Sex Offender Stigma 2: Does Treatment Work?

'You Can Heal. I Know That'

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Nobody can argue that a sex offense is a serious crime.  But can an offender get treatment and eventually heal after serving time?

In Part 2 of Sex Offender Stigma, a registered sex offender gives his thoughts on that question, and so does a leading sex psychologist in Duluth, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

People who commit sex offenses aren’t very popular among fellow inmates and society, especially if the victims are children.

“It’s worse than if you had robbed, beaten, stabbed other people. A sex offense, as far as it’s viewed by society, is worse,” explained registered sex offender “John Smith,” which is the name we chose for this story.

But Smith believes some sex offenders like him can get better.

“You can heal. I know that. I don’t believe that, I know that,” Smith said.

Smith chose sex offender treatment at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center instead of simply counting down his sentence in jail.

“People can refuse to participate in the process. People can be in denial. And that’s the reality of what we are dealing with,” Smith said.

Then, as part of probation, he tackled outpatient treatment for two years at the Duluth Institute for Psychological and Sexual Health.

“You have to unpack this stuff. You have to relive your offense. You have to get back to the feelings you were having before and what led up to that,” Smith said.

Christos Petsoulis is a licensed psychologist and director of the Duluth Institute.

“The program is intense because nobody wants to come in here voluntarily — and that is very difficult in the beginning,” said Petsoulis.

“We talk about accountability, we talk about denial, we talk about understanding one’s self,” Petsoulis said.

And while this treatment centers around the offender, Petsoulis believes the outside world needs to relax a bit.

“If we only look at it as, let’s treat sex offenders and we just focus on that – let’s pay attention to where they live, where they work, how bad they are. As a society, we are missing the point.”

He says the point is to encourage people to be aware and open about their sexual development and examine their sexuality.

“So, healthy sexuality starts at the home, starts at the schools, starts in the community,” Petsoulis said.

“The more you talk about it, the more you think about it, the more you integrate it the more comfortable you become and the healthier decisions you are going to make,” Petsoulis said.

And that’s why Smith is using this story as a platform for healing, education and a better, healthy society that’s so flooded with sex.

“We are creating an environment where people aren’t comfortable to be able to have a conversation about this, and I think that’s dangerous, and I think that contributes to the hiding and the secrecy. And those are all things that are very much tied into sexual offending,” Smith said.

Thursday on FOX 21 News at 9 p.m., we examine how pornography, technology and lack of human touch may be worsening the development of healthy sexuality and increasing the likelihood of committing a sexual offense.

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