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February 1, 2017

"Say no to restorative justice for sex offenders"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable commentary published in The Hill authored by Michael Dolce.  Here are some of the details:

The debate around the Senate’s possible confirmation of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, should kick start a national discussion on how colleges and universities handle sexual assault.  Recently, much of that conversation has revolved around “restorative justice,” programs that aim to respond to misconduct or crime by redressing the harm inflicted on victims and the community, rather than simply punishing offenders.

As a victim of childhood sexual abuse myself and an attorney who now represents sexual assault survivors every day, I can say without doubt that restorative justice is not only horribly insufficient for handling sexual abuse but, in many cases, actually serves to leave an offender free to offend again.

Whether as an alternative or a supplement to traditional discipline, restorative justice programs require offenders to make amends with victims — often with apologies and mediation — and participate in reformative programs like anger management or cultural sensitivity training, measures rarely imposed by the criminal justice system.  In an education setting, employing these programs for offenses like racial harassment and alcohol misuse have had some success, leading to understandable calls from some criminal justice reform advocates and college administrators to expand their use to college sexual misconduct cases.

It’s true that our colleges and universities routinely fail victims of sexual assault, as last year’s abhorrent handling of the Brock Turner case at Stanford University reminded us.  It’s also true, as the Chicago Tribune reported late last month, that the future of campus sex assault investigations under President Trump are “uncertain,” particularly since GOP convention platform calls for a reduced federal government role in investigations of campus sexual assault.

But, for several important reasons, restorative justice is not the answer for handling sex offenders. First, this method only works if offenders feel empathy when confronted with the impact of their misconduct.

According to prominent forensic psychology researchers Drs. Daryl Kroner and Adelle Forth, about half of convicted sex offenders exhibit psychopathology, meaning they are incapable of feeling remorse or empathizing with their victims. Sex offenders are often skilled at manipulating others into believing they are safe, which helps them gain their victims’ trust before attacking....

Second, advocates for restorative justice programs in this context often make the flawed assumption that sex offenders are similar to repeat offenders of other habitual offenses like drunk driving. But while underage drinking and alcohol abuse are certainly a common problem on university campuses, alcohol does not turn a college student into a sex offender. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, some offenders actually drink alcohol before committing sexual assault specifically to later justify their behavior. Relying on restorative justice to ‘treat’ this group would be a dangerous validation of their criminal deceit.

The third common argument – that schools might be safe relying on restorative justice methods in cases of sexual harassment that don’t involve physical assault – is risky at best. Those who sexually harass others are objectifying and dehumanizing their victims, behavior that is often a prelude to assaults....

The reality is that I believe the majority of sex offenders are largely incapable of empathy. Two-thirds of male sex offenders will re-offend if they are not treated and restrained as criminals. The consensus among mental health and criminal justice professionals is that most sex criminals cannot be reformed; they can only be monitored, controlled and contained.

These are people who look at the tears and agony on victims’ faces, show no mercy and then quickly move on to their next victim. Restorative justice can be a wonderful tool for certain types of offenses, but let’s not ask victims of sexual assault to suffer an even greater burden by making them take part in their attackers’ so-called “reformation.”

February 1, 2017 at 10:10 AM | Permalink


I have to commend this post. It discusses an important topic from a crime victim perspective.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 1, 2017 10:47:05 AM

He is a proponent of tough on crime and saying "no" is short sighted and counterintuitive. Restorative justice should play a role in sex offender cases. The case of Brock Turner in California demonstrates that victims often seek restorative justice from the criminal justice system, yet the criminal justice system as it is presently structured is simply a binary system of "guilty" or "not guilty." I use the victim in the Turner case because her victim impact statement was littered with "feelings" and how she wanted the perpetrator to make amends and understand what she went through. A trial, a guilty verdict and sentencing leaves little room for the victim and can often victimize them twice. Moreover, in the process, the offender is written off, marked as an outcast, and unable to reintegrate into society for life. Both sides lose. With restorative justice, so long as it is the victim's choice and it is with both parties consent, it can play a powerful and important role to fill the void that the current system presents.

