Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Moore Center Sex Abuse Symposium: Part Three: Adolescent Relationship Abuse/Teen Dating Violence

In case you missed part one of this series, check it out here, or see part two (in progress).
As a refresher...

So, What Is This Symposium?

The Moore Center Symposium is a "meeting of the minds" on the prevention of child sexual abuse. It  offers professionals (and advocates) an opportunity to learn more about the issue of child sexual abuse and how it can be prevented. The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a subset of Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, which is a major educational institution in Maryland that is well-known for its work in the public health sector (as its name should indicate). The Moore Center is currently being directed by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, who used to be the president of The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), and is a researcher that studies a myriad of topics within the realm of sexual abuse prevention. I am watching these admittedly dry and boring speeches to pull the essential parts out and communicate them to you. If you want to view them yourself, by all means, just be forewarned that they are dry and can be triggering to certain people. 

Beginning Introductions

The symposium starts with an introduction by Johns Hopkins' President, Ronald Daniels, regarding some of the reasons for the symposium and the keynote speaker at the symposium, Patrick McCarthy, who is the president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization that focuses on improving the lives of children in a variety of ways.  Other speakers at the symposium were Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, Dr. Bruce Taylor (an expert in criminology), and Jill Levenson (expert in sociology and social work), followed by a showing of the film Untouchable, which I have talked about on this blog before. Following the film, there is a panel discussion about the film and closing remarks by Stephen and Julia Moore, the founding donors of the Moore Center.

Copyright note: The images in this post are copyright-protected. I waited on this post to get permission directly from Dr. Taylor to use them, so please ask Dr. Taylor if you would like to use them yourself.

Bruce Taylor's Speech

The third speaker, Dr. Taylor, discusses findings from a study he did on teen dating violence (funded by three grants from the United States Department of Justice), also known by researchers as adolescent relationship abuse, which Dr. Taylor uses interchangeably throughout his speech. I will refer to it as ARA. Much of his speech is about interventions into ARA, and the practicalities around what works in teaching children about boundaries and relationships to further primary prevention of this very serious problem. 

As many speakers do, he overviews his study:
As well as what he wants to talk about:
How Serious Is ARA?

He then focuses on how serious of an issue adolescent relationship abuse (ARA) is: According to a national study, 68% of youth between ages 10-18 report being victimized by it, and 62% report perpetrating it. The health consequences for adolescent relationship abuse are very similar to those for child sexual abuse. The full overview of what he discusses about the seriousness of ARA:

He then talks about what sort of classroom interventions he used for his studies. Varying approaches have been tried, but there are barriers to these approaches such as parental and school concerns about letting outside organizations like rape crisis centers into schools. In short, schools are reluctant to let people do any kind of mental health intervention. 

Two Main Approaches

The approaches are broken into two categories, interaction-based curriculum and law/justice curriculum:
Interaction-based curriculum focuses on setting and communicating boundaries, developing friendships and relationships and the continuum of the intimacy of relationships in general, as well as identifying wanted/unwanted behaviors and bystander intervention. Law/justice curriculum focuses on laws, definitions, and facts in general around what sort of consequences that inappropriate behavior can have.

Their findings in Cleveland in attempting both approaches and a control group showed that both approaches changed attitudes, but also increased violence and no change in sexual harassment, which he explained could be because of new awareness around inappropriate behaviors. 

Expanding The Approaches

Based on these findings, they expanded their study with more interventions and specialization to schools in New York City. There were a lot of specifics for how and why they expanded their interventions, and how they specialized their interventions for New York City compared to Cleveland that the average person would ignore. Interested parties can see the video for these specifics. Of note is that interventions cannot wait until a child is 10-13 years old, it must happen earlier because by age 10, children are already facing ARA.

Also of note is that one of the expansions was a building intervention, where children drew simple maps of their school with what areas of the building were safe, unsafe, and in between. They refer to this as "hot spots mapping", and those are used to add school personnel to unsafe areas. The results of this particular intervention were very promising.

Resistance To ARA Interventions

Despite nationwide studies being done by multiple groups (besides Dr. Taylor's) showing the effectiveness of these mental health interventions, there is high resistance to interventions around teen dating violence/ARA. This resistance seems to be in place despite offering incentives, such as free but copyrighted materials. They did not have any major guesses as to why there was resistance to implementing interventions. They wondered if state/national education mandates, time restrictions, and budget cuts might be a factor in the resistance to school-based research and interventions into ARA. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Moore Center Sex Abuse Symposium: Part One: Juvenile Sex Offender Policies And Effectiveness

So, What Is This Symposium?

The Moore Center Symposium is a "meeting of the minds" on the prevention of child sexual abuse. It offers professionals (and advocates) an opportunity to learn more about the issue of child sexual abuse and how it can be prevented. The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a subset of Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, which is a major educational institution in Maryland that is well-known for its work in the public health sector (as its name should indicate). The Moore Center is currently being directed by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, who used to be the president of The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), and is a researcher that studies a myriad of topics within the realm of sexual abuse prevention. I am watching these admittedly dry and boring speeches to pull the essential parts out and communicate them to you. If you want to view them yourself, by all means, just be forewarned that they are dry and can be triggering. 

