Ministering to Secondary Victims

Ministering to Secondary Victims

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Mary Stewart* vividly recalls the first time she met Gary M. Duke. Stewart’s husband had just completed a sex offender treatment session and asked her to join him as he visited Duke in his office. Duke wanted to pray with her and ask her what she had endured after her husband went to jail and they lost custody of their three children.

“I burst into tears because no one had ever cared before,” Stewart says. “But he wanted to hear what I had to say. He told me he spoke to a lot of probation and parole officers and victim advocates and wanted to get background on what another victim goes through.

Stewart didn’t see herself as a victim, but Duke convinced her otherwise, explaining that her husband’s illegal actions affected her, too.

That conversation is similar to others the longtime Assemblies of God minister and counselor hopes to have as he reaches out to more offenders’ family members. They are silent victims, according to the founder of Bright Future Professional Counseling. Duke recently started offering confidential online counseling, which he hopes will prove useful to these secondary victims.

In the 15 years the southwestern Missouri counselor has been providing sex offender treatment, no family members have approached him directly. Instead, they get acquainted after Duke, 63, engages with an offender. Or, they meet during “chaperone” workshops, where Duke outlines state regulations that must be adhered to for those who provide oversight for an offender.

To help family members and relatives who feel like societal outcasts, Duke assembled his insights into a newly published book. What Now? Understanding the Sexual Offender in Your Family is available through his website and other book outlets.

“That case rocked my boat and put a passion in my heart to treat secondary victims,” Duke says of Stewart, who at one point divorced her husband in a failed attempt to regain custody of their children.

“Nobody speaks up for them,” Duke says. “Imagine what it would be like if your husband or wife was a sex offender and your children were suddenly placed in foster care. You have been cheated on by someone in your own family and have questions no one can answer. There’s such fear and anxiety about this.”

Duke’s counseling experience goes back 20 years, when he became assistant director of Teen Challenge of the Four States in Neosho, Missouri. While there, he sensed God leading him to enroll at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield. He earned his master’s degree in counseling in 2005.

Initially, Duke thought he would continue working with young people. Instead, after joining the staff of another counseling center, he began meeting with a group of sex offenders. That one group multiplied to four before he decided to start his own firm.

“I became like a circuit-riding sex offender counselor,” says Duke, who meets with about 90 offenders — those convicted in both state and federal jurisdictions — each week, most of them via teleconferencing in the era of COVID-19. “The majority of offenders are just people who did really stupid stuff.”

One misconception Duke regularly addresses is the image of all offenders as child predators. He says in reality less than 5 percent victimize children with whom they are not already acquainted. And, once an offender receives treatment, recidivism rates are around 8 percent, a rate lower than for any other crime, except murder.

Still, he says myths create situations like a recent incident at an elementary school. On the first day of class, someone placed the pictures of every local sex offender on a bulletin board. When someone asked one offender’s grandson if he was related, it created havoc.

“From that day forward, he might as well have been a sex offender himself,” Duke says. “His parents had to move to another town because of the perceptions in school.”

When it comes to caring for those who aren’t guilty but get tarred with the same brush, Stewart says Immanuel Assembly of God in Noel — which Duke pastored before leaving for full-time counseling — is a good example.

The first time she and her husband — they later remarried each other — went, congregants greeted them warmly, even though they knew of his client relationship with Duke. It marked the first time since their former church rejected the couple that someone had hugged Stewart.

“People did not move away from us and people with kids sat in the row right in front of us,” she says. “Nobody pointed and stared. We had not had that kind of acceptance in a long time.”

* Name changed to protect privacy

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