Kristen Burgess took a courageous step forward (Record-Eagle, Jan. 5) to shed light on the community’s response to intrafamilial sexual abuse.
When I started my career in 1987, there were “family-centered” programs for parents who decided not to divorce after intrafamilial child sexual abuse. Families were ordered into long-term programs supervised by the Family Courts. Offenders served time in jail and were slowly reintegrated into the family if agreed upon by all involved. As research demonstrated the impact of child sexual abuse on victims in adulthood, the state prohibited funding these programs.
Policymakers also believed that people who commit sexual offenses will inevitably re-offend. Therefore, any of the children wanting a relationship with an offending parent needed protection through parental incarceration. Long prison sentences for abusing parents, insistence on divorce or removal of children, counseling for the children, and barring parents who committed the abuse from the home became the new “victim-centered” model. There is no apparent risk of harm to children in this model.
There are three problems: (1) The assumption of high sexual re-offense rates is inaccurate and makes this model extremely expensive with little added public safety and directs funds away from other child-wellbeing programs. (2) The long-term incarceration of a parent is known to harm children. (3) A one-size-fits-all and we-know-best model deprives victims and families of self-determination causing further victimization.
Beginning in 1999, research found that 85-95 percent of men convicted of sexual offenses do not commit new detected offenses.