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.”
LACK OF VERACITY
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.
LACK OF EMPATHY/DISBELIEF IN DAMAGE
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.)
THE TRAUMA BOND
As explored at length in Chapter 9, the bond between the perpetrator and victim can be extremely resistant to treatment.
DISTORTED BELIEFS ABOUT 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.
REMIND ME, WHAT’S REALLY WRONG WITH IT?
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.”