Published November 14, 2021 by Nan Mykel

It’s been a long life…


In traditional outpatient psychotherapy                                                                                                                                                 the client comes into treatment for assistance,                                                                                                                                willing to pay for the privilege of obtaining
help from the therapist, based on the client’s                                                                                                                                    report of his problems.
“This model is absolutely useless when applied                                                                                                                                       to sex offenders.  Incestuous fathers are                                                                                                                                         generally not in distress so long as they have
sexual access to their daughters. They almost never seek treatment voluntarily, and they do                                                                                                                                      not reveal the full extent of their offenses”  (Herman 2000, 150–51). Many sex offenders in                                                                                                                             treatment give misleading information to their therapist, due in part to their continued                                                                                                                                        vulnerability to the legal system (i.e. Parole Board), in part due to their shame about their                                                                                                                                  offending, and in part as a result of their cognitive distortions, or “thinking errors.”

After twelve years with offenders in treatment I increasingly realized that I was not given                                                                                                                                          the full story. In some cases I had no way of validating or confronting the men’s information,                                                                                                                                    but in most cases I think I was too trusting. Did a victim really bring his fiancée to meet
this molester in later years and reminisce about the good old days? Was an adult kidnapping                                                                                                                                  victim really physically turned on by her attacker (who records show was unable to get an                                                                                                                              erection)?  Did the victim of an exhibitionist really approach him and comment favorably on                                                                                                                                      his genitals, and then begin a relationship with him?
The second wife of a prisoner convicted of molesting his stepdaughter routinely drove long                                                                                                                            distances to visit him in prison. She still had faith in her husband’s innocence and did not                                                                                                                                    believe her daughter’s allegations. Later, at his parole board hearing, the man’s entire first                                                                                                                                    family testified that he had also molested them. As a result, he did not get paroled.                                                                                                                                        Confidentiality and safety concerns prevented the information being shared with the second                                                                                                                                  wife, or the perpetrator. The last I knew, she still believed him innocent.  Another case involved a                                                                                                                            man who had been in treatment over a year before it was discovered he had sexually assaulted a                                                                                                                          woman in another state. When confronted he said, “I didn’t know you were interested in what I                                                                                                                                did across the river.”
A number of child molesters have been fired from their jobs “without prejudice” or legal action.                                                                                                                              Even the employment records of teachers and counselors, for instance, cannot be relied upon                                                                                                                                  for accurate information. Yet another man who quit the program, convinced that he had
“completed treatment,” had only discussed his molestation of members of his Boy Scout troop.                                                                                                                                He denied having molested his daughter. It was not until after he terminated treatment that                                                                                                                                    the presence of a son in his household came to light. Still another man, convicted of molesting                                                                                                                                two of his daughters—one in a wheelchair—denied molesting the latter, saying he had never                                                                                                                                been that hard up for sex. Another man, who was an ex-police officer, denied ever handcuffing                                                                                                                                    his daughter when she was alone with him on his boat.
I observed that it is not at all unusual for men with both sons and daughters to be convicted of                                                                                                                          molesting a daughter, while denying any molestation of a son. I suppose sons are more reluctant                                                                                                                              to report than daughters, feeling that it casts aspersions on their masculinity. When one man’s                                                                                                                            family (excepting the admitted victim) visited him in prison, the father made fun of the length of                                                                                                                              his son’s hair, and asked him if he wanted a bobby pin. The young man in question had been                                                                                                                                reported to be depressed and self-mutilating.  Later, after I had queried the father, the son wrote                                                                                                                                a letter assuring me that his father had never molested him.

Dealing with deviant sexual fantasies is one of the most difficult treatment hurdles for the man who                                                                                                                        molests. During the day an offender may be working on his thinking errors, learning about the
harm victims experience, and reviewing his offense patterns, while at night in the privacy of his own                                                                                                                          bunk he may be undoing his treatment by mentally reviewing the offense and rewarding those                                                                                                                          fantasies with an orgasm.  Fantasizing about offending is practicing to reoffend, especially when                                                                                                                      masturbating. Even admitting to having continuing fantasies is a signal to the treatment team just                                                                                                                          how close the offender may be to reoffending, if released. At the same time, it should also be a
powerful warning to the offender himself just how vulnerable he is to repeating an offense, a very                                                                                                                    sobering thought that may help the most motivated men.
Letting go of the attempt to influence the program’s report to the Parole Board, and instead jumping                                                                                                                    into the painful but cleansing jaws of a real commitment to therapy means relinquishing control,
a scary proposition in prison, where one has so little control.

