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The Psycho/Social/Spiritual Impact of Being Held In a “Treatment Center” For Sex Offenders:

Reflections on the Outcome of a Brief Questionnaire Administered to a Group of Civilly Committed Men.

By Jon Thompson and James Hunter

 

INTRODUCTION

In an attempt to give a “voice” to a demonized segment of the American population that is seldom heard from, Every Farthing Publications, with Support from the Percy Foundation, sent out a questionnaire (Hunter, 2018) to incarcerated people who expressed and interest in sharing personal beliefs and autobiographical information with the general public. A good deal of autobiographical material was collected in this way, and was included in a publication entitled “Social Garbage” (Sturgis, 2017). After the book was published, it occurred to me that I (Hunter) had failed to include a very important question in the questionnaire. During my years as an active mental health worker I was impressed by existentialist approaches to providing treatment, and specifically by an approach called “logotherapy.” Logotherpay emphasizes the importance of having a purpose that gives meaning to one’s life. It was defined by Victor Frankl whose thought was strongly influenced by his experiences in a concentration camp during the second world war, which he described in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. (Frankl, 1959). In an article in The Journal of Existential Psychiatry, Frankl articulates his central premise as follows: “According to logotheraputic concepts, man is not primarily interested in any psychic conditions of his own, but rather is oriented toward the world, toward the world of potential meanings and values which so-to-speak are waiting to be fulfilled or actualized by him. In Logotherapy we speak, in this connection, of a ‘will to meaning,’ and contrast it to the pleasure principle (which we could also call a ‘will to pleasure’) and, on the other hand, to the so-called ‘will to power’.” (Frankl, 1960, pp 7 and 8). Inspired by my recollection of Frankl’s approach, I (Hunter) added a question to the questionnaire that I sent out: Do you believe that it is possible for you to have a worthwhile life in prison? I chose the term “worthwhile” in the hope that it would evoke those hopes and aims that went beyond the desire for more pleasure or power. I felt that “worthwhile life” would sound less pedantic than “meaningful existence” which might have been a more accurate term.

METHOD

Jon Thompson, the co-author of this paper, is incarcerated in the Federal Civil Commitment Center in Butner, North Carolina. He was impressed with this question, and prepared a questionnaire (See below) which he distributed to all of the 70 men in the unit. When all the material was collected, he sent it to me.

The Questionnaire:

No_____

 

Please do not trade with anyone else. Although this questionnaire is “blind” (No named on it), the above number is coordinated with your name on a list kept in the event that the publisher would like to contact you.

There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to the questions. The answers are for informational purposes only. They may be as short as a simple “yes” or “no,” or as long as a novel if you desire. You may write, print, or type your replies and feel free to attach any additional sheets necessary to complete your answers.

Thank you for your participation.

 

Part I:

Age: ________

 

How many total years have you been incarcerated? (This includes all local, state, federal, and civil commitment time.) ______

 

Have you ever been released from a civil commitment facility? _______

Part II:

Can a person in prison have a life worth living before civil commitment, and why?

What about during civil commitment and why?

RESULTS

70 questionnaires were handed out. This was everybody in the unit except a couple of people who were in the infirmary or for other reasons were not available.

45 (64%) of the questionnaires were returned filled out.

19 were not returned and 6 were returned without being filled out. So 25 (36%) were not returned with information.

Only one of the 40 who returned filled-out questionnaires felt that it was impossible to find life worthwhile while in an ordinary prison with a fixed release date.

20 (44%) switched from finding life worthwhile to finding it not worthwhile as they moved from an ordinary prison to imprisonment in civil commitment.

17 (42%) of the 40 that returned the questionnaires added information regarding why they did or did not find life in regular prison, and/or civil commitment worthwhile. Having no clear release date was the most common reason given for not finding life worthwhile.

Other reasons for finding life not worthwhile in prison and/or in civil commitment were being socially isolated to an extreme degree, being labeled as monsters, having all communications with people on the outside monitored, and not having access to meaningful work or recreational opportunities. No other reason for finding life devoid of meaning was mentioned nearly as frequently as the perception that the incarceration would never end. Even among the few who said they found life in a treatment center “worthwhile,” the reason they did so was often that they believed that if they followed the treatment program with sufficient diligence, they would be released.

In summary, by far the most common reason for being able to find life worthwhile – whether in the regular prison or in the continuation of imprisonment in the civil commitment program – was the belief that one will one day be able to get out of prison. It is important to note that this is not the same as finding anything in an incarcerated life as being intrinsically worthwhile. The most common perception of incarcerated individuals – whether in the regular prison or in the imprisonment of civil commitment – is that imprisonment is a kind of dead time during which one “kills time” until real, worthwhile life can resume, upon release.

