Archive for Forgiveness

Ched Evans has Served his Sentence for Rape – Should he Play Football Again?

Posted in Non-fiction with tags , , , , on October 17, 2014 by becciseaborne

In her comments on 15th October, (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/ched-evans-sentence-rape), Clare Carlisle encapsulated, to my mind, the essence of the dilemma around this issue for us as a society in our current cultural framework. She identifies our need to find forgiveness (there is so much literature on the healing powers of forgiveness, try http://theforgivenessproject.com/ for information and resources), alongside our desire to set an example and send a message that sexual violence is harmful and wrong. In agreeing with her, I do not mean that victims or survivors should have to find forgiveness towards their assailants; this cannot and should not ever be an expectation placed on those who have experienced sexual abuse. However, no human behaviour occurs outside of or distinct from the culture of the community in which it takes place. As a society we have a duty to understand what has happened in order to find a response that reduces the likelihood of it happening again.

I have worked professionally with survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, and I’ve worked with sex offenders who have served long prison sentences and been through heavy-duty therapy and treatment programmes, who make a genuine commitment to an offending-free life. I have family and friends who have been affected by sexual violence. My thoughts and beliefs here are neither routed solely in the personal or professional (though they partly spring from that place of course), nor are they overly abstract and idealistic. My experiences inform my practice, which informs my thinking, and the same in reverse.

If all we can do as a community is hate, then what can we expect in return but resentment and hatred (however unjustified we might feel that is)? These feelings fuel the sort of permission-giving thinking that leads to sexual violence. Who wants that? Isolation disconnects people from positive influences and the reinforcement of pro-social beliefs and values. What we need is for people to take responsibility for what they’ve done and understand the harm they’ve caused; admitting to these things is difficult for any kind of transgression, let alone something of this magnitude. No one in their right mind is going to do that if they think they’re going to be met with both barrels. That’s human nature, and nearly all of us will have denied something or minimised it to avoid the consequences and the associated emotional stress. We all fear hatred, disgust and stigma. Creating a safe space, by promoting meaningful reintegration into society whilst at the same time not letting anyone off the hook, can go a long way to achieving this sort of shift for people who have offended sexually.

The even better news is that this often delivers things that survivors of sexual violence need too – to be listened to, understood, validated, vindicated. We don’t have to exclude people to deliver these goals and send a strong message to society (and other past, present or future survivors). The message can be, you need to be fully accountable and commit to a new life that will not create any more victims (…survivors).

In the case of Ched Evans, my feeling is that whatever happens should be informed by the extent to which he accepts responsibility and intends to alter his behaviour accordingly. He pled not guilty at court, and put his victim/survivor through the pain and exposure of a trial. This should not be forgotten or left unaddressed. However, there is, in my professional and personal experience, a world of difference between what someone will admit to within in a criminal justice process, and what they may come to explore and acknowledge outside that process, given the appropriate context. The extent to which Ched Evans is able and likely to do this will, almost certainly, depend on the space and support he is given by being allowed to rebuild a life which is connected with his community. This doesn’t mean letting him off the hook; it means seeing the behaviour as distinct from the person and reflecting back to him the hope and belief that he can change and become accepted once more into society.

Katie Russell of Rape Crisis England, rightly highlighted the need for a strong public message that sexual violence will not be tolerated in football (or more broadly); surely nothing could be more powerful than supporting Mr Evans to make a commitment to behaviour change through a full understanding of the damage he has caused? Whilst we must recognise the extent of the damage – on a societal and an individual basis – and respond to the needs of survivors, it does not seem possible to find a sustainable and satisfactory response to sexual harm without engaging meaningfully with all affected parties. I hope Sheffield United consider such issues very carefully, and consult with professionals when considering whether to re-sign him.

Mirrors: Thoughts on Self-Acceptance and Forgiveness

Posted in Non-fiction with tags , , , on July 27, 2013 by becciseaborne

Distorted image mirrorThe lost soul

When Amy Winehouse died almost exactly 2 years ago, the inevitability of how she died raised issues around addiction and self-destruction. These matters periodically make their way into the public consciousness, mostly in relation to celebrities and talented artists, such as Pete Doherty and others. We have a perpetual and morbid interest in a subject which is at the same time both unsettling, yet confirms our own position of relative stability and normality, whatever that means.

For my own part, although I had no personal connection, I felt a real sadness that a young, fragile person had just kind of slipped off the planet before she had even got a grasp of it. She had a truly fantastic voice, and was evidently talented, yet “troubled” – that cliché that means everything and nothing. Her drug and alcohol problems and her stints in rehab had received much media attention. One obituary noted that her pre-existing insecurities, rather than diminishing once she achieved such acclaim, only grew and fed the self destruction (“Razor sharp, Winehouse changed the music scene for ever”, The Independent on Sunday, 24 July 2011). It was this that caught my attention.