Beginning Introductions

The symposium starts with an introduction by Johns Hopkins' President, Ronald Daniels, regarding some of the reasons for the symposium and the keynote speaker at the symposium, Patrick McCarthy, who is the president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization that focuses on improving the lives of children in a variety of ways.  Other speakers at the symposium were Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, Dr. Bruce Taylor (an expert in criminology), and Jill Levenson (expert in sociology and social work), followed by a showing of the film Untouchable, which I have talked about on this blog before. Following the film, there is a panel discussion about the film and closing remarks by Stephen and Julia Moore, the founding donors of the Moore Center.

Patrick McCarthy's Speech

At the beginning of his speech, Dr. McCarthy observes that before he learned about the Moore Center, almost everything he knew about child sexual abuse was wrong. Yes, this is the guy with a master's and doctorate in social work, and the keynote speaker of a child sexual abuse prevention symposium. He says that there are only three things about child sexual abuse that he still believes, now knowing more of the facts:
  • Everyone has been affected by child exual abuse- as a victim or as someone who knows a victim. 
  • The pain of child sexual abuse is long-lasting and can be made less significant, but is still present years later.
  • Whatever our own experiences, we all want to protect children from sexual abuse.
Policies Not Based In Fact And Ineffective

He suggests (as you have heard me say before) that many of the policies we have around sexual abuse seem to be based in common sense, but are completely wrongheaded and ineffective. The example he cites to support this idea the perception among the public that those who abuse children kidnap them off the street, rather than the factual idea that children are abused by people they know and trust, even adolescents. He says that half of child sexual abuse involves an adolescent with the average age of 14. He states that rather than addressing the facts, we teach stranger danger and fail to take the steps that would be effective in keeping children safe. He says again that the policies we have in place too often make children less safe.

Dehumanizing Abusers

He points out that we throw abusers under the bus, because we treat anyone who engages in any sort of inappropriate sexual behavior as a monster we want to protect our children from. We even treat teenagers and children, some as young as eleven years old, like monsters. He discusses that sex offender registration and community notification can isolate abusers away from support systems, and thus make them more likely to reoffend rather than less likely. 

Public Health Approach Vs. Criminal Justice Approach

One of the points made is that the criminal justice approach to stopping sexual abuse, while this approach must be a part of addressing sexual abuse, is failing because we are not integrating facts and research into these policies. He argues that if we treat sexual abuse as both a public health issue AND as a criminal justice issue, more children could be spared the pain of abuse. 

He suggest several ways in which criminal justice system is failing to protect children and are wrongheaded. The first example he uses is that public policy is based on the idea that offenders cannot change, so policies focus on removing offenders from the community through incarceration and community isolation. At the same time, we focus on changing the behavior of potential victims (attempting to increase reporting, in other words), which he says runs the risk of teaching victims and potential victims that they or their families were responsible for the abuse and are re-victimized by believing they could have stopped it. 

Another example is that public policy is focused on predicting and controlling individual behavior, based in the erroneous principle that we can guess and who will and will not commit a crime. He blasts tools like plethysmographs, polygraphs, and risk assessments as not being based in science, and suggests that we instead view sexual abuse as something that is situational and context-specific, so employing community education techniques can help change how the public views sexual abuse as an issue.

His next example is that juvenile offenders who engage in abusive acts are seen as permanently pathological, or "damaged," requiring lifelong monitoring and "coercive treatment". He suggests that the research supports instead the idea that juvenile offenders are engaging in perfectly normal exploratory and experimental behaviors that have gone off-track. He calls these behaviors harmful but preventable. 

He observes the idea that anyone with a sexual attraction to children is a sociopath, someone with no empathy for the victims and families and no interest in controlling their behavior. By contrast, he suggests that the groundbreaking work being done by Dr. Letourneau in the Help Wanted study is challenging that idea, and showing that youth who have an attraction to children often face barriers to getting help with their attractions, and indeed, a desire to get that help. He illustrates that public policy pushes people away from that help, sometimes at risk of arrest and isolation.

His final example is that public policy is based on the idea of high recidivism among juvenile offenders: That idea, he states, is not supported by research, and indeed, fewer than 5% of juvenile offenders will reoffend, raising the question of whether their crime could have been prevented in the first place. 

Need For Public Policy Advocacy

He says the examples show how far we have to go until the evidence from research and practice informs the policies being made by policymakers. He suggests that there needs to be advocates who can inform policymakers on effective policies. 

A Disaster From 25 Years Ago

His next point regards the predictions of a few big names about 25 years ago about the idea that we would see a rise in super-predators, or those with horrifying behaviors that developed during the predator's youth. The policies that were formed in reaction to this prediction, such as zero-tolerance policies, mandatory minimum sentencing, and so forth have set the backdrop for where we are today with policies. The data we have today shows that the prediction was wrong: Recidivism is low, and violent crime rates are dropping, not skyrocketing. These policies that were formed in reaction to this prediction, he says, are harmful and wrongheaded. 

How Do We Change Policy?

He prefaces his suggestions on how we can change policy with the observation that he does not have a magic answer, but suggests that the specific steps to changing policy can depend on what an individual advocate or group wants to accomplish. He recommends two priorities: Reversing course from current public policy initiatives to target and punish sex offenders, and increasing public involvement in developing public policy that is more effective at reducing crime. 

He recommends in regard to the first priority, eliminating the need for juveniles to register as sex offenders, a goal he suggests is very feasible. He proposes eliminating the indiscriminate sentencing of child sex offenders and the "bad science" options of plethysmography, polygraphy, and indefinite monitoring. He suggests instead developing prevention methods that are systemic (schools and community groups) and address at-risk youth to prevent harm before it can happen. In that, he suggests intervention strategies that get help to at-risk youth, whether they are at-risk because of having a sexual attraction to children or for some other reason. 

