Much of our reconciliation work is with a range of adult or adolescent, mostly male perpetrators of sexual abuse, violence, or neglect and their victims and/or other family members. We begin by helping the perpetrator get through a degree of treatment that allows him to identify accountability for his behavior, remorse about his actions, and sufficient compassion to help him express empathy. We also help him to honor who his victim was before he/she was violated and to tolerate the victim’s need for power and control in the face of that violation. No perpetrator is offered the opportunity to enter reconciliation work until this is achieved.
A father in our program who had molested his child over a number of years, once said, “I will wave a white flag in honor of my victims for the rest of my life.”
The perpetrator must also achieve an appreciation as to his future risk, risk factors, and capacity to manage his risk; we help him to admit the full extent of what he has done. Once this happens, he commits to an apology/clarification session(s) with his victims and/or other family members. However, such sessions are not started until a victim is ready. Such readiness may require their own treatment; sometimes victims want all clarified details and the apology in writing first. Victims always have the option to bring whomever they wish to the meeting(s). A safe parent or caretaker and/or the victim’s therapist can participate in this capacity. We help the victim feel safe and in control, and help the perpetrator respect this. We are also there to support the perpetrator as he details and apologizes for his harmful behavior, further supporting him as he reminds his victim of his understanding of his impact and the difficulty of sitting in his presence. We support victims as they listen, ask questions, and express feelings and concerns.
When a perpetrator can clarify what he has done to those he has hurt and apologize, a new level of healing begins for everyone involved.
While no victim is expected to offer forgiveness, closure for all is the goal. We help create the best possible resolution. Some victims and extended victims will have been in their own therapy and will already know the kind of closure they seek. For instance, sometimes the victims are there to hear an apology; sometimes they will ask for financial support with school or therapy; sometimes they want to understand or offer forgiveness, acceptance, or tolerance to their perpetrator. Sometimes children miss the family member who has abused them, and they or extended victims want to improve their relationship with the abuser. Sometimes the family wants the perpetrator to heal, become a more decent person, and come back to the family. Coming to these or any conclusion is a necessary and important part of the work, and the need to do so is normal. When the perpetrator is a family member, some victims may wish to continue in Family Reunification work.
The hope for transformation of family life from unpardonable to safe and loving, can be achieved.
In our experience family members and victims are often attached to the perpetrator, and they will often choose to wait for him to complete his treatment and come back to them as a healthy husband and/or father. While they wait, they do their own empowering work of learning how to assert and protect themselves. At A Step Forward, it is our experience that it is safest to do family reunification while the perpetrator is under the guidance of probation, parole, and/or dependency/family Court. During such a treatment mandate, therapists, along with the victim and family members, are in a better position to leverage the work while executing a refined reunification process. While the structure of family reunification includes a step-by-step process where safety planning and the victim’s needs are paramount, we also insist the offending adult (or adolescent) be assessed and assigned low-risk status; that all involved parties pay close attention to the readiness of the offender, victim, and other family members before the process can begin; and that the therapist(s) navigate the pace. We do not take lightly the risk family members are taking, even when there is reason to support reunification. We approach the work carefully and thoughtfully, and our expertise has resulted in a great deal of success with traumatized families.