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Determinedly Going "Public"

About a year and a half ago I started thinking about building an organization for the liberation of sex offenders. I figured it would be the most challenging and interesting thing I could do with my skills to make the society more human.

I realized that building an organization for sex offenders would bring the probability of attacks, so I decided to think big but work small. I started by sharing my thoughts with a group of ten to fifteen people I knew (some RCers, some friends, some both). I also took the risk of telling some people whom I did not know well that I was building an organization for sex offenders. Sometimes I got furious reactions, mostly from women. In sessions I looked at how I felt about those reactions. I didn't spend much time figuring out how to do things differently. I just kept doing and discharging, and I improved. When I first made public contacts about the sex-offenders network, I got attacking phone calls and I had a new period of learning. It was obvious these phone calls had no impact at all, and so they stopped.

After putting some policy down on paper, I started to think about how the organization would do its work. Through numerous phone calls and personal conversations, I got a more accurate picture of the field. Before that I was a complete outsider. I had no more than average knowledge of the "mental health" system. I am educated as an engineer and work in the environmental field. I had no "social-worker" background apart from some volunteer work between studies.

I came across the phenomenon (completely ignored by the justice system) of the falsely- and over-accused. People accused of sexual abuse are treated as if they are convicted sex offenders. Police investigations are based on completely believing the victim's story. Accusations are not checked for being possibly false. Exaggerations and sometimes lies are used to make a better case. This and the threat of imprisonment and other social punishment make it impossible for offenders to confess and heal.

Offender therapies are completely poisoned. No offender has a place where (s)he can speak freely because it has become normal practise for therapists and social workers to break confidentiality in the case of sex crimes. This works in two ways: by the therapist testifying against his or her own client and by the use of victims' testimonials, made in therapy, to pressure offenders to confess (even if the accusations are false).

Through my contacts with therapists and social workers I learned that most of them agreed that sex offenders were oppressed and that therapy alone would not free humanity from sexual abuse. However, after the first conversation they would get "lost" and could only feel threatened by my organization being a competitor. I did find a few allies-people who at least understood that guaranteeing confidentiality was a key issue.

One way of guarding against attacks is building a solid business. The Dutch government has developed a complex system of rules, partly to prevent oppression but mainly to discourage people from building successful organizations. I studied legal organizational forms, tax laws, bookkeeping, laws on privacy, etc. I am negotiating with the tax department, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Justice on several issues.

I founded my organization last April. The tax department gave me an exemption for dealing more simply with income tax. The Ministry of Finance gave me an exemption for value-added tax for all activities within my organization (classes, workshops, book selling, fund raising, safe houses). My foundation has been accepted as an organization of general benefit to the society (which has tax benefits in case of subsidies and donations). I also got an exemption for company tax on profits. I have obtained a privacy permit for the database used in the network. The database I developed to keep track of participants has no administrative information that could be used against them.

I have built a voice mail and fax-on-demand system to semi-automatically deal with new clients and volunteers and requests for information. I have opened a telephone-line consulting hour. I have built an Internet site with information on sexual abuse and the sex-offenders network. I have written four different folders with information aimed at different groups. I have obtained permits for two different locations in our city for stands for selling folders, books, and t-shirts.

Negotiations with the Ministry of Justice are just starting. I wrote them a letter, and it took them a few months to find out who was going to speak with me. There is lots of confusion there. I have called them almost daily, and finally today there was a "go" signal from inside the Department of Prevention. I have been appointed as a contact person who is in charge of new policy concerning sexual abuse and domestic violence, which means that the negotiating circus is about to begin. I am going to get (amongst a number of things) permission for all participants in the sex-offenders network not to appear in court to testify in cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse. This will make it easier to enforce confidentiality within the network.

Fund raising has not been too easy so far. Luckily I have a friend who is helping me with this. After being turned down many times, we had a success last week. One national newspaper is going to print, for free, advertisements with our telephone numbers between the ads for sex telephone lines and escort houses. We are learning fast. It becomes less easy for companies to turn down our requests for funding. We have also started to receive unre-quested contributions. The man at the tax department, who explained a lot to me, ended up giving me a pricy book about the tax system because he wanted to express his support. The print shop just gave me a reduction because they'd read the folder they were printing.