The importance of knowing one’s release date was also commented on by Frankl in his description of life in a concentration camp. “Former prisoners, when writing or relating their experiences, agree that the most depressing influence of all was that a prisoner could not know how long his term of imprisonment would be.” (Frankl, 1963, p.110)

DISCUSSION

The conditions that must be met for any individual to feel s/he has a worthwhile life are fairly well understood. They include (1) self-adequacy, (2) belonging as a valued member in a social group, and (3) the opportunity to make a significant contribution to something or someone beyond one’s self. These three concepts correspond roughly to the three levels of self-fulfillment in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: love/belonging, esteem, and self actualization. I think it is somewhat unfortunate that Maslow called the highest level, “self-actualization” when it could, with greater accuracy, be called “self-transcending.” Nevertheless, it is clear that the spirit of his thinking is quite similar to Frankl’s, and is compatible with the perspective of this paper. Therefore we will focus on these three conditions for the worthwhile life as we examine the impact of civil commitment on those men it has captured.

Self-adequacy

I am using the term “self-adequacy” to designate three closely related and overlapping, but still distinct, psychological concepts: (1) Self esteem, by which I mean a positive image of one’s self, (2) Locus of control, which has to do with whether the locus of control for important aspects of one’s life are within the self, or external to the self, and (3) Self efficacy, or the belief that one has the capacity to effectively achieve one’s goals. It is not possible to imagine that a person could have a sense of well-being without a reasonable level of self-adequacy.

A brief digression about where we are

Despite the claim that the civil commitment facility at Butner is a hospital and not a continuation of prison, it is understood by the majority of the inmates that this is a fiction that was created to evade a number of constitutional issues having to do with due process. Respondent #5 sums it up in this way:

Though you’re under their “civil” category you’re in a prison, held to prisoner standards, wear the prison uniform, are punished under prison policies, and are treated as, or worse than, any incarcerated inmate.

Respondent #51 describes this environment as a “prison within a prison:”

The BOP (Bureau of Prisons) has isolated us from the rest of the prison. So for 23 or more hours a day we are imprisoned in the specified cell-block. This is being imprisoned inside a prison. Then the prison staff has the gall to tell us that we are detainees, not prisoners.

The view that we take in this paper is that if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then probably it is a duck. For all practical intents and purposes the sex-offender treatment program at Butner N.C. is a prison. Certainly it is what Erving Goffman called a “total institution” (Goffman, 1961).

The impact of prison life on self-esteem

Having been imprisoned myself for a violation of society’s sexual norms, I (James Hunter) know something about the attack on identity that a sex-offender experiences in prison. In the book where I describe my incarceration, These Were My Realities (Hunter, 2006), I summarize the experience of the assault on one’s self-image as follows:

In the state where I was incarcerated, those who were doing time in relation to sex abuse charges are known as ‘skinners’. Skinner is a term of derision. If the word were to be found in your thesaurus it would be linked to such terms as shit-bag, baby raper, pedophile, scum, creep, pervert, fiend, demon, and monster. The skinner is the folk demon par excellence. He is the perfect scapegoat. He is the common enemy who allows an uneasy truce between competing and discordant factions within our society. It is the skinner who makes it possible for progressives, religious fundamentalists, the poor, feminists, family values people, the economic elite, and perhaps even a few carefully selected Moslems to all crawl into the same bed where, if they do not exactly make love, they can at least sleep together.

The only terms that come close to ‘skinner’ in negative emotional force are ‘nigger’ and ‘fag’. Certainly all these terms have the same purpose. They are used to degrade, to justify mental and at times physical attack and torture, to destroy the possibility of positive identity, and to exclude whole groups of people from the circle of acceptable humanity. Blacks often call each other ‘nigger’. Gays also have taken the terms originally used against them and transformed them into terms of defiance and ironic self-affirmation. But you will never hear one “skinner” use the term in a bantering or friendly manner with another “skinner.” The term reeks too strongly of violence and hatred. But even more than that, “skinners” for the most part share in the general consensus as to their nature. Perhaps that feeble point of unity – that shared perception of his profound and essential unacceptability – provides the “skinner” with some hope of eventually being taken back into the fold of acceptable humanity. (Hunter, 2005, p. 8)

Especially given the fact that the Butner program is actually housed in a physical prison, it is safe to assume that the general prison attitude toward prisoners dominates the mental landscape here. It is astonishing to me that, given their need to pretend that civil commitment is not just a continuation of prison, the authorities continue to house the program in a prison. In any case, in prison, sex-offenders are seen as scum. This is confirmed by respondent #16 who says, in response to the question regarding whether it is possible to have a worthwhile life in the civil commitment program, “ No. It would be very difficult. Now that we are labeled as monsters that is how they treat us here.” Respondent # 43 feels that treatment staff treat the inmates with some respect, but he observes that “here, prison administration and most of the staff treat us like inmates of the lowest class.”

Beyond the stigma that pervades our society, and that is concentrated with an even greater intensity in prisons, the treatment program itself adds another level to the stigma. Social research has not been able to establish a profile of the typical sex-offender. Except that they have broken a law, there is nothing that reliably distinguishes members of this group from a random selection of people in the population. They are not more stupid, more insensitive, or more anything than any anybody else. Nevertheless the treatment techniques at Butner, as in most sex-offender programs, are clearly based on the assumptions that members of this group lack empathy, are incapable of love, are manipulative, are dishonest, lack insight, and are highly sociopathic. And they are treated accordingly. So this negative view of who sex-offenders are is added to the already overwhelming stigma that the offenders live with. This is hardly helpful to men who are drowning in socially induced self-hatred .

