Sunday, October 25, 2015

Primary Prevention Method

A Method?

In my recent advocacy ideas, a few people have asked me a pointed question: What is my goal? What do I want people to do? What do I aim to accomplish? I think those are fairly 'simple' questions to answer: This blog, and my advocacy, are dedicated to the primary prevention of child sex abuse: Preventing it before it happens. Personally, though, I believe that is rather vague. Not vague because it lacks definition, but because it begs the question... how? How would I, with what I know personally from my own abuse, and from being a victim, and from struggling with my attraction to children, solve this?

I have read some of ATSA's recommendations (See end of post). I also know my own experiences. My suggestion is biased. It is also idealistic. From my perspective, ATSA's recommendations are extremely wordy- a 58-page policy document is more than most would be willing to read. It is difficult to summarize such a large and complex issue. Child sex abuse incorporates far more than just sexual contact: Exposing, photos, lewd conversations, to name a few.

Prevention Cocktail

What I recommend is a blending of ideas. Some of them are my own, some are not. Years ago, I Googled help that was potentially available, to find statistics on how often sex offenders reoffend. Today, you Google the same information and you get useful information that can actually help people. Years ago, I got information mainly related to people who have already acted. Today, you can find useful supports and hotlines. I wanted help. I wanted the attraction to go away. I still do want it to go away. But that will never happen. Others who abuse children may do so out of anger, and may wish their anger issues to go away. They can be managed, not eliminated.

I know from observation, and from ATSA's information that almost all abuse is the result of unmanaged mental health issues. I know that there are warning signs in adults that are at-risk to harm a child. I know a lot about this subject, which is not enough to call myself an expert - because many people know far more than I do - but I know enough to be dangerous, as the phrase goes.

Mandatory Reporting

Mandatory reporting must be eliminated so that people can come forward for help without being afraid of their therapist reporting them to the police. Mandatory reporting sounds like a great idea, but it simply causes more harm by pushing people away from help than it does by stopping abuse when it is occurring. I believe the best solution would be to put the decision to break confidentiality solely in the hands of the therapist, without legal consequences for reporting or not reporting a situation to police. Every single situation is different, but if the option to a parent whose teenager molested a child is to get them in legal trouble by getting help, or do nothing, they will do nothing. That has to change, so that both the victim and the perpetrator can get help.

Mental Health Screening

Therefore, my suggestion is to screen all children for mental health issues. Every child would be required to take a questionnaire that screens for a variety of mental health problems. It would include some questions typically found in a psychosexual evaluation, as well as questions about common mental health issues like depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism, bipolar, and others. At the end of the evaluation, there would be a fill-in-the-blank asking if there are any thoughts or feelings they are concerned about. The evaluation would be created by a combination of experts in each area of mental health. In addition to the evaluation, resources would be provided depending on any areas of concern there may be.

Every single child, at ages 10, 12, 14, and 16 would be given this evaluation, and for every child that screens positive for any one issue, they will be referred to a relevant organization for further evaluation and discussion. The referral would include information on how to get monetary assistance for services, explain what the therapy options are, and explain where caregivers can go for support regarding the findings (the revelation, for example, that there is a possibility a son or daughter might have a specific disorder and more testing is recommended would not always be easily or well received).

Mental Health Workshops

Another idea to work in tandem with the mental health screening is to educate children (yes, children) about basic psychology throughout their experiences in school. This would not just pertain to sexual health, but also overall mental health topics. These workshops could be short detour lessons or integrated into general health classes. The message that every single child absolutely must hear is that no matter what they are facing, they are not alone. Between the screening and the workshops, this message should be hard to avoid and easy to hear, and not just for the children, but for the parents, teachers, and other adults.

Applicability To Other Areas

This would not only address pedophilia, it would also address other mental health issues that can factor into child sexual abuse, and into other crimes as well. Treatment would not be mandated: It would be up to the child and their family to discuss the findings of the evaluation, and what action to take. It would be a tool to provide resources for people who want help with something they are struggling with. I think in some cases it would also simply provide more information for understanding what mental health issues can exist and generate more positive discussion about mental health. It would heighten discussion and help eliminate stigma.

Funding

The funding for such an undertaking would be provided by phasing out and eventually abolishing the current sex offender registry and the resources needed to maintain it. In place of legislation regarding the registry, judges would have expert guidelines to use for sentencing perpetrators of sexual crimes. Judges would be required to look at all angles regarding each case if there is no trial: Victim impact statements, mental health evaluations, character witnesses, remorse, circumstances of the crime, etc. There would be no automatic harsh sentences simply because a child is involved: The judge would be required to look at comparative age, what acts occurred, duration of the activity, how amenable the defendant is to treatment, and most importantly, the impact on the victim. A risk assessment should be used, but balanced with the rest of the situation.

The first part of phasing out the sex offender registry would start with compliant low-level offenders: Non-contact offenses, pornography possession, drug-related offenses, and juvenile offenders. After the money from monitoring these offenders is allocated into forming the evaluation and the evaluation has been implemented, judges will review each case in similar manner as above of tier two offenders on the registry and determine a registry-absent solution to their situation- treatment, incarceration, probation, parole, etc. Five years after the money from monitoring these offenders is allocated into the evaluations and referrals, a panel of judges for each offender in each state will evaluate all remaining tier three offenders in a similar manner to tier two offenders. 

