Monday, December 21, 2015

Myths: The Brief Version

So, I was looking over my FAQ and the most recent post about myths, and I thought it could use some condensing. I recognize that I can be long-winded in my writing, so... here goes.

Myths about sex offenders:

  1. Sex offenders constantly reoffend
    1. Verdict: False. Sex offender recidivism, according to the US Department of Justice, is around 5% in the first year of release, and several meta-analyses (one is linked on the right) put it around 13% in the first five years of release. Rates are higher when any offense/conviction is considered, not just sexual crime.
  2. Residency restrictions protect children, and do not significantly affect sex offenders
    1. Verdict: False. California just altered their residency restrictions because they found just the opposite. Also, 85% of child sex abuse happens in one-on-one situations in the victim or offender's residence. While blanket residency restrictions do still affect the very small minority of repeat offenders who prey on children who are strangers, this portion of offenders are already unlikely to be deterred by residency restrictions rendering the restrictions virtually moot. 
  3. Treatment does not work on sex offenders, there is no cure
    1. Verdict: Mixed. While technically accurate to say there is no cure for sex offenders (definition of sex offender: Someone has offended sexually against another), the issues that lead a human being to violate sexual boundaries are usually a myriad of mental health needs. Mental health needs are ongoing, and cures are a one-time fix, which means that no mental health issue can be cured. Treatment can and does teach offenders to manage their mental health needs, risks, and helps them come up with safety plans to address their needs in a healthy, productive way. Studies have shown that sex offender treatment alters recidivism rates in small samples by 20-30%, and some state programs like Hawaii have shown much success. Also, sex offenders already have a low recidivism rate, so saying that "treatment does not work" is patently false. 
  4. Sex offenders are trying to lure children on the internet
    1. Verdict: Mostly false. The majority of internet solicitation crimes occur by first-time offenders, not registered sex offenders, and the number of youth who report being solicited as the law would define it- made by an adult- is around 3%, according to a 2001 Department of Justice study. 
  5. Sex offenders are finding victims on social media
    1. Verdict: Mostly false. Existing sex offenders- those on the registry- who find new victims on social media are vastly outnumbered by the number of first-time offenders who use social media to find and interact with victims of their sexual crimes. While some sex crime does involve the internet and social media, the fact is that social media is a factor, not the main method for the crime in most cases.
Myths about child sex abuse:
  1. Child sex abuse only involves penetration
    1. Verdict: False. Child sexual abuse can include anything from invasive and inappropriate sexual conversations, to physical touch, to penetration, to taking or sending nude images to a minor. While some forms of child sex abuse may not be illegal, if it is sexual in nature, crosses acceptable boundaries, and is traumatic for the child, it is sexual abuse.
  2. Most children will tell an adult
    1. Verdict: False. The vast majority of children who are sexually abused wait months or years to notify anyone that they have been abused, and some never do. Abuse is humiliating, shaming, and leads the child to believe that they are the cause of the abuse. If only they were not as pretty, or cute, or smart, they would not be treated that way. Children do not want to get adults involved because they often see it as their fault, and also want to protect adults from being impacted by it.
  3. Child sex abuse only affects girls
    1. Verdict: False. Child sex abuse affects 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys by the time they turn eighteen according to multiple experts on abuse. 
  4. People who abuse children are pedophiles
    1. Verdict: Mixed. While people who abuse children sometimes are attracted to children (Dr. James Cantor, a well-known researcher, estimates that 30% of child molesters are pedophilic, or attracted to children, and states that no single study shows this), that does not mean that someone who is attracted to children has molested a child. While a child molester may be a pedophile, a pedophile may not be a child molester. Pedophilia is a disorder, and the act of molesting a child is the result of someone's choice, not the result of the disorder. Mixing the two minimizes abuse, discredits pedophiles who do not act, and just adds confusion to a already heavy topic. 
  5. People who abuse children are dirty men in trench coats who nab children off of the street
    1. Verdict: Mostly false. An Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers study of 67,045 victims found that only 5% were total strangers to their abuser. Stranger abduction and assault is extremely rare. There is also no profile for what a typical child molester looks like. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Secrecy And The Dark

One of the biggest things I have never directly addressed in many posts, or written about, is how secrecy plays a role in offending. I have hinted at it, alluded to it, and cited statistics related to it- but not discussed it directly.

Importance

One statistic that typically blows people with no knowledge of abuse away is that 85% of it happens in one-on-one situations. Another that is closely related is that most abuse (81%) happens in the home of the victim or offender- particularly in cases involving child sexual exploitation material. In short, that means that the majority of abuse situations involve the victim and the abuser in the victim or abuser's home. It is also well-established that the majority of sexual abuse victims do not disclose the abuse immediately. For many, it takes more than a year after it occurs to disclose it. Some never do.

