I'm the kind of sexual abuser you don't ever hear much about: one who is recovering and is living an abuse-free, victim-free life outside any official supervision or court jurisdiction. It's been 17 years since I molested anyone, and I work at it every single day of my life. Many parts of my life for 20 years before that would have made any parent proud of a grown son -- college grad, journalist, newspaper owner, coach – but it was part of a mask for my secret life. That secret life was focused on getting close to adolescent boys, gaining their trust and then sexually abusing them.
I was caught. Twice. After my first stretch of jail time I got some counseling, but it was too general to make much of a difference. In the early 1970s hardly anyone – in heartland Kansas or anywhere else – knew how to help a sexual abuser change his focus and manage his life to stay abuse-free. If there had been a Stop It Now! program and treatment programs when I was first caught, maybe I could have gotten help sooner and maybe I would not have hurt as many kids.
Ten years later when I was charged for the second time for indecent liberties with a minor, I was relieved. I wanted to stop, but I didn't know how.
Eventually friends directed me to a specialized sex offender treatment program. I got into a 3-month evaluation program (which my judge allowed instead of a regular pre-sentence report) that really turned me inside out and then set me in the right direction. Through every phase, they talked of the despicable behavior I had done, but yet always showed me, as a person, respect. It was significant in giving me the confidence and trust to open up secret information that nobody else knew.
There was more treatment after that. And I'm still working on it every day.
The first step in treatment was in a substance abuse program. By substituting my sexual behaviors where others dealt with their drug of choice, I got a chance to see that there was a pattern to my behavior.
The best thing about the treatment program I joined at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was that they talked with me directly about my attraction to young boys - they didn't use fancy language or explain my sexually abusive behavior away as part of some childhood trauma. Rather than dwelling on how I got the way I was, they emphasized that we had to make a strategy to stop my behavior NOW because I was hurting people. This was real, concrete help.
I really had hoped that evaluation in Baltimore would encourage the judge to sentence me to probation so I could move there and continue in treatment. Though that didn't happen, my experience in that program had been a real eye-opener, like a whole new education in human sexuality. That program, that crash course in Relapse Prevention, formed a base I was able to build on in the three different groups I was in during a Kansas prison stint of five years. In those groups I worked on other elements of my personality, sexuality, and further developed my relapse prevention plan.
When I was released on parole (and with my parole officer's permission), I returned to Baltimore to rejoin the Johns Hopkins program. I was in therapy groups at the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma (the program's new name) for six years as I pieced my life back together. This specialized program helped me learn how to manage my sexual urges and redirect them towards an adult partner.
The part of treatment that had the greatest impact on me was learning about victims. While I was abusing them, I had always said to myself that I wasn't doing any harm, that the boys liked the contact, liked sharing their bodies with me, after all, they had to learn about sex somewhere, so why not with me? Of course, it wasn't really "sharing" – sharing is between equals. Now I know that it was theft – of their innocence, of their ability to choose their sexual partner without coercion, however subtle, to choose someone without the built-in power of unequal age, experience, knowledge, and the ability to grant or withhold privileges.
I had never been sexually abused myself as a child, though many abusers have been. But I learned what this experience has meant to victims of sexual abuse. The victims I met through substance abuse treatment, in therapy and in prison taught me about their pain and made me see that I could not go on causing this kind of trauma in other people's lives.
Now, thanks to a lot of help, a lot of treatment, a lot of support, a lot of other people treating me like a human being and not a monster, I'm not in denial about the fact that I'm attracted to adolescent boys. I don't dwell on it, but I don't pretend it doesn't exist.
Every day I acknowledge it and then get on with my life, the daily things I do to make sure I'm not in an emotional place where I'd start planning how to contact a likely boy. Every day I work at a job where any incidental contact with adolescent boys is in public. Every day I call adult friends, work with CURE/SORT, go to support group meetings, and keep refocusing my sexuality on adults.
I also try to help other sexual abusers take responsibility for their lives and the harm they've caused to their victims. I helped to create a national support organization called CURE/SORT for people who have sexual behavior problems or have sexually abused a child and want to turn their lives around. I also try to help the public and policy makers understand that we're not all like the paroled sex offender who raped and murdered Megan Kanka.
Working with Stop It Now! and speaking up as a recovering sex offender is part of showing you that we're not monsters. Many of us get treatment, get released and get honest about who we are and how we can live responsible, victim-free lives.
The message is, there's hope. There are plenty more sexual abusers like me that you never hear about. We're the lucky ones who've gotten treatment and learned how to change our lives. I have made a commitment to do what I can to stop the sexual abuse of children. I speak out publicly as a recovering sexual abuser in order to give hope to families struggling with sexual abuse. I try to let people who have been sexually abused and other sexual abusers know that help is available and that treatment works. I try to get states to make more treatment available for more sexual abusers to stop abusing.
For those who sexually abuse, hope means balancing help and treatment with accountability for our crimes and restitution in some form for the harm we've caused to other people. I now know that there are a lot more of us who want to change our lives, who want to do our part to make sure we have no more victims, ever.