A grand deception: The successful response of sex offenders

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Pinoccchio Noses - courtesy of Craig Owen via Flickr

Pinoccchio Noses - courtesy of Craig Owen via Flickr

“I’m ready to be put this all behind me and to continue reaching for my dreams of filmmaking and in music.”

Those were the recent words of Brandon Milburn, a former youth minister, as he pleaded with a judge for a lenient sentence after being convicted of seven counts of child sexual abuse involving two eleven year old boys.   His pleas were echoed by supporters who came to court to proclaim his innocence. One even remarked, “I do not believe he is a predator. I love Brandon; my children love Brandon. If Brandon was released today, he would be welcome to come and live in my home.”

Fortunately, the prosecutor reminded the judge, “In the sentencing advisory report, the defendant minimizes his activities, his offenses against the boys in this case, and actually denies there are other victims.” Ultimately, the judge decided that Brandon Milburn should spend the next 25 years reaching for his dreams inside the walls of a prison.

Sexual offenders have perfected a grand deception that sadly seems to work all too well inside faith communities. This deception twists truth, minimizes abuse, and exploits guilt in order to create a fictional narrative that paints the offender as the victim and those who accuse and confront as perpetrators of injustice. Unfortunately, too many fail to realize that this deceptive narrative is fiction.

Pinoccchio Noses - courtesy of Craig Owen via Flickr

Pinoccchio Noses – courtesy of Craig Owen via Flickr

A few months ago, I had a conversation with a couple, who recently learned that their son had been sexually victimized by a popular young man in the church. Upon confronting the offender with this crime, these parents came face to face with this grand deception. Here is how it works:

Step One – “I am a victim.” When confronted about sexually abusing a child, offenders will immediately and tearfully disclose that they too were victimized as a child and never had the opportunity to get help.   In an effort to sound credible, the offender may not necessarily be referring to sexual abuse since the objective is simply to be seen as a victim. Do you see the grand deception at work? Offenders simultaneously take the spotlight off of their own wretched acts while subtly eliciting sympathy from their confronters. Sadly, this initial step of the grand deception can be extremely successful, especially with the broader congregation. Being seen as a victim will often fuel the needed sympathies and doubts of congregations who struggle with accepting a reality that seems all too dark and unbelievable.

Step Two – “It’s not as bad as it sounds.” The next step of the grand deception is to minimize the wrongfulness of the acts committed. If the victim is younger, offenders may acknowledge the behavior as “inappropriate”, but certainly not criminal. Furthermore, they will argue that these “inappropriate” actions were certainly not a result of an evil or lascivious motive, but out of a misguided love and care for the child that may be rationalized using their own childhood abuse. With older victims, offenders will similarly acknowledge the inappropriateness of their behavior, but will make a subtle attempt to paint the victim as a consenting party to the unlawful acts. Statements like, “I never did anything he didn’t want me to do” or “Though I agree I should have acted more responsibly, I never did anything without his [victim] consent.” Do you see the grand deception at work? Sympathetic childhood abuse is the foundation that facilitates the deception that any alleged harmful behavior with the child was unintentional and perhaps even consensual. Sometimes this step concludes with statements such as, “Though I’ve made some mistakes, I’m certainly no child molester.” The stage has now been set to begin turning the tables on the accusers.

Step Three – “You’re being unforgiving.” Those who don’t buy into the deception and who aren’t willing to “move on” from this “minor indiscretion” are labeled as unforgiving, self-righteous, and a lot of other ugly pious words. Oftentimes, offenders don’t even have to carry out this dirty work themselves. By this step in the process, a growing number of deceived sympathizers have stepped forward to use all forms of spiritual guilt in attempt to silence those who aren’t being deceived. Comments such as, “We all make mistakes, why are you being so self-righteous?“ or “God has forgiven, why won’t you?” or “Who is the real one living in sin here?” Do you see the grand deception at work? Confronters become the confronted as offenders successfully create a moral high ground and use it to take that final step in the grand deception.

Step Four – “I am the real victim here.” The pinnacle of the grand deception is achieved when offenders successfully convince others that those who refuse to “forgive and move on” are the actual perpetrators. When offenders are seen as victims, there is sadly no shortage of supporters who step up to advocate on their behalf believing that they are doing the right and “godly” thing.   This distorted and destructive advocacy includes rebuking abuse survivors and those who support them, appearing in court to show support for the “real victim”, and convincing others to do the same. Do you see the grand deception at work? The perpetrator becomes the victim.

It is this grand deception that inspires an offender to plea for leniency, while telling a judge in a crowded courtroom of supporters that he’s ready to move on to chase after his dreams.   It is this grand deception that re-traumatizes survivors as they actually find themselves once again being victimized by a deceptive perpetrator. It is this great deception that makes so many of our churches safe places for offenders and not such safe places for those they hurt.

This great deception may embolden offenders to speak of chasing after dreams, but it also prolongs the nightmare suffered by too many victims who simply want to wake up to a safer world that isn’t so easily deceived.

  • Steve Boyett


    Great post again. Step 1 – I have heard so many times that sexual abuse is a cycle, but of the many people I know who were abused, that has never played out, to my knowledge of course. Most seem so disgusted by the acts that were done to them, that it is more appauling as a result. Has this been your experience as well, or is it more likely. Also, I’m wondering if the percentages inside Christendom are different than the percentages outside – for victims to become predators that is?

  • annoymous

    I hear people all the time using the #2 excuse, He just diddled the little boy, it’s not that bad. Little ones just act like that. 25 Years is not long enough for the Perp.
    Or people that support the Perp. and not the real victim.