The impact of prison life on self-efficacy

A prison environment constitutes a massive attack on both the prisoner’s locus of control and his self-efficacy. This is so self-evident that it would not seem to merit extensive discussion. Most of the decisions about what happens to prisoners on a daily basis are made by the program and by staff rather than by the prisoners, and the range of free activity is extremely constricted. Thus the locus of control is largely external to the individual and the opportunities for self-efficacy are very limited. While this much is obvious, civil commitment programs have gone to a new level in denying the autonomy of the individual.

Autonomy comes in three flavors: behavioral, emotional and cognitive. Prisons have always restricted behavioral autonomy. They were invented specifically for that purpose. But, until fairly recently, an incarcerated person in the United States could say, with some accuracy, “well, they can deny me my freedom of movement but I still own my mind,” or something along that line. For some, this is no longer the case. Sex offenders in treatment are subjected to a powerful attack on the autonomy of the mind.

The rationale of the treatment program is that behavior is “mediated” by cognition, as the cognitive therapists are fond of expressing it. Therefore therapy must target the dysfunctional beliefs of the prisoner. There is an element of truth in this perspective. Behavior is the outcome of a number of different forces: physical, social, emotional, and cognitive. But this “element of truth” does not justify the procedures we find used in sex-offender treatment. I will try to make it clear why this is so.

The underlying assumption of sex-offender treatment programs is that if a person has violated one of society’s sexual laws, this justifies denying the person’s cognitive and emotional autonomy as well as his behavioral autonomy. The sex-offender must be forced to think and feel correctly or be punished severely.

In the Butner facility, Joining the treatment program is not required. The carrot that is held out to the prisoner for choosing to participate in the treatment program is the hope for eventual release. That most participants never get to eat this carrot is one of the cruelest and most cynical aspects of the program. Respondent #64 states thatJoining the program, one’s only way of achieving freedom, simply means one might be out in another 4, 5, 6 or more years by which time one is totally brainwashed.” For reasons totally outside one’s control or knowledge, one might remain in therapy forever.

The comment by Respondednt #64 raises an important question. Is the “cognitive” therapy that is imposed on people in sex-offender treatment programs actually brain-washing – the term he uses – and not cognitive therapy at all. In order to answer this question we must begin with clear definitions of brainwashing and cognitive therapy.

Merrian Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/brainwashing provides this definition of brainwashing:

A forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas.

The American Institute for Cognitive Therapy https://www.cognitivetherapynyc.com/What-Is-Cognitive-Therapy.aspx provides this definition of cognitive therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a relatively short-term, focused psychotherapy for a wide range of psychological problems including depression, anxiety, anger, marital conflict, loneliness, panic fears, eating disorders, substance abuse, alcohol abuse and dependence and personality problems. The focus of therapy is on how you are thinking, behaving, and communicating today rather than on your early childhood experiences. The therapist assists the patient in identifying specific distortions (using cognitive assessment) and biases in thinking and provides guidance on how to change this thinking.

There is a superficial similarity between the two techniques. Both deal with an assessment of a client’s cognition, and both focus on efforts to eliminate cognitions that are believed to be dysfunctional and to replace them with those that are functional. So it is easy to see how the two interventions might be confused. However, there are significant differences. The most important difference has to do with the issue of coercion. With brainwashing, we have a “forcible indoctrination,” while cognitive therapy endeavors to “guide” the patient. Brainwashing also attempts to protect the client from from competing ideas and it enforces an unnecessary degree of social isolation to protect the client from wrong-think and social influences that are deemed negative. So far as I know, techniques aimed at protecting the client from normal social contacts for fear they might be exposed to negative cognitions is not a part of any valid cognitive therapy. Nor are clients punished for negative cognitions. With the so-called “cognitive techniques” used in sex-offender treatment, and this cannot be emphasized enough, wrong-think is punished with continuing imprisonment. Only physical torture would be more coercive. Finally, cognitive therapy is typically a short term intervention. It cannot possibly take years to teach the few tenets that are the target of the therapy. In sex-offender treatment the beliefs that treatment leaders consider relevant could be listed on a single page. Why, then, does it take years to teach these simple ideas to the program participants?

All of this does not even touch on the issue of whether the beliefs that are forced upon the program participants are actually supported by science. To evaluate all of the beliefs targeted in the sex-offender treatment program as it is implemented in Federal Civil Commitment program in Butner would be beyond the scope of this paper. However, looking at one such belief might be instructive. Clearly the participants in the program are expected to believe that any sexual activity between an adult and a child – as defined by the sex offender laws in this country – is always profoundly damaging to the younger partner. This has been shown to be factually untrue by extensive research. The specifics are detailed below in the section entitled “The justification of radical measures.”