Practically

My own offending did not happen suddenly. It happened because I made dozens of poor choices that led to the choice of being alone with my victim. I never told anyone about the attractions I had to children after my first disclosure, because I was afraid of how people would react. Those two things- keeping my choices to myself, and keeping my struggle to myself- helped enable the decisions I made to abuse my victim. It happened in the privacy of my residence, or in my victim's residence. I never told him not to tell- not until I was knowingly, intentionally trying to manipulate him into telling.

My point is that some abusers do use threats, it is true. But the sad fact is that most of the time, it is not needed. The child is so shamed, humiliated, and scared of what is happening that they do not share it. This happens for many reasons- fear of getting the abuser in trouble, fear of their family or friends finding out, wanting to protect people close to them from the knowledge of what is happening.

Dispelling Myths

Child sex abuse does not typically happen in the scenarios we envision: Nabbing a kid off the street and raping them at knifepoint, warning them not to tell. Most rapes do not even happen that way, to my knowledge. It is typically not perpetrated by homeless people, nor by people in trench coats. The scariest part of child sex abuse is that it happens in secret, with no one knowing unless the victim says something- and most of the time, they do not do that. Nor does all abuse get perpetrated by old men- 35% of it is perpetrated by older children.

It happens when people who have an ongoing primary attraction to children do not get the help that they need to manage their attraction. It happens when the coach that we know and trust for years starts spending time with Suzie alone, because Suzie is his outlet for some challenge in his life. It is preceded by many months of decisions on the abuser's part before the actual abuse, and by boundary violations and desensitization- intentional or not- for what the abuser wants to do to the victim.

The Point

The point is that child sex abuse thrives on secrecy, in the dark from those that care about the child. No one knows until it is too late or already happened (unless they are very familiar with sexual abuse and how it happens, then they might notice the signs), and then the only thing is to stop it. Stopping it then does not undo the scars, the beliefs, the pain, and the trauma. And all it would have taken is the person with an attraction, or a struggle, or a major life event, to say "I am struggling with this and I need help." Yet ours is a society where if they do that, their career, their life, their reputation, their friends, and their family seem at stake. The stigma is so huge that people have committed suicide for fear of what they might do- I was almost one of them. The biggest thing that can be done to stop child sex abuse, before it happens, is eliminate the secrecy and darkness that enable it to happen at all. People need to be able to come forward for help.

Practical Application

I discuss in my warning signs post that the biggest red flag/warning sign is someone who wants to spend time alone with a child, and that the red flag is that there is something that the person is intending to say or do that they wish to remain between them and the child. This sort of secrecy is very, very typical of what most people call the grooming process, and it is that secrecy that can enable an abuser to continue abusing the same child, or continue on to other children, because the child is keeping their secret.

That is why experts recommend that you do not encourage children to keep secrets or encourage the use of 'silly names' for genitalia: Children should know and use the proper terminology for anatomy, and never keep secrets. The practical application is to ensure that children know the difference between a secret, a surprise, tact, and know the proper terminology for the various parts of their body. Not only is this teaching them that they own their bodies, it teaches them to be healthy people empowered to discuss sex without shame. And if someone is violating their boundaries and abusing them, they are more likely to say something about it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Why Words Matter: Pedophile

Background

Earlier, I wrote a post on the words "pedophile" and "pedophilia", where I assert that the two words are misused when people use them to refer to someone who has abused a child, and the abuse of a child. I explained how using those words to talk about abuse is minimizing what was done to the victim, and how the terms should be used. I assert that they should be used to refer to people attracted to prepubescent children, and the reality of being attracted to young children. I have talked elsewhere about how pedophilia is different from ephebophilia and hebephilia (the interfering attraction to 15ish-19ish year olds and 11ish-14ish year olds, respectively). I know I am beating a horse here, but it is not at all dead yet, so I shall beat some more: Incorrect terminology minimizes child sexual abuse.

Stigma

What I did not discuss is the stigma with which the word is used. People throw around the word "pedophile" like it is a dirty, filthy word and the ultimate insult. Somewhat akin to how faggot, nigger, and retard were thrown around prior to people finally taking a stand against their usage. The stigma with which the word is used increases the likelihood that actual pedophiles, or those attracted to young children, will never seek help. It should be noted that most child molesters are not pedophiles, and most pedophiles do not hurt children, even if underreporting is accounted for by estimating these statistics.

Just like the myths and stereotypes that people believe in reference to sex offenders and child sex abuse, the stigma that the word "pedophile" carries interferes with efforts to eliminate child sex abuse and get potential abusers help before they ever harm a child. In fact, the group Virtuous Pedophiles was formed largely because of this stigma and because they recognize the need for pedophiles to support one another in seeking help for the disorder. It is not just pedophile groups either: Big research names like James Cantor and Ian McPhail write about how non-offending pedophiles exist and deserve support.

