As a child many of us were taught that names can’t hurt us. However, recent national events seem to present a different reality. Words do matter. A recent article discussed the use of the term reintegration. It was posited that what we call reintegration might best be called integration. This may seem like a minor semantic difference, but it’s more than that. It is an important debate, especially in terms of the experience of those who have victimized and those who have experienced sexual violence.
The “re” in reintegration indicates a return or a re-entry—which is where the problem is. It assumes that the offender has been integrated into the community in the first place. In talking with anyone who works in the field of sexual abuse, it is common to hear them discuss their work in terms of changing people, changing attitudes and, most importantly, changing behaviors. The common thread that winds through discussion among police, probation, parole, treatment providers, and counsellors is that the person who has committed the abuse comes out of their service different, that they are a changed person. Here is where the author’s have an issue with the “re” in reintegration: Their position is that we are not returning the person to the point that they were at pre-offence, because that is a problematic and potentially harmful place. We are trying to integrate people who have committed sexual abuse into society, to successfully integrate many of them for the first time. Often, the offender’s lack of integration (whether socially, culturally, personally, psychologically or emotionally) contributed to their sexually abusive behavior in the first place. We are trying to help them move forward into a positive, productive, and engaging life, not back to the lifestyle that they had before.
Thinking about integration versus reintegration enables us to view integration as being about the society, community, and individual’s social network working together to support the person. In contrast, reintegration rarely looks beyond a return managed by professionals to similar circumstances. Thus the author’s propose a view of integration that includes professionals playing a role, but that they are not alone in doing it. Integration is everyone’s responsibility, were as reintegration is often seen as the responsibility professional services.
The language we use is important, what it means, and what its outcomes are. If we want people to take responsibility for their behavior and change we need to use language that reflects this goal.