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Contact the editor or submit articles to:
 
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Deadline for Summer
2004 issue:
June 1, 2004
Association for the
Treatment of Sexual Abusers


4900 S.W. Griffith Drive
Suite 274
Beaverton, OR 97005
Voice: 503.643.1023
Fax: 503.643.5084
E-mail: atsa@atsa.com
Web: www.atsa.com
Volume XVI, No. 2 • Spring 2004
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex Offenders But Were Afraid To Ask: ATSA's Role in Public Education
 
There I was, watching the television series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Imagine my shock when I saw a psychiatrist using regression therapy in treating sexual offenders portrayed as a "pioneer" and an "expert" in the field. This regression therapy utilized an interesting technique of encouraging the sex offender client to cuddle with his beautiful female therapist and fantasize about suckling her breasts. Of course, this portrayal served to mock the idea that sex offenders could be treated at all, which became apparent when a character in the episode stated with authority: "Sexual predators can't be changed; all you can do is lock them up...when they get out, 7 out of 10 rape again."
 
We certainly know that it is difficult to live as a sex offender in America today. But if you think it's hard being a sex offender, try being a sex offender treatment provider! How many times have you told someone what you do for a living, only to hear, "how can you work with such people?" Or, perhaps the person looks at you quizzically and doubtfully says, "Do you really believe you can help sex offenders?" Once in a while, someone will sarcastically and condescendingly offer their suggestion about mutilation therapy as the best known cure.
 
The truth is, of course, that all sex offenders are not the same, that some can be helped more successfully than others, and that appropriate treatment can indeed be effective in reducing overall sexual recidivism. As researchers and treatment providers, we recognize how dangerous sexual perpetrators are. We also realize that sexual violence requires an interdisciplinary response that combines punishment, rehabilitation, and management. We know that successful prevention of sexual violence involves working collaboratively with Corrections to restrict access to potential victims, while at the same time helping offenders to develop and enhance healthy and age-appropriate social outlets. We see the big picture: sex offender treatment is about child protection and violence prevention.
 
The problem is that most other people don't know these things. Although Megan's law has increased society's awareness of sex offenders, most states have not combined notification with the dissemination of information that can help communities enhance public safety. It is up to us to dispel the myths that fuel and perpetuate inaccurate misperceptions about sex offenders and treatment. If we don't do it, no one will. If you see inaccurate recidivism statistics reported in your local newspaper, write a letter to the editor or call the reporter to provide correct information. If you hear disparaging comments about sex offender treatment on TV, write a letter to the producers of the show. If you see a chance to participate in public awareness campaigns in your community, volunteer to do a presentation about sexual abuse prevention. Get on the list of "experts" called upon by your local news station. Have lunch with a victim advocate to let them know you are on the same team. Write to your legislator and offer to testify at congressional hearings to promote sound, evidence-based policies.
 
If even half of our 2,100 ATSA members took an opportunity this year to correct a public misperception, there would be over 1,000 chances to offer accurate information to the public. Public education is another way that we can facilitate our mission to make society safer.
 
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