In a free society, legal interventions must be limited to behavior

In a free society, the legal system is concerned with whether the the behavior of its citizens conforms to the law. Laws that dictate acceptable beliefs or feelings and that allow for the punishment of individuals that deviate from these beliefs and feelings are acceptable only in totalitarian societies. Even if one assumes that sex-offender treatment has a limited but legitimate concern for beliefs that might lead to re-offending, reasons for not re-offending might be quite varied. A person who has committed a sexual offense need not believe any of the “correct” beliefs in order to decide not to “re-offend.” Let me illustrate this. Four of the “correct” beliefs that are taught in treatment programs are as follows:

  1. Sexual activity between adults and minors is always damaging – profoundly and intrinsically so.

  2. To allow a relationship between one’s self and a minor to become sexual is motivated by a desire for power, not love.

  3. Someone must be “blamed” for allowing a relationship to become sexual, and this must always be the adult.

  4. To allow sexual activity to occur between an adult and a person who is defined as a child in this society is a symptom of a mental disorder, which must be aggressively treated.

The assumption of the treatment provider is that unless an offender comes to believe these assertions (among others), he will continue to be at risk of re-offending. Is this true? Obviously not. A person who has broken one of society’s sexual laws might reject all the above treatment premises, and simply come to the conclusion that inter-generational sexual behavior, in this society, entails too many risks for both himself and the child, and on the basis of that, he could resolve to not violate the law again. It happens every day.

The law is about behavior – not about either feelings or cognitions. This is as it should be. You can hate me. You can think that I am a despicable person. You can even want to punch me in the face. But you cannot actually punch me in the face. If we are to maintain a free society these distinctions between feeling, thinking and doing must be maintained.

Furthermore, in a free society even with people who are convicted of crimes, it is not permissible to deny them their freedom of thought and expression. To establish a set of beliefs to which one must subscribe if he is to avoid being incarcerated is a violation of the constitution. This is precisely what sex-offender treatment does. It doesn’t matter if you call it “hospitalization.” Imprisonment is imprisonment. In civil commitment people are imprisoned for what they feel, for what they believe, for what they dream and for what they might do. The primary thing that a person must do in order to have any hope of release is to convince a group of treatment providers what the providers can never know for sure – that the prisoner now believes and feels what he is supposed to believe and feel, and is not just faking it.

A word needs to be said about faking it. People are not able to simply change their beliefs at will. To demand that they do so is therefore unfair, especially if the consequence for the failure is continuing imprisonment. Suppose that I believe that my car is red, but you want me to believe that it is blue. I cannot change my belief that it is red, even if you threaten to kill me unless I do. The best I can do is fake it – which, of course, is what I would do if you held a gun at my head. That is precisely the situation with sex-offender treatment. Everybody who hasn’t given up on ever having a life outside of prison owns a blue car, whatever color it is.

Another factor that assures that the locus of control will remain outside the prisoner, and that he will have little or no control over his life, is the lack of objective and clear criteria that specify when treatment is successfully completed, and when release from the program can then therefore reasonably be expected. A contract specifying not only what is expected from the prisoner, but what the prisoner can expect as a result of living up to the programs expectations is lacking. A so-called “contract” saying what is expected from the prisoner, and not what he can expect from compliance is not a contract at all. It’s just a set of orders. A real contract would allow the locus of control to shift back into the prisoner, and would thereby grant him some capacity for control over what happens to him. If I do A, B, C, and D, as the program demands, then I can reasonably expect that consequences E, F, G and H will follow. Such criteria are totally lacking in the program.

Autonomy is at the very core of what we mean by “person-hood.” To be a person is to be a free agent. If a person is a danger to others, it may be necessary to limit his or her behavioral autonomy. But when, in addition, we deny a person the right to feel, think and dream as he will, we attack his personhood – and we violate his soul.

Belonging

Men who have been outed as MAPs (minor attracted persons) experience the loss of significant relationships. Without any exceptions that I know of, incarcerated MAPs have been abandoned by many if not all of their friends, family and significant others. The stigma associated with the social identity of being a “pedophile” is enormous, and it tends to rub off on significant others who refuse to distance themselves from any MAP with whom they have been on friendly terms. Friends, after all, might be a part of a sex ring and spouses who do not divorce their offending husbands are probably enablers. In self-defense the MAP must be abandoned.

Providing help in dealing with the resulting grief would have to be one of the most important treatment goals of any program that actually had the well-being of the MAP as it’s primary concern. But of course furthering the well-being of the MAPs who are being treated is not the aim of the treatment. The aim of the treatment is to prevent “re-offending.” Whatever harm is done to the MAP is justified by the protection of possible future victims.

The MAP, like the scapegoats of old, is driven out of the community and, in many cases, is subjected to a condition of almost complete social isolation. He can be found under bridges or in programs that have specifically been set up to prevent the MAP from being in the community by extending his incarceration indefinitely. Whether this social isolation of the MAP protects future victims is a debatable point. Whether increasing his social isolation is harmful to the MAP is not debatable. Simply being placed in a Civil Commitment program radically constricts a persons social network, and is harmful to that person.