Correct Terminology

I often speak of pedophiles and sex offenders as if I were not one because of that stigma. I am extremely hesitant to describe myself in those terms because of how loaded with stigma, shame, ridicule, insult, and condemnation those terms are. While technically accurate- I am attracted to children younger than adolescence, and I did in fact abuse a child sexually- these terms do not define me. I believe the very existence of this blog thoroughly establishes that fact. I have put countless hours into developing a resource where people can go to for information on the topic of child sexual abuse, ultimately to ensure that it is prevented before it happens.

What point and purpose would I have in posting what I have, and advocating as I have, and repeating the real facts of child sex abuse as I have, unless I were an advocate for its prevention? To gain the trust of some community? I do not use my real name. To manipulate people into thinking I am not a threat? Again, I do not use my real name. For money? Find me a donation button, or an ad that I put up to get money from your clicks. There is literally no point to me doing this unless my goal is what I state it is: The primary prevention of child sexual abuse.

Consistency In Usage

The word pedophile needs to always be used, by reporters, by the media, by the government, by law enforcement, and by the general public to refer to someone with a pedophilia diagnosis. Otherwise, those who use those terms are no different than those who have thrown around the words faggot, nigger, or retard- or any other stigmatizing, derogatory word. They are ignorant bullies, much like internet trolls that just post garbage to rile people up.

The next time someone uses the word pedophile, ask what they mean and watch how they react. Then simply say this, "Pedophilia is a disorder recognized by professional psychologists to describe someone with an ongoing sexual attraction to children who have not yet hit puberty. Is the person you are referring to diagnosed with pedophilia, or did they rape a child?" If their jaw does not hit the floor, chances are you are dealing with an informed human being with a brain in their skull.

Why Myths Are Dangerous

Most people know, realize, and understand that myths and stereotypes exist. Some people think these are inevitable, while others seek to correct the, while still others do not care. I have spent several posts attempting to dispel some of the myths surrounding child sex abuse, sex offenders, and pedophilia. There are also studies and other articles about these same things on the right-hand side of this blog.

However, I have never taken the time to explain why some of the myths on these topics are so destructive and dangerous. The biggest reason in my mind is obvious: If you are focused on the wrong threat to children, you may prevent some children from being harmed, but you will miss the real threats. I like to use a dodge ball analogy: If you are playing and your back is to the other team, you will get beamed by the ball and you will lose. If you are more military-minded, think of entering a gunfight facing towards your enemy's target.

But analogies aside, myths and stereotypes are dangerous not just because children end up being in danger, not only because children end up being abused because of it, but because policies and public opinion demands that action be taken on this issue. And if the policies and public opinion is being formed around 'facts' that are actually myths, stereotypes, and lies, well... it does not take a genius to understand that these policies will be completely ineffective at worst and shoddy at best.

For example, most people believe that sex offenders have a very high recidivism rate. Yet multiple meta-analyses involving tens of thousands of sex offenders, at varying follow-up periods, put the average sexual recidivism rate at around 13%, lower than any other criminal activity. According to the data, it is almost four times as likely that a sex offender will be arrested for not complying with probation, parole, or their registration than it is for them to victimize another person. An ATSA (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) study done on Halloween found, among 67,307 victims younger than 12, that strangers were responsible for 5% of their abuse.

Yet our current policies are aimed at keeping sex offenders away from schools, parks, day cares, and other places where children congregate. The facts, according to Darkness to Light, indicate that the majority- 85%- of child sex abuse occurs in one-on-one situations, most of the time in the victim or abuser's home. Not in a park. Not at a school. Not at a day care. So these broad, sweeping policies aimed at an entire population of criminals that only has committed a sexual crime- regardless of their actual risk to children- will only have an effect on around 5-15% of child sex abuse cases.

Obviously there are many other myths and stereotypes out there that follow the same line of reasoning: Homeless people in trench coats are sex offenders- as if what someone wears is any indication of their behavior (this is like saying that because multiple high-profile shootings have happened at the hands of someone in military gear, anyone wearing military gear is at risk of causing a mass shooting). Nevertheless, the bulk of these myths and stereotypes are in fact harmful- harmful to the subjects of them- sex offenders, actual pedophiles, homeless people, etc- but the very children these stereotypes were invented to protect.

The biggest way any average person can prevent child sex abuse is by knowing the facts, and helping to dispel the stereotypes and stigmas. There are a number of links on the right of this page that you can use to do just that. Another useful tool is the review of prevention training that I posted.