Department of Family Therapy Dissertations and Applied Clinical Projects

Date of Award

2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Family Therapy

Advisor

Ronald J. Chenail

Committee Member

Shelley K. Green

Committee Member

Kara S. Erolin

Abstract

A large percentage of the U.S. population has been directly or indirectly affected by sexual violence. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (2020b) reported 433,648 victims annually, and Dillinger (2018) reported 747,408 registered sex offenders living in the United States. As a victim-survivor of sexual violence, I have a unique narrative in that I chose to work therapeutically with sexual offenders. Reactions from my family, friends, and colleagues have varied from surprise to alarm, but I hope this dissertation inspires readers to take a second look. Readers who are mental health professionals may consequently be motivated to work with this population and work differently with victim-survivors of sexual violence. Readers who are not in the mental health field may find that this dissertation is relevant in terms of challenging their biases pertaining to sexual offenders as well as victim-survivors. Still others who are victims of sexual violence may see themselves in my raw stories and find healing the way I did. Since there is no published research on victims who work with sex offenders, my autoethnography addresses a current gap in knowledge. Yet my research also contributes something new to autoethnographic research itself. My initial question, “How did I overcome challenges as a victim to work with sexual offenders?” evolved to a new question, “Who am I regardless of these relationships?” In exploring this latter question, epiphanies led to catharsis, which resulted in a new kind of research—a Therapeutic Autoethnography.

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