Saturday, June 11, 2016

Criminology Myths Debunked

Today, I ran across a rather unfortunate article discussing the prevention of child sexual abuse. While a very small amount of the information in the article is accurate, the majority of it is not. This will serve as a review of the information presented in the article, as well as a rally cry to protect our children. Not with myths, not with misinformation, but with facts.

Part One: What Is Pedophilia? Who Are Pedophiles?

This article is wrong from the very first sentence, which has to be some kind of achievement somewhere. Obviously, anyone with internet access (and the ability to read English) can look on the side of this blog and click the "Wiki: Pedophilia" link on the side, and read that pedophilia refers to an attraction to children that meets very specific criteria. You can also see my recent post on pedophilia. Why does this matter? Well, the title of the article is not "Pedophilia From The Perspective Of Criminology", but "Do more to prevent child sexual abuse". Sexual abuse is a choice. Our best information from the DSM-V is that pedophilia is not a choice. It is described as a sexual orientation:
Page 698 of the DSM-V, first paragraph
Obviously, pedophilia cannot be both a condition and a crime. It cannot be a noun and a verb at the same time. That is a logical fallacy of ambiguity called equivocation: Using the same word to mean multiple things so as to make a fallacious argument sound solid. A student of critical thinking could easily see where I am going with this. The article is supposedly written by a criminologist who studied at the University of Detroit in 1989 for a masters in criminal justice. If someone who is smart enough to get a masters and direct a university in Malaysia, but cannot do a simple Wikipedia search to use words properly, I question his credentials and his ability to lead properly in preventing child sexual abuse.

So far, that covers just the first sentence. The second paragraph is equally poor. Pedophiles are not people whom prefer to have sex with children, they are people who find children who have not yet hit puberty attractive. Many pedophiles would prefer not to have such a sexual attraction at all. Where this man gets the idea that he somehow knows how all people with the condition of pedophilia think, I have no clue, but I very much doubt that they teach mind-reading in the criminal justice master's programs in Detroit. And as far as I know, pedophiles do not prefer to taste children, nor do they achieve sexual pleasure from children. That would imply that all pedophiles sexually abuse children, and given that around a third of those who abuse children are pedophiles, well, that implication would not hold true under any expert's analysis.

Also, the DSM-V discusses pedophiles as exclusive (only attracted to children) or non-exclusive (attracted to children, but also to other age groups). So the last sentence, that they desire sexual relations only with children, is demonstrably false.

Part Two: Grooming, Profiling, And Abuse Facts

Some of the information here is okay, like the last sentence: A well-known abuse statistic is that 90% of sexual abuse victims know and trust their abuser, though I am not sure how exactly the victims' mothers factor into that well-known statistic. The point is that people generally trust those who abuse children. Pedophiles do in fact come from all backgrounds, and pedophiles only share one thing in common: An attraction to prepubescent children. There is no way to identify a pedophile. Nor, by the way, is there any way to identify someone who sexually abuses children, short of catching them in the act or the child disclosing the abuse, which was probably his point: There is no profile of someone who sexually abuses a child.

However, we do know why people abuse children. They abuse children because they are available, because of unmanaged mental health needs, out of mishandling difficult emotions, and yes, sometimes being sexually attracted is a factor. However, the sexual attraction is not the reason they abused, but the fact that they did not properly manage or get support for the attraction that they have. They abused a child because they made the decision to do so. The main point here is that sexual abuse is a choice, and pedophilia is not.

Huckle made decisions to seek out children, and to write a manual on how people can sexually abuse children and get away with it. You have likely seen news articles referring to Huckle as a pedophile who wrote a pedophilia manual. He is a sexual abuser who wrote a sexual abuse manual. Pedophilia had little to do with his choices. I also very much doubt that Western privelege factored much into his decision to abuse children, as there are many people with Western privelege that use it to help people rather than exploit children. You might as well mention that he had a beard, therefore all people who have beards might sexually abuse children.

He alludes to grooming in the first sentence by saying that abuse "can be a small act in everyday life". I say he alluded to it, because he does not actually name it as grooming, or go into detail about what grooming is. Grooming is the intentional or unintentional progression of earning the victim and the trust of those close to the victim so that the perpetrator can spend time with the victim alone without arousing suspicion. Grooming is a real thing, though grooming is not, of itself, abuse. Nor, I might add, is abuse a "small act in everyday life". This man is a professional at minimizing child sexual abuse, as abuse is neither a small act, nor should it ever be part of everyday life for a child.

Part Three: Criminal Behavior, Pedophilia, And Victims

The theory mentioned in the first sentence may have been a popular notion in 1989, but I very much doubt that you will find many criminologists (no, that is not my field) that believe that all criminal behavior is learned from other criminals who hold criminal attitudes and values. You might as well say that all crime is the result of mafias, we just have to identify who taught whom. I have no idea what most criminologists actually believe in regards to theories and what causes behavior, but I am very familiar with psychology and psychologists. Most experts in sex crime that I have either spoken with or read a peer-reviewed study from would say that child sexual abuse is a choice. That choice may be influenced by environmental factors, or by biological factors, but it does not negate the fact that behavior is the end result of a decision. It is controllable. This is yet another example of the man minimizing child sexual abuse.