To whom might an incarcerated MAP reach out, and who might be inclined to respond, after family and friends have mostly abandoned him? I would suggest that it is those who have one or both of two characteristics. First, s/he might simply be a person who does not have a mainstream perception of the MAP – one who does not see him as a monster. Second, s/he might be someone who has actually been through the experience him or (rarely, her) self, and who is therefore sympathetic to what the incarcerated MAP is going through. Once you have blocked contact with people with these characteristics you have forced the MAP into a deeper level of psycho/social/spiritual isolation. Let me illustrate how this attack on any meaningful social network operates with an example from my own experience. Not long ago I received the following communication as part of a larger e-mail from an inmate at the Butner Civil Treatment Center:

On a very somber and sobering note, which you will no doubt take very hard, but you need to be aware of for future reference...

They REALLY beat me up over your books in my possession and my personal communications with you and B.C. [a man who provides helpful and very non-radical materials to incarcerated sex offenders] . You might pass this message along to him just so he knows. I haven't actually been in contact with him since I've been here, but that didn't matter a bit. When I get transcripts of the whole debacle I'll send them to you and you can take whatever precautions you feel you might need to make for anyone else in this position.

I told them I wasn't giving up the one person who had befriended me and been a decent person to me in the last 11 years. Then I asked her to set me a euthanasia date. Of course she refused, but it's in the record now.

By “beat me up” he was referring, of course, to verbal attack. But it is important to understand the significance of this. The message that was given to him was clear: These people do not support our point of view. Therefore, if you want to ever have a chance of leaving this facility, you must discontinue your contact with them. Notice that the issue here is clearly one of wrong-think and wrong-association. One must question whether it is permissible to use psychotherapy as an excuse for denying people their constitutionally protected rights of freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of association. Perhaps that needs to be debated in legal journals. Here we are simply making the point that the Civil Commitment Program at Butner does actively press the incarcerated person into an even deeper social isolation than he previously experienced, and is harmful to the person’s well-being for that reason.

The issue of social isolation was one of the concerns that was frequently mentioned in the comments section of the questionnaire. Respondent #26 summarized some of the procedures used by staff on the unit to enforce and even increase social isolation:

Our mail is often restricted and heavily scrutinized. We are told who we can and cannot associate with. We are locked down in our housing unit most of the day. Our cells/rooms are often shut down by psychology staff and our property taken away from us without any good reason, and intimate relations between two inmates is heavily prohibited in this unit.”

Respondent #32 provided a similar list of socially constricting policies that are enforced on the unit:

It is much harder [to live in the civil confinement unit]. I have contact with only those who live in this unit. We are not allowed to associate with anyone on the lower compound or in the general population. Our mail, both incoming and outgoing, is read and copied – except legal. Anything like magazines, books, or newspapers are screened for inappropriate content whether you are in the [treatment] program or not. We’re subjected to more shakedowns, where property is taken but we can’t find who took it or why. Pictures of family members are taken or mutilated. TV programs are monitored to see who is watching what. Programmed or not, our freedoms are restricted more than as an inmate.”

Making a contribution to life

The opportunities for useful activities that might be of benefit to others are extremely limited in the civil commitment program. Perhaps the staff – under the influence of society’s demonized image of the sex-offender – does not believe that making a positive contribution to others or to life in general, is high on the agenda of convicted sex-offenders. However, even in this small exploratory research project we find evidence that contradicts this cynical view. Having a limited ability to contribute to others was spontaneously mentioned by more than one prisoner as one of the reasons it was difficult to find life worthwhile. Respondent #4 was particularly eloquent in this regard:

The best I can do on a daily basis is to help other civilly committed persons – what? Sew up their sweatshirts for them? Make a dream catcher for them? Nice to be sure, but not very life-affirming. My absolute best is to make someone smile or laugh. I can. I know from experience that I’m able to lift someone spirits even if only momentarily. A good feeling. Wonderful, in fact. But is life worth living? I could be helping to feed the homeless. I could be building homes for people. There is much that I could do here if officials would allow it. But a life worth living? No, not really.

Respondent #25 mentioned his hope to one day resume his involvement with his Mormon faith as one of the things that makes life seem worthwhile even under the trying circumstances on the unit.

Respondent #26 states that he he is unable to find life in the civil commitment program worthwhile “because all hopes of ever going home and leading a productive life in the free world have been shattered.”

The evidence that we have gleaned from this questionnaire suggests that there is a very limited opportunity for any productive or meaningful use of one’s time while one is in the sex offender treatment program. When it is understood that civil commitment may be for life, we are talking about measures that are quite radical.