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  • Judy Jones

    Thank you Boz for this excellent article..
    Judy Jones, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

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  • Tamara Rice

    Great article, Boz. I believe all abusers are narcissists and Brandon Milburn’s statements would seem to indicate that he was narcissistic to an incredible degree. Narcissists minimize their offensive actions while exaggerating their own “victimhood.” Narcissists have delusions of grandeur (that others around them can reinforce with their constant adoration) and narcissists assume the role of martyr when confronted. It’s a classic tale and I see it again and again and again. Thanks for this. It’s a good and helpful read.

  • I agree with Steve Boyett above. It’s actually an affront to victims to say, “Oh, well, I couldn’t help but abuse because of my own abuse.” The lion’s share of victims do NOT abuse others precisely because of just how awful, horrible it is. Sexual offense is a choice an offender makes, and he/she is not forced to make it simply because of their past abuse.

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  • noboz

    Not excusing this man’s conduct but it should be noted – lacking details to the contrary – that in the State of Missouri Aggravated Statutory Sodomy in the First Degree CAN involve contact between the genitals of one person and the hand of another, with one person being under the age of 12. Just for reference. Section 566.062.1

    Even more reference – what truly destroys lives? Things like having a bomb dropped on your head from a drone. Like this child.
    But this we call ‘collateral damage’ and put a ‘Support the Troops’ sticker on the bumpers of our trucks. Interesting how our need to protect the children disappears when it does not involve an American child or, gasp, s3x. Interesting how ‘I was just doing my job’ suffices.

    I am looking forward to a Godly Response to the article linked.

  • DarkCornerSunshine

    This is the EXACT response my church took when confronted with my ex’s violent and ongoing domestic and child abuse. Even when the psychiatrist that they sent us to told me – “Leave him or you’ll be dead within the year” the church blamed me and my children. They excommunicated me because he pimped me to his friends for money; it was ‘my fault’ because he insisted that I enjoyed it. They told him that he did not have to pay child support, that it would make us return sooner if we were broken. They told me after the divorce that they would help him kidnap the children from me – right there in church! – no matter what the legal system said. They said that the only way I would be allowed back in was to remarry him. I refused and was cast out.

    Meanwhile, this church proclaims, publicly and often, that it does not support child sexual or spousal abuse. Victims of abuse, victimized secondarily by this church, know better; we shake our heads and laugh sardonically. Riiight.

  • It’s truly a shame what this monster has done to this church of people. 25 years is not nearly enough. You can forgive without allowing more abuse. Even after forgiveness he must still pay the price of the crime. If you can’t do the time…don’t do the crime. Let the fullness of this evil come to light so that healing may begin. Don’t cover it up like kitty litter. It will still stink under the surface.

  • Learning to be a survivor

    I am so thankful that you continue to blog about these issues. It is incredibly difficult to see the devastation caused by sexual abuse, but see the abusers so readily embraced and excused.
    I had experiences of sexual abuse as a child, teenager and young adult and the pain and confusion of it seems never ending. It crushed me pretty completely. However, the response of the religious world has caused a deeper pain than I can describe. They defend the offenders and see them as righteous and persecuted men of God to be protected. They do this even when they know that those they protect actually committed crimes. It fills me with doubt and confusion
    At the same time, I have met offenders who offended against others (that I did not know) and heard their excuses. They ARE able to come across as victims.

  • I Will Survive

    This is the tactic religious families use. A sibling was incarcerated after forcing under age family to sell drugs and abused us, wife, children and grand children. His following partners and children all fled with similar stories. He was banned from a church for acting inappropriately with young girls. He has convinced family, his current partner, step programs and church members into believing he is the victim. I am the one who is wrong for mot forgiving him. I am accused of making up stories and trying to turn everyone against him even though I never met his partners after his first wife or their children. He sends letters taking immense pleasure in turning family members against each other including alienating his own children from their children. I’ve been told by family that I am evil, crazy, not a good Christian person. That even though he did indeed do every single thing that he is accused of by many people, I am the horrible one for not wanting him in my or my family’s…

  • Ben in oakland

    The source for the religious defense of child sexual abuse can be found in the nature of religion itself.

    First, ministers are called by God. And why would God call a child abuser to the ministry? Circular reasoning at its finest. Ministers receive authority they have not earned.

    Second, Christianity teaches that God forgives all sins. So, even child molesters are forgiven as long as they say I’m sorry.

    Third, the churches obsession with sex ensures that the sexually obsessed will be attracted to it.

    Fourth, there is this ridiculous belief that Jesus can change anybody into anything. This has been shown to be false repeatedly. Neither Freud nor Jesus has ever changed a gay person to heterosexual. Likewise, neither has ever changed a child molester into an adult-oriented person. At best, perhaps Freud or Jesus has managed to teach a child molester to restrain himself. But neither can do much about a thoroughly narcissistic and sociopathic personality.

    That’s not…

  • thank you. My family was destroyed by a predator–a beloved member of the church where I preached for 14 years. My disabled son was raped multiple times–I was excused of not being a Christian and working it out. Ultimately while awaiting grand jury indictment, the perp came back and murdered my then wife and son. Victims need to be heard! And believed. And not have their experience glossed over!

  • John B

    Hi , Thanks Noboz, I checked that, here are more details : http://www.ageofconsent.us/state-laws/missouri-age-of-consent-laws/

  • Mary

    We all realize that Joseph would have been a sex offender of the worst kind, right?

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