Monday, March 19, 2012

"Get Tough on Crime" Departments of Corrections Treatment Programs: Disempowering the Dark : An Abnormal Psychology

As part of the “get tough on crime” trend, many state departments of corrections have abolished treatment programs for pedophiles. These treatment programs typically consisted of intensive behavioral modification. What do you think about the failure of prisons to provide treatment for these offenders? What are the ramifications for the offenders and for society upon their release?

I think it's clear, from the chapter and from our societal knowledge and experience, that pedophiles are one of the most stigmatized and maligned populations in the United States. Because of the criminalization of  pedophilia, pedophiles are conceived as criminals just as often as they are conceived as individuals suffering from a mental disorder. Because of the nature of the behavior, people who fall along the continuum of pedophilia are sometimes rendered monsters and aren't afforded the basic humane treatment afforded to people who are suffering from other psychological disorders. I tend to be very skeptical of my own as well as others' conceptions and intellectual treatments of pedophilia because it is so difficult to consider pedophilia with reason and objectivity. Pedophilia is far out on the edges of acceptable behavior in Western Society. While not so long ago cross-culturally it was acceptable for a man to take a "child" bride, today in the U.S. pedophilia is considered deplorable. People who experience pedophilic desires or commit pedophilic actions are considered deplorable and treated with minimal empathy.

It's easy to understand where this lack of empathy comes from - it is reciprocal. The pedophile lacks empathy for the world (i.e., the powerless) and the world lacks empathy for the pedophile. Pedophiles who act on their desires are choosing instant gratification over the wellbeing of a powerless child (Please note: I am focusing on children under age 16, because in my eyes that age is generally a good place to draw the line between childhood and adolescence - and it affects my definition of pedophilia, as well. I would not consider an adult who has a sexual relationship with a mature 16 year old to be committing a heinous crime nor would I consider such an adult to be a pedophile.) The behaviors exhibited by active pedophiles inherently involve a lack of empathy and impulse control. It's one of the ultimate examples of a perpetrator-victim, predator-prey dynamic. It's a huge abuse of power but is perhaps not so different than other abuses of power by the powerful over the powerless. There are always degrees of power, though we draw distinctions.

As a society, we shun and admonish pedophiles, yet we often fail to recognize that pedophiles are merely humans who fall into the extremes of the continuums of human behavior and human sexual desire. They fall into the extreme ends of the continuums of power abuse, sexual desire, and socially unsanctioned behavior. The best way for us to understand pedophilic behavior is to consider and attempt to understand our own behavior. If we consider our own sexual desires, drives and inclinations as well as our own response to power dynamics in relationships; we will be able to see pedophilia a bit more clearly. If you have ever lied to someone to protect yourself and get your way, then you know a bit about the lying and manipulation of the pedophilic individual. If you have ever held some degree of power over someone else, whether it be a child or an elderly person or a dog or same-age adult, then you know the heightened responsibility of being in that position and you also know that being in power makes it easier (not EASY: easier) to manipulate or use that power to maximize your experience and fulfill your needs.

We're all, to some degree, selfish and desiring of power. All of the qualities that make us self-serving and self-protective are embodied in extreme forms in pedophilic behavior. Pedophilic behavior rawly, blatantly and bluntly displays the human qualities in all of us that we would prefer stayed in the dark. But, when they are caught, pedophiles bring the darkness of human behavior into the light. Naturally, we want to hide that side of ourselves. Eliminating the pedophile seems like the easiest way. It's not, though. The less we aim to understand pedophilic behavior, the less we will learn and know about pedophiles and ourselves - and the less we will be able to face, redirect or dismantle the behaviors that result from pedophilia.

Treatment, as it exists now, is not greatly effective in ameliorating the problematic outcomes of pedophilic inclinations - whether the treatment be in or outside of the custodial system. First and foremost, the level of the threat to society (threat to the safety of children) needs to be evaluated in a systematic and standardized way. Because it is challenging and costly business to do so, narrowing down the target category to include only pedophilic activity that falls within certain ranges and criterion will help. The problem with standardization, though, is that is doesn't allow enough room for exceptions to the rules. I suppose the type of risk and the level of the risk is so great that it is better to err on the side of being overly inclusive rather than running the risk of leaving someone out or letting something slip under the radar (because the consequences are so very unacceptable and grave).

Given that we don't have a consummate and effective solution, starting with education is key. The education system is a platform through which children can be taught about the range and types of sexual desire as well as about the consequences for choices and behaviors related to those types of desire. Building a foundation in children by providing them with information, access to information and a safe and open place to discuss ideas as well as their feelings will strengthen their ability to make decisions and respond to a world of possibility as they enter into adulthood. By focusing on the idea that children are adults-in-process, and not some separate and distinct alien sect of humanity, will also help.