And again, he uses the term "pedophiles" to refer to those who have abused children. The number of abusers who were abused themselves is around 30-40%, last I checked that statistic. You can look it up if you do not believe me, but 30-40% hardly qualifies as "most pedophiles", or rather, most abusers. And while pedophilia is certainly the result of some complex biological and environmental process, the condition of being sexually attracted to young children does not automatically lead to criminal behavior any more than depression automatically leads to suicide. This man is clearly speaking outside his area of expertise, and is attempting to blame mental illnesses and psychological conditions as the cause of criminal behavior. Can I get a show of hands for those who think that such blame casting towards mentally ill people is completely inappropriate?

Part Four: What Makes Someone A Pedophile, Cure For Pedophilia

While I did not look up the 2014 Korean report on twins with pedophilia (I hesitate to believe it even exists, after what I have read so far), I am quite familiar with James Cantor's work on pedophilia and what he says about the subject: That pedophilia acts as a sexual orientation and is developed very, very early and is likely the result of biological processes far more than it is the result of an environmental factor such as child sexual abuse. None of that, of course, is at all relevant to child sexual abuse and how it could be prevented, unless he were asserting that pedophiles do not choose their condition and should receive help and not stigma (this is obviously not his argument).

He claims there is no agreement about what makes an individual a pedophile. This is almost laughable. Pedophilia is a word that describes the condition of having an ongoing sexual attraction to prepubescent children, so obviously people who have such an ongoing sexual attraction would be a pedophile. While there is certainly disagreement over the nuances of pedophilia and how pedophiles should be treated, there is no academic disagreement about what makes someone a pedophile to my knowledge. It is a narrow term with a narrow definition, and the term itself does not have disagreement, the concepts surrounding it do. Should it be called a disorder? Should it be called an orientation? What about mandatory reporting? These concepts rage ongoing debates.

And it is absolutely correct that there is no cure for having the sexual orientation of pedophilia, it is absolutely incorrect that most pedophiles are sociopaths. I believe I discussed this recently. He is referring, of course, to sexual predators who are the very extreme minority of sexual abusers, which again, is completely irrelevant to pedophilia or pedophiles. While there is some comorbidity (like correlation, but for psychologists) between pedophilia and antisocial personality disorder (psychopathy, or sociopathy, if you prefer the stigmatized language), there is also comorbidity between pedophilia and substance use disorders, depressive, bipolar, and anxiety disorders, as well as other paraphilic disorders. Yes, I copied that almost word-for-word from page 700 of the DSM-5.

Conveniently ignoring the reality of pedophilic disorder to make his point that pedophiles are terrible people that have an innate drive to rape children is academically dishonest. Yet, this man is the director of a university as well as holding several affiliations and titles. He should stick to his areas of expertise and not butcher the field of psychology and pass it off as fact.

The last sentence is almost laughable. Do I even need to cite sources when I say that sexual recidivism of sexual offenders is around 10-20%? Do I need to link the two studies on the side of this page, which will tell you that sexual abusers have lower recidivism than the average sexual offender? Anyone can search "recidivism for child sexual abusers" and see the top result. The last sentence is a lie that is clearly exposed to be a lie by a simple Google search. If he had a masters degree in criminal justice, he should be able to find that information far easier than I can.

Part Five: How Abuse Happens, How Sexual Abuse Can End

Here, he begins wading into realms far outside my area of experience. What I can tell you is that law enforcement must have specific training in how to question victims of child sexual abuse so that the trauma involved is not made worse by making the victim relive the experience before they are ready. I can also tell you that law enforcement must spread far and wide the message that there is no profile for sexual abusers. I can even tell you that enforcement is a must. I also wholeheartedly agree that effective laws are a must in combating child sexual abuse. However, speaking from the perspective of an American, with all of our sex offender registration and notification laws, and all of the subsequent studies that have shown how useless they are except in maybe 5% of sexual offenders, I must say that these laws must be done with expert analysis and recommendations. Which brings me to the final part of Mr. Satar's article...

Part Six: Sexual Abuse Prevention, Responsibility, And Child Protection

I completely agree with the first two paragraphs: Preventing child sexual abuse is everyone's responsibility. The police must investigate and enforce, but parents, teachers, and others must be able to spot abuse when it is occurring, and spot the warning signs in those who may be at-risk to sexually abuse a child. The third paragraph is also brilliant: Parents must ensure the safety of their children. The fourth paragraph is golden: Parents must know the warning signs and not take someone's title for granted (oh, the irony). We must not assume that someone is reliable because they are trusted in the community, or because of a title. We must watch for the warning signs.

But that is where I stop agreeing, because the last two paragraphs scream the same precursor warning signs that America should have been hearing in the 1990's when parents began demanding laws that we now know are completely ineffective at protecting children: Put registries in place, register pedophiles and child abusers (conflating pedophilia with abuse again, I see), and do all this to protect our children! That has not worked well in the United States, and that rhetoric was formed on the assumption that recidivism is high, but that is just an erroneous assumption.

Mr. Satar, our children do need to be protected from child sexual abuse. But they do not need to be protected from pedophiles or pedophilia. They need to be protected from the bad decisions of older children and adults, and those are just that: Decisions. Our children, not just here in America, not just in Malaysia, but all of the children in the world, must be protected by facts, laws and policies that are based on those facts. America and Europe has already made the mistake of forming these policies and laws based on the emotive rally cry: Protect our children! It is time that this rally cry becomes based in fact, not just hype, so that it can be effective at actually keeping our children safe.

The first part of that, if you noticed, is fact. Verifiable, trustworthy, peer-reviewed, honest, fact. Not myths based on a misunderstanding of psychology, sexual abusers, and the dehumanization of those that abuse children. Fact.

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