With that in mind, he comes up with five things he has learned:
  1. Rather than a broad campaign to change public opinion, individual outreach to policymakers and policy implementers (judges, youth-serving organizations, politicians, etc.), and outreach to those that influence these policies, or those that already have relationships with policymakers and policy implementers. 
  2. Linking the data and research to personal experience and stories that are effective in changing perceptions.
  3. Not investing huge amounts into standalone advocacy, but building on existing messaging and advocacy platforms. This means outreaching and partnering with victim advocates, field-leading organizations like ATSA, the National Conference of State Legislators, the National Governor's Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the National Juvenile Defenders Association, etc. This also means outreaching to organizations to libertarian, conservative, and other "unlikely allies" that can be more powerful in reaching other viewpoints.
  4. Be strategic and opportunistic so that when unexpected opportunities come up through the contacts with other advocacy platforms.
  5. Data, facts, and evidence matters, as is the stories that can display those facts to the general public. 

Public Investment Into Prevention Strategies

He points out the value of individuals and organizations that donate money to researching, developing, and supporting the infrastructure to make prevention a reality. However, he points out that we need policymakers to dedicate public funds to developing the prevention of child sexual abuse because of the great need for funding and research into creating more effective policies. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What Does It Take To Be An Advocate Against Sexual Abuse?

It Is Not As Hard As You Think... Eventually

Frankly, most of it involves reading- news articles, studies, pages with statistics (and verifying that they are correct by hunting down the source), and above all... speaking up! It is not the advocating that will scare you, it is standing up and saying something. The most difficult part of being an advocate is that first step you take where you see a problem with something someone says, or a comment on a news article, and you say something. That first step is hard, but it gets easier and easier with time. Before you take that step, you do need to decide... will you use your real name, or will you use a pseudonym?

Why is that first step hard? Because you are never sure how your statement will be perceived. If you say anything remotely critical of sex offender policies- bam. You are now labeled as a defender of sex offenders, even if you have all the research in the world to back it up. Criticize mandatory reporting, because it means less children and abusers get help to avoid more abuse? You are against getting the police involved, and therefore support sex abuse. No matter what you say, there will be a troll out there who can and will hassle you for it. Everyone has an opinion, especially on the internet. What matters is having the guts to say it anyway.

The Tools In Your Toolbox

The tools you have available to you, and the ability to use them proficiently, will make or break your ability to advocate against abuse. The first tool in your toolbox that you must be able to wield with expert care is balancing your advocacy and not biting off more than you can chew. There is always, always something you can be doing... and the work will never end. No matter how you choose to get involved, you may hear stories that keep you up at night, you may receive comments that totally sideline your thinking... no matter what happens, your work will affect you, and you need to be prepared to take a step back, put it down, and relax.

At the same time, you need to know when to keep talking, even when people are trying to shout you down, and when to just shut up. That is your second tool: The wisdom to know when to say something and when it would not be helpful. There is no guidebook to follow, just your own instinct. This tool gets honed with experience- and making mistakes will happen.

A tool you may not know about is a handy feature of Microsoft Word, and other word processors may have it also: Mail merge. With a mail merge, you can type up a single document, then make a list in Microsoft Excel (or any spreadsheet program compatible with the word processor) of who you want to email (with Outlook, or other email program compatible with the word processor) to a large group of people, yet individualized to each person. You can add more than just names- what department or committee they belong to, their official title, a greeting honorific, etc. Just be aware that some organizations (like politicians that you are not a constituent of) may frown on these, and if not done sparingly, you may get flagged for spam.

Another handy tool is a blog or website, which may sound hard to do, but modern tools like Wix, Zoho, Blogger, Wordpress, and others have made it easier. You do not need to know HTML coding to create a blog or website, and you can do many things with a blog or website. However, by far the most useful tool in your toolbox are...

Keyboard Shortcuts

Yes, those marvelous little tricks that can save so much time. Here is a handy list that I use all the time (presuming that you use Windows):
  • CTRL+K: Insert hyperlink
  • CTRL+C/V: Copy/paste
  • CTRL+Z/Y: Undo/Redo
  • CTRL+B/I/U: Bold/Italicize/Underline
  • CTRL+F: Find (works in web browsers/documents/PDF's, if you want to search for a keyword)
  • ALT+TAB: Switch between windows
  • ALT+F4: Close whatever window you are in
  • I am sure you can find more...
The point being, if you advocate, yes, a desktop or laptop computer is your best friend- particularly a Windows laptop/desktop. And yes, I have almost no experience with Apple these days, so I could very well be wrong in pointing you to Windows.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Message About Prevention For Sexual Abuse/Assault Survivors

Difficult Subject
This subject is difficult for me, because I was sexually abused by three separate people growing up: A caregiver, a local teenager, and my mother were the culprits. While that is not my entire story, and as you well know, each of our stories is different, it has served as part of the backbone for why I advocate against child sexual abuse. I have long since set aside using my experiences with sexual abuse as arguments when I am advocating, because most of my advocacy takes place on the internet, where anyone can say anything. It is much harder to argue with verifiable facts than it is to argue with some guy with a weird screenname talking about how he was abused.

