The myth of the sexual offender

“I’ve never met a sex offender I didn’t like”: How perpetrators get away with it, via Bangor Daily News:

A Castine woman was recently charged with sexually assaulting a resident in a nursing home where she worked. And because she is young and female, and slightly smiling in her mug shot, some readers expressed surprise. How could a 22-year-old, polished-looking female be charged with two counts of gross sexual assault and one count of intentionally endangering the welfare of a dependent person?

It’s not as uncommon as one might think.

The assault, according to investigators, involved a victim who “was unconscious or otherwise physically incapable of resisting and did not consent” to the sexual contact. That is, in fact, the legal definition of sexual assault. You have to be willing or able to consent.

Even if a victim says “yes,” it’s still illegal for someone who gets paid to care for a dependent person to engage in a sexual act with that dependent person. He or she is in a position of authority, and having sex with a patient is an abuse of that power. That holds true whether a perpetrator is a doctor caring for a patient, a teacher with authority over a student or a corrections officer overseeing an inmate.

The court will decide whether Sara Comtois is guilty. But when some people are shocked by the “type” of person charged, it shows the general public could stand to learn more about those who actually commit sexual assault. They don’t necessarily look creepy and drive white vans that say “candy” on the side.

Rather, many are likable. Often, they target future victims and work themselves into their lives, earning their trust and the trust of those around them. Doing so requires intelligence, an ability to read people and a certain level of charm. As one counselor told the Denver Post, “I’ve never met a sex offender I didn’t like.”

Maine can’t fully address sexual assault if it doesn’t first break down the myths of sex offenders. They are in every profession. They wear suits and ties. Or they wear dresses. They make themselves helpful to gain access to a victim. Victims are not always “vulnerable,” though people with mental and physical disabilities are at greater risk.

Many people think they are able to instinctually detect a sex offender. At a recent conference, Wendy Patrick, a sex crimes prosecutor with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, showed photographs of a number of people — men and women of different ethnicities, some smiling — and asked the audience to pick out the sex offender. Everyone shouted out their guesses.

The answer? All of them were sex offenders. You can’t tell by looking.

What you can do is be aware of your misconceptions. Any profession that involves caring for others can offer high-quality training to better allow professionals to detect signs of sexual abuse and understand the dynamics at play. Schools can provide prevention programs for students. They can also offer sessions for parents, to better understand how to talk to their children about good and bad touches.

Education is important. Clearly it’s never a good idea to wait until something awful happens to revise a program or policy or institute training. Part of that awareness-building involves breaking down the myths of sex offenders. They often don’t look like the people in your nightmares.

Now, that’s creepy.

One thought on “The myth of the sexual offender

  1. Calvin Sanders

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