The Justification Of Radical Measures

To deliberately evade the clear intention of the constitution with regard to double jeopardy by pretending that a prison is a hospital; to keep a person incarcerated for life for crimes he may commit; to ignore the sort of due process that would be insisted upon in dealing with any other crime; and to deny a person his right to cognitive and affective autonomy are radical procedures. As civil commitment programs were set up, this kind of radical deviation from accepted practice both legally and psycho-therapeutically was justified by three claims: (1) that all sexual contact between adults and minors is unwanted by all minors. (2) that every incident of sexual contact between a child and an adult (as defined by our society) is extremely damaging to the child’s well-being and (3) that the recidivism rate for sex offenders is extremely high.

The universal aversion of all children to any kind of sexual contact with an adult

Dealing with this issue in an honest manner is often evaded by a deliberate logical fallacy. It is stated that “children cannot consent to sexual activities with adults.” On the face of it, this is an absurd statement. It’s like saying that children cannot consent to eating yogurt. Some may consent, and some may not. But obviously they can. If we challenge the claim that children cannot consent to socially disapproved sex, we are told that one of two things are really meant. It may mean that the child cannot legally consent to sexual activity with an adult. Actually even that is not true. It’s the adult who cannot legally consent to sex with a child. Or it may refer to “informed consent.” As defined in a Wikipedia article, (Wikipedia, Informed Consent, n.d.) informed consent “can be said to have been given based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and consequences of an action.”

Actually “informed consent” is a complex issue. Taken in a literal and radical sense, no one can give informed consent to anything, as we never know the consequences of our actions. Certainly one could never consent to something he or she has never done before. But the common everyday meaning of “consent” is to to “permit, approve, or agree; comply or yield.” Let us call this “simple” consent. It cannot logically be claimed that what is true of “legal consent” or “informed consent” will necessarily be true of simple consent. And the issue of simple consent is an important one. Probably the most important factor with regard to the outcome of a sexual encounter of any kind concerns whether simple consent was given. To attempt to prevent this factor being studied on the basis of a deliberate logical fallacy is bad science and dishonest scholarship.

So, dealing just with the issue of simple consent, what is the data? Do children sometimes consent to sexual activity with adults, or even seek it out? Do adults, often recall such activities in a positive light? The two best collections of data that I know of on this topic are Brief Testimonies by Titus Rivas, (Rivas, 1916) and Boys on Their Contacts with Men: A Study of Sexually Expressed Friendships by Theo Sanfort. (Sanfort, 1984).

Brief Testimonies is a very large collection of short accounts of sexual encounters between adults and children, which the children wanted and found gratifying. One cannot read all these accounts and still honesty claim that children never consent to sexual activity with adults. Perhaps some or all of these encounters were ultimately not in the interest of the younger person, or in the interest of society. That can be argued. But if one desires to make that point, it must be argued on the basis of something other than whether the child consented to the activity (in the simple sense of the term).

The Sanfort study was conducted in 1980. It would no longer be possible to do such a study. Twenty men who were sexually involved with boys were found through the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform. The men ranged in age from 26 to 66. Both the men and the boys, all of whom were in their relationship because it was something they wanted, were interviewed. It is abundantly clear that the boys who were interviewed liked the men they were with, and liked all the aspects of the relationship, including the sex. Some people, wishing to dismiss the importance of this study, have used the fact that the men and the boys were friends as a point of attack. Perhaps, it is suggested, their friendship led the boys to present this aspect of the relationship in a positive manner that was not consistent with their actual experience. It would be hard to read the transcripts of the interviews with an open mind and not be convinced of the authenticity of the boy’s reports. The questions were non-leading and the responses were clearly spontaneous. In a paper presented at the Paulus Kerk in Rotterdam, Rind, Bauserman and Tromovitch suggest that the fact that the sexual activities took place in the context of friendship actually lends credence to the findings:

Critics have tended to reject this study as invalid for a variety of reasons, one being that the boys were recruited into the study by their adult partners who may have had an agenda. Many of these critics have assumed the relationships had to be negative, arguing that the boys were pressured to provide positive reports. Our review of the college studies, as well as data from the other convenience samples just presented, suggests clearly that a sizable minority of boys do experience these contacts positively, which argues for the validity of Sandford's findings. The unusually high percent of positive reactions in his study probably has to do with the fact that these sexual contacts occurred within the context of a friendship. Other convenience samples on boys experiencing sex with adults in friendship relationships have yielded generally the same results. (Rind, 1998)

One cannot overestimate the importance of the friendship factor. As Sandfort said, “The boys found sex a pleasurable aspect of their friendship, but it certainly does not seem to have been their most important reason for maintaining it -- this is in sharp contrast to the assumption of many people that pedophile relationships are exclusively sexual." (Sandfort, 1987, p 51.)

The inevitability of extreme harm

Bruce Rind points out that in the mental health field a set of presuppositions guide both theory and practice in dealing with “Child Sexual Abuse.” The very choice of the term “child sexual abuse” for the subject matter under consideration suggests that the conclusion that research is supposed to confirm or deny is already presupposed before the data is gathered or analyzed. Rind suggests that these presuppositions are that Child Sexual Abuse, or “CSA has certain basic properties:

  1. it causes harm,

  2. which occurs on a pervasive basis,

  3. is usually intense, and

  4. is equivalent, or just as negative, for boys and girls.” (Rind, 1998, 2).

