I’m a sex abuse survivor and I’m here to talk about my experience interviewing sex offenders. One of my therapy programs includes group therapy with fellow women survivors of sexual abuse, and from time to time, we get to question and interview sex offenders as part of our group therapy program.
Often times when I share that I interview sex offenders, people are curious to know what that’s like. Some of you might be wondering why I would want to face perpetrators of sexual violence. Do I have anger toward these offenders? What do sex offenders look like? What do they say in response to your questions? How do they view me? are common questions I get, too.
Why do I face perpetrators?
I face perpetrators to let them know, completely unfiltered, how their behavior and crimes affect victims. Of course these perpetrators aren’t my perpetrator, but their crimes are whisked together as one.
I face them to gain my power and voice back. I face them so I can better understand why they offend.
The meeting is set up for us to have a dialogue: for survivors to ask perpetrators questions and for the perpetrators to ask survivors questions. We all learn a lot.
What was it like interviewing sex offenders for the first time?
The questioning and interviewing takes place in a large room with tables formatted into a large rectangle. Survivors sit on one side and perpetrators on the other with about 15 feet between us.
We (the survivors) enter the room first to situate ourselves and then the facilitators (therapists) bring in the perpetrators…about eight of them. As the perpetrators walk in to find their seats, I felt my heart pounding. I looked at the perpetrators letting them know I see them and I was not there to be polite or make them comfortable.
Every perpetrator that walked through that door looked like an uncomfortable dog with a tail between its legs. None of them looked at us, but rather looked at the floor full of shame as they entered. They got situated in their seats but were still not making eye contact wit us and you could feel the tension in the room.
I found it quite fascinating that they couldn’t even look at us. The power dynamic had shifted.
Different types of perpetrators
These offenders that we interview are in treatment and rehabilitation programs via court mandate. Part of their treatment is individual and group therapy, along with understanding their risk factors for relapsing and facing sex abuse survivors.
The types of perpetrators we interview are a mixed bag. Some of these offenders have physical victims. From molesting their own children, family members or friends to soliciting minors or passing around child pornography online.
From my experience, hearing sex offenders that viewed and shared child pornography had the most difficult time understanding the harm in their crimes. Many of them did not understand the harm if the images and videos of child pornography were already out there. What they severely lacked was empathy to understand what that child victim went through, and their part in creating a demand for child pornography.
Can perpetrators can be rehabilitated?
Do I think perpetrators can be rehabilitated? The short answer to a very long, highly debated and studied query is yes. In my limited scope over the years, I’ve certainly encountered perpetrators who I believe have genuine remorse for their crimes. These perpetrators continue their rehab program and make their recovery a priority and remain in counseling. And I certainly encounter offenders who I know will offend again. Those perpetrators tend to severely lack empathy along with some other major deficiencies (including but not limited to antisocial personality disorder (APD), depression, denial, etc.)
So, what’s it really feel like interviewing and facing these offenders?
For me, it’s fucking empowering.
Any questions? Leave your questions or comments below.