How can we support survivors of sexual assault while encouraging the rehabilitation of sexual assault offenders?
The above question has been plaguing me since I started writing this post weeks ago. It follows that supporting survivors and dismantling rape culture would include rehabilitation and counseling for offenders, as well as understanding offender demographics, but how can we accomplish that without minimizing the effects of sexual violence? In order to best guard our communities against sexual violence, we must:
• Be rid of victim-blaming.
• Dismantle rape culture and the norms that allow its existence.
• Rehabilitation for offenders.
Sexual violence is real. Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted. One out of every six American women and one out of every thirty-three American men are victims of an attempted or a completed rape in their lifetime. It is a real crime with real victims and devastating consequences. Victim-blaming is common: Her skirt was too short; she was too drunk; she wasn’t careful enough; the woman was too promiscuous to say no; he shouldn’t have ended up in prison if he didn’t want to be raped.*
Rape culture also allows for sex to fall in a gray area. ** It is treated as a debt owed instead of a way to deeply unite two people. There are jokes about fancy dinners on dates in return for sex. Alcohol is used as an excuse to waive consent. Abortion is used to cover up the evidence of a crime. We need both men and women fighting to dismantle rape culture. We need women to support women. We need men to discourage and stop sexual assault. We need a culture that does not encourage men to be sexually dominant. We need a culture that does not demand women be sexually provocative but then admonishes them for it. We need a culture of life that respects both men and women.
How are we addressing the offenders themselves? There is the controversial sex offender registry. There are moves for harsher punishment, longer statutes of limitation, pushes for survivor protection during trials. The truth though is that only three out of one hundred rapists will serve time, and it stands to reason that sexual assault convictions are along those same lines. Offenders are less the masked evil-doer in the bush and more the acquaintance or boyfriend or friend. Even male survivors are more likely to be assaulted by male offenders, though offenders can be of any gender.
While punishment and justice certainly are a piece of this, rehabilitation is important as well. If approximately two-thirds of rapes are committed by parties known to the survivor, then offenders are friends, intimate partners, brothers, and fathers. They are known to the survivor, and sometimes loved by the survivor. To follow a consistent pro-life message all the way through to its logical conclusion, rehabilitation for offenders is a must. Dignity for all from conception to a natural death includes sexual assault offenders. We know that released sex offenders are four times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime versus non-sex offender releases. This means there is a pattern of recidivism that must be addressed through the appropriate channels of justice and rehabilitation/counseling.
April is dedicated to Sexual Assault Awareness. Please share this post, or some of the resources linked above and below. We can do better for survivors by engaging in this conversation.
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers
Myths and Facts About Sex Offenders
Measuring Sex Offender Recidivism
Resources for Offenders
Why Should Men Care About Rape?
National Parole Resource Center
*I have written more in depth on the consequences of victim-blaming here.
**A specific example of both victim-blaming and sexual gray areas here.
Do you remember your middle school or high school reproductive health class? When I think back to my education about periods and “How babies are made” my memories are brief. I can remember short parts of videos or awkward condom demonstrations and disgusting pictures of STDs. Does this sound familiar to you?