California psychotherapist Leslie Bell agrees.
Beginning next month, however, I will be hampered in my ability to hear the full range of my patients’ desires and to assure them that they can discuss these feelings without fear. Under an amendment to California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, psychotherapists and psychiatrists will be required to report to the authorities any patient who “downloads, streams, or accesses images of any person under the age of 18 engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct.” In the same way that I am required to break confidentiality to report child abuse, I will be mandated to report consumption of child pornography.Many other states already require therapists to report to law enforcement those who come to them for help to stop using child porn. Did California look at those other states and find that mandatory reporting reduced the incidence of sexual abuse of children? No, because that is not what those laws do.
On closer inspection, however, the law falls short on three fronts: First, it will not protect children from either the production or distribution of child pornography, which is its intent. Second, it violates therapist-patient confidentiality and decreases the likelihood that people will get the psychological help they need to stop accessing child pornography; if the goal is to undercut production by reducing demand, the law will likely have the opposite effect.This is all common sense, something found in short supply when legislators are trying to make a law--any law--to look as if they are doing something important.
Reporting people for looking at illegal images does nothing to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse of children and does nothing to stop someone recording that abuse. If it did, we would have seen a correlation by now.
No matter how many are arrested, the supply of child porn images is not diminished even the tiniest bit. Throw a guy in prison for looking at illegal images and the illegal images remain available.
Throw a guy in prison for looking at illegal images and there is no effect on another person's temptation to molest a child.
You know what could affect that temptation? The help of a good therapist.
Mandatory reporting laws make it much less likely someone will ask for help to control his impulses.
The third front on which mandatory reporting laws falls short? Bell says,
...it conflates desire with action.Yes.
As a psychotherapist, I am not required to report any other illegal activity that a patient may report to me, including drug abuse, drinking while driving, stealing, sexual assault, assault or even a murder that has been committed. This has allowed psychotherapists and psychiatrists to help patients discontinue illegal or potentially harmful behaviors. And it has enabled patients to speak freely about their thoughts, feelings and desires without fear of exposure. Thoughts and feelings are not equivalent to actions. One of the desired outcomes of psychotherapy is that patients will understand precisely this distinction. [My emphasis.]Looking at illegal images is not the same as doing what is recorded in those images. We do not assume that someone looking at legal adult porn will cross the line to sexual assault and yet that assumption is routinely made about someone who looks at child porn.
Mandatory reporting laws are less about helping to prevent crime or about protecting children than they are about punishing people who ask for help.