Rind set out to evaluate the accuracy of these assumptions by means of meta-analyses of studies that were already done. He preferred to use non-clinical samples as these were less likely to be confounded by extraneous data that might distort the results. With non-clinical samples the causal connection between CSA and significant harm was tenuous at best. For example, in one such meta-analysis by Tromovitch, Rind and Bauserman found that if one took into consideration the variables of family environment and the effects of societal reaction, the causal reaction between even the small negative correlation between CSA and negative outcomes was brought into question:

Analyses of the data gathered to be nationally representative imply that the association between having an experience classifiable as CSA and having poorer adult functioning is small. The size of this association is identical to that found when using college samples, suggesting that data based on college samples may be generalizable to the population at large. The college data imply that this small association applies regardless of the symptom under examination. Finally, the reliable confounding of CSA and family environment imply that this small association cannot be assumed to represent a causal association. (Tromovitch, 1997)

Michael Baurmann was the primary author of Sexuality, Violence and Psychological Aftereffects: A longitudinal study of cases of sexual assault which were reported to the police. (Baurmann, 1983.) This study includes all reported sexual contacts in the state of lower Saxony, Germany, between 1969 in 1972 – for a total of 8058 cases. As such it’s the largest study of sexual abuse ever conducted.

The relevance of some of Baurmann’s observations for the issue of the relationship between “abuse” and harm is self-evident, so I include some of his concluding comments here without any further comment.

Looking at the effects of criminal sexual acts on the declared victims, it turned out that many reported that sexual contacts caused no harm at all. From this, it follows that the uncritical use of terms like victim” and “harmed” is – for a large portion of those registered as sexual victims – inappropriate. ... Obviously, the words “victim” and “harm” strongly suggested the person in question has been injured. However, for many of the persons questioned here, who became known as victims, these terms simply do not apply. Some of them were in fact initially made victims secondarily, because they were exposed to the negative effects of both prejudice and the instruments of criminal prosecution. It is thus not surprising that only a very small proportion of the numerically large group of child victims personally made the decision to make a report. Correspondingly, most of the reports were filed by the parents.

Thus children who did not feel that they had been harmed were nevertheless treated as if they were. Sometimes, in the course of further criminal proceedings, they are then actually harmed by prejudicial adults (who are only trying to protect them) (i.e., secondary victimization through over dramatization, questioning their credibility, assigning blame, etc.). ...

Looking at reported sexual contacts directly from the perspective of harm, it must be said that a greater extent of harm was observable observable in about 34% of the declared victims studied. To a lesser extent it was assigned in a further 18%. About 48% of the persons who were registered as having been harmed” reported either no harm at all, or only a minimal degree of harm. They also did not perceive themselves to have been “harmed,” or to have suffered primary victimization. Among reported sexual contacts, one finds that – based on primary harmful effects to declared victims – there is actually a very large proportion of criminal acts that do not have a victim, if one takes seriously the subjective assessments of those most directly affected. Some of the declared victims, most of whom are now adults, reported that though they did not feel they had been harmed by the criminalized act itself, they did think that they had been harmed by subsequent, overly dramatic environmental reactions.”

(Baurmann p 469)

Sonya Arreola, Torsten Neilands, Lance Pollack, Jay Paul, Joseph Catania, in their study, Childhood sexual experiences and adult health sequelae among gay and bisexual men: defining childhood sexual abuse, arrived at some rather surprising results. If their data is accurate, there are situations in which a mutually desired sexual relationship might actually be helpful to the younger partner.

"Interestingly, the forced sex group and the no sex group were statistically indistinguishable in their level of well-being, while the consensual sex group was significantly more likely to have a higher level of well-being than either of the other two groups. This suggests that consensual sex before 18 years of age may have a positive effect, perhaps as an adaptive milestone of adolescent sexual development."

(Journal of Sex Research, July-Sept, 2008)

High recidivism rate

The claim that sex offenders have a high recidivism rate is simply and clearly refuted by Barbara Koeppel in her article Sex Crimes and Criminal Justice: Formerly incarcerated sex offenders say civil commitment programs deny proper rehabilitation (Koeppel, 2008):

Contrary to public beliefs, many lawyers and mental health professionals say released sex offenders do not often commit new sex crimes. According to a 2016 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report titled “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010,” only 5.6 percent of prisoners convicted of rape or sexual assault are arrested for a new rape or sexual assault within five years of release from prison. Other studies, from 1998 through 2006, that follow re-offenses over a longer time period, place the rate at 13 to14 percent. And the rate for juvenile sex offenders is even less—at 3 to 4 percent. The only recidivism rate that is lower involves those who were convicted of murder.

