Re-envisioning Sex Offenders to Positively Impact Rape Culture


On December 17th 2016, the University of Minnesota released its 80-page investigative report of the ten (or more) young men that raped a female student. (Read more here: http://kstp.com/sports/university-of-minnesota-eoaa-investigate-report-gophers-football-players/4347059/ Please note: TRIGGER WARNING). I had just arrived in India for a nineteen-day vacation after thirty-one hours of travel time. Jet lag was setting in, and yet I could not stop reading this report. It detailed the hours leading up to and then the brutal details of the sexual assault of this young woman. I remember my outrage and I remember my disgust. I remember my anger at the prosecutors that declined to press charges in this case due to “not having evidence beyond a reasonable doubt”. My social justice heart felt dismayed.

I reposted the article on social media. I encouraged my Facebook “friends” to read as much as they could and discuss with someone they trusted. My dismay continued as I read comments on this post from old classmates and peers that blamed the victim (survivor), sided with the perpetrators and police, and were angry at the University of Minnesota for [attempting to] expel these students, and [later] for firing the football coach Tracy Claeys.

Unfortunately these are common reactions. Our society often blames the victim for sexual violence. The contrast however also tends to be to ostracize offenders. Little is to be learned from either stance.

Sometimes I get angry when others don’t see things the way I do, or when the world seems to be operating with beliefs that I do not understand. I remember feeling that way after Donald Trump was elected president, and I felt that way reading comments that attempted to dispel the entire notion of rape culture in regards to the University of Minnesota rape case. I remember feeling that way when Stanford University Swimmer Brock Turner received a mere three months jail time for three felony criminal sexual conduct convictions. (Read more here: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/02/us/brock-turner-release-jail/index.html).

The problem with getting angry is that I listen to respond, not to understand. I cannot make change from this place. There is no justice in my anger. There is no healing in that place.

Here is my charge. I want to change rape culture in our country. I want a healthier place for sex and sexuality. In order to make these changes, one of the crucial components our society needs to come to terms with is that a perpetrator of sexual assault could be your brother, it could be your dad, it could be best friend, boss, or professor. While the majority of reported sexual violence tends to be perpetrated by males, inappropriate sexual conduct could also come from the hands of sister, your mom, or aunt. Sexual violence could come from your mentor, and it could come from your hero. Sexual violence likely could happen at the hands of someone beloved to you.  80% of sexual violence does not happen between strangers (Read more about current statistics regarding sexual violence here: http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf ). Sexual violence happens with someone that is known, and more often than not with someone who is trusted. Sexual violence happens with someone that is be allowed into the home and when or if ever accused, no one would imagine that they could possibly do what they are being accused of. This exact circumstance decreases reporting and increases survivor guilt and shame.

Ostracizing offenders makes it even more difficult for our society to heal. There are those that perhaps struggle with intense pedophilia, (Read more about an interesting young man who had not committed a sexual offense but wanted help here: https://medium.com/matter/youre-16-youre-a-pedophile-you-dont-want-to-hurt-anyone-what-do-you-do-now-e11ce4b88bdb Please note: TRIGGER WARNING.) Then there are also those that have grown up thinking that “no” means “try harder” or that “if he/she says yes once, that always means yes.”  We have fallen into this damning place where sexual micro aggressions (persistent sexual advances, whistling at someone on the street, “locker room talk”) are ignored or passed off as “boys will be boys” behavior. This is the place for early intervention. This is the middle ground where we can teach, learn and prevent unhealthy sexual behavior. In recent documentaries such as Pervert Park (available on Netflix) or Untouchable (shown at this years International Film Festival), the spectrum of different sexual misconduct offenses and their consequences tug at the viewers sense of justice. Sexual violence is wrong. So is our current system for punishing its perpetrators.

In June of 2015, a federal judge ruled that it is “unconstitutional for Minnesota to keep civilly committed sex offenders locked up indefinitely” (read more here: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/06/17/sex-offender-program-unconstitutional). However, when three offenders were to be released to a 24/7 supervised group home in Dayton Minnesota, ordinances were passed at city council meeting making it impossible for these offenders to live anywhere within the Dayton city limits (read more here: http://kstp.com/news/three-sex-offenders-minnesota-sex-offender-program-dayton-release/4297390/). How else might our society want perpetrators to live? What if one of these men were beloved to you? Making monsters of perpetrators does not increase safety. It does not help the survivor. Imposing limits on where those with a registered sex offense live only decreases the likelihood that their supervising agent actually supervises them. These limits and restrictions provide a false sense of security.

This leads to one of our cultures problems with sex offenders; fear. This has been fostered in Minnesota specifically since 1994 when Patty Wetterling was involved in the process to have sex offenders registered on a public registry. She talks at length about this and the repercussions it has had in the In The Dark Podcast (Listen here: http://www.apmreports.org/in-the-dark). Some wish to lock away offenders for life. They are no longer an all American swimmer, Division I Athlete, brother, father, friend. They are not the trusted person that was allowed into homes and hearts. The survivor is put into a position where others are telling them that the perpetrator is a monster, when previously this person was beloved. How does viewing anyone as a monster create change? Making monsters does not allow for learning, and certainly not for healing.  Sometimes the pendulum swings too far to the other side, cases are not persecuted, or “justice” looks like three months in jail and a “slap on the wrist”.

Rape, is everyone’s problem. Rape culture is real, it does exist. Justice for survivors is inexplicitly tied to the rehabilitation, learning and integration of perpetrators in our society. Be proactive. Talk to your friends, children, coworkers, and clients about rape and rape culture. Talk about consent. Talk about healthy boundaries and relationships. Talk about warning signs. If you don’t know how to start a conversation, use some of these resources: www.11thprincipleconsent.org, http://www.coachescorner.org/, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/, www.livethegreendot.com , http://cultureofrespect.org/program-know-your-power/ , www.nsvrc.org

Help me in changing rape culture through changing the conversation. The conversation is no longer about “stranger danger”. The conversation is about good, safe, healthy touch and good, safe, healthy relationships. Our children need to know that it is OK to decline to hug that relative. It’s OK to ask for the doors to remain open during playtime with cousins. Our son’s and daughter’s need to understand affirmative consent. Our girls need to be valued enough in schools to wear what they want. Our boys need to know that they are in control of their sexual urges and actions.

Talking about sex and sexuality will free us. Join me in the revolution.

Christine Dudero, MA LAMFT