Best Practices for Sex Offenders Reentering Society

“Does a guy who committed a sex offense have no place to live for the rest of his life? What should he do now?”

Those questions, taken from an email I recently received, are just one of many challenges community leaders are grappling with nowadays as awareness about child safety is (thankfully) growing. Here are some others:

  • Should registered sex offenders be permitted to enter synagogues? And if so, under what conditions?
  • What about people who pled guilty to child abuse charges, but were not given the status of sex offenders as part of their plea deal?
  • Is it ethical for people to “chase” sex offenders away from their neighborhood by making things very uncomfortable for them? Isn’t this just passing the problem along – often to unsuspecting communities?
  • These issues need to be addressed and we will be well served by having respectful discussions of these highly-charged topics in our public squares.

    In these lines, I would like to address the “What should he do now?” matter, as this question is often posed to those of us who advocate for abuse victims and who use social media to warn parents of the danger sex offenders pose to their children.

    Worded differently; if a (suffering) family member or close friend of a registered sex offender, who was recently released from jail after serving his time, came to you for advice on how to guide this individual as he reenters society, what would you tell him?

    In our time-honored practice of answering a question with a question, permit me to ask: What do you thing the best course of action would be for drivers who are pulled over by a traffic cop for speeding?

    I imagine you advise them to:

    1. Forget their own frustration and think about the mindset of the officer who has a heightened level of anxiety when approaching their automobile. Be mindful that any moves they make to reduce that tension level will help diffuse things and increase the likelihood that they will get off with a warning or a less painful consequence.
    2. Pull over to a safe place. If they stop in a spot with limited visibility or right at the edge of traffic; the officer will be exposed to a greater level of danger exiting the squad car. Pulling over well into the shoulder of the road send a clear message to the officer that this will, in all likelihood be an easy road stop.
    3. Don’t make any sudden moves, and be sure to show both hands. Don’t even think of reaching for a wallet in the glove compartment, for that will certainly have the officer very worried that they are reaching for a weapon. Elbows on the steering wheel with both hands raised and fingers open is the way to go.

    That is the picture I paint to the loved ones of sex offenders:

    1. Help your relative or friend understand the fears his presence will generate and explain to him that the quality of his life moving forward will directly depend on how well he can lower the anxiety level of the parents who are terrified of what his presence means for the safety of their kids.
    2. See that he goes for ongoing therapy with credentialed mental health professionals who specialize in this field. Many sex offenders have a total disconnect and genuinely believe that they haven’t harmed their victims. As a high-level corrections officer at a maximum-security prison that houses serial sex offenders once told me, “I supervise 580 innocent people.”
    3. See that he stays far away from children. In New York State, registered sex offenders are forbidden to live within 1,000 feet of a school. Find him a place to live where there are few if any children. There are neighborhoods like that – usually places that were popular for young couples 40-50 years ago. Encourage him to daven/pray at home or at a senior facility even if the local synagogue doesn’t ban him from attending.
    4. “Show your hands.” Take a bold step and accompany him to a meeting with local rabbis and educators. Let them set up rules of engagement with him – and do your very best to see to it that he follows them.

    These are just general suggestions, and I encourage mental health professionals and experts who work in this space to share their ideas for best practices with the public at large.

    Over the past decade or so, we’ve made great progress in child safety education and in raising awareness about the danger of child abuse. Respectful, public discussion about establishing norms and boundaries for sex offenders reentering our communities will be an addition step forward in our efforts to keep our children and grandchildren safe and secure.

    About the Author
    Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Founding Dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey and Director of The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES, is a innovative educator, author, and child safety advocate. He published child safety books that are in 80,000 homes in three languages as well as beginner Gemara/Talmud & Chumash/Bible workbooks. Rabbi Horowitz conducts child abuse prevention and parenting workshops in Jewish communities around the world and received the prestigious 2008 Covenant Award in recognition of his contribution to Jewish education.
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