Rehabilitating Sex Offenders: A Goal Within Reach, Or A Waste Of Time?

By Jeff Neumeyer

February 7, 2012 Updated Feb 7, 2012 at 6:20 PM EDT

Indiana, (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- Sex offenders: they make most of us very nervous.

But is that powerful anxiety justified, and what are the prospects for reforming their wrong behaviors?

We focused on the subject in a special report, “Rehabilitating sex offenders."

There is a common perception that sex offenders, particularly child sex offenders, pose a very real threat to society that carries on for the rest of their lives.

But a U.S. Department of Justice study from 2002 suggests that's not reality.

The study found that 5.3% of released sex offenders-- 1 in 19-- were later arrested for another sex crime.

The same study found the repeat offense rate for non-sex offenders was 68%.

Regardless, there are programs in place, including ones in Fort Wayne, to get sex offenders back on the straight and narrow.

" I couldn't see or visualize that child as a human being. I could only see it as a picture on a piece of paper."

That comment came from a man we’ll call "J".

At age 73, he was convicted of a child pornography charge.

He spent one year on house arrest, and for three years, he was in treatment at The Family & Children's Services clinic on South Calhoun Street.

A staple of the program is group therapy.

" We talk to each other. We critique each other, we catch each other in lies," says “J”, who credits the treatment program with giving him a new attitude towards pornography.

" We provide services for sexual offenders as a means of safety and support for the community at large," says Ronald Furniss, who runs the Family & Children’s Services sexual abuse program.

Jeff Neumeyer: " Offenders directed to the program, usually by the courts, are expected to run a gauntlet of sorts. They're assigned a set of tasks to complete, kind of like what someone would experience in Alcoholics Anonymous."

Fellow group members help one another embrace the fact the victims in their crimes are real human beings that have suffered real harm.

Another key feature of the treatment is accountability.

It happens within the group and offenders are pushed to seek accountability relationships with family and friends outside the group.

" That they have someone who's watching them and keeping an eye on them, who will affirm them when they're doing positive things, but who will challenge them when they're doing things that may be questionable," says Furniss, who has been working with sex offenders for more than twenty years.

“J” says he still gets pornographic catalogues in the mail, but now he claims he doesn’t fall for the temptation.

" As soon as I do, I just open them up and shred them. Beforehand, I'd have stacked them up and went back and looked at them, looked at them, and looked at them. I just take them apart and shred them, be done with it,” says “J”. “You're always recovering, and if you're not, you're going backwards."

There are surely success stories, but make no mistake, there is also failure in this arena.

A number of treatment techniques have been developed for pedophilia, for instance, though the success rate of those therapies has been very low.

Furniss says 90% of sex offenses are committed by just 10% of the offender population.

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