Tag Archives: Sex offender

Follow up on ministry to sex offenders

After I wrote the last post, I was pointed to this article in the Independent on Sunday about a program of caring for sex offenders through friendship groups. The organization, Circles UK, develops these groups around offenders in order to build relationship and accountability. The article says that over a 4.5 year period, none of the Circles offender re-offended where a control group of the same size committed 10 new offenses in the same period.

As you can easily imagine, most sex offenders lose their entire support system. Loneliness and isolation can only lead to temptations to connect through offenses. If anyone is interested in supporting offenders and reducing recidivism, check out the program. While it is UK-based, it shouldn’t be hard for a church to decide to follow the same pattern.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Christianity

Pastoral Counseling for Sex Offenders: 3 Dos and 3 Don’ts

As the church does a better job in understanding the epidemic of sexual victimization (1:3 women, 1:5 men report unwanted sexual contact by age 18), the church also faces the challenge of understanding how to care for sex offenders in the community. Gone (hopefully!) should be the days where a congregation just ignores offenders and acts as if their sins are in the past needing no further follow-up. And we don’t want to swing to the other extreme of making it impossible for sex offenders to be part of the church community. Rather, the church will best represent Christ to victims AND offenders when it exemplifies the grace of limits to offenders.

The local pastoral counselor (whether in the church or in a para-church organization) will be called upon to participate in the care and counsel of a sex offender. In preparation for this eventuality, every pastoral counselor should embark on their own continuing education. Read books (start with the difficult book Predators by Anna Salter), meet your local ADA who prosecutes sex crimes and find out what is required of offenders after they leave prison, find local clinicians who specialize in treating the various kinds of offenders (e.g., adolescents, adults, Internet based, those who have been incarcerated, etc.)

Dos and Don’ts

After improving your understanding of the nature of sexual offending and the available resources, consider these three dos and don’ts in order to avoid some serious pitfalls

  • Do treat them as fully bearing the image of God, just as you would a victim of a sex crime. Your relationship with the offender should not be a barrier to their ongoing growth and sanctification. Do you share the same mercy and grace as you would to someone you may feel more compassion? Do you see them as less human? Your compassion should lead you away from an adversarial or judgmental approach to them (this does not mean you won’t be firm or even skeptical!). Accusations, no matter how accurate, rarely lead to transformation in another. Instead validate their feelings and experiences. They will have lost much: friends, family, finances, standing. While it came at their own hand, you surely want to validate this experience.
  • Don’t treat all sex offenders the same. Recognize differences between adolescent and adult offenders, Internet only offenders and direct contact offenders. You do not want to have a one-size-fits-all approach for supposed fairness reasons. If you don’t have training in understanding these differences, do not assume you already know how to counsel these individuals. Get training, supervision, and consider referrals.
  • Do assess on a continual basis. As with all clients, a competent counselor never stops assessing for treatment readiness, commitment to change and growth, commitment to the grace of restriction, insight and more. Does your client show a growing evidence of empathy towards victims and the community? Does your client evidence a thirst for community supports and accountability (vs. passive acceptance)? Does your client give evidence of being solely focused on personal experience; give evidence of resistance and bitterness that others do not offer blanket trust?
  • Don’t use words, time, or other factors in determining growth and repentance. Far too frequently, churches use the right words, a few tears, and the passage of time to indicate when they reduce oversight over an offender. These are not good indicators of change! In addition, do not confuse repentance with a requirement for reconciliation. Do not neglect the matter of restitution but do not hold requirements of victims to return to a former level of intimacy with the offender. Not all that is broken in this life can be fixed in this life. Do not fall prey to the fantasy that all things are restored and reconnected in this life. Yes, our God can work miracles, but he also gives grace to us to continue with our thorns in the flesh.
  • Do set specific goals. Whenever we provide counseling for chronic issues, it helps to set goals that can be evaluated even as there may be a long road still to go. A competent counselor agrees upon goals with a client. Some of these goals might include (a) growing in empathy for others, being able to sit with the experience of others without bringing up one’s own, (b) deepening Gospel understanding about sin and impact of evil without either despair or superficial repentance, and (c) accepting limits and little trust as a way of life.
  • Don’t be caught off guard by common concerns of the offender. In my experience, offenders often have these questions that repeat on a fairly regular basis: Where can I worship? When can I come to church? Why can’t I worship with my family? When will I be done and be treated like anyone else? Doesn’t [victim] bear some blame? Why does [victim] get to make decisions about my worship? Why am I treated as a leper?  These questions are important and being prepared for them means the counselor can more likely respond with compassion and clarity. This can only better serve the offender and reduce the bitterness that comes from unanswered questions.


Additional links to check out:

1. Church Ministry to Sex Offenders 

2. Sex offenders vs. Sex Abusers?

3. Search “sex offender” in search box in the upper left for more blogs on this topic


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Uncategorized

Ministry to Sex Offenders? post on www.biblical.edu blog site

I have another post on our Seminary’s faculty blog site today. You can read it here. In it I give a few very initial steps a church might take when considering starting a ministry to sex offenders.

Such a ministry is good, sorely needed, but should not be taken without concern for the entire church, including victims of abuse. as well as the family members of the offender. Any ministry we undertake should put spiritual protection–the very soul of our ministry targets–as a primary objective. Thus, helping an offender to limit access to vulnerable peoples would be seen as part of their spiritual care. As I have said on this site before, the grace of limits is a very good thing. When I accept boundaries, I am accepting God’s grace.


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, church and culture, counseling, pastors and pastoring

Sex Offenders v. Sex Abusers: Is there a difference?

Justin Smith (Phoenix Seminary) has written a helpful chapter in The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused where he discusses the characteristics and types of sexual offenders. While we tend to lump everyone who commits a sexual offense into one (despised) category, it is better to differentiate between types of offenses and those who might commit them. More differentiation helps us (a) understand causes of abuse, and (b) treat those who commit them with more competent and compassionate care.

He believes we need to distinguish between those who have abused and those who are sexual offenders. Why? Because if 20-25% of females report abuse along with 10-20% of males, then our current stats that offenders make up 1-2% of the population cannot be accurate. The number (given that abuse is often not reported) must be higher.

If the number of perpetrators of sexual abuse is 20-50 percent of the male population, as opposed to 1-2 percent, then sexually abusive behavior is not that unusual and neither is the sexual abuser. (p. 44)

Not sure I would venture the 50% number in the above quote but the point about abusive behavior isn’t as unusual as we would like to believe.

Before we look at the differences between offenders and abusers, let Dr. Smith set the stage:

If all persons have sexual impulses and the capacity to be manipulative and potentially violent, perhaps the question should be: “Why don’t people offend”? instead of, “Why do people Offend?” “What constrains some people and fails to constrain others?” (p. 45)

Smith suggests 3 main requirements for those who abuse. First, they must disregard boundaries. They disregard social and moral prohibitions, turn off empathy and compassion for the victim, change meanings of words (to coerce), etc. Second, they disregard or deny the distress of the victim. Third, the person must struggle to regulate internal impulses.

Now to our question. Is there a useful way to differentiate offenders from abusers? Is there any value to those of us who work with those who have committed sex crimes?

Having established that sexual abuse covers a wide range of behaviors and undoubtedly involves a significant portion of the population, what can be said about sex offenders? Offenders are a subset of sexual abusers. They have not only committed sexual abuse but they have committed a specific sexual crime as defined by society.  (p. 47)

So, his primary differentiation is this: offenders are those who are caught. Abusers are those who did an offense but weren’t caught.

Now to the question: is this helpful? My answer is yes and no. Yes. When we describe the research on offenders (as Smith does) we are able to differentiate offenders in subsets: those who rape, those who are sadistic, those who offend against family members, children, or strangers. These differences do matter when considering incarceration and treatment. And likely those who get caught are different from the many who may abuse one person or who have more self-control or other factors that keep them from continuing the abusive behavior.

But the answer is also no. Because so many sexual abusers do not get caught, we can’t really say that there is much difference between an offender (one who is caught) and an abuser (one who did not get caught). I doubt it would be possible to gather a population of individuals to study them in comparison to the offenders. Who would sign up for that study?

That said, this chapter and the entire book is a great resource for those wanting more help in their quest to minister and treat survivors of sexual abuse. I am especially pleased with chapter 13 (mine!).


Filed under Abuse, counseling science, Psychology

Another reason why we don’t report abuse

In the wake of the Penn State scandal I wrote this post about some of the reasons we fail to report abuse. My wife reminded me of one more that I think we have to consider. Beyond our denial, beyond our fear of begin exposed, beyond our desire to protect beloved institutions, beyond our gullibility when winsome abusers confess to little crimes in order to assuage our concerns…there is another reason: guilt.

What guilt, you ask? The guilt in being “the cause” of destroying someone’s career. We know that founded sexual abuse will (should) end someone’s people-helping career. In this regard, sexual abuse is a capital crime. A person might not hang for it but if they now are a convicted sex offender, they probably won’t be able to find employment as a pastor, teacher, counselor, etc.

Notice I put the cause in the previous paragraph in quotes. If we are in the position of reporting a sex offense, we have done nothing to destroy that person’s career. If the offense has been committed, the offender has destroyed their own career and family.

