Therapy for Child Molesters Reduces Repeat Offenses
Posted May 15, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH — Every year in North Carolina, there are hundreds of reported sexual crimes against children.
While the sentence for a conviction could be as long as life in prison, many child molesters end up out on parole or on probation.
That is why Wake County is one of a growing number of areas that offers a treatment program for these criminals, while at the same time keeping children safe.
"I was rather close to my victim, as are most offenders," says one convicted offender who wished to remain anonymous.
Yet he did the unthinkable -- molested a young boy in unspeakable ways.
"My victim was a child that lived in my home that I was close to, cared for and loved," says the man.
This convicted offender is unusual because he turned himself in to police. Most never get caught and their victims never tell.
"It's a lot more prevalent than we think, and it's usually a well-kept secret," says psychiatrist Dr. Morton Meltzer.
Since it's such a well-kept secret, many people are surprised to learn that these sex offenders are from all walks of life. Experts say child molesters are generally men, who are not good at adult relationships, and who do not know how to communicate effectively or to express their anger.
"These aren't men in raincoats, on street corners or behind bushes," says forensic therapist Adam Adams.
And they have another factor in common as well.
"You find out many of the people doing this behavior were themselves, as children, abused in a similar fashion," says Meltzer.
Experts say group therapy is the only form of treatment known to help child molesters change their ways.
At these sessions, child sex offenders talk about the crimes and their victims. They have even wrote and read aloud letters to their victims that they will never send.
This type of therapy is designed not to make the offenders feel better about themselves, but to make them feel worse.
"The problem is, that what they need to do is feel badly and ashamed and guilty before they commit the crime. That kind of thinking, that kind of feeling, stops people from doing things that are harmful to other people," Adams says.
Wake County forensic specialists say the statistics are proof that the therapy works. Without it, 80 percent of child sex offenders will reoffend at some point. But of those who complete the treatment, less than 20 percent will hurt a child again.
Still, experts say that about 80 percent of sexual crimes go unreported. Parents should watch out for warning signs.
In children, parents should look for behavioral changes, such as the child suddenly becoming secretive; turning away from his or her peers; or becoming depressed.
As for offenders, many use a technique called "grooming" -- building a relationship with their potential victim to gain their trust.
Observers may notice them spending all of their time with one child.
"Even though we know we can't cure it, but if we can help them learn how to control it, that's virtually just as good," Meltzer says.