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Needed: Resources for Restoring the Repentant Rapist

Needed: Resources for Restoring the Repentant Rapist

by Lieutenant Commander Dave Peterson

Needed: Resources for Restoring the Repentant Rapist

The young man sat across from me, crying with his head in his hands. "I didn’t mean for it to happen. We just went out for some drinks. I talked her into coming back to my barracks room. . . . I know it was wrong, but I never meant to wake up this morning as a rapist."

 The Problem

According to the FY19 DoD Annual Report on Sexual Assault (the sole source for all my statistics), 7,825 reports of sexual assault were made from October 1, 2018, to September 30, 2019. Of those, 2,126 were restricted.

For those not familiar with military sexual assault reporting protocols, restricted reports are made so the victim is able to receive care and services without an investigation or review by any authorities. Of the 5,699 cases of unrestricted reports, 62% of the allegations were a service member being accused by another service member, and 19% were a non-service member accusing a service member. In an additional 16% of the reports, the offender was not identified.

Over the last ten years, 59% of sexual assaults were considered service member to service member, and the last five years have seen 19% of the reports from non-service member victims with service members as the alleged perpetrators (down from 29% in 2010, 27% in 2011, and 22–21% in 2012–2013).

Of these cases, 3,716 were considered for possible administrative action. Seven hundred ten cases were dispositioned as non-sexual assault offences. In the 1,629 cases where sexual assault charges were pursued, 795 were preferred to court-martial (presided over by a judge with rules of evidence applying) and 360 appeared before a nonjudicial punishment (presided over by the unit commander, determined by a preponderance of evidence). Two hundred twelve administrative discharges occurred without either court-marital or NPJ proceedings, and 262 received "adverse administration action." And this is only for one fiscal year and only for the cases that were reported.

As a former member of a Navy Military Sexual Assault Case Management Meeting (SACMG), I know that each one of these cases is tracked by the commanding officer of the base or aircraft carrier from the report to its disposition. These meetings are by their nature victim-centric, with the victim advocate, victim legal defense counsel, and the sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) representing and advocating for the victim. An NCIS officer, clinical psychologist, and chaplain round out the committee. The alleged offender is not represented at all.

According to the FY19 report, the average case disposition is 4.3 months, with some taking as long as18 months (longest I have ever personally seen). During the process, there is no overseeing of the care for the alleged offender. Typically, these young men are referred to substance abuse counseling prior to their discharge, as alcohol reportedly is involved in the majority of military on military sexual abuse cases (although that correlation is not tracked in the DoD report).

Military chaplains have the unique experience of knowing and caring for both victim and perpetrator. We can put faces and names on these statistics. We typically spend most of our time counseling the victim. Most commands’ protocols for sexual assault response offer chaplain services to the victim. When we do deal with the offender, it is typically for a short period of time until the case is settled and the member is discharged, punished, or transferred.

Our relationship with the victims can last much longer. We often find ourselves advocating for the victim. In my conversations with my colleagues, we seldom find ourselves advocating for an alleged offender. While 36% of these sexual assault reports do not have legal action taken (77% due to insufficient evidence), only 50 of the 3,716 were found to be unfounded reports.

The Need

This article is the result of a conversation I had with leadership of the Fallen Soldiers March at the 2019 ACBC convention. They asked the question, "As a chaplain, what resources or problems do you see that veterans may need that they are not receiving now?"

I immediately thought of the young man in my office who was guilty of rape and facing a court martial (and eventual discharge—plea deal resulting in OTH). His life was forever changed.

My answer was "resources to work toward redemption and renewal with sex offenders."

They responded, "Wow, that is going to be a tough one. If we are going to show the love of Christ to everyone, that includes the rapist."

They were right. Over one year (and one missed deadline) later, I still haven’t found many such resources. There are not any life-line mini-books titled Help! I Woke Up This Morning a Rapist.

Biblical counselors I polled commonly referred me to Warren Lamb’s Behind the Veil or Chris Moles’s The Heart of Domestic Abuse, both of which dissect the problem of domestic violence perpetrators and the road to redemption and renewal. But this doesn’t cover the majority of the military sexual assault cases; in fact, domestic rape isn’t included in the DoD report I am using. Those incidents are covered by the Family Advocacy Program (212 of the 274 offenders were service members in these cases, according to Appendix G: Domestic Abuse-Related Sexual Assault).

Others recommended William Hines’s Leaving Yesterday Behind or At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry by Steve Gallagher. Again, great resources, but not contending directly with the act of rape, repentance, redemption, and living with the label and characterization of discharge.

The most relevant resource I have found to date is Putting Your Past in Its Place by Stephen Viars, an excellent book on freedom and forgiveness. It provides a section on handling the guilty past and discusses David’s sin with Bathsheba (a rabbit trail of several hours investigating whether this was rape or not was interesting but inconclusive). It also addresses sexual infidelity involving "immoral and illegal contact" arranged on the Internet. But even this did not deal directly with walking with someone through redemption and restoration after they are convicted of rape.

As I pursued further research, I began to call area pastors to ask what procedures they had to help restore a person convicted of a sexual offense. Every single one of them (11 in my small sample of varying Christian denominations) began with the restrictions that would be placed on the member, usually starting with "no access to children." As a reminder, all these offenders and victims were adults. But I found that every church’s response to any kind of sexual offense is to automatically classify them as "pedophiles" in their response.

This type of response is reflective of national attitudes. In a phone conversation with Dr. Harry Morgan, a teaching elder at Faith Bible Church and the director of the Biblical Counseling Center in Bradenton, Florida, he referred to the sexual offender as a "modern day leper." This led him to establish the Sex Offender Sanctuary to provide a place for these "lepers" to live and receive skills training, along with counseling and Christian discipleship support. Although not a certified biblical counselor, Dr. Morgan studied under Jay Adams at Westminster while a psychology student at Princeton. A licensed neuro-psychiatrist who works primarily with male sexual offenders, he has noted that most churches tend to lump all sexual offences into one category and do not distinguish between offender and predator. This is mainly due to financial and insurance considerations.

It is tough. As the father of a daughter and a chaplain who has sat across from countless victims whose lives have been turned upside down, it is difficult for me at times to show empathy or compassion for the offender until I remember what Christ has delivered me from and has forgiven me for. The realization that, much as the victim is not identified by what has happened to her, I should not identify the offender by what they have done. I have been challenged frequently in this regard.

It is important to note that the desire for the restoration and redemption of sexual offenders in no way is meant to diminish the suffering of their victims. It is not meant to cause victims additional pain but to restore the once guilty into the forgiveness of Christ. It is to change their heart, to change their desires as they now march to the cadence of the Holy Spirit.

In lieu of a dedicated program for sexual offenders, I found the Unbound curriculum by the Truth in Love Biblical Counseling Center an excellent place to begin the restoration process. It can help break down the heart of offenders, exposing their deepest desires, re-centering them on the glory of the Almighty God, and helping them place their hope in Christ and work toward daily abiding in Him.

There Is Hope

Biblical counselors are needed who can provide biblically sound principles to restore and redeem these fallen soldiers and churches that are willing to support them in this journey. I pray that God will continue this good work that the Fallen Soldiers March has begun. If you are a church that would like to partner with the FSM, or a biblical counselor who has the heart to serve, you are needed.

If you are veteran struggling with past sexual sins that you committed on another person, forgiveness and assistance is available. Freedom is available in Christ.

. . . . .
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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 8th, 2020 at 9:53 am and is filed under Newsletter. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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