We don’t advocate for crime, we advocate for people… That’s what I have to remind people over and over again when they say “oh, Florida Action Committee… you’re the group that fights for sex offenders.” No! That’s absolutely not true. We don’t advocate for ‘people who commit sex offenses’ because we are very much against sexual offending. If someone is out there committing actual sex crimes, they should be prosecuted.
FAC advocates for persons who have (in the past) committed or been charged with a sexual offense and are now rehabilitated or in the process of rehabilitation. We advocate for policy that will help such people reintegrate so that they will live productive, law abiding lives as valued citizens and community members. We fight for laws based on empirical evidence and best practices that foster successful reentry and reduced recidivism. In fact, we fight to end the cycle of sexual abuse and protect the constitutional rights of ALL persons. We advocate for PEOPLE. We don’t defend or excuse what they might have done in the past, whether it was a sex offense, robbery or violent crime.
This week, when the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board decided to stop using the term “sex offender” and instead use “adults who commit sexual offenses” in order to make the term less offensive, they clearly missed the mark. They may have even made things worse! The label “sex offender” implies that is who the person is. Like “doctor” or “lawyer”. It promotes the presumption that this person wakes up in the morning, eats breakfast, and heads out into the world to sexually offend.
“Adults who commit sexual offenses” is even worse. The use of the present tense “commit” implies that they are currently committing crimes, whereas mostly all offenses took place sometime in the past, some even decades ago. The use of the plural “sex offenses” implies these people are recidivists and have committed multiple offenses. Again, completely misleading and probably more damaging to those who are subject to the laws than if the Colorado Management Board had left things alone.
People don’t realize how damaging labels are and there is significant misunderstanding when it comes to use of certain terms. Often, the terms “sex offender”, “child molester” and “pedophile” are used interchangeably, but not all sex offenses involve children or even physical contact, not all who have molested a child are pedophiles and certainly not all pedophiles have or will commit a sexual offense. In fact most never have and will not.
There are forums available for individuals who suffer from most addictions. There are welcoming groups that provide support and accountability. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, when someone is able to remain clean and sober, they are celebrated and their achievements are acknowledged, as they should be. Unfortunately, when it comes to sexual proclivity or former offenders, here in the Unites States there’s no reward chip system for people who have remained offense free. Worse, those who have never offended in the first place are considered as though they have.
Last week, a respected university professor was suspended because of comments made about pedophiles in a presentation. The professor who said the comments, made it explicitly clear that sexual offenses against children (or anyone) are wrong. They merely pointed out that some people have a natural proclivity to be attracted to a minor, but recognizing that it is wrong will never act on it. These people should be encouraged to seek help to avoid acting on this attraction should they need it.
Because society has confused the terms “sex offender”, “child molester” and “pedophile” to mean the same thing, the professor suggested using a different term to remove the stigma surrounding the term “pedophile” so that people with this diagnosis who have never acted on an impulse will feel more open to seek help if they need it. This led to a huge misunderstanding that grew out of control and led to an unfortunate consequence, that being the stigmatization and ostracism of people who research and treat this population.
The whole situation surrounding the professor is tantamount to shunning scientists studying cancer because you believe they help spread the disease. That’s not how it works. Cancer research in no way suggests that cancer is a good thing. Similarly, research into sexual disorders in no way suggests that sexual offending is a good thing. Both areas of science focus on treatment or eradication, not expansion. We absolutely need people studying physical and mental disorders and we need people studying and treating people who have sexually offended. Without these professionals we will never come up with ways to treat these conditions or best practices for preventing disease and crime. In other words, if we want to reduce the instances of sexual offending, we need to focus on prevention (before it happens) more so than punishment (after it happens). Society just doesn’t get that!
Pedophilic Disorder is a DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) diagnosis, just like Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia. As with most people suffering with any of those disorders, people with pedophilic disorder generally wish they didn’t have it and there should be as much academic and scientific research as possible out there to manage or treat the symptoms of the disorder so they don’t manifest themselves in undesirable ways. Instead of encouraging people to seek out treatment, we are driving them further into the shadows and we are dragging the experts in management and treatment down with them. It’s a real shame.
In our opinion, both of these recent events were a huge step backwards in the area of management and treatment of persons who have committed a sexual offense (and people with a certain diagnosis) and are indicative of how ignorant and misguided people are. Not only the general public, but worse, people appointed to a “Sex Offender Management Board” or heads of an academic institution. If public safety is the objective, these actions are counter-intuitive.
We don’t want to draw more attention to the controversy surrounding the professor, so we won’t mention their name or the university. We are simply hoping that enough professionals who are in the know or who have insight into the subject will come to their defense. We do, however, have a couple opportunities to help public perception in Colorado by contacting the Colorado SO Management Board and encouraging them to adopt a different name. You can do so by contacting them at:
Program Manager | Chris Lobanov-Rostovsky |303.239.4447 |[email protected]
Program Assistant | Jill Trowbridge |303.239.4526 | [email protected]
While we think no labels should apply to people, a better choice might be “people who have been charged with a sexual offense”.