This is an especially difficult subject for me to cover, because not only am I limited by my own perspective, I bury my nose in research and news articles far more often than I bury my nose in stories of other survivors. My knowledge of this issue is more academic than it is anything else, so there are things I absolutely cannot relate to. In addition to that, I am not as in touch with my emotions as I could be. Often, it takes me additional time to process how I felt. Just yesterday, I did not realize how tired I was until several hours after I was getting cranky.

Why Facts Are Important

For this, I would like to use an example that may sound a little ridiculous: Let us say that you have a pest problem in your house, but you do not know what kind of pest it is. You have never seen the pests yourself, only the effects: Crumbs, torn packages, that sort of thing. Would you assume it is cockroaches, and buy cockroach spray? Would you keep buying the spray if the pest issue persisted? No, you would attempt to narrow down the suspected pest, so that you know how to deal with it.

Using this example, the first several options are preposterous. You would not use cockroach spray on a mouse, nor a squirrel trap for a cockroach, and you would certainly not buy more solutions for one type of pest if they are ineffective. The best course of action would be to find out what you are dealing with, and then take a next step, so that you can ensure that step is effective at addressing your problem.

This ties into preventing child sexual abuse and sexual assault perfectly, though you would find it difficult to believe. In the 1990's, we began forming policies to address the "pest problem" of sexual crimes without studying who is responsible for these crimes or what impact these policies or "pest traps" would have, and whether they would be effective in solving our sexual crime or "pest problem". Since then, much research has looked not only at these policies, but who is responsible for sexual crimes and what the motivations are. We have identified who the "pests" are, and I will come back to that in a moment.

The results of throwing a pest solution at a pest problem of unknown origin is a shot in the dark at best. Similarly, the results of trying to stop sexual crime with methods that may or may not address sexual crimes are policies that may be completely ineffective at stopping sexual crime. The implications can mean that more victims do suffer from sexual crimes, even though the intent is less sexual crime with fewer victims. I think at this point we can all agree that good intentions, in this case, must be supported by effective policies as well, so that our efforts to stop sex crimes are effective. If more people suffer the pain of sexual crimes because our policies do not do what they are intended to do, that is not a good situation.

Research Is Important

With that having been said, I think there is a lot of value in looking at the research around sexual abuse and sexual assault prevention. In many cases, the facts that exist in research are very counterintuitive to what most people are likely to think about this issue, perhaps even you.

Before I continue, I would like to list five citations for reliable research (among the plethora that exist) that I am familiar with. While it is generally advisable when looking at research studies to look at multiple studies on a subject, I include these because I find them to be representative of the similar studies I have seen, and the academic information available on the subject.

I will list the facts that are drawn from these later, but for now, I want to only include the citations:
1.     Sandler, J. C., Freeman, N. J., & Socia, K. M. (2008). DOES A WATCHED POT BOIL? A Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 14(4), 284-302. doi:0.1037/a0013881
2.     Bonnar-Kidd, K. K. (2010). Sexual Offender Laws and Prevention of Sexual Violence or RecidivismAmerican Journal of Public Health, 100(3), 412-419. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.153254
3.     Finkelhor, D. (2009). The Prevention of Childhood SexualAbuseThe Future Of Children, 19(2). 
4.     Seto, M. C., Cantor, J. M., & Blanchard, R. (2006). Child Pornography Offenses Are a Valid Diagnostic Indicator of PedophiliaJournal of Abnormal Psychology, 610-615. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.115.3.610
5.     Buckman, C., Ruzicka, A., & Shields, R. T. (2016) Help Wanted: Lessons on Prevention from Non-Offending Young Adult PedophilesAssociation for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers Forum Newsletter, 28(2).

All of these citations are from prestigious organizations and have been peer-reviewed, which means that other experts familiar with these topics have double-checked them for accuracy and methodological rigor. In other words, not only do the authors of these studies know their stuff, the studies were reviewed by others who likewise know their stuff. I will come back to that list shortly.

An Overview Of Current Initiatives And Policies

Currently, the popular methods of stopping sex crime naturally center around tracking, supervising, and restricting sex offenders. We put them on both public and private lists, so that people and police in our communities know who and where they are. We notify communities when a high-risk offender is moving in. We sometimes prevent them from living and even being near schools, parks, bus stops, and other places where there are children. We seek harsher sentences, in order to deter would-be sex offenders and exact revenge on these people. Sometimes, these sentences vary by location: Larger urban counties tend to use rehabilitative sentences, where smaller urban counties trend towards harsher, lengthier sentences.

Above all of that, we state that only a monster would commit a rape, or a sex crime against a child, and we seek to use the label of “sex offender” to insinuate that these people are monsters. We lump all offenders who have committed a sexual crime into one label: Sex offender.

Many of these policies vary depending on where you live, but all of them are not sentences, but requirements that endure after the completion of whatever sentence the offender was given. In Wisconsin, for example, sex offenders must wear GPS monitors their entire lives, while that is not the case in New York. In California, residency restrictions are being overturned by judges, while in Minnesota, many cities have passed ordinances. In some places, juveniles as young as nine years old are placed on the sex offender registry, and juveniles do perpetrate 35.6% of child sexual abuse cases.

The overwhelming public opinion is that harsher is better when it comes to policies about sex offenders.

Back To That Research...

Remember that research list? Here are some very short summaries about each article (in the above order), based on their abstracts. If you wish to read the abstracts directly, please feel free to use the links and investigate them yourself (studies 3, 4, and 5 are available full-text while you may have to hunt for the other two).

