Main Page
This Issue
Next Article

2002 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 7, No. 2
May 2002

Understanding Your Reaction Is Crucial

Because sex offenders have committed despicable acts, we may find it hard to like them and to advocate for their best interest. On the other hand, sex offenders are notoriously good at manipulating and even charming others—that’s how they often get victims to submit to abuse (Fehrenbach et al., 1986; Johnson, 1988; Berliner, 1995)—and they may be able to arouse strong feelings of sympathy and affection. Offenders often give gifts, ask for favors, share money or toys or secrets, or otherwise manipulate other people to gain their trust before abusing them. This is called “grooming,” and as child welfare workers we must not encourage or accept such behavior. This may be difficult, as grooming often resembles, and can be confused with, sincere attempts at pro-social behavior. It is best to err on the side of caution and clear boundaries (Epps, 1994; Digiorigo-Miller, 1998).

Our feelings for juvenile sex offenders may be intense, unstable, disturbing, unpredictable, and contradictory. Good supervision is essential in dealing with countertransference, and training courses such as the N.C. Division of Social Services’ Introduction to Child Sexual Abuse (Flick, 2001) are an excellent way to prepare child welfare professionals for work with sex offenders.