Posted by: Farenheit451 | Feb 1, 2017 11:50:12 AM

"sex offenders exhibit psychopathology, meaning they are incapable of feeling remorse or empathizing with their victims. "

So, if you expierence psychopathology - anxiety, depression - you are incapable of empathy? Never mind the fact that research has shown that empathy has little to do with recidivism.

"The consensus among mental health and criminal justice professionals is that most sex criminals cannot be reformed; they can only be monitored, controlled and contained."

No, that's not the consensus. The evidence is that sex offenders have very low recidivism rates.

Posted by: justme | Feb 1, 2017 12:16:49 PM

I started to write a more lengthy reply but I realized I don't have the energy for it. Suffice it to say there is so much sheer nonsense in that article that it represents the raving on an mentally ill person. I'll touch on one point.

"The consensus among mental health and criminal justice professionals is that most sex criminals cannot be reformed; they can only be monitored, controlled and contained."

But if criminals cannot be reformed the only justification for punishment is incapacitation. Even retribution-based justifications fail because they are predicated on notions of human free will. And if the only possible justification is incapacitation the author fails to explain how monitoring and controlling criminals absent containment incapacitates them. That is to say the author oppose restorative justice because it does not incapacitate the offender but then supports other policies that don't incapacitate the offender either. Incoherent raving. That's all the man is doing is raving.

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 1, 2017 12:35:17 PM

I agree with Daniel, the article is sheer nonsense and actually offensive to sex offenders who have paid for their crimes and are trying to reintegrate back into society..

Every sex offense is different, every offender is different. Is the author of the article really so clueless as to believe that a a high school senior having sex with their high school junior girlfriend, is the same as a violent pedophile? They both get labeled "sex offender. Is someone who's caught skinny dipping or urinating in public the same as a violent child molester? Again, they are both labeled "sex offender" by the courts.

Non-violent, non-contact sex offenders are not psychopaths incapable of empathy. They are people who made a mistake and served their time.

I feel kind of sorry for the author of the article, sorry that they were abused by someone in their past, but also sorry that they have such little regard for those who have made mistakes in their lives and are now just trying to move on and do the right thing.

Posted by: kat | Feb 1, 2017 2:34:55 PM

The rapist of a succulent 14 year old girl, with big breasts, would love to see her again, and to get a chance to make friends with her. He just has to boohoo a little, and the $1000 paid psychologist will mediate.

The data supporting this quackery is so flawed as to make this practice, quackery.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 1, 2017 3:18:52 PM

Maybe the rapist and the big breasted 14 year old girl can hug each other at the end of each session.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 1, 2017 3:20:22 PM


Maybe my memory isn't what it used to be but my memory is that once upon a time you insisted that 14 years should be the age of consent. Now you are claiming they are being raped. So for clarification, which is it?

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 1, 2017 5:19:43 PM

By rape, I mean common law rape, where the person is punched in the face and a knife is held to her throat. I do not mean statutory rape, which is more lawyer denial of reality.

Now, for the benefit of the rapist, this girl is being made to sit in 3 hour sessions while he boohoos with phony tears to get out of jail, and to victimize hundreds of other people in his path.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 1, 2017 6:11:34 PM

If an 11 year old commits murder, they can be tried as an adult. But if someone touches the same 11 year old inappropriately, they are a child. So - which is it? Adult, or child? If the 11 year old is molested, and then murders someone, is the 11 year old a child or adult? I am advocating no particular argument, just giving food for thought.

Posted by: Oswaldo | Feb 1, 2017 7:53:58 PM

Oswaldo, welcome to the denier world of the lawyer.