  1. Sandler, J. C., Freeman, N. J., & Socia, K. M. (2008). DOES A WATCHED POT BOIL? A Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 14(4), 284-302. doi:0.1037/a0013881
    1. This study was a time-series analysis looking at 21 years of arrest data in New York, categorizing arrestees into several categories, determining that 5% of arrests were of registered sex offenders or those with prior sex offenses on their record, and 95% of arrests were of those new to the criminal justice system. 
  2. Bonnar-Kidd, K. K. (2010). Sexual Offender Laws and Prevention of Sexual Violence or RecidivismAmerican Journal of Public Health, 100(3), 412-419. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.153254
    1. This study is an evaluation of sex offender management policies including GPS monitoring, civil commitment, community notification, registration, and restrictions on residency, internet, and others. This article looks at the consequences of these policies, and suggests that the effectiveness of these policies is in question and may do more harm.
  3. Finkelhor, D. (2009). The Prevention of Childhood SexualAbuseThe Future Of Children, 19(2).
    1. This article details many current methods of preventing child sexual abuse, concluding that efforts to punish and manage offenders are less effective than primary prevention efforts. A wide variety of methods, including sex offender registration and notification, sex offender residency restrictions, child safety education, and others are covered. 
  4. Seto, M. C., Cantor, J. M., & Blanchard, R. (2006). Child Pornography Offenses Are a Valid Diagnostic Indicator of PedophiliaJournal of Abnormal Psychology, 610-615. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.115.3.610
    1. This study is one of several vitally important studies looking at the prevalence of pedophilia in those who have convictions involving sexual abuse material, and those who have molested children. While the study’s sample size was limited, they found that 61% of those with sexual abuse material convictions had pedophilia, and 35% of those with molestation convictions had pedophilia. It is generally accepted among researchers that roughly a third of child sexual abusers have pedophilia, though there is no one study that demonstrates that
  5. Buckman, C., Ruzicka, A., & Shields, R. T. (2016) Help Wanted: Lessons on Prevention from Non-Offending Young Adult PedophilesAssociation for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers Forum Newsletter, 28(2).
    1. This research update gave a broad overview of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse's "Help Wanted" study, which was based on a podcast done by This American Life. In short, the study they conducted looked at the experiences of offending and non-offending pedophiles to look at common needs that pedophiles have when they are just discovering their sexual attraction to children. The entire point, which was heavily based on the story in the podcast, is that sometimes those with attractions to children are afraid they might molest a child, and the study seeks to answer the question: How can we help those people so that they do not hurt a child? 

As you can see from this information, there is a wide variety of research available to tell us which methods of preventing and stopping sexual abuse and sexual assault work, and which do not. Overwhelmingly, the research literature supports preventative methods over punitive methods. The first study, and sex offender recidivism studies, suggest that the biggest group of people responsible for sexual crimes overall are those with no criminal background. If interventions could reach these people before these crimes are committed, many victims would be spared the sort of pain you had to experience.

Powerful Voices

Child sexual abuse victims, survivors, and their families have been powerful voices for legislative change in the past three decades and beyond. Many of our current policies have been the result of people like you speaking up, and making the statement that sexual crimes should not and cannot be tolerated by the rest of society. I wholeheartedly agree with that message that sexual crime is unacceptable and needs to stop. However, I believe that if we are to be effective in making that vision a reality, we must pay close attention to what the facts and the research say. As I pointed out earlier, if we form policies that are not based in fact, we run the risk of wasting time and resources and creating more victims.

Taking The Politics Out Of Prevention

The goal of preventing child sexual abuse has been political for many years, and I believe it need not be so. Conservatives, liberals, moderates, independents, socialists, and everything in between: We are all human, and we all know that when our youngest members suffer, we all suffer. The suffering of children at the hands of other children and adults who use them for sexual pleasure needs to stop. We can all wholeheartedly agree on that point. Can we agree that to do so, we must focus on the facts involved in these issues, even if they are complex and difficult to understand, accept, or believe? Can we agree that the facts and the research are important to preventing others from knowing the pain of sexual crimes? If we can agree on those points, then we must speak up and let our politicians hear us: Demand that they focus on the research so that others will not know our pain.

Advocating Prevention Means Sex Offender Policies Must Take The Back Seat

Prevention, particularly primary prevention, means that we seek to stop sexual crimes before they can happen. In other words, intervening in the process that leads someone from a stressful background or event to using someone else as a sexual frustration outlet. That means programs need to be available for those sexually attracted to children who fear they might one day act on it, and it means that children need to be educated on sex, sexuality, consent, and what mental health resources are available to them if they are struggling with an issue (any issue, including being victimized or fearing that they might victimize others). There are a wide variety of areas involved in primary prevention, and you can explore all of them by reading the third study above by Dr. Finkelhor.

While criticizing sex offender policies may seem like a bad move, the reality is that at most, they will only ever address less than 5% of new sex crimes (the first study). Compared to primary prevention, which can address up to 95% of new sex crime, the focus on prevention is a no-brainer. The reality is, in addition to not being effective, sex offender policies have been shown in some studies to increase recidivism rather than decreasing it: In other words, they are correlated with more crime, not less.

The Shorter Version…

The simple version of this can be summed up in four points:

  1. Despite the difficulty of the subject matter, and because of it, we need to have serious and open conversations about what is and is not effective at impacting sex crime.
  2. Research and research-based policies need to be brought into the limelight so that future generations can avoid seeing the kind of pain that survivors of sexual abuse and assault experience.
  3. Current policies are focused almost exclusively on a problem that does not have much basis in research.
  4. Survivors of sexual abuse and assault have powerful voices that have been effective in seeing legislative changes on this issue, and if these voices speak to effective vs. ineffective policies, real change can be seen.