If we treat children and adolescents as forming-adults then our focus will be on empowering them with information, practical experience, critical thinking skills and decision-making skills; we will be much better off at the get go. Societal problems, such as pedophilia, will still exist; however they will exist on a smaller scale and within a grander, more educated world-context. A pedophile-in-the-making (or a pedophile-by-nature) will go into adulthood at least having had some training and information to refer to when making decisions so that he will, if he is capable at reasoning at such a level in the face of pure impulsivity, have been made aware of the consequences of his actions. If his impulse is so great that it overrides reason and empathy, then at least he can know what consequences to expect (for HIMSELF - someone he will surely care about) for such actions. He may not understand or care about the repercussions (the damage caused to the potential victim), but he will be able to understand that if he is caught he will face life-altering consequences. I hate to have to include the "if he is caught" element, but that's reality.

Until we start dealing with the realities of pedophilia (and with the multidimensionality spectrum of human sexual desire and behavior) then we will stay where we are at and we will not move forward. I find the behavioral modification techniques used to treat pedophilia (as described in the chapter) to be derived from a belief in the ability in the pedophile to be able to overcome his impulse rather than to manage it. The behavioral treatments -using aversion therapy, for instance- seem idealistic and ultimately unhelpful. There is too much reason and pressure to BE dishonest to trust in the words and intentions of a pedophile (or anyone for that matter). And to assume that the aversion therapy is going to translate to other environments and be long-lasting is foolish and naive.

Behavioral modification would have to be a constant fixture in a pedophile's life in order for it to be effective at ensuring the safety of potential victims. If it were a constant fixture, it wouldn't be an effective procedure- it would be akin to (or another form of) incarceration or monitoring. Prison is a form of punishment. It is the consequence of a behavior. I think other forms of therapy should come before behavioral modification - and I do think therapy should be incorporated into the prison system - as a way of attempting to create a safer world. Though the results of therapeutic treatment are not yet adequate; the promise of treatment is that in time the systems of punishment that are aimed at creating a safer community will incorporate programs whose goals are to create healthier individuals so as to make a healthier and safer community.

And also, to throw one more thing out there: I think it would be humane and reasonable to offer prisoners the OPTION of pairing psychotherapy with chemical castration (which, as I have been informed, can be reversed and is not painful) as an alternative to incarceration. Not an enforced procedure - an option. One that I think makes good sense. If offenders receive no information or help while incarcerated, then they only have the fear of re-incarceration to keep them from acting on their desire again. Fear is a powerful motivator, but, based on my own experience, I do not think it is powerful enough to deter someone from acting on urges so powerful that they overcame reason and empathy in the past (if reason and empathy were present in the individual to begin with...)

I think the best thing that can be done for the problem of pedophilic victimization is to get it out of the darkness and into the light. The monsters hiding in the dark need to be able to come out into the light and show their human faces - when they are safe and unafraid, they will come out and face the world. When the world faces pedophiles in the light of day and in the lightness of their own minds, the world will feel safer and not-so-afraid. The world, in the light (with pedophiles and non-pedophiles alike), will be safer and less scary.


Kristin Davis said...

Honestly, I don't know what to think of the whole pedophile thing anymore, I haven't known what to think about it since I was 18, which I will tell you why that is later, perhaps on Facebook or e-mail. The problem I have at the moment is that whether it is possible for a pedophile to molest other people, like his nieces, but skip his own children? If it is based on impulsivity and he wasn't able to keep it in check with them, then how would he keep it in check with his children? He sees them everyday after all. Unless of course his constant saying that he would shoot someone if they ever did that to his kids truly caused such a big war in his brain that he was able to not do it, but the first one makes more sense. Though I truly do not want to say that for reasons which I will tell you later. Anyway, sorry this is so long and so ramble-y.


Jess Mason McFadden said...

Well, I would have a lot of questions regarding the situation you are describing. What about the sex of the molested children - were they the same or different than the biological children? Maybe the individual is just not "attracted" to his own children - the biological similarity might be incompatible for him. Although I know many molestations occur within families (many molesters ARE biologically related to their victims). The other thing to consider, Kristin, is that the individual might see the at-home situation as too high risk. If there is a high risk that one of the children will stand up for herself, he can probably sense this. He would target a child who is vulnerable and safe. If he sees his own children as unsafe or too strong willed to submit out of fear, he wouldn't target them. He would look elsewhere for a vulnerable child. Or maybe he prefers certain physical features in a child, and finds those features in other children? I don't know either. We can talk more about the specifics of the situation soon. Hugs. Ramble all you want...