Sex offenders have little empathy for their victims. Although they have some ability to empathize with                                                                                                                others in general, they empathize less with victims of sexual abuse (McGrath, Cann, and Konopasky 1998),                                                                                                              and even less with their own victims (Marshall, Hamilton and Fernandez, 2001). Empathy can be thought                                                                                                                   of as the ability to accurately attribute mental states to other people. One incest offender demonstrated                                                                                                                     his inability to do so when asked how he thought his daughter felt after she delivered her stillborn                                                                                                                  incestuously-conceived baby in the bathroom while at high school and had to carry it home in a paper                                                                                                                  bag on the bus. Her father replied that he had no idea how she felt. The lack of empathy for his victim
follows in part from the perpetrator’s observation of her physical arousal, which she cannot control, from                                                                                                              projection, and possibly, as mentioned earlier, from faulty mindreading.The empathy deficit makes the goal                                                                                                              of this book even more challenging. In order to minimize the likelihood of the men in our program ever again                                                                                                        molesting a child they care about, they were encouraged to carry with them in the forefront of their minds the                                                                                                  information that child sexual abuse is damaging. Unanswered is the question whether an abundance of                                                                                                          cognitive information will have the ability to impact their future behavior. For many incest offenders, feelings                                                                                                           of affection are misread as sex, while subsequently, for the child, the two become polar opposites. (That is, sex                                                                                                        becomes the polar opposite of affection.)

As explored at length in Chapter 9, the bond between the perpetrator and victim can be extremely resistant                                                                                                             to treatment.

Many child molesters deny the need for treatment: One man maintained that the best approach is just to put “it”                                                                                                   out of mind; another resisted doing a relapse prevention plan, saying that if he had to have it in writing,                                                                                                            then…; and another’s minister told him to quit the program because he shouldn’t be around a “bunch of sex                                                                                                offenders.” Some may not want to be “cured” of their deviance. Others may feel it’s hopeless—that they would                                                                                                     only be going through the motions.

Is psychopathy too large a hurdle for treatment? At one point it was thought that treatment made psychopaths                                                                                                      worse, but a further study by Barbaree, Langton, and Peacock (2006) laid those concerns to rest.
For some reason and with few exceptions, I had difficulty conversing with an offender while wondering if he was                                                                                                       a psychopath. One who may have been psychopathic had been reported by other inmates to have masturbated                                                                                                while sitting on the front row when a high school choir visited to sing Christmas carols to the men. He was the same                                                                                                man who had to be cautioned for being too physical across the table when his grown daughter came to visit.                                                                                                  Another was a man who raped his mother who later died, and he told me with disgust that she was a liar. She had                                                                                        reported being afraid of him. His excuse for raping her was that he could hear her in her room, masturbating.                                                                                                          Still another tried to arrange for boys to visit and be counseled by him while he was in prison. He was the same
man who ordered a book on the MMPI prior to evaluation for the parole board, and was the same man who drew a                                                                                          naked woman in his House-Tree-Person tree, and when queried said, “Doesn’t everyone?” Those are just several that                                                                                                come to mind as I reflect back on my twelve years with the prison system. Wondering if someone is a cold, calculating                                                                              psychopath while you’re talking to him, trying to understand him while imagining what it must be like to be him,
didn’t come easy for me. I had less trouble with the man who pointed to the scarf around my neck and told me that                                                                                               on the outside that scarf might be used to strangle me.  (That one wasn’t a sex offender, however.}  A recent article                                                                                     maintains that individuals scoring high on the test for psychopathy can profit from treatment designed specifically to
meet their needs and take their characteristics into consideration (Harkins, Beech, and Thornton 2013, 6). They are,                                                                                        however, a “hurdle” in treatment.

Sex before eight or else it’s too late…—Slogan of pedophile organization. What’s wrong with having sex with children                                                                                          anyway? Usually sexual abuse occurs between a child and someone the child trusts, and often by someone who cares                                                                                              for the child. Rarely do children bleed or show physical signs of trauma as a result of sexual abuse by adults.                                                                                                         Why not include sexuality in our teaching? On January 20, 1972, I was enrolled in a course in Human Sexuality and                                                                                            wrote in my journal: “[J] in class today made the startling suggestion that parents should initiate their own children to                                                                                           the sex act…. The professor said that it was grounds for a good argument, but her objection was that any time there                                                                                                is an inequality between partners (patient-therapist, father-daughter, teacher-student, etc.) the less equal of the two                                                                                              has essentially no real freedom of choice.”

Finkelhor (1984, 17-8) writes that incest is not wrong because it fails to honor a sacred, time-honored prohibition, but                                                                                    because “it violates the powerless—vulnerable wards who are not yet in a position to consent or refuse.” And what would                                                                                   they be consenting to or refusing? Children cannot give informed consent because they are not yet “informed” about sex                                                                                    and sexual relationships, what the likely consequences of incest will be for them in the future, or how other people are                                                                                        likely to react. “The child is not truly free to say no.”


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