a sex offender takes precedence in every single situation, even one where someone’s life is in danger. In my group therapy, we had a discussion about what to do if a child ran out in the street in front of our cars. The treatment provider and probation officer – the latter of whom was sitting in on group – decided it was best to call the police and tell them the situation. They quibbled over whether we could knock on a neighbor’s door to have them grab the child, but under no circumstances were we to touch the child or guide him to the sidewalk.

I was appalled.

In the time it would take me to dial 911, much less explain the situation to the operator, the kid could be hit by the next car. He could be several streets over or hit by any number of cars before the police even got there.

What would I do then – drive past and pretend I didn’t see? That would be callous, the kind of monstrosity expected from sex offenders just because they are sex offenders. It would be to let a child remain in a high-risk situation rather than getting him to safety.

We women in group talked about how calling the police rather than intervening would fly in the face of our natural, even maternal, instincts. That didn’t matter though – our proximity to the child was a greater threat than anything he would encounter in the street. Even if our intention was to save his life, our offender status cancelled out any good intentions or deeds.

This is only one example of how low-risk women were made to feel and told to act like high-risk offenders. The depth of this imposed identity extended to every part of our lives, especially in public.

After I began probation, I felt horribly conspicuous. My crime must surely be written on my face, mimicked in my walk, splattered in the tones of my voice, soaped on the windows of my car. It was like the scarlet letter: I’ve committed an offense against society and surely every person knows. Even more than that, surely every person will shun me.

I stopped using my last name, especially at work. I wanted to change my name but that’s not allowed when you’re a sex offender. I suspect it’s for this very reason. Shame, sadness, a desire to move on, to put that time behind us – they are the very reasons we must keep our names and feel the burden when we go out.

The treatment provider once said in group therapy, “You need to always feel terrible. It’s what makes you responsible.”

No. Understanding of the horror of my actions, their far-reaching effects, and my culpability are what make me responsible. Not becoming complacent about these facts is what keeps me responsible.

An overwhelming sense of guilt or perpetual self-loathing will not make me responsible; they will make me jaded. A person cannot maintain a high level of externally-imposed guilt for long. At some point, she will feel less guilty. She will feel that somehow she must be worth something, even the tiniest fraction. And so the expectations of the system inherently conflict with how she perceives herself.

Surely, a person who is made to feel bad about herself will eventually believe it. That’s part of the power of the system. But no one can swallow this identity as whole-heartedly or as fully as the system would like. Even a glimmer of self-worth contradicts the unspoken maxim: you are a sex offender. You are the scum of society.

The goal of a properly oriented treatment program should be to examine culpability while not denigrating the person herself. Without culpability, without recognition of wrongdoing, no offender will be able to move into constructive therapy. Taking responsibility should be the first step, but not at the expense of self-worth. A person’s self-identity should not be overwritten by societal status, regardless of her crime. If sex offender treatment programs do not radically change the way they view their clients, they will continue hurting women offenders and their communities rather than healing them.

Sonia Van den Broek was born in Seattle and raised in a loving family, the eldest of five children. She attended a private college in Virginia and has traveled throughout Europe since high school. Her favorite trip was an expedition to Italy with her younger sister. Additionally, she is halfway through a four-year deferred judgment on a sex offense charge. Classical literature, animals, and gardening are her current passions. She is living and working in the Rocky Mountain region with her loving husband, and plans to continue traveling the world soon.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
Nyla Ali Khan
The Sociopolitical and Historical Context That Shaped Kashmiri Women Like My Grandmother in the 1940s
Louis Proyect
Does Neo-Feudalism Define Our Current Epoch?
Ralph Nader
S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us
Norman Solomon
Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Police and Her VP Quest
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuela in the 2020 Pandemic
Ron Mitchell
Defending Our Public Lands: One Man’s Legacy
Nomi Prins 
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style: Crashes, Then and Now
Richard C. Gross
About That City on A Hill
Kathleen Wallace
An Oath for Hypocrites
Eve Ottenberg
Common Preservation or Extinction?
Graham Peebles
Air Pollution Mental Illness and Covid-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Unearned Income for All
Evan Jones
The Machine Stops
Nicky Reid
Proudhon v. Facebook: A Mutualist Solution to Cyber Tyranny
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What is a “Native” Plant in a Changing World?
Shailly Gupta Barnes
Why are Our Leaders Still Putting Their Faith in the Rich?
John Kendall Hawkins
In Search of the Chosŏn People of Lost Korea
Jill Richardson
Tens of Millions of Are Out of Work, Why on Earth is Trump Trying to Cut Food Aid?
Susan Block
Incel Terrorism
David Yearsley
Plague Music
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail