Sunday, January 14, 2007

Treatment: Is it punishing sex offenders?

View the article here.

No, we need more therapy. Right now, sex offenders do not get help in prisons, only when they get out. Therapy works, just ask a therapist who specialized in sex offenders. The person who wrote this article cannot see past the "label". If this person would've got treatment in the first case, he almost certainly would not have committed another crime. Wise up!!


Wednesday, May 31, 1989 - It was the spring of 1982. Some man named Joel Ferkins had just raped and murdered a Wurtsboro girl named Sheli Wilkinson. She was 15 years old.

My job was to call Fay Honey Knopp, an expert in the sexual abuse field. I wasn't in the mood. I had seen Sheli Wilkinson's parents crying at the funeral. That's all there was to say.

Honey Knopp wanted the facts. I told her 31-year-old Joel Ferkins had a sexual abuse sheet dating back to his teens. He had just finished serving time for sodomy. His probation officer had called him dangerous. A shrink at the Sullivan County Mental Health Clinic had predicted he'd do it again.

What, I asked Honey Knopp, what suggestions can you experts make now? What could be done with people like Ferkins?

"Treatment programs,'' she said.

Well, isn't that the nice liberal answer? Why didn't she tell it to Sheli Wilkinson's parents?

But this Knopp lady wouldn't back off. She said if Ferkins had received treatment before he got out of jail last time, he might not have raped the young girl.

She said we'd have to start sexual offender treatment programs sooner or later. Sexual abusers started younger than people could imagine. You can't throw 12-year-olds in jail forever, she said.

Seven years later, sexual abuse committed by kids is front page news. First, there was the teen-age rape in Central Park. Then, it hit the suburbs. Squeeky clean Glen Ridge high school students accused of sexually attacking a retarded girl. Out came the statistics. It seems the arrest rate for 13- and 14-year-olds accused of rape has doubled during a 10-year period.

Politicians echo our anger. They're calling for longer prison terms, revenge, death. ``Treat them like adults,'' is the cry.

I called up Fay Honey Knopp yesterday. She said her phone has been ringing off the hook lately with the media wanting to know about youth sexual abuse.

``Tip of the iceberg,'' she tells people.

She talks about a violent culture that links sex with power. About the cold relationships between fathers and sons. About TV, instant gratification, and the use of sex to sell everything from toothpaste to miniseries.

Reasons, shmeasons, I say, people want these kids punished. Is she still in favor of treatment programs?

``Yes,'' she said. ``We know how to treat juvenile sex offenders.''

But don't treatment programs coddle sexual abusers?

``Getting treatment is the hardest thing we can make them do,'' she said. ``They're forced to face what they did.''

Honey Knopp said young sexual offenders often blame the victim. They minimize their wrongdoing. She said treatment programs make abusers accept responsibility for their actions. They make them own up to the harm they did. Only then can they change.

Change means recognizing behavior patterns that lead to abuse. Many of the programs share similar principles to the Alcoholics Anonymous program.

Honey Knopp said there are many successful sexual abuse programs in the country. There are also some failures. But she said it is better than no treatment at all.

``New York is backwards,'' she said. ``There's no intensive program for adults at all. They're just starting to have programs for kids.''

Honey Knopp said prevention programs are even more important. Sexual violence is handed down from generation to generation as if it were a secret heirloom. Something has got to break the cycle.

I told her people just want to break these kids' heads.

Won't solve a thing, she said.

But people are angry.

Honey Knopp said she gets angry, too. She's had it with people who rant and rave about a safe society, but oppose treatment programs for sexual offenders.

She called their attitude ``criminal.''

I still don't like the idea that committing a crime makes a person eligible for every social program under the sun.

But what if Joel Ferkins had been required to get treatment as a first-time sexual offender? What if that treatment had spared a young girl's life?

What if Fay Honey Knopp is right?