Serial criminal offenders often put their behavior in a context that is “special or unique.” They deny, blame, and minimize what they’ve done. They try to seduce the listener (attorney, judge, counselor) into believing that they are blameless or less culpable than those “other guys.” Unfortunately, criminal offenders who don’t fit the stereotype of serial drunk drivers, domestic batterers, child molesters, and rapists are often dismissed as just another criminal who is denying, blaming, and minimizing. Each has committed a criminal act. Yet, the cause of the act, public risk factors and amenability for rehabilitation can be distinctly different for each person. Men who are on the margins — not serial offenders — find themselves trying to navigate the criminal justice system without a map: trapped in gender biases, confirmation biases, or just the process itself. It’s not easy.
Voices of the Accused
- Yes. I made a mistake and drove drunk, but I’m not an alcoholic or serial drunk driver who’s been finally caught. No. I’m not in denial. I’m just trying to tell you who I am.
- I know I shouldn’t have pushed my wife, and I never intended for her to fall and fracture her wrist. No. I’ve never laid a hand on her before. And no, I’m not a verbally abusive and controlling guy. Yes. I know that’s what all batterers say. I was wrong. Although I can explain the extreme circumstances we were in, I should have never pushed her, period. I feel awful about hurting her. Believe me—I’m not a batterer.
- I know I shouldn’t look at Child Sexually Abusive Material (CSAM) on the internet, but, I’m not a pedophile. I don’t pose a public risk for abusing children. I know —intellectually—that children are abused in the child porn industry. But I wasn’t thinking about that. I’m really a long-time porn addict who was chasing a high and looking for something different. Punish me for that, but don’t put me in prison thinking you caught a child molester. I need help but I’ve been so ashamed of myself, I’ve hidden, rather than seek the help I need. Now, I can’t hide anymore.
- Yes, I left a mark on my child’s arm and the teacher needed to report it when she saw it. But, I’m not a child abuser. I don’t even spank my kids. I was merely on the phone and couldn’t hear the conversation because he was screaming and running through the house. I tried to give him sign language to quiet down, but I think he knew I couldn’t “do anything” at the moment. He was right—based on my past behavior—I won’t use physical force. Well, in my frustration and powerlessness, I made a mistake and showed him I could “do something”. I grabbed him by the arm, he pulled away, and I grabbed and pulled harder. This is truly the first time. I’m not a habitual child abuser who is minimizing and denying.
- I know I was sexting and happened to connect with an underage girl. That was wrong, but, really, I was never planning to meet up with her. Yes, I know other guys do sext to actually meet up, but I’ve had this sexting problem for a long time and have never met up with anyone. The actual thought of meeting up with someone is frightening. I’m not the guy who preys on underage children and you just happened to catch me before I had another chance. I have a life-long, fantasy-based sex addiction. I know I need help for that but I’m not a rapist or child molester.
- For years, I’ve been silently dealing with the shame of being an abused man. What kind of man allows and puts up with being yelled at, hit, and ridiculed by his intimate partner? And does a real man call for help or just deal with these things on his own? I believed it was my fault, and I needed to just be a better husband, better breadwinner, better lover, just better overall and the abuse would stop…but, it didn’t stop, and I finally snapped. I’m not a batterer who has been abusing for years and now my victim is fighting back. It’s the other way around. I know that’s what all batterers say, but please see me, hear me.
Navigating the System
I’ve provided evaluation, consultation, and counseling for men in the criminal justice system since 1992. In that time, I’ve seen thousands of men with stories such as these — men in the margins — traverse the unwieldy process of being herded through systems, statues, and sentencing and probationary protocols. If you’re one of those guys, you know how difficult it can be to be heard or seen for who you really are — a man who made a mistake — because your “story” is written by the criminal behaviors and character of the men who came before you.
Fortunately, we are finally moving in a direction—at least some jurisdictions and courts—where we’re looking at restoring and rehabilitating individuals while maintaining public safety, rather than herding them through archaic and biased court processes designed for restitution and punishment, but missing the opportunity for rehabilitation. This is a much-needed and long overdue move. Still, old habits and ideas take time to change. Prosecutors, judges, probation officers, and even attorneys need good and current education on criminal and psychological profiling, recidivism risks, prognosis for rehabilitation, and other important variables in order to effectively and fairly process a case. Until everyone is up to speed, here are things you and your attorney can do to get your story heard:
- Know the facts – explain psychological and relational dynamics, elucidate scope, severity, and risk.
- Offer a prognosis on rehabilitation and relative risks for recidivism and public safety.
- If you are one of the men in the margins, a sound and reliable risk and typology assessment can be very helpful. It can educate prosecutors in exacting appropriate charges and educate judges on sentencing when guidelines provide judicious discernment.
- It can be lonely and despairing when faced with the criminal justice or child protection process. You don’t want to crack under the stress and jeopardize your case. Gather a team of support around yourself (minister, spouse/partner, counselor) and treat yourself with kindness and care.
As you navigate the criminal justice system, take time to set yourself up for a better future. Recognize the severity of the mistake you’ve made and consider it a “good” thing that you were stopped. In other words, you may not be a batterer, an alcoholic, a child abuser, or rapist, but you did cross a line, broke the law, and caused harm to others or put yourself at risk of doing so. Now is the time to seek treatment for the underlying causes of your behavior. Learn why this happened and get your life on track. This could very well be the opportunity you need to change your life.
Contact the Men’s Resource Center for more resources about the criminal justice system and to begin the process of moving your life away from the margins.