Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is Masculinity A Factor In Sex Crime?

I saw an intriguing article this morning in my news feed: A theory that talking about masculinity can prevent crimes. Specifically, rape and mass shootings. I would posit that this theory can also apply to child sexual abuse. First, we need to look at what masculinity teaches.

Masculinity: What is it?

Masculinity is a difficult thing for me to discuss, primarily because of my asperger's. However, my asperger's also gives me the opportunity to sit somewhat apart from my male peers and judge them somewhat from a distance. To me, masculinity is the social value that society places on various things that all add up to being on some imaginary spectrum of 'manhood'. At the one end, you have your 'sissies', the people who are not very manly at all, even if they are, well, men. At the other, you have your manly men (no, not men in tights) who are macho and, well, real men. So what exactly differentiates the sissies from the manly men? Here is a convenient list of beliefs and traits I have observed:

  • Real men do not cry
  • Real men do not show emotion
  • Real men are secure in their manhood
  • Real men like women, a lot
  • Real men can pick up chicks
  • Real men work hard
  • Real men never complain
  • Real men love sports 
  • Real men know most of the players on their favorite sports teams teams by heart
  • Real men can pick a fight with another man... and win
  • Real men are better than you
  • Real men have children that are great at sports
  • Real men have lots of buddies to hang out with
  • Real men can hold their alcohol
  • Real men have a decent amount of money
  • Real men have a nice car, a nice house, and a nice woman
  • Real men have these nice things because they have fought for them by working hard
  • Real men do not cry about bullies, they show the bully who is boss
  • Real men drive pickup trucks and muscle cars

While not a complete list, this might give you an idea of what it means to be a man. There are implied things, like a real man is not gay, a real man does not talk about their emotions, and a real man does not take flak from people. But it is a good list.

Connecting the dots

Is it possible that these expectations fuel sex crimes as well as crude, rude, or violent behavior? I am sure you can imagine what I mean by crude: There are plenty of examples, like the boss with the hot secretary that he hits on all the time, the woman in the lunch room that is the center of attention in a room full of men, the pick-up lines, catcalls, and quest to have sex with women... And rude? A real man is entitled to what he has and what he wants and will just take it if he needs to, including that spot in line, that parking space... And violence needs no other example than football and hockey! Only men could come up with the idea that sports that seem to focus on a puck or a ball, but are really about beating up or knocking down other men to get to said objects. 

So, what happens when a man does not live up to these expectations? What happens when they fall more on the sissy end than the manly end? What happens when these manly attitudes result in homophobic, sexist, or abusive jokes? More often than not, they are not respected. They are not treated as men. They are bullied or harassed. They might be subjected to emotional or physical abuse. They can be hazed. There are plenty of examples to have the unspoken assumption that if you are seen as being on the sissy end, you risk all of these things and more. You have no status if you do not make the cut. 


Putting all of these unrealistic expectations on a man, and you have a recipe for someone who is desperate to be seen as acceptable so that he can belong as a man. Social status is the biggest weapon of masculinity, and without it, the sissies are nothing. So they will do whatever they think will win them back the status that they need in order to be that manly man, the macho guy. Sometimes, that results in sexist jokes to win back some social status. Maybe it is not just a joke, maybe it is a pick-up line they use to get a woman so they can brag about how they really can get a chick. Maybe the pick-up line failed, so maybe it is bullying someone who is more of a sissy than they are. Maybe they do not know anyone who is more of a sissy, so they stalk a woman. Maybe it is not just stalking, maybe they rape her. Maybe it is not a woman, maybe it is a child. A child cannot really fight back, so why not?

The bottom line

By now I think I have made my point quite clear: This ideal of a manly man does not exist. It is a figment of the social imagination, a goal to strive for that is unattainable. That is why we have superhero movies: It takes someone that is far more than just an ordinary human to attain what is truly masculine. But this ideal causes real damage. You see, that list I gave? It is not just a list of things that make a man a real man. It becomes a list of beliefs. "A real man is *insert belief*. I am not, so I must..." Those beliefs lead to what psychologists call cognitive dissonance: A difference in what is really the case, and what should be the case. It is a difference in expectation. 

There are two ways to solve cognitive dissonance: Change the reality, or change the expectation. It is easier to come up with ways to change the reality, but it is much harder to change the expectation. However, changing the expectation so that it is realistic is something that is far more controllable than how much money someone makes, what their level of attraction is to women, the ability to get a girlfriend, or the ability to be interested in sports and hotrods. And that is an extremely odd tie-in, because if you have read my posts about treatment... you will realize that I essentially just made the case that masculinity can cause the very beliefs that lead someone to commit a sexual offense. 

