Wednesday, August 16, 2000

A few things to think about if a family member or friend has been charged with a sex offense

A few things to think about if a family member or friend has been charged with a sex offense
American Friends Service Committee - August 16, 2000

To the family members or friends of a sex offender: 

It is not wrong or irresponsible to love someone who is a sex offender. Current medical knowledge supports the idea that inappropriate sexual behavior is often the result of psychological disorder and one that is treatable. This document is designed to provide you with helpful guidelines if you decide to remain supportive.

When the offense is discovered, it is helpful to . . .

  • Encourage the offender to actively engage in any available therapy.
  • Be prepared to lose the companionship of some friends and family members if you choose to remain supportive. Nurture those relationships that do remain supportive. You need some help at this time.
  • Be cautious when dealing with the media. "No comment" is an appropriate response. Be aware of possible backlash from media.
  • Be open and honest when dealing with family and friends.
  • Recognize that some religious communities do not understand this issue well. You may need to switch communities in order to find one which is supportive. (If in doubt, talk with the pastor.)
  • Take time to care for yourself. You come first. You cannot help others if you are exhausted or ill.
  • Educate yourself on sexual offenders, sex abuse and sexual offenses. Try to understand sex offender treatment so that you can be more supportive.
  • Expect possible difficult or trying times as the sex offender goes through treatment.
  • Remember that lots of anger is part of this ordeal.
  • Recognize that depression is a normal, frequent response to this overwhelming experience.
  • Handle the problems when they do occur . . .
    • Talk them out.
    • Do not isolate yourself.
    • Consider joining a support group to get help for yourself.
  • Listen - Listen - Listen.
  • Accept the fact that this is not your fault. You probably could have done nothing to prevent it. Accept the fact that he or she is responsible - not YOU!
  • Anticipate some "guilt by association," but remember that your real friends will stand by your side.
  • Remember that your good attitude will sustain family and friends through these times.
  • Be honest with your loved one. "Protecting" them from your feelings, whatever they are, will not help them realize and accept the harm they have done.
  • Be truthful with the children, using words and phrases they can understand. Try to prepare the child for other's reactions. Help prepare them with responses and descriptions using words which are comfortable for them.
  • Allow family members and friends to handle the situation as they can. Don't dictate their response, but provide opportunities to discuss the situation.

When the offender is incarcerated . . .

  • Remember that grief, shock and confusion are natural reactions when losing a loved one to incarceration.
  • Focus attention on recovery rather than on litigation over relatively minor details. Don't be an enabler. Don't support denial. Don't bring the victim to visits.
  • Take care of your lives; seek help if you need it.
  • Understand the prison rules and follow them.
  • Maintain your energy, health and sanity.
  • Fight the urge to do day for day with your loved one. This can be destructive.
  • Maintain regular communications with the person in prison. Cards, postcards, letter and photos all help to sustain and nurture both you and him/her.
  • Remember you are the chief source of contact with the real world. Prison is filled with false information and is an abnormal environment.
  • Encourage reading and watching news, public affairs and educational television.
  • There will be "bad" letters or visits. Don't let them throw you. Prison sometimes brings on such reactions.
  • Children must not be ignored as the loved one will be missed as much by them, if not more. Work with them so you both can experience together the feelings and emotions.
  • Don't feel guilty about telling the offender of your need to control expenses through limited visits and limited phone calls. Write letters instead. Try to stay in communication as you work through the problems. You need one another in this difficult time.
  • Maintain hope for you, the offender and the children. This will end.

When the prisoner is released . . .

  • Know his or her "cycle," i.e. the patterns of non-normal or deviant behavior.
  • Be prepared for negative backlash which may be generated by notification and registration laws.

It is important to try to gain perspective . . .

  • Frequently, family members and friends are shocked to learn that someone they know has been accused of a sex offense.
  • Shock is a normal reaction. You thought you knew this person and now you're not sure. Remember the inappropriate behavior is a part of the sexual offender's life, not the whole thing. What you know of this person still remains true.
  • It is possible to respect the person and condemn the activity. After all, bad things are sometimes done by good people.
  • Alienation is not always best for the family.
  • Anger and hatred are not empowering.
  • While there is no cure for a sex offending behavior, treatment is often successful in helping the offender to gain control of his/her behavior. With valid treatment, there is a good chance the person will not re-offend.
  • It may be helpful to seek professional guidance for yourself and the family. When doing so, it may be important to consider that not all therapists and social service workers are experts in this field. They may not know what is best for you. It is appropriate to shop for a therapist with whom you are comfortable and for a therapist who is knowledgeable of sexual behavior.
  • Through therapy you will hopefully come to understand yourself better and understand what might lead someone to act out sexually.

Please share this document with others.
Feel free to make copies.
Additional copies available from:

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants-
Sex Offenders Restored through Treatment
PO BOX 1191
OKEMOS, MI 48805-1191
(517) 349-7449


This document is provided by the above named organization to help those in need. Use of this brochure by other organizations for fundraising or solicitation of any sort is not authorized.

This document is made possible through a grant from:
The Center on Crime, Communities & Culture of the Open Society Institute
888 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10106

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