And yet, when we report someone we know, we feel guilty. We may feel as if we are the cause of their loss of their reputation and career. We worry about what will become of their family. How will they ever be able to support their loved ones? What will become of their children? Sometimes the guilt is enough to cause us to waffle. Maybe we can just move them along to a new venue. Maybe starting over will help them put this awful chapter behind them. Maybe they have repented and won’t do it again. Maybe they will make better choices and avoid prior temptations.

In addition, many of us have heard of those who were falsely accused. We have seen or heard of the devastating impact of a lie. And we wonder, what if we are wrong? What if there is another explanation?

So we hesitate. And once we let some time pass, we rarely activate to do the right thing.


Filed under Abuse

Sex Offender Residential Treatment Programs?

After I posted earlier this week about resources for the church to use in caring for sex offenders in the congregation, I got a call asking if I knew of any residential sex offender treatment programs for those having been convicted of a sex crime.

Let me pose this question to readers:

1. Do you know of any quality residential offender treatment programs for post incarceration? Programs would need to accept voluntary admission clients.

2. Do you know of any Christian versions?

Most Christian programs focus on sexual addictions and all that I know of do not accept individuals with felony convictions (usually due to zoning restrictions set up by the community).


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Psychology, Sex

Sex offender resources for the church

Last week I received a blog comment asking about counseling helps for sex offenders who wish to leave behind their offending behaviors. You can see the question and my answer here. I would add my thoughts from this short essay gives an overview of the kind of growth we want to see in reforming abusers.

This week I was shown some materials designed specifically for churches in order to protect victims (and potential victims) and aid the recovery of sex offenders–whether prosecuted or not.

These materials are published by an English organization, Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS). They have a number resources relating to the protection of children and describe themselves as,

a professional safeguarding charity providing training, resources, support and advice in all areas of safeguarding and a 24 hour helpline. CCPAS is also an umbrella organisation appointed by the Criminal Records Bureau to process criminal records checks.

The great thing about this organization (yes, I spell it with a z) is that their pamphlets are available for FREE downloads. Their “Help” series covers issues from sex offending and church attendance, sex trafficking, domestic violence, responding to allegations of abuse, etc.

The organization also encourages every church to have a volunteer safe-guarding coordinator.

Also, they have a host of DVDs as well. One I have in my hand is entitled, The Supervision and Pastoral Care of Sex Offenders. It is a 2 DVD set with victim and perpetrator accounts and reviews offender behaviors and helpful assessment, treatment and church supervision plans. You can purchase it on the above websites for about 25 US dollars.

I wasn’t able to review one other item sold by them: Walk the Walk: A Treatment Supplement for Sex Offenders with Christian Beliefs. Authored by Tim Horton and 80 pages in length, it is available on an American site (along with two other titles, one for helping sex offending clergy and for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Finally, a recent Christianity Today article covered the topic of working with sex offenders after prison. It did a good job as far as it went. But too often we concern ourselves with issues such as forgiveness, church attendance, and restoration. These issues are indeed important and ought not be neglected. However, focus for offenders should be on treatment, accountability, and willingness to support the well-being of others over their own supposed rights and freedoms. Diane Langberg and I wrote a letter to the editor that was published in a subsequent edition that might peak your interest.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, deception, Diane Langberg, Sex, Uncategorized

“Niceness is a decision”?

Cover of "Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists,...

Cover via Amazon

For “light” reading over the break, I decided to read Anna Salter’s book, Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, and other Sex Offenders (Basic Books, 2003). I’ve known of this book for some time and viewed her DVDs which cover a chunk of the book’s topic. **I don’t recommend you read this book at night or at all if you have any history of sexual abuse.**

The book reviews research on those who commit these kinds of crimes. What I found most helpful is her treatment of the problem of deception, common techniques, and how both the average person AND expert clinicians are easily seduced by the presentation and lies of offenders. She closes out the book with chapters on detecting deception and protecting children from abusers.

But one particular paragraph caught my eye. The context of what you read below is her discussion of the necessity of a double life (appearances of sincerity, likeability, honest, etc.) in order to gain access to children. As she says, “a surly and obnoxious person would have little access…” (p. 38)

“Niceness is a decision,” writer Gavin De Becker wrote in the The Gift of Fear. It is “a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character train.” There are days I want to tattoo this on my forehead. De Becker is right, but who believes him? (ibid)

Do you agree? Niceness is a decision not a character trait?

Niceness is an action, a behavior. Frankly, any of the fruits of the Spirit may be short-term behaviors as well. I can choose to be gentle or patient for a time. But true fruits come from Holy Spirit induced character change. But what bubbles up in us when no one is looking tells a bit more about who we really are.

We ought to be just a bit more suspicious about ourselves and be wary of the tendency to pat ourselves on the back for being nice–especially if we find ourselves doing calculations on the benefits we might receive for our good behavior.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, deception, personality, Psychology