Mark Yantzi and Herald Press have served us well with this book on sexual offending, a topic that the church has ignored for too long. Yantzi, not content to simply discuss the problem, applies principles of restorative justice and seeks to provide workable means to restore the sex offender to wholeness. Here the author challenges those who would seek to simply punish and isolate the offender as severely and for as long as possible. Yantzi challenges us to recognize that eventually most offenders, including most sex offenders, will be back on the street and living in our neighborhoods. Without some measure of restoration, the offender is more likely to re-offend. Restoration is not only the mission of the church, it is in the best interest of society.
Yantzi knows whereof he speaks. He has experience as a parole officer with the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services and is currently a coordinator with the Sexual Abuse Treatment Program of Community Justice Initiatives in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Involved in the initiation of the first Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) in North America, Yantzi helped to develop the concept of restorative justice and has been an active practitioner of its principles. He is involved with a house church in Kitchener that is affiliated with the Mennonite Church.
Another significant feature of this book that adds to its depth and authenticity is the
reference group that included four men and four women, each of whom had some direct
personal experience or involvement in sexual abuse issues. The group involved
have sexually offended (Yantzi’s preferred term) and
victim-survivors. The personal
experience and reflections of these persons, which are liberally sprinkled throughout the book,
personalize the issues and make this book much more than an abstract, academic treatment of the
The book covers a wide range of topics in less than 250 pages. From page one, Yantzi is determined to expose and confront the pervasive reality of sexual abuse. He is convinced that we must openly talk about it if we are going to find healing and restoration. He helps us understand why sexual abuse takes place, he outlines the principles of restorative justice and how they might apply to the church community and to persons who have sexually offended. He deals with child sexual abuse, with the abuse of adults as well as sexual abuse by church leaders. He helps us understand the deep hurt and wounds inflicted by sexual abuse. He considers the complexity of forgiveness, healing, and restoration for offenders and survivors.
In one of the more provocative and engaging chapters, Yantzi describes how he was able help a neighborhood deal with fear and anxiety provoked by a convicted offender moving into their neighborhood after he was released from prison. Applying restorative justice principles, a potentially explosive situation was defused when neighbors were helped to honestly face their fears and the one who was evoking their fears.
The one area in which this reviewer would have wanted to hear more from the author was in the area
of prevention. What can we do, especially we in the church, to prevent sexual offending from
happening in the first place? The author describes an
ounce of prevention workshop which is
designed to empower victim-survivors to tell their painful stories. While this no doubt serves a
useful purpose, the personal and societal issues that create the conditions out of which people
abuse others are not addressed as systemically as one might have hoped. The church, especially,
needs to understand and address much more forthrightly the ways in which it may be failing to
provide the kind of teaching, nurture, and relational network that could consciously work against
sexual abuse. Even more urgently, the church needs to identify ways in which it may unwittingly
contribute to sexual abuse.
Sexual Offending and Restoration forces us to face the ugly truth about sexual abuse and sexual offending. It also creates new possibilities of healing and hope with its message of restoration. May its message help its readers to tell and face the truth and may it lead to new ministries of restoration.