Listening to Rapists, as a Counselor

I just listened to two men disclose the details of their sex offenses—rapings of minor girls. I feel jittery—my blood is buzzing even now, sitting in a bar before a comedy open mic.

What is there to say? What insight do I have as a result of this?

My fingers gripped my other fingers in my lap and twirled my ring during their readings. By my own doing, I turned my skin white. The pressure kept me calm enough to stay seated, my only duty as a counselor in those moments—not to run out of the room or scream.

The humanity of it all and how far we fall… These men had remorse. They hurt. They wonder why. One—who didn’t even disclose tonight—cried, talking about how frustrated he is not understanding why he did what he did. Others reminded him that he’s new to treatment and that he’s here to learn. But later one of those same group members expressed that he didn’t know what motivated him to take the actions he did or what had “clicked” in him as he put it.

After working six months with these men, I thought I had become desensitized to what they’ve done. Every week, they check into group therapy by stating their charge and then describing it in plain terms. I hear it from their lips every week.

So what makes disclosure statements different? They give a voice to their victims; they leave a crack—through which we remember them—though we work with the sex offenders (SO’s).

But it’s more than being triggered with rage for victims. It’s different from my one self-destructive night back in November after I read one of their case files in full for the first time.

It’s them—the offenders—they’ve gotten to me. Their humanity and shame and the divide they stand in now after the irreparable damage they’ve caused.

They’ve considered suicide. None need to explain why.

Nothing can be fixed. Only forward motion.

They encouraged each other to forgive themselves—and each time that idea was rejected by the one receiving the advice. “How could I possibly?”

And it’s just that kind of situation, isn’t it?

About the sexual crimes: “How could you possibly?”

About moving on: “How could you possibly?” And yet, that’s what needs to be done.

I’ve recently adopted the idea of “Always Forward Motion” in my life, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant or messy. Progress. Ever better. Moving on. Again and again. Onward.

Until tonight I hadn’t thought about my SO clients and how this must apply to them as well.

It’s not that I’ve been self-centered or self-serving. Just self-improving.

But this is what the least of us (are SO’s the least of us? I don’t know; society might think so) do as well. Right?

If society—if (hu)man—is to improve, then all of us despite our pasts must keep going—always forward motion. Improvement. Not matter from how far away we’re starting.

So I find myself wanting the best for my clients. Not because I’m on their sides. Not because I have more compassion for them than I do the victims. But because I believe we are all and only human.

I don’t feel good hearing the details of their sex offenses. Tears sting behind my eyes even now hours later, threatening to ruin my comedy set tonight.

But details don’t change what I already knew. They don’t even bring clarity.

These men are flawed—and perhaps they’ve done something in their past worse than anything you’ll ever do—but aren’t we all? Aren’t we all flawed?

Maybe “always forward motion” begins with confession, guilt, and what reparations/amends can be made. But it begins.

And we all have to begin somewhere to move forward.



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