Why person-first language is right for those with sexual crime convictions

By Sandy . . . Earlier this year the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board made the decision to adopt person-first language and change the nomenclature with which their clients are identified from “sex-offender” to “adults who commit sexual offenses.”

Person-first language has value. It does away with the long-known dangerous practice of labeling people, and especially labeling them with what we don’t want them to be. It acknowledges that, while the person committed an offense, he or she is still a person, and that people can and should and do change and move beyond their pasts.

Person-first language recognizes that people are not their crimes, but rather that people commit crimes. And above all, it gives those who have committed crimes, are repentant, and have changed or want to change a way of looking at and feeling about themselves that is correlated with a reduction in criminal behavior.

The COSOMB, as long ago as 2017, recognized the value of person-first language (p.25) and expressed a commitment to it. What has happened to that commitment?

Person-first language is the first stepping stone in accomplishing a goal that is shared by those on both sides of what has become a very divisive controversy, the goal of improving safety for ourselves and, most especially, for our children.

The extreme irony is that those who have the most to benefit from this, those who plead that victims be put first, are driving the destructive controversy and opposition that have arisen around the issue.

And for now, they have won. Just as they seem to want to be known forever as victims, they have assured that those who made them victims are known forever as victimizers. It has become a game of tit for tat.

Due largely to comments and pressure from these “victims’ advocates,” Governor Jared Polis has pressured the CSOMB to reverse its stance on the change in language. The issue has been tabled; it may come up again, but it is highly unlikely to do so anytime soon.

And those who are claiming victory are not seeing what they stand to lose.

Will not those who have been victims and especially those who might be in the future benefit if something positive can be done to help lower this risk?

The CSOMB’s practice of calling those they serve “sex offenders” when the vast majority, according to their own  report, are no longer offending could well serve to keep those with prior sexual convictions from the rehabilitation and successful reentry they purport to offer.

It is difficult to conceive of anything more antithetical to rehabilitation and reentry than a system which labels those it treats with a term that evokes fear, danger, and negativity; that discourages individualism but rather covers everyone, umbrella fashion, as if they were all the same; and that conveys present and future action, as though they are now and always will be sex offenders.

Virtually everybody convicted of a sexual crime and given a prison sentence will be returning to society at a future date. How do we want them returned? Do we want them thinking themselves worthless and incapable of change? Do we want them believing that they are indeed “sex offenders” and criminals and might as well behave as such?

Or would we prefer that they see themselves as those who committed crimes, served their punishment, are sorrowful for the harm they caused, but are capable and worthy of taking their places in a law-abiding society?

The answer to this should be obvious.

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7 Thoughts to “Why person-first language is right for those with sexual crime convictions”

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  1. Maestro

    I have a couple of issues with this “person first” language: “Adults who commit sex offenses”…
    Adults aren’t the only human beings that commit sexual offenses. And I don’t care what anyone says about “ignorance of the law”, let’s be realistic and admit that not everyone knows every law and more importantly, TEENAGERS don’t know what sex offense laws are. They’ve been brainwashed to believe that a sex offense can only be committed by an adult against them. They never imagine that they, themselves, can also unknowingly commit a sexual offense.

    My other issue is the part of “who commit sexual offenses”. This implies that they’re ALWAYS doing it. How about a past tense such as “who have committed” not “commit” which is present and future tense.

    Whether we go with “sex offender” or “adult who commit sex offenses”, they both make it sound present and future.
    Neither is a good idea.

    1. Sandy

      Yeah, I don’t like that term either. It was more their willingness to change that I applauded and at which I am grieved now that it is withdrawn.

      My choice would be “persons with sexual crime convictions.” That not only places it in the past but allows for the fact that some, though having convictions, were innocent.

      1. TS

        Valid and excellent points by both of you, Maestro and Sandy.

        The label “a person with a “XYZ” conviction” can be applied to anyone who has been convicted in a court of law regardless of what they have been convicted of (or even if they just paid a parking/speeding ticket without a court appearance because they are acknowledging they broke the law). It just needs to be applied and used. That does not make them the label people would like to apply to them derogatorily. However, I believe a lot of people would have “a person with a “XYZ” conviction” moniker if a master list came out with the names of those who have broken a law and been caught, no matter how small the law was.

        Unfortunately, in our culture, we live in a victim based culture for legal purposes and sympathy purposes, which is an anchor in life for them. They hold on to it and really don’t have the spine to move on.

        A concerted effort should be to move people from Victim to Survivor. That should be sent to the CO SOMB for their consideration in their effort to think about different terms people should be labeled with in their minds. If people can go from one to the other in that vein, then the person who has a conviction can go from someone people think of as an offender (regardless of the crime) to a client when it comes to brass tacks of reintegration, rehabilitation, and moving forward. Everyone who wants to remain a victim by label should be asked if they want to become a survivor one day.

        Victim to Survivor, Offender to Client…novel concept in labels.

  2. Hope

    Its so sad that because of public opinion about people who have commited sex crimes simple laws like this one won’t be changed even though the change would be beneficial.
    I feel so angry that a lot of peoples fear stops them from seeing the logic.

  3. CJB

    How About Just One Blanket Term, ‘Convicted Felon’ or Just ‘Registered Citizen’

    Both Terms are in the Past Tense of the English Language

    But Why Does the Specificity of the Crime Have To Be Labeled? Are People who are convicted of DUI/DWI, Labeled, “Drunks Who Keep Drinking” or the Convicted Drug “Salesperson”, is that Person called, ‘Convicted Drug Pusher’…..Nope, none of these Highly Recidivism Crimes Have the Active or Future Tense of the English Language Attached to THEM!

    Wherein, I reside, I email the Head of SORNA, here, Lots of information, especially on This Topic
    -Her Last response to me, last week, during my Re-Registration over the Phone and completed on the Internet, She Called be a ‘Racist’, and I said, “WHAT?” and She said, ‘ALL your comments are Racist’ and My Response was, “I guess who are afraid of the Truth and the Facts, Happy New Year and Make it a Great day”
    -Ignorance is so Bliss!

    1. Maestro

      We already have people sectioning off others from society as “convicted felons”. People take the word “felon” to mean “violent”. Tax evasion is a felony.
      Former CT governor John Rowland was convicted of money laundering. The judge sentenced him to 1 yr and 1 day to make it a felony conviction. A felony is only a crime in which the legislature decided to make the punishment over 365 days. Hence the reason the judge on Gov Rowland’s case added the extra day.
      Does that make Rowland a “dangerous felon”? No. Neither is the 5’7” guy who used a bar stool to protect himself from the 6’4” guy in a bar fight.
      I see no good reason for crimes being referred to as “misdemeanors” or “felonies”. Because who decided that someone who commits a misdemeanor will NOT also be capable to commit a felony? Yet a person with a misdemeanor can still own a fire arm to protect their family in the event of a home invasion. Former Gov Rowland cannot. And for simple, nonviolent money laundering. Imagine.
      And, as I recall reading the U.S. Constitution many years ago about this topic, nowhere did it mention that a felony conviction means you lose the right to bear arms. The ONLY mention of this loss of right is “an act of treason”. But look what the divided states of America did with their individual constitutions.
      We don’t need to tell people to refer to us as “convicted felons”. They already do that with ALL felons.

  4. A Mistake They Made

    Until they make it past tense they are liars, and “people who defame citizens”!