Oprah got so many of the dynamics of sexual offending right, but I need to begin by disagreeing with Oprah on her apparent belief that those who are in the sights of sex predators can always deflect those predators by being more confident and therefore less vulnerable.
There is no absolute protection which can be done by a child.
Sometimes vulnerability is in a child's unmet need for love and attention, but sometimes vulnerability is in being any child within the control or reach of someone willing to misuse that control or access. Some abusers will back off if their attempt is met with resistance or immunity to their lures, but others will double their efforts and may threaten the life of a child's parent if that child doesn't comply.
We are all vulnerable at times and in ways which are normal parts of life. We cannot protect children or adults by eliminating vulnerability. Going to sleep is a vulnerability which can be exploited by those willing to disregard others rights.
One of the men Oprah interviewed abused his daughter as she slept who he had recently been given custody of. She did tell her mother immediately and continued to be vulnerable only because of external circumstance including her father's successful lie that his daughter made up the abuse in an attempt to be returned to her mother.
Vulnerability can be caused by a child being where those who respond to allegations are quick to assume that disclosures of abuse are false or by living where the response system is ineffective for any reason.
The issue of vulnerability reminds me of a joke about 2 men being chased by a bear which ends with the punchline, "I don't have to be faster than the bear, I just have to be faster than you." If all we are addressing is the behavior of potential victims and their non-offending family members this is what is happening. It isn't enough if all we are teaching individual children to in effect be faster than other children.
The root problem is the number of people willing to exploit others sexually. Some of these people start young so we need to look at where children get their motivation to start thinking like abusers.
I applaud Oprah for making it clear that vulnerability or even having a child enjoy the attention of an abuser never equals that child being to blame for abuse or that abuse being non-harmful. She also made it clear to those men that what they did was just as wrong even if their victims got some physical or sexual pleasure.
Oprah's previous work supporting law enforcement efforts to monitor Internet child porn and use that information to try to rescue victims is a critical part of protection. If potential offenders see their intended behavior as likely to quickly have a negative outcome they may decide that the offense is not worth the risk no matter how vulnerable their desired victims are. But we are not close to having systems where most offenders believe they can't get away with their crimes.
Many abusers are sickened by the most stereotypical acts of sexual violence and we need to find a way to have all acts of sexual violence be just as repulsive. Part of this is for everyone to start seeing abuse done by coercion and manipulation as just as clearly wrong as abuse done with the aid of a gun. One way for this to happen is if people view coercion and manipulation as types of poisons injected into otherwise safe objects and activities.
I was glad that Oprah and the woman who worked with these sex offenders kept focusing on how these offenders premeditated their crimes and called these men on their minimizations whenever they described something as just happening. We all need to do this to those who are non-offenders when they dismiss certain sex crimes as accidents or less serious than other sex crimes. This minimization often happens when the person who exploits children or younger children is charged or convicted of a statutory offense.
These 4 men Oprah interviewed have admitted their guilt and have apparently been in sex offender treatment for multiple years yet I noticed a continuation of minimizing and rationalizing in much of what they said. This means that while this may be an unusually candid discussion, it cannot be considered an absolutely truthful discussion.
Rationalizations, minimization, shifting of responsibility and denial run deep. One of the main areas where this appeared was in response to Oprah's question of what would have stopped these men. They seemed to want to say that if their victims had responded differently they would have stopped, but I believe at most it would have caused them to shift their attention to a different target. These men might have responded by changing their strategy because the cause was in their mindset and the payoff they got from offending.
I believe that these men didn't feel what they were doing was truly harmful, but this belief was cultivated rather than being evidence based. This incorrect belief is supported by so much of what many people who are appalled by these men's actions continue to say about non-stranger sexual assaults and victims of non-stranger sexual assaults.
A key element of how many people talk which helps offenders is placing primary responsibility for preventing sexual violence onto victims.
Too often the person considering committing sexual violence is ignored or treated as if that person is acting naturally by exploiting others in certain situations. For each time we talk about what should be done to defend against violence, we need to talk as much about what should be done to reject committing violence.
Many people say that everyone understands that sexual violence is wrong, but from the number of known sex offenders including child molesters, this clearly is not true at a soul-deep level.
The introductions provided valuable insight about how these men differ from the stereotypes about child molesters.
Lee: First committed sexual harm when he was a child of between 10 and 12 against 3 children, then at 14 raped his girlfriend. He earned official label of sex offender many years later for his actions when he was around 63 or 65 against a 5 year old girl. After being caught, he offended again against another child.
I noticed that Lee talked about his girlfriend who he raped letting him commit offenses which is contradicted by his statement that this "letting" happened because he had control over her. Compliance is not the same as letting someone do something.
Darren: He first committed sexual harm by raping 2 teenage girls when he was in his early 20s but got away with those rapes. He entered this offender program because he sexually molested his 12 year old daughter. He seemed to blame his behavior on being in a dark place in his life yet many other men also feel lonely and unloved and would never fantasize about molesting their daughters let alone take actions to make those fantasies a reality.
It's so interesting that he described crossing the line as when he turned his attention to his daughter when he was by that time a 2 time rapist. His daughter reported his first criminal action against her to her mother and he falsely claimed that his daughter was making a false accusation.
Child protective services learned about the girl's disclosure and when she was interviewed at school she denied the truth. As I heard that part I wonder if where this girl was interviewed contributed to this girl feeling pressure to not disclose.
David: He molested girl relative who was 3 years younger beginning when he was around 8 until he was around 20 years old. His interaction was manipulative from the very beginning yet he tried to make it look like his interest was simple childish curiosity. He had never been molested and wanted to fit in with teenagers he knew. He used this younger relative's admiration for him as a weapon in his abuse of her.
Robert: Had 5 victims. His first victim was 12 when he was 18 and she liked him so he used that to manipulate her into being more vulnerable before he raped her. At one point he claimed that if his victims had told him no he would have stopped, but he was challenged by his counselor that he only let no deflect him at the very beginning of the process of offending which was likely at the victim selection stage.
Even though the full 2 hours of video are hard to watch I encourage those who are able to listen to these men's truths and to their deceptions.