Forgiveness is not the New Black


Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday where we ask for forgiveness for our sins. I’ve been thinking a lot about the #MeToo movement and as a feminist, ever since it came out, I’ve been feeling like it’s about time. But something that I’ve been wondering recently is, how can we best as a society help victims, and attackers, to move forward, and should we as a society allow attackers to do so?

With the Supreme Court hearing, the idea of sexual assault has not been far from anyone’s minds recently. Just scrolling through the internet brings the topic to attention:

From addressing double standards our society holds:





To directly discussing the most recent allegations:


To straight up trolls:

It all circles back to:

Now that sexual assault and harassment have been brought to the forefront of public attention, So What? Our Justice system is practically a joke, especially on college campuses, with few cases going to trial and fewer resulting in punishment of some kind for the perpetrator.

More importantly, now that the #MeToo movement has helped women to come forward What Now? How can we support victims to allow them to recover? But also how can we make it so that perpetrators are less likely to commit a similar crime again?

As a society, our justice system needs an overhaul. From Brock Turner going free in 3 months, while non-violent offenders serve years behind bars for everything from carrying a suitcase full of cash to drug possession offenses and theft. But even those that serve time, So What? Are they any less likely to commit crime?- the statistics would say that’s doubtful, with our prison system acting like a revolving door with inmates moving in and out. With ~90% of rapes committed by repeat rapists, with regards to those who actually serve time I’m not reassured by the fact that the prison system does little to rehabilitate or change prisoners. Besides getting rapists off the streets, there’s not much benefit to sending them to jail, since most people come out more with more psychological issues than they had to begin with. I’m not saying that people can’t change or should be defined by one moment for the rest of their life. But we need to actively help people to change and move forward.

The problem is how can we pursue rehabilitation without forgiveness? And is forgiveness necessary for rehabilitation? Is the reason our prison system does little to rehabilitate inmates because, as a society we don’t wish to forgive these people, and therefore wish to condemn them with records and restricted rights and opportunities even after they’ve served time? We like to forget about prisoners, and even allow governments not to evacuate them during natural disasters, but is this marginal treatment of our prisoners really just perpetuating a system of reoccurring crime? Or is it that we feel that we protect victims by shutting these criminals away? Is choosing not to rehabilitate criminals part of a false sense of honoring victims?

So far our justice system prefers orange to forgiveness, but maybe there’s away we could actually use prison to make these prisoners better people while having them serve their time and punishment. But we can’t forgive people who don’t admit guilt or accept consequences. As for what society should do about men with credible allegations of sexual assault brought against them, like Harvey Weinstein, I’m rather sick of people who clearly broke the law solely getting fired or not being allowed to make a movie, and not paying any legal consequences. On the other hand simple sexual harassment cases might really only need to cause someone to lose their job. Before we can hope to move forward as a society, the punishment must fit the crime, but its equally important that the punishment involves some type of retribution or rehabilitation.

What do you think? Would reforming the prison system while being tougher on convicting sexual assaulters reduce sexual violence? Is there no hope for the system? Or should we be tougher on criminals to deter them from committing crimes in the first place? Do you think that the #MeToo movement will have a lasting impact on how we treat sexual assault cases, and who we put in positions of power in our society? Is there a chance for forgiveness, or at least rehabilitation, to become the new black?

-You know you love me. xoxo Ethics Girl

4 Responses to “Forgiveness is not the New Black”

  • Qing Jin:

    I think this MeToo movement is great. It could call for the attention of the public and government to the importance of reducing sexual violence. Several weeks ago, a famous e-commerce billionaire called Liu Qiangdong, also known as Richard Liu was arrested in the U.S. on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota. Now, both of Liu Qiangdong and the victim (a student) have gone back to China. I am really worried about the girl that if she still wants to or has the power to fight against the big guy. I think if someone has power in some area and is famous, it is really hard for normal people to fight back. The case is not over yet. I hope the girl could recover soon and the justice could be on her side.

  • Grace:

    I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I suspect multiple people in our class have been primary or secondary survivors of sexual misconduct or assault and I hope we all continue to heal.

    Because it can be such a vulnerable, raw, and damaging experience, it takes time to grieve and as a society, I do not know if we are at the longer term questions yet.

    I worked for two years as a researcher for a treatment program for youth who have caused sexual harm. I was not a therapist or youth worker so I did not treat the kids but researched treating youth sex offenders and understanding how to prevent further harm.

