There is a very dangerous, manipulative and calculated effort in Colorado to eliminate mandatory standards for sex offender treatment, oversight and supervision through the state legislature. Convicted sex offenders and their defenders are trying to undermine the ability of the Sex Offender Management Board to adequately manage and supervise individuals who have already proven to be a risk to our communities.
Here is why every person in our state should be outraged by these attempts:
First, sex offenders cause great harm and hide their bad deeds.
Contrary to many myths, sex offenders are not “strangers who hide in the bushes.” They are typically “respected” members of the community who use their positions of power, authority and influence to hide their violent behavior. They typically prey upon those who are most vulnerable: children and others who they know. They often have multiple victims. They do not stop abusing on their own.
Second, this harm is often done “secretly” and creates lifetime consequences to victims.
Sex offenders use a process called “grooming” to build trust with their innocent victims and then violate that trust by abusive actions that also silence and shame those they harm. Too often, these abusive actions succeed in creating a long delay (often decades) between the time that a child or other vulnerable person is abused by a sex offender — and when that person who is victimized realizes what happened and comes forward. This gives the sex offender decades of protection against the production of meaningful evidence that would hold the sex offender accountable for their choice to abuse those they have victimized.
Third, sex offenders are incredibly manipulative in their thinking and their actions. They use tactics like gaslighting and DARVO (deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender) to try to confuse and discredit victims and others into not holding them accountable. For anyone in the public who has not had to encounter these psychological attempts at subterfuge, it may be hard to comprehend or identify this behavior when at play. When used against those they have victimized — and when enabled by professionals who allow this behavior to occur — this manipulation is deadly. It lets offenders off the hook and lets them move freely in the world to abuse other victims.
Fourth, there are a number of professionals in Colorado actively engaged in enabling sex offenders and/or are being fooled by their manipulation. These actions threaten public safety. Sex offender treatment is highly specialized and requires extensive, ongoing training. Those of us who are victims of sexual violence and/or who work with victims every day have experienced firsthand the manipulation that I am describing. I cannot convey how destructive this behavior is — to those who have been victimized and to others who will undoubtedly be victimized by sex offenders who do not receive mandated treatment. To be clear, mandatory standards ensure ethical and effective treatment practices. Ask yourself: Why would a sex offender want to remove mandated treatment practices? Exactly — to get out of being held accountable. Will you be the person to let this happen?
Fifth, and finally, we must protect innocent children. Again, ask yourself, why would sex offenders, those to whom they are related and those they are paying to represent them, want to lessen oversight and control by the board that oversees sex offender treatment providers? Once you understand the psychology that drives sex offenders’ abusive and manipulative actions in the first place, it is really quite simple: sex offenders want to continue their abusive behavior, unchecked, and they want to fool and control people around them in the process.
This is the sex offender playbook. Don’t be fooled and manipulated.
Every person who engages in abusive actions should have the right to come to accountability, to understand the wrongdoing they have caused and to make amends for that wrongdoing and restore their own personal dignity in the community. The way that can happen responsibly is through strong mandatory treatment standards; comprehensive board oversight to prevent manipulative agendas, and effective treatment that will not leave victim justice, child protection and public safety in jeopardy.
Children cannot protect themselves from the manipulation of sex offenders.
If others had understood this in my life when I was a child, I wouldn’t be asking you to do so now.
Jennifer Stith is executive director of WINGS. The organization supports adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to live their fullest, healthiest lives as they speak about, heal from, and thrive beyond CSA trauma.