Novel influenced by author’s experiences

C harles Laramie understands all too well the prism through which society views sexual assault.
The Fair Haven resident worked for 16 years at a residential facility for juvenile sex offenders and describes sexual assault and rape as a “silent epidemic.” And while he holds no illusions of eliminating the problem himself, he has penned a new book that he hopes will lead to increased dialogue about the epidemic of sexual assault in society.
Laramie, who is the author of “The Therapist,” spoke about his novel and the role sexual assault plays in society at the Fair Haven Free Library earlier this week.
“There are very few people in the United States who don’t know someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. In the United States one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by the time their 18,” he said. “But only one in 10 people who are sexually assaulted ever come out and say what happened. It’s (sexual assault) a silent epidemic. It’s the pink elephant in the room.”
The protagonist in “The Therapist” is Ryan Johnson, a single father of two children who spent nine years teaching in a residential facility for juvenile sex offenders. He’s left an anonymous message that tougher sentences and making people aware of sexual predators will not change things but together they can. Johnson is given instructions on how to take part in a plan devised to balance the scales of justice.
He struggles to make a decision, but when a teenager is raped and murdered by a sexual predator who was released from prison after completing a treatment program, he realizes he can no longer sit by idly.
“It’s a powerful statement on rape and sexual assault and how, as a society, through our silence, we condone these crimes,” Laramie said.
Although the novel is fiction, it draws upon Laramie’s experiences working with juvenile sex offenders. The main character also shares similar experiences with Laramie. In the book, Johnson testifies before the Senate on sexual abuse, something Laramie did after Michael Jacques raped and murdered Brooke Bennett in 2008.
“There are elements of truth in the story. A lot of what’s in it came from my interactions,” he said.
Laramie, who describes himself as a “voracious reader,” and has been writing since he was a teenager, had written a previous novel, “Thoughts on War” in 2005, but wasn’t sure what he had in “The Therapist” until a young student saw the beginnings of a manuscript on his desk and asked if she could read it.
“She came to me and said it was good and that I needed to publish it,” Laramie said.
The book forced Laramie to re-examine his experiences working with sexual assault offenders.
“When you’re with the kids, I think what happens is you become so desensitized and begin to relate with the kids. You begin to identify with them and you shouldn’t do that. The things you hear they have done become blasé. And that’s when you should leave, but I didn’t.”
Eventually he did leave and came to understand just how sick the environment in which he worked had become. It was those feelings from which “The Therapist” was borne.
“It (writing “The Therapist) was cathartic,” Laramie said.
Laramie said the current offender management system is ineffective.
“It doesn’t address the problem, it only creates a cycle of re-offenders,” he said. “The system is offender focused. For whatever reason in our society, we blame the victim because it makes us look at something we don’t want to look at it.”
He said society’s reluctance to discuss sexual assault leads to victims’ silence. He discussed how we’ve taken a word like “rape” and turned it into the more politically correct term, “sexual assault.” He also talked about how accusers are often ridiculed or criticized, as was the case when a Florida woman accused Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston of sexual assault last fall. Although Winston has denied any wrong doing and has not been charged with any crimes, the New York Times published a report last week questioning the thoroughness of that investigation.
“We need to stop blaming the victim. We need to embrace them and encourage them to come out. The crime is not theirs. Victims of a home burglary are never embarrassed to report the incident.
We like to think we’re an open society when it comes to sex and sexual abuse, but that’s not the case.”
“I hope this starts a dialogue about changing from an offender-focused system to a focus on victims. I’d love to think as a society we can start openly discussing this.”

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