The future is in your hands. How will you act?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

New York Post Article About Pedophiles

So, last week, I had an article from a columnist in the New York Post come up in my news feed. I usually dismiss stuff from the New York Post, because it is usually difficult to get in contact with their authors to notify them that pedophilia and child sexual abuse, as well as pedophiles and child rapists, are four separate and distinct ideas. I do this outreach, because conflating the two minimizes child sexual abuse and unfairly stigmatizes pedophilia.

This blog has covered this distinction and why it matters several times, most recently when I was talking about Prevention Project Dunkelfeld. So, I had a brief correspondence with the writer of the article, John Crudele, about why the distinction matters, why child pornography is incorrectly named, and that the distinction can mean less children are sexually abused. The ideas I am presenting are hardly new. They have been covered in the news, by researchers, and by non-offending pedophiles themselves. Even This American Life has tackled this issue.

You can read the full text of what I wrote him (minus the links, sadly). Unfortunately, Mr. Crudele did not completely represent the bulk of the exchange in what he published, but as you can see, I did not ask him to publish it.

I especially enjoyed his threat to report me to the FBI, when I have reached out many times to legislators in Minnesota and law enforcement agencies about the facts around sex offenders, a prosecutor's office out of Long Island about not blaming victims for abuse, and yesterday, the Minnesota Department of Corrections regarding Prevention Project Dunkelfeld. I could be wrong, but I doubt anyone in law enforcement has a big issue with the advocacy that I am doing to prevent child sexual abuse before it can happen.

But there you have it, I was in the New York Post. And Mr. Crudele, if you are paying any attention to this blog post, you may want to better inform yourself about these issues. Myths do not protect children from being sexually abused and exploited, facts do, and the more myths we believe about child sexual abuse and drive it into secrecy, the more we enable child sexual abuse. I think a better situation is where children are not victimized, and pedophiles are not scarred by the idea that they are a ticking time bomb waiting to molest children. We must talk about this if we are to end abuse.

But thank you, Mr. Crudele, for presenting your readers with the ideas that I emailed you about. The more we talk about these issues, the better.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Prevention Project Dunkelfeld And Mandatory Reporting

Another Word About Terminology (Again)

It is quite normal to use the word "pedophile" to refer to someone who has sexually abused children, or to think that those with a sexual attraction to children have or will abuse children. However, neither is accurate. People with a sexual attraction to children (pedophiles) are not typically responsible for abusing children, and those that abuse children do not typically have pedophilia. By using the proper terminology, we can reduce the stigma around pedophilia and enable pedophiles to come forward for help if they need it.

What Is Prevention Project Dunkelfeld?

PPD is a German program aimed at reaching anyone with concerns about their thoughts around children. Because there is no mandatory reporting law in Germany, they are able to offer free and completely confidential help to people. While their primary target is people with a sexual attraction to children (regardless of whether those people have hurt or not hurt children, see here if you need a refresher on the distinction between child rapist/child rape and pedophile/pedophilia), it is impossible to argue with their results. Hundreds of people have come forward since the program started in 2005, and they have gone from a single site to many sites all over Germany. Their program is seeing people with sexual concerns crawling out of the woodwork to get help.

A Word About Sweden

Sweden has one of the best systems for handling crime out there: They treat their criminals like people instead of scum, and it seems that this system is paying off. While some reports might tell you that they have a much higher rate of rape and other sexual crimes compared to the United States, you must remember that rape is a highly underreported crime, particularly in the United States: According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 rapes, only 310 are reported to police, and 11 get referred to prosecutors. It is possible that Sweden's approach to crime means more people are prosecuted, and more cases are reported. Sweden has a fairly low incarceration rate because they offer help when giving people a second chance, rather than just slapping them with a sentence, a criminal record, and telling them, "Good luck rebuilding your life, we'll be watching." This begs the question of whether the United States could do better, and whether looking at Sweden, as well as Germany, could benefit us.

Why Does Mandatory Reporting Matter?

Previously, I have discussed mandatory reporting from the perspective of those who have loved ones who have abused children. What you may not realize is that mandatory reporting does not just affect people who have already hurt a child, it affects those who have not committed any crime, but fear they might be charged with one because of a misconception or false accusation. While false accusations of sexual abuse are relatively rare (4-8%), the degree to which sexual abuse is punished by law makes it a very, very scary topic for people.

Combine that with the sexual attraction to children, which most people erroneously conflate with the sexual abuse of a child, and you have a recipe for no one coming forward for help. One of the biggest emerging areas in sexual abuse prevention is the question: How do we get people with concerns about their thoughts towards children to get help before a child is hurt? Prevention Project Dunkelfeld has answered that question. While many pedophiles may already have support systems in place, it is extremely difficult. Establishing support networks for pedophiles (those with the sexual attraction, not those who have abused, remember) has been a challenge primarily because of the fear that they will be charged with a crime or investigated (and outed) by law enforcement.

Mandatory reporting also deters victims from reporting their abuse. Most people consider sexual abuse to be a heinous crime... and rightly so. But those same people also consider those who commit this crime to be abhorrent monsters, sexual predators even... when this is not the case. Around 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known and trusted, not just by the victim, but in the surrounding community. 30% are family members: Someone's loving uncle, father, brother, and more. 60% are people who are close friends with the family: Teachers, babysitters, coaches, and more. These are people we care about, not just an ugly monster we feel fine just locking up and throwing away the key.

