Jesus said to them, “(T)o sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Mark 10:39-40
Those of us who work to end sexual trauma may feel we have an intrinsic understanding of both victim/survivor and predator. This theory was proven false quickly when I spoke to two hundred and fifty convicted sex offenders at the Minnesota Prison-Based Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) during Victim Impact Week a few years ago. Having survived a sexual assault at gunpoint myself, I believed I was more than qualified to know all about these offenders. I was told all of the program participants are male, and each had admitted he had done wrong and had pledged to help end sexual violence upon release. Not every participant of the two-year program “graduates” and gets released on their first try. I had spoken to many groups about how I turned to God for healing following the assault, and I thought I was ready to share my miracle story of God saving me from certain death with this group. I could not have been more naïve!
As I heard the heavy metal prison gates close behind me, I quickly learned that I knew very little about this population. I was facing a very diverse group of men: young and old, from many ethnic groups and backgrounds, all dressed in prison garb but mostly just looking like ordinary guys. Correctional psychologists explained that these men were motivated to perpetrate for many reasons, but the understanding of the causes and origins of sexually abusive behavior still remain elusive. My message was the same as always: how life-altering the experience had been of first being sexually violated, and then being revictimized by a broken system of response. But I was humbled by my inaccurate expectations of my audience.
In Mark 10, James and John asked Jesus to let them sit at His right and left hand in heaven, not realizing the magnitude of what they asked (vs. 35-39). As their friend, they believed Jesus would be just fine granting their request. But they didn’t know what they were asking. Jesus made it clear to them, and later to the other disciples who were annoyed at James and John’s hubris, that places of honor before God were set aside “for those for whom they have been prepared” (v. 40).
We as crusaders in the quest to end sexual violence must be clear-eyed and realistic about the complex nature of the work we do. Just as James and John overestimated their ability to know Jesus, we must be open to learning as much about sexual predators as we may know about victim/survivors.
God of Justice, help us broaden our understanding of who sexual predators are so we are able to help victim/survivors in more meaningful ways. Amen