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. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Why "Pedophile" vs. "Child Rapist" Matters To Prevention

This Again?

Apparently I need to cover this again more clearly, since my words can apparently be twisted beyond all recognition. So, yes, I am covering this topic yet one more time in the hopes that I can communicate more clearly what I intend to say about why pedophilia/pedophiles are different from child sex abuse/child rapists.

Most Child Rape Has Nothing To Do With Sex

That is where we will start: Child rape is usually not something that happens because someone wants the sexual pleasure of doing things with children. It is usually more related to power, control, or unmet mental health needs. The unmet mental health needs can range from anything to someone with lots of stress in their life, and the child is an available outlet for that stress to someone who cannot find an appropriate adult sexual partner, and again the child is an available outlet for that unmet need. Even in cases where the child rapist does have an ongoing sex drive towards children, the sex drive is less of an issue than other factors like desperation, depression, anxiety, or feeling in control.

This part is vastly oversimplified due to the fact that motivations behind child sexual abuse are vast and complex enough to fill multiple books. But the overarching point is that an ongoing sex drive towards children is usually unrelated to the motivations behind why someone sexually abuses a child.

That is important because...

...Those With A Sex Drive Towards Children Do Not Usually Rape Children

That may be difficult to believe, but it is true. Those with a sex drive towards children are not usually responsible for raping them. However, a statistically significant (30% or so) portion of sexual abuse does include a sex drive towards children as a factor, which means that something more could be done for these people to manage the issues (like desperation, depression, anxiety, and feeling out-of-control) that can arise from having a sex drive directed at children.

In other words, we need to make sure that those with this sex drive towards children have some way of getting help if they feel they need it- before they feel desperate, depressed, anxious, or out-of-control and are then at-risk for sexually abusing a child. Making help more readily available to someone with a sex drive towards kids means less kids are abused.

...Which Does Not Mean That...

  • Child rape is okay
  • We should accept pedophiles being sexual with children
  • Pedophilia should be normalized (whatever the heck that even means, I have no idea)
  • Pedophiles get a free pass to molest children
None of those four bullet points is the point, in any way shape or form. The point is that child rape is bad, and needs to be avoided, and one of the ways we can do that is by making sure that someone who feels sexually inclined towards children has whatever help they feel they might need in facing that sexual inclination. The point to them getting that help is so that they do not rape a child.

Primary Prevention Primer

Maybe I just like words that start with P, and maybe I think people sometimes do not understand how primary prevention differs from, well, prevention. But primary prevention is about stopping child sexual abuse, before it can happen. It means a child is not abused in the first place, as opposed to punishing the living snot out of whoever rapes a child (because at that point, the rape has already happened). Why "as opposed to punishing"? That is somewhat difficult to answer because...

...Mandatory Reporting Hurts Kids

It hurts children by making it less likely that adults who know sexual abuse has happened will report it or direct the child rapist to a therapist because they know that therapist will turn the rapist into the police. Also, it makes children less likely to say that they were abused, because they fear that the rapist (which is usually someone they know, love, and trust) will get in trouble, and because they want to protect the community from the knowledge that this great person that people love and trust is doing these horrid things.

When a mother does not take her teenage kid to a therapist for fear of the therapist calling the police because the teenage kid sexually abused a younger kid, that is a prevention failure. Not only will the teenage kid not be held accountable, they will not be likely to understand why they did that and are at-risk for abusing more children. If our system is set up to punish the snot out of those who rape kids, no matter who they are, it means less rapists are held accountable, less rapists get the mental health help that they need, and it means that rape happens more (which is bad (obviously)).

The Bowtie

A child rapist is someone who has made a choice to hurt a child (regardless of how the rapist justified it or what their motivations were, the behavior to rape a child is a choice). A pedophile is someone who has an ongoing sex drive directed at kids (and has likely never harmed a child). If child sexual abuse is to be prevented, and pedophiles are to get whatever help they feel they need (so that a child is not raped), then we need to keep these terms separate. Thus ends my rant against improper terminology, and my frustration with my apparent inability to communicate clearly what I mean when I say that, "We should pity pedophiles because they have an attraction they cannot help." The part to be pitied is that pedophiles have a sexual attraction to kids that they did not ask for and cannot change, and they can never act on it the way you, I, or most other human beings can be sexual with someone because the someone we are attracted to is old enough to consent to being sexual. That deserves pity, and whatever help they ask for. It does not deserve a correlation with being a child rapist. If someone has not raped a child, they should not be automatically confused with someone who has, regardless of their sexuality.