    You bring up a good point about the balance between rehabilitation and punishment. If we focus on rehab, are we failing to bring justice? However, there is a way to do both, and in many cases, involving a form of rehabilitation is the most effective way to prevent future harm. Punishment alone that is socially isolating can make underlying causes worse.

    In the current stage of the conversation as a general population, we often miss the fact that the reasons for causing sexual harm are varied and therefore the response should be varied.

    In our case, many of the offending youth had histories of trauma and therefore, placing them in juvenile detention and putting their name on a sex offender registry massively misses what they need to live a future life free of harm to themselves or others. Furthermore, family dynamics played a primary role in managing harmful behavior. We worked extensively with the families of our clients to address those negative influences and teach the family to better understand and support their child. In other cases, the behavior was deviant and dangerous without signs of change or the family was unwilling to provide support leading to a longer term placement in a detention center.

    I think we often also associate denial too early on as a sign of a lack of remorse and a high likelihood to re-offend. But focusing on the denial at first prevents interventions and processes that could lead to eventual claiming of responsibility and a life free of future harm. The goals of treatment programs for adult sex offenders often include reducing minimization or denial of their offense, increasing empathy for victims, or creating rules about physical interactions with others (Letourneau & Borduin, 2008). Outcomes are measured by a clients’ ability to produce a full offense description, control deviant sexual arousal, and counter cognitive fallacies and attitudes towards women and children (Letorneau & Borduin, 2008). Conversely, an inability to produce an offense description is a sign of hostility and an inability to change. While these methods may work to prevent violence in adults, there is not empirical evidence that a confrontational approach sufficiently accounts for the developmental needs of maturing youth (Reitzel & Carbonell 2006; Mann et al., 2010; Creeden, 2013; Letourneau & Borduin, 2008).

    I am not familiar with treating adults who have caused sexual harm and certainly not in high profile cases, but based on what I learned with youth, I suspect the reasons can be complicated. If we want to prevent future harm, I think we need to better understand the mechanisms which could include family history, company culture, empowering men and women to know their boundaries and how to make that clear, and listening better. I do not know if these high profile adults are required to enter treatment like most others who are adjudicated for an offense but that would certainly be necessary from both a punishment and a rehabilitation standpoint.

    While I think the #MeToo movement is critical in providing a voice for some survivors, but it should only be one part of larger puzzle and if allowed to dominate, could prevent help for those in need and justice for those who have perpetrated harm.

    Powerlessness is what abuse victims feel and those who are forced, beaten, or manipulated into submission. Whether incapacitated and taken home by a classmate, in a domestic relationship, or by a relative who is supposed to loving, sexual misconduct can take years of recovery. Many #MeToo survivors know this and the movement reminds them that they do have a voice, value, worth, or purpose no matter what their perpetrator did.

    But I think there are many survivors who feel more isolated by the movement. This type of experience is traumatizing and is vulnerable to process. Each survivor is different and wants to handle the situation differently. Not all are ready to face what happened and addressing and healing from the damage can take years. When the movement is so large and broad, and all survivors are lumped into the same category, I suspect it can lead some to feel powerless again because something large and ambiguous is defining what happened to them and deciding what needs to be done.

    I worry that sometimes the #MeToo movement does not allow for anyone to define important boundaries that could help us better move forward to support those who are suffering and prosecute those who cause harm. The movement is a great starting point but I hope it does not do too much damage as we expand our conversations.

    In regard to college campuses, the reasons many offenders are able to re-offend are also varied. A huge reason is that many students are not aware of the process or educated on how to proceed with either an off-campus or on-campus adjudication response. That is why it is so important for student led groups to provide information before it is necessary about what to do if you have been hurt. Many students decide to not report because they are scared of the process and there are many ways this fear can start to be alleviated.

    I am curious on why you said many cases do not go to trial? Do you mean cases are reported and nothing happens or that cases happen and someone decides it is not worth a trial?

    I am grateful for your piece and your commitment to helping those who are hurting and stopping those who cause harm. I completely agree that we need to continue to work for the most effective method to prevent harm and address harm that has already occurred.

    Creeden, Kevin. “Taking a developmental approach to treating juvenile sexual behavior problems.” International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy 8, no. 3-4 (2013): 12.

