Directed by: Frida Barkfors & Lasse Barkfors.
Written by: Frida Barkfors & Lasse Barkfors.
Pervert Park is not, nor should it be, an easy film to watch. It is a documentary that takes as its subjects, the various members of a Florida trailer park populated by 120 sex offenders. Their crimes range from (fairly) innocent to the horrifically violent – the one thing connecting them is that for the rest of their lives, they will have to register as sex offenders for the world to see. The directors, Frida and Lasse Barkfors, let the offenders themselves tell their stories – looking into the camera and at times recounting their own history of being abused, before revealing how they became abusers themselves. The film doesn’t ask you as a viewer to forgive these men (and one woman), but it does seek for you to empathize with them – to see them as human beings, not just as monsters. In doing so, it may just have at least the beginning of an answer on how to deal with sex offenders. All of these people after all are currently out of prison, free to do whatever they want – and all the justice system has done to protect society from them is require they register with local authorities. The residents at the park have group therapy sessions with a man named Don – who comes in a few hours a week. In many cases, it is the only therapy they will have – and it helps to figure out why they did what they did, and what they can do to stop themselves from doing it again.
The film allows the men and woman the chance to tell their own story, in their own words, directly to the camera. Almost all of them take responsibility for their actions, while at the same time indulging in some excuse making – the woman who had sex with her son in some ways tries to justify it by saying she was talked into it by her boyfriend, who would help them financially afterwards, and it would only be once. Another man blames his molesting of two children, at least in part, on the fact that he was in the closet, without a more normal way to indulge himself. Another talks about his first conviction as being mainly an accident – a friend of his daughters walked in on him watching porn and masturbating while at a sleepover, although when he admits his second crime – the 12 year old daughter of his girlfriend showing him that she can wear her mom’s panties, causing him to masturbate in front of her, raises a lot more questions about the veracity of his story. Oddly, the one person who seems to make no excuses for himself is the one who undoubtedly committed the worse crime – driving to Mexico looking for a prostitute, and when he couldn’t find one, kidnapping and raping a 5 year old girl. He, at least, knows there is no excusing what he did.
Pervert Park doesn’t make excuses for them either – it simply gives them the room to tell their story, and express their remorse. I wouldn’t necessarily argue that with you if you thought the film is perhaps a little too sympathetic to the offenders, and not enough to the victims. This is a film that never does dig deeper into any of the men’s claims – doesn’t talk to the victims, nor police or prosecutors to reveal the truth of their crimes, just trusts the audience to know that most of them are deluding themselves at least a little bit when they recount their crimes.
One of the films strengths however is showing, subtly, at least a possible path not to redemption exactly, but safety. The themes of the film include the cycle of abuse – how one generations abused children become the next abusing adults. It also shows the members of the trailer park engaged in group therapy sessions – where they can open up and be honest to each other. In many cases, these people have spent years in prison, and received no real counselling, no therapy, nothing – they serve their time, and then are let out to do the same thing all over again. You don’t need to like them – or even feel any sympathy for them – to realize that unless we want them to re-offend, you have to do something more than making them register with the police – which does little else except give them a group of suspects in the area when another child gets abused.
Pervert Park is a movie that turned my stomach at times. It is hard to listen to what these people did – and even harder to listen to them throw themselves a little pity party at times, bemoaning “victim culture”, and not understanding why society doesn’t see them as victims too (they may well at one point have been victims – but once you cross that line between abused and abuser, you cannot come back and ask for sympathy). I find some of these men despicable, and really, I don’t think some of them should have gotten out of jail (really, what else do you have to do besides kidnapping and raping a 5 year old to get a life sentence?). Yet I also believe that if you are going to let them out of prison, you have to do more to help them – if for no other reason than to protect more children from becoming this generation’s abused, and next generation’s abusers.