Attitudes toward those who have offended sexually

Sarah Wiley

There is often a perception that those who commit sexually violent crimes are ‘monsters’ who are removed from society and are deviant or sick. These are just some of the many myths and misconceptions about people who have offended sexually. In reality, sex offenders are found in every demographic, with the only distinguishing factor being that they are overwhelmingly more likely to be men (Statistics Canada, 2008). Research has found that the public generally fears sex offenders and, unsurprisingly, holds very negative views toward sex offenders. Interestingly, crimes of sexual violence are viewed negatively even in comparison to other crimes, highlighting the intense emotional reactions that are tied to acts of sexual violence.

Holding these negative attitudes toward sex offenders leads to intense isolation and stigmatization of the offenders. This makes it very difficult to use early intervention and prevention strategies for people with problematic sexual thoughts and feelings, such as in the case of a person with a pedophilia, as individuals are very unlikely to seek help on their own. Moreover, misconceptions allow some perpetrators to go undetected because they do not fit the stereotype of a sexual offender.

Sexual violence is a horrible crime and perpetrators need to be held responsible. Stigma toward sex offenders, however, is making the problem worse rather than better. These false beliefs and negative attitudes toward people who have sexually offended are a barrier to reintegrating former perpetrators within the community. If we work with individuals who have sexually offended to rehabilitate and reintegrate them through programs such as restorative justice, recidivism rates can be lowered along with rates of sexual violence. It is critical that we begin to see people who offend sexually not as horrible monsters, but rather as people who have complex problems and make mistakes. This will require leaning into our own discomforts and approaching people who have sexually offended with compassion and curiosity. Once we shift our understanding and begin to learn more about sex offenders and what they need to heal, only then can we truly put an end to sexual violence.

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