Washington State has a history of cooperation between those who do victim services and those who treat sex offenders. There has not been the all too common “us versus them” mentality. However, what Dan Knoepfler noticed over his nearly 30 years of working with youth and adults who’ve sexually acted out is that it has been a bit one sided. Groups like King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC), Washington State Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WSCAP) and Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress (HCSATS) consistently and actively spoke out against problematic policies related to those who caused harm and supported productive policies that local ATSA/WATSA folks advocated for. Local victim advocate and prevention leaders such as Mary Ellen Stone and Lucy Berliner understand and have spoken out about stopping an abuser from offending as being an effective prevention strategy as well as doing their work with potential victims. While they didn’t want to coddle the men who abuse others, they understood the importance of helping men obtain stable housing and having a way to be self-supporting so they are less likely to re-offend and not be a drain on the system.
While supportive of victim services and their prevention efforts, it was only when the funding for such services was in jeopardy that Dan realized that he and others working on his side of the coin hadn’t been as active in speaking up in the support of the needs of those who do work for victims and prevention as they had been for his and other ATSA/WATSA members’ work.
Dan was keenly aware because he was raised by activist parents, who were also trained sex educators no less. For many years his office was decorated with a bumper sticker that said “Silence = Complicity.” It was a message for his clients but also something he believed in. When Dan attended a fundraising breakfast for victim services/prevention groups sponsored by KCSARC he was inspired by the voices of victim/survivors and the groups slogan “Be-Loud.” Dan had the uncomfortable realization that he hadn’t been practicing what he believed in and it was time to look in the mirror. He realized he had been silent and therefore complicit in the lack of support for these services he believed in and who had stood up for his work. He committed to have a far more active role.
Dan set a goal of having 100 Conversations this year about the importance of victim services and prevention. How? He put is two slogans together and made a t-shirt that was a conversation starter. He invested in a banner to show his support for the agencies. Every time he speaks he brings the banner, explains the importance of the services and their need for support and gets people to sign it. He wears his t-shirt everywhere and when it got a bit worn he added a new one - “Consent is Sexy.” This is a message he uses to teach his clients, but it is also much more. Particularly on the body of a passionate, funny and vocal advocate for a deeper understanding of what Dan refers to as “going beyond ‘yes means yes,’ which is definitely better than ‘no means no.’ He teaches that consent is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, time-limited, and situational concept. Dan’s “Consent is Sexy” t-shirt has been a catalyst for continued action. Sometimes, Dan accessorizes his t-shirt with a “Be Loud” button. How is that for a fashion statement?
Potentially damaging policies can also be a catalyst to action. One example was when Washington’s legislature was seriously considering community notification of every juvenile convicted of a sexual offense. The intent of the bill was to send a flyer home to every parent at that student’s school. Dan knew he had to be visible in his opposition. He knew he needed to do that 60 mile drive from Seattle to Olympia to testify. He knew that if it passed, it would take years to change it and even longer to undo the harm to the kids he works with on a daily basis. Yet when he spoke up against it at a gathering at his local library near his office, he was accused of being a sex offender himself and run out of the meeting. Ultimately, with many working together, the bill was defeated (several years in a row). While Dan believes in speaking out, he recognizes the risk and advises all to consider their own safety.
In terms of the success of the conversations Dan has everywhere he goes given his t-shirts, buttons and banner, he believes we have a ways to go to get the general public to recognize the value of preventing initial perpetration. Dan’s biggest success has been with his colleagues. He has worked to get others who assess, manage and treat those with problematic sexual behaviors to recognize their role in prevention and the importance of speaking out themselves and in support of victim and prevention services.
Dan is the spark for 100 conversations to encourage people that might otherwise be complicit in their silence to speak out and to see the power and possibilities of consent. Through Dan’s actions, he is helping us to see actions we can take.
Dan Knoepfler, MC, LMHC, is an ATSA member who nearly 30 years has done assessments and treatment with youth and adults who’ve sexually acted out.
Interview and blog by ATSA-Prevention Committee Member: Cordelia Anderson, M.A. has been working to prevent child sexual abuse, exploitation and sexual violence since 1976. She is a member of the ATSA Prevention Committee