That matters because the person abusing the victim is someone the victim loves and cares for, and the community around both the victim and the abuser loves and cares for both the victim and the abuser. We see a pattern in many institutional cases where a teacher or priest is known to have been abusing, and nothing is done- by adults. This outrages us because of the lack of accountability, but it gives testimony after testimony that abuse is perpetrated by known, loved, and trusted figures. This means that no one wants them to get in trouble, but everyone wants them to get help. If the only way to get them help is for the abuser to go to prison and have their life ruined, many people decide that the help is not worth it. I suggest that it is possible to hold an abuser accountable without giving them a criminal sentence for the rest of their life, and without draconian punishments. Sweden clearly demonstrates this possibility, as does Germany.

Bringing Primary Prevention To The United States

The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a program of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, led by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau. Since 2015, they have been working on a project that they have called "Help Wanted" which is a project designed to determine what help young adult pedophiles need, and how to reach them before they hurt a child. While some of their work ignores the reality that some pedophiles do not need expert interventions, the goal of the project is to figure out how Prevention Project Dunkelfeld could happen in the United States.

The original basis for their Help Wanted project was an episode that aired on This American Life (30 min.), which told the story of a young pedophile who tried many different therapists before joining Virtuous Pedophiles and creating his own support group. While Help Wanted seems to be exclusively aimed at helping teenagers, it is the only US-based attempt to determine how to reach potential abusers of children before the abuse can happen.

One of the biggest needs to make this kind of prevention a reality is the elimination of mandatory reporting laws, and the elimination of draconian sentencing. While there are a small percentage of sexual abusers who fit the media stereotype of being "monstrous scum" who constantly prey on children, the majority of abusers do not fit this stereotype. If we had policies and a public that recognized that fact, the United States and other countries could put a significant dent in child sexual abuse.

How Can You Help?

Contact your legislators, and link this post, or the programs linked in this post. The more people who are aware of Help Wanted and Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, the more chance there is that something can be done. It is not enough for a lone prevention advocate, and a lone prevention organization, to be saying these things. Multiple people from different areas of background (or no background at all) need to join these voices.

For most people, calling your legislators and leaving a message is far more effective than shooting off an email. Sending a physical letter will help as well. If you are unsure of who your legislators are, Google "contact my representative in [state]". If multiple people contact the same office at around the same time, they take more notice.

You can also donate money to the Moore Center and other organizations that push primary prevention, like Stop It Now! There is a heavy financial need for projects like Help Wanted, because of the number of people unwilling to provide funding on such an emotional topic.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Filling In The Gaps Of "Untouchable"

Say What?

In case you have not yet heard, the documentary Untouchable is screening with the MSP International Film Festival. Last night's showing was sold out, and audience members asked a number of great questions of the panel composed of director David Feige, child advocate Patty Wetterling, and local legal powerhouse Eric Janus. However, the film does not cover the entire issue- only a few small facets of it, like sex offender registration, sex offender notification, and residency restrictions.

And just how do you cover a nationwide hodgepodge of laws that were originally designed to protect children, and have since become a quagmire of punitive nonsense? The laws that apply in one state are different in another, civil commitment is left untouched, and only the briefest mention of International Megan's Law is made. In the interest of brevity, and in sparking a conversation about this topic nationwide, the director chose to limit the scope of the documentary (and its length, since we have "shorter and shorter attention spans" these days).

Untouchable In A Nutshell

If you have not yet seen the film (and you should, whether you are already allied in the fight to protect children or not, because you might get to meet Patty Wetterling as I did last night), let me summarize it (spoiler alert!).  Bearing in mind that I am abbreviating a 104-minute movie into two paragraphs, the movie starts out discussing the victimization of Lauren Book, daughter of Ron Book, at the hands of their nanny Waldina. Following this revelation, Ron Book pursues and passes many different laws that have wide-ranging and unpredictable effects on sex offenders. While Lauren Book champions Lauren's Kids, sex offenders are getting more and more fed up with how the laws are impacting them and their families.

The movie is peppered with facts and studies, and you learn (as you have seen many times on this blog) that recidivism is very, very low. You also learn what the basis is for many of these laws in terms of facts: Nothing. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that sex offender registration and other laws are constitutional because the recidivism rate for sex offenders is "frightening and high", which as it turns out comes from a single unsupported line in a 1986 Psychology Today article from someone with no research background. While it may be difficult to feel bad for sex offenders, the movie reveals that many of the laws that were originally intended to keep children safe have instead become a quagmire of draconian and punitive nonsense that has little to no impact on new sex crime.

More Information About Civil Rights, Laws, And Civil Commitment

By far the best place to find more information about sex offender laws, civil commitment, and current court cases is the National Association for Rational Sex Offense Laws. If you want to lose yourself in finding out more information, or wish to advocate against the laws that are failing to protect our children, you can find a ton of great information at NARSOL.

There is also, as was mentioned in the film, Women Against Registry. They cover the issue of how these laws impact the relatives of sex offenders. They are very similar to NARSOL in many respects, but they focus on the damage that sex offender laws have caused to completely innocent people: The mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, and families of sex offenders.