One of the beliefs I had to change was entirely related to my emotions. I swallowed the beliefs about not feeling, not crying, and not addressing how I feel. I decided not to feel. That played an important role in my ability to take care of myself and fed into my decisions to abuse a child. 


I am a sissy. I was before I offended, I was growing up, and in many ways I still am. Only now? I do not care, because some arbitrary set of cultural expectations about what is or is not masculine does not get to dictate how I live my life. I have that power and that control, not this list, this farce over what a man is and is not. To answer the question this post poses: Absolutely. Masculinity and expected gender roles and norms absolutely play a role in sex crime. A cornered animal will do anything to defend itself. If you socially corner someone into a box where they have no status and no hope, there is no telling what they will do to attempt to break free from that box. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Why does SORNA matter to primary prevention?

SORNA? What?

SORNA, the acronym for the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (a catch-all term used to describe the multiple laws that created and expanded registration, and created community notification), is a topic of much contention. Many people discuss it with varying perspectives. I often, when I comment on news articles to inform people of the facts surrounding these issues, discuss recidivism rates of sex offenders and the proportion of new sex offenses committed by first-time offenders to those on the registry. That information is also linked at the side of this blog. But why is it important?

Recidivism: What is it, what does it mean, and why is it important?

Recidivism, which is the criminal justice term for re-offending, is a device that typically refers to someone who has previously been arrested for a crime being arrested again for another crime. It does not usually refer to a reconviction, but a rearrest. As such, it is not a completely accurate measurement because it would ballpark a slightly higher number. After all, some who are arrested are not convicted. On the topic of sexual offenses, its typical inaccuracy should theoretically be compensated for because of underreporting.

There are obvious flaws to using recidivism data to accurately state how many criminals are arrested for a new crime- underreporting and the fact that the data only studies rearrests, for example. However, it is likely to be the most accurate tool for the purpose that it serves, which is to get a general understanding of how often criminals engage in further delinquency. It serves as an important tool to measure whether or not people convicted of certain crimes repeat those certain crimes, other crimes, so that corrections departments can respond accordingly.

There are a variety of studies that have been done on sex offender recidivism. The metastudy linked on the side of this blog found a sexual recidivism rate of 13%, while other meta-analyses have found 11.5%. The United States Justice Department found a 5% recidivism rate in 2002 and a 13% recidivism rate in 2012.

Who commits crimes? Why is that important?

SORNA is essentially based on the idea that sex offenders generally do commit further sex crimes, and that those arrested for new sex crimes are registered sex offenders. The original concept of sex offender registration was that by making law enforcement aware of who sex offenders are, they have tools to investigate other sex crimes, while the concept behind notification (registration is only visible to law enforcement while notification is visible to the public) is that the public can protect themselves against sex offenders by knowing who they are.

Thus, it is vitally important to the effectiveness of SORNA to know who commits new sex crimes. Are they in fact sex offenders? No. One study from New York tells us that 95% of new sex crimes are committed by first-time offenders. In criminal justice, a first-time offender is someone new to the criminal justice system. So their finding means that 5% of registered sex offenders commit new sex crimes.

Connection: What do those numbers mean for SORNA?

If 86% of sex offenders do not repeat their crimes, and 95% of new sex crimes are committed by first-time offenders, then it means that SORNA's effectiveness is extremely limited to affecting a much smaller portion of sex offenders. If Karl Hanson's meta-analyses on the subject are to be believed, and their studies firmly establish that they do know what they are doing, then we have reliable and accurate risk-assessment tools to know when a sex offender is at high risk for reoffending, and when they are not. However, SORNA on the federal level does not require the use of these assessments and treats every sex offender equally, as if they are all high-risk.

Obviously, this is a problem because it means tax money is being spent to monitor every single sex offender, when it is certain sex offenders who are in actual need of being monitored. It also means that the focus is on the wrong group of people: If 95% of new offenses are by new criminals, then the focus should not be on those who have committed sex offenses, but on those who are at risk of doing so. The focus, according to the raw numbers, should be on primary prevention and ensuring that those at risk do not commit a sexual crime.

The reason I use the 13% statistic and not the more-reliable 11.5% statistic is that recidivism rates, given underreporting, are low. Obviously, the bigger the sample pool, the more reliable the statistic because the more the sample represents the group of people it is sampling from. Some have accused me of using biased data: I would venture a guess that recidivism rates on this subject are indeed higher than those found in studies. However, short of every victim reporting it every single time, which is unrealistic for many reasons, they are the best data that is available.