"I'm better now": Sexual offender narratives of moral habilitation
Moral habilitation is the intentional and directed shaping of a new subjectivity in accordance with a culturally sanctioned, pro-social standard of daily ethical conduct. Treatment programs for sexual offenders are enterprises in moral habilitation that involve instilling participants with new values, beliefs, and practices. This research represents a person-centred ethnography that combined concepts of morality, stigma, selfhood, and agency with the treatment and community (re)integration of sexual offenders to learn how some of these men narrated their transformations from dysfunction to a state of self-regulation and greater wellbeing. To this end, 18 men of Euro-Canadian or Aboriginal ancestry living in western Canada were interviewed about their experiences in sexual offender treatment programs, their transitions from prison to community life, and their changing self-concepts. In this transition, participants described their motivations to change as derived from their experiences of (a) a stigmatized, unfulfilling life, (b) the desire for a better or “normal” life, (c) social supports, and (d) a determined and willful mindset. They adopted multiple narrative strategies to protect their self-concepts while the progression of time and ethical self-reformation facilitated a transition from shame and self-doubt to self-acceptance. Through this research, I propose a model of Ethical Self-Reformation (ESR) that combines the institutional morality of treatment programs with stigmatizing public moral discourses to individuals’ enactments of agency, will, and motivation to sustain what is in effect amoral enterprise. Moral habilitation is conceptualized as the internalized, automatic responses of an embodied morality as practiced through the ESR model. This research concludes that sexual offender treatment programs can effectively lead to moral habilitation if the offender is willing to submit to the process; but it also advises that programs need to be more individualized if treatment responsivity is to be enhanced.
Sexual offenders, moral habilitation, selfhood, agency, stigma
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)