So it looks like I am ready for the real work. Given the still-existing big taboo on sex, the biggest problem is finding more clients-people that will be in the network. I have started by looking through all the cases that appear in the media. It is not always easy to find the people involved, and if I do, most of them think they will finally be found innocent and be rehabilitated. This turns out to be naive, because when they find out, it is usually too late-imprisonment will have prevented any contact with me. I am learning to be less permissive about this in the first phone calls, but it is tempting to feel that it is their own choice and that if they don't want my support, they will find out later what they turned down. It is crucial that the negotiations with the Department of Justice give us access to clients at the police stations.

As soon as the advertising campaign starts, I believe we will receive more requests for support from people who are afraid of being accused someday soon. I will also start working with potential offenders: parents, teachers, social workers, etc.

The Catholic Church has been progressive about dealing with sex-offending priests. (I have a Catholic background.) I am meeting with their national bureau in two weeks. Based on the experience I have there, I will approach the other hundred-something different churches in The Netherlands.

I have planned to give a training to approximately 1,000 people next year. The problem is not to do it, but to find the people. The oppression is so harsh that anyone who has had something to do with sexual abuse, or could be suspected of being abusive, tries to hide away.

I have thought extensively about how to break the taboos that make it hard for offenders to get help. And I have noticed, perhaps due to all my phone calls and the folders and letters I have sent out, that there is more in the media now about better treatment of sex offenders. A general attitude is slowly developing that more humane treatment is the only workable solution. If this goes on, the Dutch organization for forensic sexologists, despite its "scientific" claims, will have to change its treatment methods for offenders, on humanistic grounds. It has once again been made clear to me that it is possible to start social change simply by starting to think and widely communicate understandable and correct policies.

I have been invited for a number of radio interviews. Finally two of these have made it on the air. I learned that it does not work to have an attitude of being a counselor to the interviewer nor to necessarily answer the questions asked. To keep the attention on the right issue, answers had to be short and to the point. My first interview, which was live, lasted fifteen minutes instead of five because the interviewer became so interested, but most of the public probably switched to some other station. In my second interview, in answer to the questions, I said exactly the things I previously planned to say. The interviewer apparently didn't even notice that I did not answer her questions.

New press communiquÈs in the next months will advertise the telephone-line consulting hour and will probably report the results of the negotiations with the Department of Justice.

I think it is not only our individual distresses that keep us from building wide-world organizations. It is also society's institutionalized distress, which keeps coming in every day. It is most crucial not to build organizations alone because that is exactly how one gets lost in the machine of bureaucracy. I have used my counselors not only for sessions, but also to read and comment on my policies and to acquire specific information about people and organizations outside of RC. I am determined to build my own leadership in my own organization, but meanwhile the RC Community will be a precious resource for developing correct policy.

Some people have questioned my use of the RC Community, mainly with regards to socializing. But I have also noticed that many of them feel jealous or bad about themselves for not using RC in the wide world as much as I am. I am prepared to give anyone a session on his or her jealousy towards me, but I am not going to hold back my success to please him or her.

I have been confronted with socializing issues in other ways as well. Many times distress around sex has been involved. I believe most counseling around the no-socializing principle is too liberal. For a long time I "thought" that breaking a rule was the best way to find out whether it was a good rule or not. Now I have seen that breaking a rule does not usually bring the discharge needed to understand it. It seems that breaking a rule only reinforces the pain that caused the urge to break it. I wonder whether this is the case with all the oppressive rules and laws that society enforces upon us.

Thank you for this resourceful RC theory and movement. I am slowly getting a glimpse of the enormous amount of work that creating it must have entailed. I am glad to be able to build on it. Without it I wouldn't be where I am.

Frank van den Heuvel
Nieuwegein, The Netherlands

(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00