The recidivism rate is not this low because any sex offenders were cured of their pedophilia. The fact is that there is no psychological treatment that has cured, or ever will cure pedophilia, no matter how intensely or for how long a period of time it is imposed on an individual. The reason this is true is very nicely summed up by an individual who resides in a treatment facility and who knows the psycho/social dynamics of being subjected to the machinations of treatment providers first hand:

...No matter how socially loathed and feared in our society pedophilia may be as a sexual attraction, the fact remains that attraction or orientation is what it is – not a “treatable” personality, emotional or sexual malady which will go away with sufficient treatment. There is no “cure” for the pedophilic orientation, any more than there is a ‘cure’ for your own orientation, whatever it may be.” (Lawyer X, 2013, p 231)

Nor, is the recidivism rate low because, society (despite all its efforts) was able to create an individual who was totally devoid of psycho/social agency.

The low recidivism rate derives from the fact that human beings who were still capable of agency chose not to engage in behaviors that are illegal and could therefore lead to dire consequences for both themselves and their younger partners.

CONCLUSION

The notion of death has become somewhat problematic in modern life. For example, is a person still “alive” if there is no brain activity, but all the major organ systems – with the aid of technological devices – continue to function? Perhaps we could gain an enhanced understanding of what it means to “be alive” if we expanded our frame of reference a step further. From a phenomenological point of view we function on a variety of levels. These can be designated as the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. I would suggest that the primary indication of psychological life is agency. We feel alive psychologically when we believe that the locus of control of our decisions and actions is, at least to a significant extent, within oneself. We feel ourselves to be socially alive when we exist as valued member of a social group. We feel spiritually alive when we feel that we are making a contribution to life that goes beyond our limited selves.

The treatment of the sex-offender in “treatment” centers is a logical extension of the manner in which the offender is treated by the larger society. He is a member of the most hated, vilified and shunned group in American society. He is ruthlessly attacked psychologically, socially and spiritually. He is allowed to continue living biologically but only as a burned out shell with the road to a meaningful existence effectively blocked at multiple points. All of the prejudices and hatred that one finds in the larger society are brought, unmodified by professional insight, into the treatment facility. The effects of treatment on the psychological, social and spiritual life of the individual are devastating. One has to ask whether the broad attack on the personhood of sex-offenders can be defended as “best practice” by psychiatry, psychology, social work or any other component of the mental health movement. If not, why is it tolerated?

Is an individual who has been crushed psychologically, socially and spiritually less likely to re-offend should he be released? And given the high level of improbability that he will be released from civil commitment in any case, what exactly is the point of forcing any regime of therapy on him?

 

References

Arreola, S., Neilands, T., Pollack, L., Paul, J., Catania, J., (2008). Childhood sexual experiences and adult health sequelae among gay and bisexual men: defining childhood sexual abuse. The Journal of Sex Research, (45) 3

Baurmann, M. (1983). Sexuality, Violence and Psychological Sequelae A Longitudinal Study of Cases of Sexual Assault which were Reported to the Police. Accessed August 15, 2018: http://michaelbaurmann.info/

Frankl, V., (1963). Man’s Search For Meaning. New York: Pocket Books.

Frankl, V., (1960). Beyond Self-Actualization and Self-Expression. Journal of Existential Psychiatry, 1(1).

Goffman, Erving, (1961). “On the characteristics of total institutions: Staff-inmate relations.” In: Donald R. Cressey (ed.), The prison: Studies in institutional organization.

Hunter, J., (2018). Questionnaire for Social Garbage submission. Accessed August 30, 2018: https://www.dropbox.com/s/iwdm9d7bvk10f94/generic_letter_2.odt?dl=0

Hunter, J. (2006). These Were My Realities. Lincoln, Maine: Every Farthing Publications.

Koeppe, B (2008), Sex Crimes and Criminal Justice: Formerly Incarcerated Sex Offenders say Civil Commitment Program Deny Proper Rehabilitation. The Washington Spectator, May 4, 2008.

Lawyer X. (2013). New YHOrk: Mind Glow Media.

Maslow, Abraham, (1971). The Further Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Penguin Books.

Rind B., Tromovitch P., Bauserman R. (1998) (1) A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 1998 July;124:22–53.

Rind, B., Bauserman, R., and Tromovitch, P. (1998) (2), An Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Based on Nonclinical Samples, (Paper presented to the symposium sponsored by the Paulus Kerk, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on the 18th of December 1998,) retrieved August 25 2018 from http://www.uryourstory.org/index.php/studies/60-an- examination-of-assumed-properties-of-child-sexual-abuse-based-on-nonclinical-samples .

Rivas, T., (1916). Positive Memories. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from

https://www.ipce.info/host/rivas/positive_memories.htm

Sandfort, T. (1987). Boys On Their Contacts With Men: A Study of Sexually Expressed Friendships. New York: Global Academic Publishers.

Tromovitch, P., Rind, B, and Bauserman, R., (1997)Adult Correlates of Child Sexual Abuse. A meta-analytic review of college student and national probability samples.Retrieved August 20, 2018 from https://www.ipce.info/library_3/files/adcorr_txt.htm