Saturday, May 27, 2017

Moore Center Sex Abuse Symposium: Part Five: "Untouchable" Panel Discussion and Founder Comments

In case you missed the other parts for this series, please see part one, two, three, or four.
As a refresher...
So, What Is This Symposium?

The Moore Center Symposium is a "meeting of the minds" on the prevention of child sexual abuse. It  offers professionals (and advocates) an opportunity to learn more about the issue of child sexual abuse and how it can be prevented. The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a subset of Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, which is a major educational institution in Maryland that is well-known for its work in the public health sector (as its name should indicate). The Moore Center is currently being directed by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, who used to be the president of The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), and is a researcher that studies a myriad of topics within the realm of sexual abuse prevention. I am watching these admittedly dry and boring speeches to pull the essential parts out and communicate them to you. If you want to view them yourself, by all means, just be forewarned that they are dry and can be triggering. 

Beginning Introductions

The symposium starts with an introduction by Johns Hopkins' President, Ronald Daniels, regarding some of the reasons for the symposium and the keynote speaker at the symposium, Patrick McCarthy, who is the president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization that focuses on improving the lives of children in a variety of ways.  Other speakers at the symposium were Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, Dr. Bruce Taylor (an expert in criminology), and Jill Levenson (expert in sociology and social work), followed by a showing of the film Untouchable, which I have talked about on this blog before. Following the film, there is a panel discussion about the film and closing remarks by Stephen and Julia Moore, the founding donors of the Moore Center.

Untouchable Panel Discussion (Dr. Fred Berlin, Dr. Ryan Shields, Dr. Jill Levenson, Director David Feige)

The first few minutes of the video are introductions of the moderator, Fred Berlin, and the panelists. In short, David Feige (pronounced FAI-GUH) being the exception, all involved are extremely smart and extremely relied on for their expertise in this area, both in the media, and with numerous other organizations, including the White House.

Note: If you have not yet seen Untouchable, this may not make much sense. So go see it! Find a non-profit that is hosting it, see it at a film festival, or host a screening. You can also request a personal screening at that link as well.