Questions Asked And Answered

The questions asked by the audience were appropriately varied on a range of topics:
  • How many children are harmed by family vs friends vs strangers? What are the proportions?
    • Patty Wetterling and Eric Janus pointed out that strangers account for less than 10% of cases, Patty mentioned that 2% of non-family child abductions are perpetrated by strangers. Both stated that stranger danger is not working.
  • What is the realistic recidivism rate for sex offenders with underreporting in mind? 
    • Eric Janus pointed out that recidivism is a very small part of violent crimes and most violent crimes are committed by first-time offenders, not those with prior records. Patty Wetterling pointed out that what we are doing in looking at recidivism is not working, and Eric Janus closed by saying that underreporting would likely inflate recidivism rates by 25-30%. Many of the recidivism rates mentioned in the movie were 2-4%.
  • Are there any states on a remarkably different path from the national norm in punishing sex offenders?
    • Short answer: No, most states are still focusing on punishment.
    • David Feige pointed out that each state handles the issue differently, and that each state carries over whatever restrictions were more punitive so that someone could not move to a different state to ease the restrictions placed on them. Both Eric Janus and David Feige pointed out that there is a nationwide "hodgepodge of laws and restrictions," and that mandatory reporting does not help because people are afraid of being turned into the police. 
    • David Feige mentioned Prevention Project Dunkelfeld in Germany, which promises confidential help without reporting to the police, and that the project is seeing great success. 
  • How many offenders are victims of child sexual abuse? (asked by a psychologist)
    • Eric Janus said not the majority and that the studies vary, and Patty Wetterling said that the thought of being considered an offender in the making keeps male victims of child sexual abuse from disclosing their abuse. They speculated on the problems that mandatory reporting causes, and that the fear of being considered a risk to children scares many victims, as was hinted at in the film.
  • How did Patty Wetterling's advocacy evolve to be defensive of sex offenders?
    • Over time, and by meeting sex offenders and seeing people in varying situations that were not the original intent of the laws she helped create. She used the word "hijacked" as she did in the movie to refer to how the registry has evolved to become punitive. She emphasized that the point was to create an investigative tool for law enforcement, not a public list. 
  • How do you short circuit the focus of being tough and punitive on crime?
    • David Feige suggested that laws be evidence and fact based, focusing on the fact that risk is a part of life. He admitted that nuanced arguments are harder to make than simple ones, because people buy the simple arguments more readily. 
    • Eric Janus suggested storytelling and humanizing people to get people to empathize, while changing the question to "How can we prevent this from happening?"
    • Patty Wetterling suggested early interventions like comprehensive sexual education and treatment over punishment, and by starting the focus on one demographic, like juvenile sex offenders, so that people can see the complexity of one single group of sex offenders. 
  • Did the evolution of Lauren Book's views on the issue happen during the movie? Did Ron and Lauren Book see the film, and what did they think?
    • To the first question, no. To the second, yes, they saw the movie and were very enthusiastic, save for the comedian at the beginning of the film. David Feige pointed out that they were less enthusiastic after seeing the reaction of the screenings since its release. 
  • How did all sex offenders get thrown into one pot?
    • David Feige very quickly said something to the effect of "bad politicians and badly written laws", and Patty Wetterling pointed to the media, which reports about "sex offenders" rather than differentiating the nuanced information that is valuable.
  • Does Ron Book regret his threatening to kill Waldina?
    • No, he does not, though David Feige speculated that he may rethink his threat to kill Waldina when she gets out of prison in 2025. 

Two Questions Left Partially Answered

One of the answers to the question about the proportion of abusers (first bullet point above) indicated that stranger sexual abuse is very, very rare. Patty cited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in saying that only 2% of non-family abductions are perpetrated by strangers, but admitted she did not know that specific statistic. That answer is incomplete. The exact figure is that around 4-5% of child sex abuse cases are perpetrated by strangers, while around 5% remains unknown, and the remaining 90% breaks down into 30% family, 60% friends of the family. The overarching point that was made in the film, which you have heard me mention time and time again, is that abuse is not perpetrated by monsters, but by people we know, trust, and care about.

The answer to the question about how many offenders are victims was: It depends. We have no idea what proportion of victims go on to become abusers (certainly a very small minority at most), but we do know from these studies what percentage of abusers have been victims. Eric Janus said a variety of studies have mixed results. While that is true, there are two sets of studies that have been done: Studies that use polygraph, and studies that do not.  Studies that use polygraph generally find between 30-40% of abusers have been victimized, and studies that do not use polygraph generally find between 50-60% of abusers have been victimized.

How You Can Get Involved

One of the points David Feige made was that there is little information available from him and the film's website on how to get involved. His purpose in making the film was more to start the conversation around this hard and complex topic. He and the film make the case that sex offenders are not being treated fairly by these laws.

I take a different approach, and I can tell you why you need to get involved: The longer these laws are in effect, the more victims we have. We must form fact-based policies so that we can stop sexual violence before it happens. How do you get involved in making that happen?

I propose three areas you can get involved:
  1. Contact legislators and city leaders: Email with a phone call to follow-up works well, mailing, emailing, and calling works very, very well. Be respectful.
  2. Become an advocate: Learn the facts by heart, and speak up whenever you get the chance. Contact journalists and reporters, write editorials, comment online, etc. 
  3. Donate money: No one wants to fund research into helping pedophiles (those with an attraction to children, not those who have already hurt them) or helping sex offenders, but that research is badly needed. 
WAR and NARSOL both have opportunities for you to get involved, and there are many victim advocacy groups that take a fact-based primary prevention approach. The biggest thing you can do is be a voice, and tell people what you think.