    Letourneau, E. J., & Borduin, C. M. (2008). The effective treatment of juveniles who sexually offend: An ethical imperative. Ethics & behavior, 18(2-3), 286-306.

    Mann, R. E., Hanson, R. K., & Thornton, D. (2010). Assessing risk for sexual recidivism: Some proposals on the nature of psychologically meaningful risk factors. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 22(2), 191-217.

    Reitzel, L. R., & Carbonell, J. L. (2006). The effectiveness of sexual offender treatment for juveniles as measured by recidivism: A meta-analysis. Sexual abuse: a journal of research and treatment, 18(4), 401-421.

    • esmerin:

      1. Thank you so much for your comment. Idk how to make emojies on here, but it was fire!!! Can I share it? Thanks so much for talking about your experience working with a treatment program for youth. You articulated answers to so many of the questions I was trying to raise! And yes!! While I’m glad for the #MeToo movement I feel like it can be isolating, and has the potential for creating harm if it dominates the conversion on sexual violence and harassment. And yes “there is a way to do both, and in many cases, involving a form of rehabilitation is the most effective way to prevent future harm” is exactly the conversation I want to start with regards to sexual violence! I do not think it is possible for us to prevent future harm without using rehabilitation as well as punishment, and I worry that our societies bloodthirst for only punishments perpetuates the cycle.

      Also thanks for citing your sources! You’re like the bomb!

      2. With regard to your question about the lack of cases going to trial I was referring to the picture showing the statistic of rapes, reported, go to trial, and conviction with the stick figures, I tried to copy it here for you, but can’t figure out how to put a picture in a comment. But to answer your question- it’s both cases going reported and no trial happening, despite the victim desiring a trial (see the Amber Wyatt case I linked in my blog post ) and also I’m sure there are cases where the victim reports to an authority but does not press for a trial. I’m sorry that you might not be able to read the Washington Post without a subscription, I didn’t realize when I first read the article. Basically a girl immediately called the police and went to the hospital to get a rape kit done, and the perpetrators were never even questioned by the police, it has a lot to do with small town politics and parents trying to protect their kid’s reputations.

      Here’s a link to the picture and the issues surrounding the infographic:

      3. I agree that as a society it seems we are not at the point where we can address the longer term questions surrounding sexual violence and harassment, and I feel like we need to start the conversation on addressing these long term concerns if we hope to someday get to the point where we can address them.

  • Grace:

    I can’t communicate what this response means to me! When everything with the #MeToo movement is so loud (which is a good thing), I often get overwhelmed and forget many people like you are out there who can help process the difficult and confusing questions! I often keep all the confusion buried but your articles and words let me unbury it a bit!

    1. Yes please share, although keep me posted on what you mean by share! I stand by what I say so want to make sure it is worded in a way that is as clear and unambiguous as possible!

    I cannot agree more that our hunger for punishment unfortunately doesn’t help those we want to help as much as we might think. There is absolutely a place for anger and justice, but there should be a little bit of separation between that and our actions in how we deal with perpetrators and how we support the survivors towards healing and empowerment. This goes to your third comment, “I feel like we need to start the conversation on addressing these long term concerns if we hope to someday get to the point where we can address them.”

    I hope this as well and wonder when it will happen. I think there are absolutely people doing this work in colleges, hospitals, and as therapists but I don’t know how long that will take to get to society. I think that non-experts can play such an incredible role in preventing harm and supporting survivors and I hope we can continue to be educated on that.

    2. Your two articles were really insightful and covered many important dimensions!

    Amber Wyatt’s story is of course both hopeful in that she is rebuilding her life, has a voice, and at least now has the trust of her community. It is also tragic, as it should be. It also demonstrates that the reasons for each case of sexual assault and why so many people are not prosecuted can be so varied. In a small town like hers, I only wonder at what kind of measures need to implemented to prevent future harm like this. I think the mitigation techniques here might differ slightly from how to address the problem on a college campus for example. It would be nice to have experts on each type of community knowing how to help!

    The second article is really great because I think that is the conversation you and I both hope keeps happening. They call out a well intentioned but inaccurate infographic. I love how they point out the opportunity we would have to correct it. They say that if we corrected it, the public would learn a lot about the real facts. I hope that kind of conversation keeps happening that corrects well intentioned misinformation and we all learn how to do it better!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.