In their recent report, “Life on ‘The List’ is a Life Lived in Fear: Post-Conviction Traumatic Stress in Men Convicted of Sexual Offenses,” [a download link is at the bottom of this post] Dr. Danielle Arlanda Harris and Dr. Jill Levenson cogently demonstrate the inherent stress for Registrants as they pursue basic needs for survival as outlined in Maslow’s Hierarchy while simultaneously combating symptoms connected to PCTS (Post-Conviction Traumatic Stress). The report also offers strategies to cope with the inherent stress that arise from such encounters.
Maslow’s Hierarchy includes safety, social acceptance, self-efficacy, and self-actualization; these are essential as Registrants attempt to procure employment, housing, and social relationships. However, as Registrants work towards constructing a healthy life they must do so while on a list whose “stigma can create stress, anxiety, fear, shame depression, loneliness, social isolation and hopelessness.” For Registrants, the combination of incarceration followed existence on the list has created the major symptoms of PCTS: Intrusive thoughts, Avoidance, Negative thoughts or feelings and Hyperarousal. The report conveys that it is ideal to confront these hurdles with a “resilient coping” strategy that is “pro-active in keeping [Registrants] safe” as opposed to employing a “traumatic coping” plan that is “accented by crippling and ultimately futile and hypervigilance” to secure safety. Nonetheless, it does recognize that adopting a resilient coping strategy will be more challenging for individuals who have experienced traumatic events during childhood.
Harris and Levenson accrued data from interviews with over seventy men. These men asserted on varying levels that they practiced “avoidance” not because they were concerned about reoffending, but because they were fearful of misinterpretation, and “that the life they are rebuilding could be taken away at any time.” The report notes, “Indeed, a focus on strengths and prosocial goals rather than on shaming and stigma is more consistent with empirically-supported strategies for minimizing dynamic risk and enhancing successful re-entry.”
In recognizing the report’s narrow database (only men from a few ethnicities were interviewed and all samples were taken from the North Eastern United States), the authors gain credibility: “We acknowledge the limits of the generalizability of our findings, but it does not diminish the profound challenges our interviewees reported while living on the list.”