Ethics and Redemption – Do Sexual Abusers Deserve a Second Chance?

January 13, 2011

From time to time I open my blog for guests who have unique insights related to ethics and choices.  I am proud to feature an interesting and perhaps controversial entry by a dear friend and colleague – Mary Auda.  Mary helped me in writing my new book “Second Chances.”  She is a skilled writer and pulled from me many emotional ties that made “Second Chances” really connect with readers.  For her help I am truly grateful.  Here, Mary is opening up herself and sharing not only an interesting perspective but a part of herself as well…as Mary has been a victim of child sexual abuse.  I am proud of what she has done to find healing in her life and know that her comments below will open debate around a very sensitive subject.

“Mary, I want to apply as a lay counselor in the counseling ministries,” George said.

I was a bit surprised.  I didn’t know George very well other than he had spent time in prison.  “That is great,” I replied.   I am one who believes we all deserve second chances in life.  I’ve often said when judgment would arise “There by the grace of God go I”.  None of us are perfect.  If you believe in sin, then sin is sin.  There are no degrees of sin.

“You may think differently after I share my story,” George said.  After taking a deep breath he continued “I went to prison because I sexually abused my two daughters.”

I took a moment to breathe to center.  Hearing his words touched my pain deep inside as I had been sexually abused as a child by my father.  I knew it was important for me to hear his story.  I had only just begun dealing with my issues and really had no desire to hear his story.  For some reason unknown to me, I said “Tell me about it.”  I didn’t mean to say those words.  What I wanted to say is “You need to leave and have no right to even speak with me about it.”

He proceeded to tell me about the events leading up to his incarceration.  He shared why he sexually abused his children, how he felt about what he did and the time spent in prison.  He demonstrated a lot of remorse, sadness and shame.

“Are you feeling remorseful because you were caught and had to go to prison or are you feeling remorseful because of the pain you inflicted upon your daughter?” I asked.  I needed to know.

“I loved my daughters and can’t believe that I sexually abused them.  I rationalized it that I was teaching them about sex.  It was my sick mind.  They did nothing wrong.  I was wrong,” he replied.  There were tears in his eyes.

I felt a myriad of things: compassion, anger, hurt, confusion.  For me personally I wanted to appear that I was not affected by my experience of being sexually abused.  Somehow I thought that made me stronger when in reality it was simply a layer of protection. I was quiet.  George alternately looked down at his hands and up at me.  I finally willed myself to speak.

“George,” I said, you served your time.  Because of the nature of your crime, I need the Counseling Center Board approval and the Elder Board approval.”  Although I was the Executive Director of the Counseling Center, certain decisions needed board input.

George said, “I want to help people.  I want this to have some meaning greater than the sexual abuse of my daughters.  I want to help people because I hurt people.”

“I understand,” I replied.  “I will get back with you and let you know.  By the way, thank you for sharing your story.  That took a lot of courage.  I will let you know what the boards say.”

George walked out of my office that day.  I sat for a while staring out the window.  I was feeling a little sick to my stomach because sexual abuse is a major issue for me.  I didn’t share with him my story.  I was angry with him for what he did to his daughters knowing that they had a lifetime of dealing with the effects of having been raped by their father – the one man in their life with whom they should feel safe.  I was also still in a lot of denial about the extent of the effects of my being sexually abused by my father.

I didn’t know if he should be trusted in a counseling situation.  I really believed, and still believe that redemption and mercy are available to everyone regardless of their choices.  I believe that all people are divine expressions of God and that their choices, no matter how heinous, should not define them.  I am not saying there are no consequences, there are certainly consequences and we all must experience the consequences of our choices.

Now I was being challenged in a way that affected me deep within my soul.  Could I accept George as a child of God who sexually abused his children?  Is he not as valuable as anyone else?  After much mulling it in my head and heart, I picked up the phone and initiated the process for review by the board.

There would be much debate by the boards.  Some were clearly on the side of forgiveness and he should be allowed to participate in the counseling ministry of the church in some capacity.  Others were clearly on the side of once a rapist, always a rapist and he can’t be trusted in such a capacity.  Still others were concerned only about how it would be perceived if we allowed a convicted child molester to counsel.  Would we lose credibility and would some people leave the church?  I suggested that perhaps we could limit his ministry to men only and he be subjected to intense supervision by the licensed therapists.

Eventually it was decided that he could not be active in the church counseling ministry, consequences still were active with respect to the choices George had made.  In this case, because he was caught, prosecuted, convicted and open and honest about the nature of his crime, the boards made a decision that he could not participate as a lay counselor.  Had he not had a conviction and been honest, the decision may have been different.

I told George the board decisions.  He was sad.  He had hoped to make a difference in this world and just not leave a legacy of pain.  I told him that there were consequences to every choice we make and this was just part of the consequence.

“I understand the decision.  I served my time,” he said. “Is there ever an opportunity that I might be given a second chance to show the world that I am not a demon?”

It was a fair question.   I shared with him at that moment my story.  We talked about his daughters never being able to get back what they lost physically, emotionally, spiritually and would never have a healthy relationship with their father.  He understood and once again expressed deep remorse.

Many years have passed and George and I are not in contact.  I’ve spent 57 years either being abused or healing from the abuse.    I’ve gone from all sexual abusers ought to be put to death to a better understanding and openness to forgiveness.  I thought about George the other night and the question that arose is – do sexual abusers deserve a second chance or is it unethical, because of the nature of their crime, to give them a second chance?  Does the crime define whether he should be given a second chance?  Perhaps he doesn’t get to work with children but why not be able to work with men?

I know the long term effects of being sexually abused.  I’ve lived them.  I know I can never go back to regain the life I could have had had I not been sexually abused.  I also know through choosing to move out of my prison of victimization, that I get a second chance to have a fulfilling life now.  To live totally free means that I choose to not hold onto bitterness and resentment.  Perhaps by giving this man a second chance it assists in changing his daughter’s experience.  Perhaps by giving this man a second chance it can help other men who are abusers to stop and get help even if it means jail time.  Perhaps his second chance will help heal the world.

I thank Mary for her openness and boldness in sharing this story and posing this interesting question regarding SECOND CHANCES.  As I read this I had an interesting question myself – and that relates to how one’s SECOND CHANCE manifests.  Perhaps George has found his “Second Chance” but not in the manner that he was initially seeking.  Perhaps, we try to define how, where or when we get our “Second Chance” when, in fact, in divine order our “Second Chance” may come in ways we least expect and in manners that provide greater meaning.  What do you think?  Should some people ever be given a “Second Chance”?



Chuck Gallagher is the author of the new book SECOND CHANCES: Transforming Adversity into Opportunity.  The book – SECOND CHANCES – carries you on a journey that is transformative, inspirational and opens the door to exploring life changing choices that through determination can create the Opportunity you need to enjoy the Success you desire!

This book, called an “Inspirational self-help masterpiece” was written over the scope of many years and through the experience of many hard lessons learned.  I hope that through  this book, you too, may uncover the keys to unlock your prison and find a happier life. You have the power to unlock those chains that bind you and turn adversity into opportunity. You have the power of choice.