That is my action plan and recommendation.

ATSA's Conclusions, verbatim minus formatting:

"The United States is at a unique point in time with regard to its potential responses to child sexual abuse and the people who perpetrate it. Possibly for the first time, there is widespread
access to the information necessary for a more realistic and holistic understanding of the problem of child sexual abuse.

This understanding has developed out of the very real stories and experiences of sexual abuse that communities face every day. This awareness and deeper understanding is also built upon a growing body of research about the adults, adolescents, and children who sexually abuse, the children who are victimized by sexual abuse, and the impact of sexual abuse on the families and communities of the victim and the abuser. 

Given the complexity of the issue and the diversity of communities facing sexual abuse, an essential change has begun. There is a growing understanding that the simple solutions offered by legislative policies broadly applied to every offender have not been effective in keeping children safe or preventing sexual abuse. Furthermore, the isolation and stigmatizing effect of legislation on sex offenders and their families have generated a number of unintended consequences that limit family, community, and societal ability to prevent sexual abuse in the first place. Tough restrictive policies are needed for the most dangerous sex offenders in society. 

But these policies are applied broadly and typically do not recognize the continuum of behaviors of sexual abuse, the range of ages of those who sexually abuse, and the range of risk posed by sex offenders to re-offend. At the community level, where solutions are informed by the realistic stories and experiences of sexual abuse and the full impact on the families of victims and abusers, communities have created a continuum of solutions to respond to and prevent child sexual abuse. Recent research into the assessment, treatment, and management of individuals who sexually abuse has helped inform these community- based solutions. 

The emerging research offers hope to communities, as it is clear that youth are particularly responsive to treatment and the frequency of re-offending is reduced given appropriate interventions. State-of-the-art treatment, recent policy initiatives, and promising management practices, such as actuarial risk assessment for adults and the establishment of Sex Offender Management Boards, reflect more hopeful and effective responses to the continuum of behaviors that are sexually abusive. The most successful solutions recognize the importance of involving victims, families, and communities in holding those who abuse accountable for the harm caused. 

These solutions also recognize the importance of seeking opportunities to support and offer incentives to those who abuse and can learn to live healthy and safe lives in communities. Current legislative policymakers have the opportunity to learn from these community- based solutions, which involve the entire family and community as a resource for accountability, support, and healing. 

When society begins to invest in offering a continuum of solutions that mirrors the continuum of sexual violence, society can retain the sanctions necessary for those individuals who cannot or are not willing to change; there will be an assumption that adolescents and children will be offered a chance to live healthy productive lives; and individuals and families may be more willing to reach out for help to prevent child sexual abuse. With this access to information and new solutions, policymakers can transform the prevailing responses of silence and fear toward a society of hope and prevention."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Halloween: Scare Tactics and Distractions

Fear is real. It is felt, and when we feel it, it can immobilize us. It can cause panic and anxiety attacks, or worse. Halloween is a time that we can safely flirt with our fears. Haunted houses, movies, TV shows, parties, and other events are frequently attended. Costumes, of course, are worn. Halloween is a time of year we can have fun with our fears.

Yet, for a huge demographic of our population, Halloween is a time that many new reporters and websites like to take advantage of fear, and make the fun parts of Halloween downright scary by feeding us information about sex offenders. As I have cited before, 10% of all child sex abuse cases are perpetrated by strangers, so there is 10% of truth to the myth that we must be vigilant against sex offenders on Halloween. However, the other 90% is severely worrying: Not because the 10% does not matter, but because it represents a very, very small proportion of what really happens. That fact alone is scarier than anything Halloween has to throw at us.

Several studies have been done on the relationship between sex offenders and Halloween. One, done by ATSA, shows no statistical difference between sex crimes on Halloween versus any other time of year. News articles, like this one, have shown much the same. Yet year after year, news organizations have put something in the news about sex offenders. Patch.com is notorious for releasing sex offender safety maps and similar campaigns in their various outlets.

The bigger danger is those escorting your children around your neighborhood. That is what the statistics say. I can attest to that- Halloween was one of the times I abused my victim. I was not yet a sex offender. I was not on the street, lurking around some corner to lure him to my home. No, I was escorting my victim home, and when we returned was when one of my abusive acts occurred. It has left me with a bad taste for Halloween, because it is one day I can clearly remember the horrendous and stupid behavior I engaged in. It is an ugly anniversary I wish I could forget.

So this year, instead of studying sex offender maps and reading stories on sex offenders, do something different. Evaluate who is going treating with your children. Estimate the amount of time it should take them to hit each house, and at the end of the night, ask them how many houses they visited. Ask yourself if the person taking your children meets any number of the warning signs. Call Stop It Now at 1-888-PREVENT or click 'get immediate help' on their homepage. Instead of focusing on useless misinformation, do something that will actually prevent harm from coming to children in your community.