Questions from Moderator:
  1. Moderator Comment: Invitation to make whatever comments they wish/opening comments
    1. Dr. Shields (2nd time seeing film): No lack of strong opinions, varying perspectives harnessing energy to react to sexual abuse... what if we harnessed the energy seen in the film and directed it towards prevention? Still in a reactive frame, however.
    2. Dr. Levenson (6th time seeing film): Film does not hit you over the head, it lets you come to your own conclusions. Powerful to see screening with homeless registrants. 
    3. Director Feige : Deeply saddened by irrelevance of limitations of film ("just a movie") where people are hungry and need basic things like a place to pee, place to shower, etc. Need to change policy in a way that is evidence-based and responsive to reality... and find port-a-potties for homeless sex offenders. Film was designed to start a conversation and stay balanced so that the film can appeal to everyone: Victims, registrants, families of registrants, policymakers, etc. Value in creating solutions to the problem. 
  2. Moderator comment: Not just a movie, about life, perceptions, caring about human beings we need to know about, disagrees with Director Feige in saying it was just a movie.
    1. Director Feige: Most audiences do not turn on Ron Book until much later in the film, cites screening at MSPIFF. People are far more empathetic towards Ron and Lauren Book until much deeper in the film. 
    2. Dr. Levenson: Film forces us to look at big picture and ripple effects, you cannot solve problem of sex crimes by creating more trauma on sex offenders and family/friends of sex offenders. Film drills home that having a home is fundamental, and not having one impacts the stability of every other area of life. 
    3. Dr. Shields: Imagine a world where registration policies were effective and inexpensive... the fatal flaw is that we are waiting for harm to occur and then react to it. Unacceptable policy position, because it does not effectively reduce child sexual abuse. Lots of energy towards ineffective policy.
  3. Moderator Question: How do we go beyond preaching to the choir? Challenge of multiple perceptions/perspectives, how do we reach people at a personal level? How do we get public perceptions to change?
    1. Director Feige: Central conundrum, taking on THE least popular, THE most difficult, THE most marginalized subject... and go beyond just looking at a young female sex offender in an unfortunate situation. People empathize with faces, stories, so storytelling is important. Hoping that film is a way to open people up and wrestle with the subject in a way that is ultimately grounded in science and fact. Open invitation to show the film to legislators, invitation to non-profits for screenings (has real human being whose only job is to set up non-profit screenings). Tells story of how Ron Book hated the comic at the initial screening, Ron Book says that the comic makes fun of the issue.
  4. Moderator Question: Are there things you wish you could have put in the film that you struggled with including/not including in the film? Are there things that the panel would have wanted to see in the film?
    1. Director Feige: Civil commitment, overview of what civil commitment of sex offenders and the case in Minnesota. Also penile plethysmograph and overview a few deleted scenes and lots of compelling stories from other people. Lots of issues, lots of characters that were all compelling, but he had to pick an issue to keep the film within reason.
    2. Dr. Levenson: She states she is sure she will think of them when she is driving home.
    3. Dr. Shields: When the director asks of Ron Book, "Which of these laws would have protected your daughter?" Was there additional pushback?
    4. Director Feige: Ron likes to talk, very successful at convincing people of his point of view, very smart, very cagey. He liked the question. Ron Book stated multiple times an intent to murder Waldina, the abuser of Lauren Book. 
    5. Dr. Levenson: Lots of guilt and pain for Ron Book, and the only way to deal with that is by doing what she is doing with legislation. 
    6. Director Feige: Talked about trying for two years to get Patty Wetterling to interview for the film, constantly refused... film was slated for the Tribeca Film Festival, and the producer asked director Feige to try again, calls, hands Mr. Feige the phone... and she said yes. Including Patty Wetterling adds a great aspect to the film, captures Ron Book being trapped in his anger and drive to push changes much better.
  5. Question from audience: Please share thoughts on 1) if a child molester lived next door to you, and 2) if your child got molested and the offender got to live and work near children?
    1. Director Feige: You can have an emotional reaction, but that is separate from creating policy. We do not just let one lone individual express their anger in policy. Knowing what he knows now, he would probably not be angry, but it is crucial to understand that our society needs to aspire to be greater than its base instincts to do better collectively than we do as individuals. Anyone would be angry enough to kill the abuser. Personally, knowing what he knows now, director Feige would not be worried, but without that knowledge there is still the distinction between policy reaction and personal reaction. 
    2. Moderator comment: False question, there are already those who have molested living in our communities and of course everyone wants to protect children. The issue is how to make that protection happen.
    3. Dr. Levenson: People have to live somewhere and those with prior sex crimes are already living around us. Her daughter was victimized as a young adult, and everyone has faced that to some degree. Children just want the abuse to stop, and to feel safe and normal. Adults who are victimized want an acknowledgment of accountability and harmfulness. Trying to view things with compassion and empathy can help figure out healing without vengeance.
  6. Moderator comment: Do we as adults sometimes not allow children to really express what they're actually feeling when they are abused?
    1. Director Feige: Super-draconian laws inhibit reporting because there is no opportunity to solve issue of an abuser without totally breaking up the family unity and community.
    2. Dr. Levenson: The pain and damage done to children and families by policies like the requirement of parents to give up their parental rights if they are convicted of a sex offense adds a different aspect/dimension to reporting. 
  7. Moderator comment: Comment about prevention, people are coming forward out of worry that they or a loved one is accessing sexual abuse imagery, but there are new mandatory reporting laws to require these people to be reported to police, and these mandatory reporting laws can depress reporting.
    1. Dr. Shields: Help Wanted project in line with the idea of when we provide help: When someone has been hurt, or before that point? We need to confront this question, and the Help Wanted project is aimed at getting help to adolescents with pedophilia before anything happens. 
    2. Dr. Levenson: New mandatory reporting laws regarding sexual abuse imagery, but these laws damage the therapeutic relationship and hurts a caregiver's ability to provide confidentiality and trust in their office. Another area is helping counselors respond to those with sex abuse imagery concerns help these clients effectively without freaking out, without overreacting, and without shaming... that being able to help these people is what prevention is about.
  8. Audience question: What can everyday people do to try to do more about prevention? 
    1. Dr. Levenson: Take any opportunity you can to be a role model in the life of a child, whenever we come across children, like a child being berated by a parent at the store, to treat them with kindness so that they feel special, important, and worthy so they feel adults can be trusted. Every instance helps the child understand the world, which builds empathy and helps them avoid becoming people who harm others. 
    2. Director Feige: Be a champion of truth. Be courageous in dispelling myths that are so pervasive and commonplace. Be an advocate for truth, be an advocate for science, and be an advocate for challenging myths.
Founder Comments

Those interested in hearing the Moore couple talk about their story, and the founding of the Moore Center, should absolutely watch this couple talk for themselves. It is 17 minutes, and is well worth your time. I am not going to butcher their presentation by summarizing it.

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