 

Broken mirror reflectionSelf-perception

In the face of world-wide praise and celebrity a talented, intelligent and engaging young woman seemed to become less of herself. She retreated and seemed to struggle with the identity which her talent surely entitled her to claim. Something about the praise and attention didn’t fit with her. I believe that far from being abnormal, her struggle was a universal human response where there is a gap between self-perception and what others hold up for us to see. Of course the full extent of her behaviour and its consequences are less inevitable, but it does seem to me that she had quite a common sense of being unworthy of the attention she was receiving.

About five or six years ago I met someone who had a similar and very evident dislike of praise or positive attention. It’s a completely different story, but at the same time the underlying issues are similar. I met this man when he was released from prison having served a long sentence for child sex abuse. My role was as one of five volunteers who would meet with him on a weekly basis to work on relapse prevention and offer practical and moral support. The aim was to prevent further victims by guiding him to keep to his relapse prevention plan and to stop him from feeling isolated – a major trigger for dangerous thought patterns and behaviour. This reduces re-offending.

He had been abused as a young boy himself and was used by circle of abusers to recruit other boys his own age. This, put together with his own offending as an adult, and the significant amount of time he had spent in the criminal justice system as a sex offender meant he had built a self-image and identity as a bad person who needed to be punished. There’s no doubt that his crimes were awful and needed to be atoned for. The premise of the voluntary work, though, is that it’s the behaviour which is bad and not the person. In other words, one person is not merely the sum of all the bad things they have ever done. Most of us are able to realise this, mainly through the forgiveness of others for those transgressions that would otherwise cause guilt and maybe eat away at us. Forgiveness allows self-acceptance and we are consequently able to maintain a healthy self-image.

Socially constructed distortionBut for sex offenders there is no forgiveness. They are demonised and stigmatised by every corner of society. And that mirror we hold up to them becomes how they view themselves. So the man I met a few years ago was someone who believed himself to be utterly without good and totally unworthy of anyone’s time, respect or kindness. He didn’t believe that he was entitled to have anything good happen to him.

Some may argue that he didn’t, but the point here is that this fuels distorted thinking patterns which justify the offending behaviour. In other words it makes re-offending more likely, and no-one wants that.

 

Dissonant image mirror

A new mirror

As time went by we all built up quite a rapport with him and we agreed we wanted to hold up a different mirror for him, a positive one that he could aspire to. So praising achievement and positive attitudes was just as important as challenging negative behaviour and unhealthy thought patterns. He certainly proved himself worthy of both at times. More often than not there was something positive to say, though and we noticed that he seemed to really struggle with this. We talked about it to find out what was going on for him, and it turned out to be pretty simple really; he just didn’t feel worthy of the praise he was being offered; he didn’t see himself in the mirror.

On one occasion this almost led to serious problems. He was struggling to keep to his relapse prevention plan, and although he was doing everything “right” on the face of it, he was having some unhealthy – and risky – thoughts and feelings. He wasn’t talking about these and so they were going unchecked. This meant that while we were saying well done for all the things he was achieving, he was churning over this huge dissonance between appearances and reality. He knew he was getting into murky water, and that things weren’t right. The gap was widening and the guilt he felt about it was probably making it a lot worse too, building the pressure.

 

Butterfly mirrorMaking the image fit: self-acceptance

It could have gone one of two ways, but fortunately for everyone, he chose the safe option and confessed what was going on. Of course we then had a lot of discussions about how we could make it easier for him to talk about these issues in future so that he didn’t get backed into a corner again. We were also more cautious and more specific about the praise we gave to him. He said it was awful being told how great everything was when he knew that really there was a big problem. Over many months we were able to support him in growing into this new identity, and eventually he came to accept the idea of himself as a person worthy of a normal life. To date he has not re-offended.

The point is, really, that all that positive attention and praise being received by someone who perceives themselves as being unworthy of it can have completely the opposite effect to that which is intended. Maybe Amy Winehouse – on a different level and for completely different reasons – felt the same. Maybe she couldn’t see herself in the mirror that the world was holding up to her. One of Amy’s friend and collaborator, Mark Ronson, talked about how she hated people “gushing” over her or enthusing about her success, how it would make her “shrivel up”, or run away.

Acceptance

What are we meant to do when we find ourselves in a situation like that? Some people like what they see in that mirror and they make it work for them; there are those successful A-list celebrities that exemplify this. But if you don’t recognise or relate to the image the world is showing you of yourself, how do you make sense of it? For Amy, she just wasn’t the person everyone else thought she was. She was just Amy Winehouse, with a sharp wit to fill in the gaps where her self esteem should have been, and when that didn’t work any more because the gaps got bigger, she found drugs and alcohol. There are many, many of those talented and imperfect people who exemplify this, too. Most of them are dead. And nearly all of those died way too young. If they had been able to find a route to self-acceptance – and in some cases self-forgiveness too – maybe they would still be here.