This has happened to me more than once at a party. It usually occurs right after I've told someone what I've done for a living. The whole procedure is what I like to call "The Gulp and Drift". You might recognize it, especially if you suffer from the same affliction considered in my last post. The Gulp and Drift occurs after you've traded names with a stranger, talked about the weather and the quality of the party, and then comes the obligatory "So what do you do?", which in my case is most often followed by an awkward silence, which is in turn followed by my new acquaintance exercising his right to take a healthy gulp out of his gin and tonic and drift to another corner of the party.
I don't blame people really. When someone blurts out "I treat sex offenders" in the middle of a group of normals, generally the response is to run for the exits or take out available weapons and/or medication and deal with it.
I once was on the witness stand during a probation revocation hearing and I was asked what my occupation was. And I said, "I am a certified sex offender...and then got a frog in my throat so that I had to cough in the middle of the answer, unable to croak out the rest...treatment provider." By then the damage had been done, damage in this case meaning both the defense and the prosecution, and yes, we might as well throw in the judge, had to take a moment to pick themselves up off the floor. Come to think of it, I didn't see the defendant sitting at the table anymore either. It may not be thought of as a particularly dignified profession.
But it is. I'm not here to defend sexual offenders. I'm here to defend their attempts to rehabilitate, especially teenagers. After forty years of thousands of different faces with similar stories, I may have a thing or two to say about the subject. Or write about. I am currently working on a couple of YA novels that deal with adolescent sex offenders and what we, as a society, are doing to them. Essentially ruining their retrievable lives is what we're doing, blasting them into pariah-hood for things most of us may have done more than once during our own adolescence. There was a time when talk about sex was forbidden and then there was a time when all we talked about was sex and now, it seems as though sex is a no-no again, especially with our precious adolescents who don't know anything about it. Right?
Parents, if you think your teenage children don't think, talk, participate in, or fantasize about sex on a regular basis, then you need a refresher course on your own years between 13 and 20. Come on now. We can't deny sex. It's there. We carry it around every day with us. We see it in other people. We see it on television. We read it. Oh no. Did I just say that? Can kids get hold of literature that talks about sex?
In seventh grade I went to the local Pay n Save store and purchased a paperback copy of Peyton Place. It was not enclosed in a cellophane wrapper; it was just sitting up there on the bookstand and I plucked it from its perch. I brought it home and started reading it. Voraciously. I spent so much time in one chair with the remaining parts of the book getting thinner and thinner in my hands, that my mother finally approached me and asked what it was that held my interest so well. I showed her the cover and then asked her please not to interrupt me because Rodney was just starting to get interested in his paramour. My mother, who was herself an avid reader, albeit of questionable novels, begged me to let her read it after I was finished. Peyton Place was a book that was banned fairly frequently in this country ( don't get me started on book banning), but apparently not in Longview, Washington when I was in seventh grade. I don't think it hurt me to read Peyton Place, although those of you who know me might want to chime in on that issue.
Where was I? Oh yes. Adolescent offenders. I guess my point is that this culture has enough trouble dealing with sex in general, but when you start talking about people who offend sexually, we tend to lose it pretty much completely. And maybe it should be that way with certain types of offenses/offenders. As an evaluator, I've never had much trouble making the decision that certain offenders need to spend time in prison for their offenses because they cannot be trusted out on their own. See, we're not that far apart in our thinking. But I think we shouldn't drag adolescent offenders in with the whole bunch of them just because it's easier to keep track of everybody at the same time. The truth is, adolescents have a very low re-offense rate. The vast majority of adolescents who offend sexually, do not repeat their crimes into adulthood. Adolescent sex offenses are often crimes of opportunity or of misdirected passion. Not all of them, but most.
It is a cultural disservice to lump adolescents in with all other types of offenders. It is a mistake to take away their rights to mature at their own rates and sucker punch them with circumstances such as lifelong probation or sex offender registration for the act of sexting a picture of another minor who happens to be nude or semi-nude. This happens in our country. Thinking that your children may be having oral sex as teenagers may not be something you are interested in hearing about, but I am almost certain it would get your attention if you discovered that your child could be prosecuted and placed on a sex offender list for indulging in the practice with his girlfriend who happens to be only one year younger. This is ludicrous, but this is happening.
Sex offenses are not murder. Folks can recover from being sexually offended. Murder victims obviously can't. It's because it's sex that gets us all worked up. Surely there's a middle ground somewhere on which we can have legitimate discussions about raising our children in this culture without having to worry about some legislator, fearful about losing his/her job, signing on to yet another draconian law that serves no other purpose than to help us feel that at least something is being accomplished in this interpersonal world that feels like it is running away with itself and leaving us in the lurch.
But if we must quibble on and on about sex, let's leave our adolescents out of the picture. They are adolescents for a reason. This is the time for them to learn how to grow up, not to have their lives stopped in mid-maturity, never to be the same. If this had been the case when I was an adolescent, I might not have made it this far without having suffered some serious repercussions.
I write realistic fiction that's marketed for adolescents. Sex is a big part of their reality. I do not think it's possible to write reasonable stories about and for adolescents without including this big part of their lives. I'm not going to come out and recommend Peyton Place to any 13 year-olds, but I probably don't have to. Adolescents today are just as crafty as we were back then.
I've learned though. At parties or other gatherings, when I'm asked what I do for a living, I simply say, "I'm a writer." People still Gulp and Drift, but that may be for different reasons than my occupation.