I recently discovered a video of a convicted female sex offender that was posted by her church. At first glance, some may think this is a wonderful video about God’s love and redemption. However, a closer look exposes something much different.
Though I don’t know the intended purpose of this video, its unintended result is that it provides at least five self-serving responses by sex offenders in the church. So perhaps one redeeming consequence of this highly troubling video is to teach us more about the distorted beliefs and understandings perpetrators have about the crimes they have committed. Let’s take a quick look at these five responses:
The “I’m just not that person anymore” response: This is when offenders claim that they have recently “accepted Jesus” and are not the same person that committed the sexual offense. This type of self-serving statement subtly distances the offender from involvement and responsibility in the very crime he/she committed. The offender in the video may be a new person in Jesus, and her position before God may have changed (that is between her and God). However, she remains the person who sexually abused a child and that must never be forgotten by her or those around her.
The “I understand” response: Sexual offenders often attempt to convince others that they understand the harm they have caused to the victim. In the video, the offender remarks, “I understand the pain and bitterness I have caused.” Is this any different than a murderer telling the parents of the person he murdered that he understands their pain? Really?? This appearance of empathy for the victim is usually motivated by the desire to develop sympathy for the offender. Such self-centered statements often achieve the desired result from church members, all the while re-traumatizing the victim.
The “I was inappropriate” response: Sexual offenders often label their abuse in non-abusive language in order to minimize the gravity of their offense. During the video, this offender repeatedly described her acts of raping a 14-year-old boy as merely, “inappropriate” and “selfish.” At no time does she ever even use the term “abuse” or even refer to her behavior as “criminal.” This is a teacher who was convicted of “engaging in a sexual act or deviant sexual intercourse” with a minor student. We must never allow offenders to get away with trying to water down the criminal reality of their actions. This offender’s behavior was light years beyond inappropriate and selfish. It was a serious felony.
The “I am a victim” response: Sex offenders often attempt to gain sympathy by portraying themselves as a victim of their own weaknesses and struggles. This is demonstrated clearly in the video when she says, “I had insecurities, I had pain in my own heart and a void I thought I needed to fill through attention and all kinds of other things.” Such statements victimize the perpetrator while also shifting attention away from the immeasurable damage they have caused. Perpetrators understand that a crime that has two victims, instead of one victim and one perpetrator, makes their life much easier.
The “make the victim feel guilty" response: Within the church, it is not uncommon for perpetrators (and others) to infer that the trauma victims experience as a result of the abuse is due to their own spiritual weaknesses. At one point in the video, this offender remarks, “I pray that each of you be free of the pain, bitterness, anger, anxiety…these are not things from God.” Going back to my murder analogy, how would parents react if the person who killed their son tells them that their anger and pain is not of God? Such statements are self-serving attempts by the offender to cause immeasurable guilt in an already traumatized victim. Perpetrators do this in order to silence victims.
Do you notice how each response keeps the focus and attention on the offender? These responses clearly demonstrate that most child sexual offenders are extremely self-serving and dangerously manipulative. It is critical for faith communities to recognize these characteristics and how they influence the way offenders think, act, and respond to abuse.
A better understanding of these vital truths may have propelled this church to focus on loving and serving a 14-year-old rape victim, not posting a re-traumatizing video it tragically celebrates as being the work of God.
This article was originally posted on Jan 21, 2014. It is reposted here with permission of RNS.