The Everyday Lives of Convicted Sex Offenders
If a scale existed to measure society’s disdain for the criminally convicted, sex offenders would likely outscore all others. Most of us regard their crimes as so indefensible, their actions so unforgivable, there is no possible way they could ever repay their debt to society. To protect our communities—and in particular, our children—from them, our laws ensure they keep a safe, legally mandated distance from our homes. When convicted sex offenders leave prison, they are not invited to rejoin society so much as shunned to live in a quarantined state just outside of it.
Pervert Park, a documentary directed by Scandinavian filmmakers Frida Barkfors and Lasse Barkfors, provides an up-close look at the lives of those who reside in Florida Justice Transitions, a trailer park that serves as home for 120 convicted sex offenders serving out their probation. As they attempt to rebuild their lives—many while working low-income jobs—they are forced to reckon with their crimes, their pasts and the road that led them here. The residents are guided in this effort by therapist Don Sweeney, who leads frank, open group therapy sessions that can be difficult to watch. We learn that many Transitions residents were themselves victims of sexual abuse who then perpetuated those learned behaviors as adults. A number are also coping with various addictions, low self-esteem and untreated forms of psychopathy.
It’s rare that we hear from sex offenders themselves, and not every moment of listening reveals the film subjects to be sympathetic figures. Patrick, who raped a young girl, says he will never leave the therapeutic environment of Transitions because of his admitted likelihood of reoffending. Will, who was repeatedly raped by his childhood babysitter and violently abused by his own parents, served time for exposing himself to a young girl.
Because “sex offense” is a term that encompasses a wide variety of crimes, we meet both high-level offenders and those whose convictions, and lifelong designation as sex predators, may give viewers pause. Perhaps the most compelling story in Pervert Park, which won a special jury award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, is from Tracy, whose father began sexually abusing her at age 5. She grew up to replay the same cycle of abuse with her own son.
“I don’t believe sex offenders are monsters,” Tracy says in the group therapy session documented in the clip below.
“Have you met any monsters [here at Transitions]?” Dr. Sweeney asks her.
“No,” she responds. “Just me.”
There are currently more than 800,000 convicted sex offenders in the United States. Filmmakers Frida and Lasse Barkfors believe the way to address the issues around their crimes begins with a conversation many of us are unwilling to have.
“These are the crimes that are often too painful or uncomfortable to discuss,” the filmmakers told POV. “These are the people no one wants to live amongst. These are the neighbors we wish away and, through sex offender laws and labeling, literally and figuratively move to the outskirts of our towns and our lives. And yet there they are, 1,000 feet away from our schools and our parks and playgrounds and churches.”
“Although many of their crimes are unspeakable, what do we, as a community, gain from our willful silence? If we hope to curb the cycle and culture of sexual violence, is there value in exploring the lives of sex offenders, regardless of how heartbreaking and difficult it might be?”
Pervert Park will air on PBS’ long-running documentary film showcase POV on Monday, July 11, 2016 at 10pm. For more about the film, visit the POV website. You can also check out the broadcast schedule online, and watch the trailer below.