Walk in My Shoes: Week 2

Hello friends!

Two Walk weeks down, four more to go! This week we received so much support from amazing partner organizations and sexual assault treatment centers throughout Sarasota, Bradenton, Naples and Fort Myers. I had powerful, moving and inspiring conversations with survivors, experts and advocates, and met a bunch of really cute kids at our Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum event and Easter egg hunt on Saturday.

However, the most thought-provoking and intense experience of the week was certainly my visit to the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC). Walking in as a survivor, I really wanted answers. I wanted to gain insight on how and why pedophiles offended against children in hopes of using that knowledge for prevention. And, to be completely honest, I was hoping to find some peace for myself and to better understand Waldy, my abuser, and why she felt compelled to shatter my innocence and manipulate the love I felt for her as a child.

I went into the FCCC and was greeted by Dr. Sawyer, the Facility Administrator, treatment staff and their legal team. I was given an overview of the facility and the types of offenders who are housed there – individuals who have served their prison term, but have been deemed too dangerous to return to society and have, under the Jimmy Ryce Act, been civilly committed to this center.

I was then given a tour and introduced to an offender who has undergone treatment at the FCCC and is in the process of getting clearance to be released, something only 40 other men have ever done. Unfortunately, I was not able to ask all the questions I wanted to about this man’s background. Instead, I was limited to questions about the FCCC’s treatment program.

In visiting the FCCC, I was struck yet again by the fact that the offenders in this center and pedophiles at large often don’t look creepy or dangerous. Most offenders contradict the image that many people have of sex offenders – they are well put-together people and come from all social classes and cultures.  90% of kids who have been abused suffered at the hands of someone they know, love and trust. Many of these offenders are moms, dads, coaches and neighbors.

Though I wasn’t able to ask questions about grooming or this offender’s past, I was surprised at how well the pedophile I spoke with was able to articulate his plan to stay away from kids and keep from offending again. When we interviewed an inmate at Wakulla Correctional for Intimate Crimes, our educational TV program, we asked the offender what would keep him from abusing another child. His answer? God would stop him.

The doctors at the FCCC said that pedophilia has no cure. There is no way to completely eradicate this horrific deviance. However, the offender I spoke with at FCCC gave clear answers as to what his “risk factors” are and how he can mediate them – he has a plan and a support system, and I think he truly is much less likely to offend again than the Wakulla inmate. Clearly, the man I spoke with is able to identify certain behaviors he couldn’t before.

My interview visit to the FCCC taught me that the work the center does is very important. Many people wish they could take these offenders and leave them on a deserted island away from the general population, but in reality, these individuals will serve their time and they will be released back into society. According to the Center for Sex Offender Management, approximately 150,000 adult sex offenders are currently in state and federal prisons throughout the United States. Between 10,000 and 20,000 are released to the community each year. It is crucial we have a plan.

Survivor Note: After visiting the FCCC, I began to have nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks and have had to get in contact with my therapist from the road. Healing from child sex abuse is a life-long process and it’s one that you cannot go through alone. As I have been reminded since my visit to the FCCC, being a survivor of child sexual abuse sometimes means taking five steps forward and being pushed three steps back…that’s why it’s critical to have a good therapist and a good support system to stay healthy and live as a thriving survivor. Do you need someone to help you heal from abuse? Find your local sexual assault treatment center here: https://www.fcasv.org/information/find-your-local-center