In a recent chat with a registrant he referred to himself as a “S.O.” /”sex offender”.
I was sort of stunned.
After all the previous discussions we’d had about not giving in to anyone’s labels, about standing up for who you know yourself to be, how, I asked, can you refer to yourself as an S.O.?
It seems I had caught this person on a bad day, he had just exited a weekly sex offender treatment group where everyone was referred to as a “sex offender” or simply “S.O.” by those facilitating the group. That is NOT how a treatment group is supposed to function. Group settings are supposed to be helpful and supportive, not a place where who you are is defined by a label you are given. The sad part is, after an hour of facilitators drilling that label into your brain, it’s hard to shake that label even when you walk out the treatment center door. It rolls around in your head until that’s how you start to identify yourself. An “S.O.”
I asked the person if that was the way he saw himself, just an “S.O.”, and nothing more.
I kind of knew the answer before I asked. I knew that this person had a supportive circle of family and friends and that he was well-educated. On a normal day, this person said he actually felt, well, pretty normal. On a normal day, under normal circumstances he would never refer to himself as an “S.O.”
But “sex offender group treatment” days aren’t “normal days”. Every time this person left group he felt like crap. He felt like nothing more than a label. You’re not even referred to as a “registrant” in group, you and everyone else, no matter what your offense, is just an S.O. And you are reminded throughout group that you and you alone are responsible for having received this label. You got yourself into this mess and you must suffer the consequences. It’s no one else’s fault. Just you.
This isn’t treatment. I’m not sure what this is, badgering, belittling, brow-beating, berating. I just know it’s not treatment.
For those of you who have reported actually having had good experiences in your treatment groups, consider yourselves very fortunate. I’ve heard far more negative stories than positive about group treatment.
It used to be that medical professionals referred to patients as “the gallbladder in Rm 2 or the chest wound in Rm 5”. Patients over-heard these professionals and they complained. They were people after all, not illnesses. The medical profession finally realized over the years that saying things like that de-humanizes people, they were treating a diagnosis rather than a person. They eventually learned to do better, it took time, but now medical professionals are taught to see the person first and to treat the diagnosis second.
That’s what “sex offender treatment” professionals need to do to. They need to see registrants as people first, human beings with thoughts and feelings and then treat the individual’s issues, not treat some vast encompassing label.
And that‘s what you need to do too.
You need to help reframe the way the world sees you.
Do you allow society to treat you like a “S.O” first and as a human being second? Do you keep walking out of that group every week feeling like crap, with the weight of a “S.O.” label slung around your neck?
Or do you reframe how the world sees you, take your own inventory, appreciate your unique abilities and accept your own human flaws. Can you find the strength in you to hold your head high and make your way in the world in spite of the labels that other try to define you by?
While it’s true that the law may regard you as a “registrant”, you can choose to see yourself as a deserving human being who can still live a good life above and beyond that label.
You also have the right to the same dignity and respect from your treatment providers that they would want for themselves, you may need to remind them that you prefer to be recognized by your name and not by a label.
Try not to ever let anyone make you feel like crap. If they do, try to just let it go, you have better things to do than to carry that weight around with you.
This is your life. Reframe how you view yourself and society will eventually catch up.