Part I: Introduction
I had the opportunity to share my story recently as a speaker at a Restorative Justice conference. It was the first time outside of treatment that I’ve shared this much of my story and the first time sharing it with an audience in a safe but public environment. By all accounts, it was well received, so I thought perhaps others might benefit from hearing it.
It is the personal struggle of my family and me in and through the pain of darkness and abuse out the other side into the sunshine of love and forgiveness. It is the story of abusers, victims, and, most importantly, those who triumphed over it all.
I hope that it brings encouragement to a long-suffering community of registered citizens, their family and friends, and all those who struggle alongside us in one of the most under-appreciated civil rights movements in modern-time.
In order to protect myself and my family, both past and present, the name Joe Smith is a pseudonym.
I’m Joe Smith, and I’m a child rapist.
This statement was the state’s idea of what was needed for restorative justice. It was not what was needed by those who needed restoring the most – my family, especially my stepdaughter, and myself.
I’m a child rapist; this is what offenders had to stand up and say in front of their spouses and other group members weekly while attending group therapy sessions mandated by the state and child protective services (CPS), and neither the introductory statement nor attendance were optional. If you wanted to reunite your family, you had to attend, introduce yourself this way, and comply with a host of other requirements. Proclaiming I’m a child rapist over and over is not restorative. It is rather the epitome of shame and labeling.
I am many things. I wear many labels; foremost among them is “convicted sex offender” and “pedophile.” I was originally clinically diagnosed with pedophilia, but after several years of real and honest treatment, I was assessed again using the Abel Test and certified free from all inappropriate predilections. Unfortunately, the label remains. In today’s vernacular or conversation, it seems “pedophile” is used as a descriptor or label for almost everyone convicted or accused of a sexual offense, whether or not a minor was involved. It’s used as a derogatory statement meant to isolate, push people away, and belittle. I have thick skin and don’t pay it much attention, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt.
I am so much more than just those labels:
- I’m a retired Navy chief petty officer with 20 years of honorable service;
- I’m a college graduate with an associate in finance, a bachelors in business management, and currently working on an MBA;
- At work, I’m a director of product operations with a six-figure income (I mention my income not to brag but rather to offer hope that financial success is possible);
- I’m a husband to a wife of almost 30 years;
- I’m a father to a son and stepfather to a daughter;
- I’m a grandfather to my daughter’s two children, my grandchildren;
- I’m the son of a sexual abuser, my father;
- I’m the brother of a sexual abuser sister and a sexual abuser brother;
- I’m the child of an untreated, closeted, incestuous family with a taboo upbringing;
- And lastly, I’m a sexual abuse survivor as well as a sexual abuser.