The answer is, whichever will generate more fees for the lawyer.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 1, 2017 7:57:53 PM

One of the biggest problem with how our society addresses sex crimes is painting all defendants with the same brush. It is probably the single biggest problem, since it consistently results in minor offenders who do not represent a danger, and who did not harm anyone (such as people who agree to sex acts with a consenting girl age 16 or 17) being thrown to the wolves along with sociopathic pedophiles.

1. Michael Dolce is correct that many diagnosed pedophiles in the prison population are also sociopaths. There have been studies showing this. He says it is about half. Okay, then exclude that half from restorative justice, or exclude everyone convicted of the more serious/aggravated crimes. Problem solved.

2. His claim that "Two-thirds of male sex offenders will re-offend if they are not treated and restrained as criminals." is pulled out of his behind. It has nothing to do with reality. In the real world, recidivism rates are extraordinarily low, and there is no basis to claim that diversion will change that.

3. Criminals who fit under this: "tears and agony on victims’ faces, show no mercy and then quickly move on to their next victim", are a tiny minority of sex offenders. Under current laws, they would receive a life sentence, or at least decades of imprisonment. Even once they serve their time, they are very likely going to face SVP commitment for life anyway. No one would ever suggest that such people be eligible for "restorative justice".

Posted by: lawguy | Feb 2, 2017 7:13:53 AM

Take the best selected offenders, 80 year old people with low T, needing walkers, who cannot catch their prey. Find me a study with any scientific acceptability that shows any benefit from this method, except to make psychologists $1000 a case. This approach is just more lawyer rent seeking quackery.

I support allowing victims to beat their predators to death with baseball bats. I can prove that approach reduces the recidivism rate.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 2, 2017 8:23:24 AM

Ostensibly, he's looking to drum up business for his plaintiff's work. It would be nice if he didn't have to resort to so much distortion of social sciences in order to try to make his (as Daniel pointed out) incoherent points.

For instance, he (like many others) treats sex offenders as a homogeneous group of people when, as most anyone who knows anything about the subject readily apprehend, there is an extremely wide variation of offenders due largely to the rapid expansion of offenses which are registrable. He makes the point that half of all sex offenders are incapable of empathy, but the original research which he stakes that claim does not come to that conclusion and, furthermore, utilizes participants who are incarcerated for sexual and violent offenses -- making generalization problematic.

Posted by: Guy | Feb 2, 2017 9:20:46 AM

Just say NO to this lunatic. In every single study done everywhere over the past 40 years, recidivsm rates for those convicted of sex offenses are the lowest of any crime, except for homicide.

Whatever it is that happened to this person when they were young can never justify the hatred, prejudice and out right lies he employs to marginalize and demonize a group of people. His attitudes don't just harm the group he can't think rationally about: they harm the society itself.

Restorative justices works: retributive much less so, and at a high cost to society. But this demon doesn't even want retributive justice. He wants a mark on the person for life just like was done to another demonized group in the 1930s.

This is American insanity on a basic level, but it has spread to Canada and the other English-speaking nations. It is the canary in the coal mine of a society's ability to survive.

Posted by: Stephen Douglas | Feb 2, 2017 1:14:08 PM

That is a really terrible article. Factually and logically infirm. No idea why the hill would publish such tripe. Especially obnoxious is his use of the term "sex offender" when he appears to mean rapist.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Feb 2, 2017 3:33:11 PM

And then you have the rejected woman with vengeance in her heart, or the pretend grown-up that wants to play but not pay. There is also the child from broken relations that lies to get their way and courts with hysterical jury members that convict without evidence.

Posted by: LC in Texas | Feb 2, 2017 6:43:50 PM

I am fine with harsh punishment for sex offenders as long as it includes adulterous, skanky females. Put them in the stocks.

Posted by: citizen | Feb 3, 2017 10:36:41 PM

LC. Lying to a government official is a crime. The people you described should be prosecuted.

Of course, government officials lying to citizens is not a crime. The lawyers have dealt themselves yet another immunity.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 4, 2017 1:32:32 PM

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