Thursday, June 18, 2015

driving public policy with personal grief

Reacting to events that happened to SOME as if those events happened to ALL is what has driven sex offender policy. News spreads instantly, details are broadcast endlessly. We are encouraged to react with the same outrage those close to terrible events must feel.

As unthinkably horrible as what happened to Megan Kanka, Adam Walsh, and Jacob Wetterling was, it was a bad idea to look at those individual events and write laws in reaction to them. Those laws would not have stopped the bad things from happening to those children--or to other children--but those laws continue to ruin lives and wreck families all across the country. And most of the laws wrecking lives and families are for crimes not even close to what happened to Megan, Adam, and Jacob.

So...Charleston. Maybe the guy shouldn't have had a gun...but let's not write gun laws as if we can stop the next awful shooting from happening. We won't. Maybe the guy hated black people...but let's not decide policy as if we can control what happens in people's hearts and minds. We can't.

Let's not leverage the grief of the affected community to further our own political aims.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

knee-jerk response serves our sense of outrage, not victims

When people think of children who are victims of sex abuse, imaginations run wild and thoughts turn to the horrific stories we've heard. Criminal actions that are labeled sex abuse cover a wide range, though. Not all sex abuse--no matter how wrong--leaves the victims damaged for life.

Most child sex abuse is perpetrated by a family member or by a trusted friend or acquaintance, circumstances that must surely complicate family situations.

We often assume that the victims share the revulsion we feel toward the perpetrator but some victims know that the abuser is more than an abuser. Not all victims want the perpetrators to be removed from the family. Getting the abuse to stop would be enough.

If a child understands that exposing Dad's criminal behavior will result in Dad being removed from the family for years, the victim may be less likely to ask for help. If a child understands that telling someone about what happens at home will break up the family, the victim may be more likely to keep the dirty secret.

Not every victim, not every family, not every instance of child sex abuse is like this, of course, but we ought not ignore those victims who feel different from how we expect them to feel.
We don’t support or acknowledge victims grappling with shame, confusion, love for the perpetrator and guilt. We don’t want to view this through the eyes of children who are afraid they will break up their families if they take action to make the abuse to stop. 
We don’t want to accept the real human actors and emotions that accompany these situations; we seem only capable of labeling them as inhuman crimes committed by inhumane people. 
That label can also stick to the victim, a monumental injustice. When Grandpa is on the registry for abusing a child and when his crimes were already the subject of salacious news coverage, there is very little protection for the child who would rather not be known forever as Grandpa's victim.
Society has created an expectation that once someone has committed a sex offense he or she should be hated, but this attitude leaves little room for victims to come forward. 
Sometimes, a victim’s experience is, “I want the abuse to stop, I want the abuser to be accountable for his actions, but I care for this person, and I’m afraid people will try to make me hate him.”
Outrage on behalf of the victims can steamroll right over the child's needs. Authorities whose job it is to protect the child sometimes do not know the best course, no matter how sure they are. How can they, if they ignore the child's response to the situation?
Victims of sexual abuse need us to make room for their emotions, even when they include love, concern or confusion about the offender. Until we do, we are contributing to an environment that unintentionally silences them. 
Our outrage does not offer support to the many thousands of victims who love the person who has harmed them and simply want the abuse to stop.
Removing the abuser from the family may be necessary. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, though, careful consideration is due before destroying a family to protect a child--a child who needs that family.