Tuesday, May 15, 2018

court-mandated treatment for "bad men" comes with problems

In a Time article titled Can Bad Men Change?, Eliana Dockterman writes about sex offender group treatment. For those who think these are bad people, Dockterman does not disappoint:
They sit in the circle, the man who exposed himself to at least 100 women, next to the man who molested his stepdaughter, across from the man who sexually assaulted his neighbor. The group includes Matt, whose online chats led to prison; Rob, who was arrested for statutory rape; and Kevin, who spent decades masturbating next to women in movie theaters.
Bad people do bad things. The simplistic view. Dockterman's view.

The pattern in the article is consistent: Dockterman brings up something positive about registrants...and then she follows that up with an emotional appeal to our horror of bad men.

Here is an example:
The more than 800,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. may feel that their parole restrictions are onerous, but the mere presence of a known offender in almost any community precipitates clashes of competing interests and legal battles that have only intensified in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In at least 10 recent lawsuits filed in states from Pennsylvania to Colorado, civil rights proponents argue that sex offenders face unconstitutional punishments that other criminals do not, and they note that there are no government registries for murderers or other violent felons in most states. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case challenging the limits of the registry in its October term.
Yes! Those who know someone on the registry see those lawsuits as a move toward the restoration of civil rights for registrants.

Don't get too excited, though. Dockterman's splash of cold water:
But advocates for the millions of women, men and children who have experienced sexual violence are pushing back on any reforms, and 12 states have passed or proposed further restrictions on offenders in the past year. “What most of my clients want is their attacker gone,” says Lisa Anderson, a lawyer who represents survivors of rape. “If I could brand them with a scarlet letter on their forehead I would, because I don’t want any woman hurt like that again.”
Dockterman is willing to quote someone saying that she would like to brand them with a scarlet letter on their forehead without calling out the violence in that particular fantasy, and without pointing out that some of those offenders did prison time because of their fantasies.
Most people find it difficult to reconcile the hope that rehabilitation is possible with the impulse to push these men to the periphery of society forever.
These men. Dockterman will not let go of her disgust for those who committed sex offenses.

Again she quotes Anderson, a victims' advocate who is also a rape victim:
“It’s hard for me to believe that someone could violently ignore the will of another and then be taught not to cross that line,” says Anderson. “But if it’s possible to teach them empathy, then that should be mandatory.”
In three group sessions with registrants, a counselor, and a social worker, has Dockterman seriously not learned that not all registrants ignored the will of another? The writer does not challenge the wildly inaccurate statement from Anderson.

Dockterman acknowledges that people disagree about those who have committed sex crimes:
Sex-offender therapists and victim advocates are often on opposite sides on questions of crime, punishment and rehabilitation, though both ultimately hope to reduce sexual violence. The data on treatment is limited, but what there is points toward the value of therapy. While there are no recent, official statistics on national sex-offender recidivism, an overview of studies looking at the numbers in Connecticut, Alaska, Delaware, Iowa and South Carolina found that the rate is about 3.5% for sex offenders. That figure takes into account all crimes, including parole violations, not just sex crimes.
The reader might see that 3.5% as good news but Dockterman quotes a judge to ensure that readers see things her way:
“Parents of young children should ask themselves whether they should worry that there are people in their community who have ‘only’ a 16% or an 8% probability of molesting young children.”
Dockterman misses every single way that hyperbolic quote is ridiculously dishonest. Children and adults can be victims of sex offenses and there is no way to calculate the risk of an individual registrant. The judge meant only to frighten us with the specter of bad men.

Good people can do bad things and bad men can change--with and without therapy.

Some people who commit sex offenses can benefit from counseling. Granted.

However: Court-mandated therapy and therapy inside a prison are inherently problematic. Therapists, social workers, and probation/parole officers get to decide the goal of the therapy and when therapy is finished.

When a private citizen chooses his therapist and decides what he wants from the therapy, therapy can be beneficial. A registrant ought to be able to choose a therapist who has more empathy for her clients than this:
People have been sharing their problems with Cheryl all her life, even before she was a therapist. [Dockterman earlier identifies Cheryl as a clinical social worker.] During a session, she lets every emotion show, frowning in sympathy and rolling her eyes when patients try to fool her. She began her career working with children who had been abused. When first offered a chance to work with sex offenders, she refused. But she decided to go to a session out of curiosity. “I was like, ‘Oh, God, I’m walking into this group of disgusting, dirty, icky men,” Cheryl says. But when she arrived, the men looked like her neighbors and friends, and some genuinely wanted to change. She decided to take on the challenge, and later she and Jennifer started up a practice. 
They both still work with survivors and know that the damage these men have wrought on their victims cannot be undone. But they have come to believe counseling can curtail most offenders’ impulses and allow them to function safely in society. “I hear the awfulest stories and even have to excuse myself to throw up,” Cheryl says. “Sometimes these guys come in here complaining about having to drive a little further to get groceries because they’re on the registry, and I’m like, ‘To hell with you. Think of how your victim feels.'” [My emphasis.]
Is that the way therapy ought to work? Instead of recognizing the difficulties of being on the registry and how that affects her clients, Cheryl measures their complaints about real-life difficulties against how she imagines their victims feel.

The article discusses how cognitive distortions can keep people from seeing that their own actions and thinking hurt others. How I wish Dockterman had noticed that Cheryl's story is a perfect illustration of cognitive distortion.

Making life more difficult for those on the registry does not help victims, nor does it prevent future sex crimes by those not on the registry. A willingness to make life more difficult comes of a desire for vengeance. Is that how a therapist ought to think?

Cheryl forgets who the client is...or does she? Who is the client here? Is it the registrant who needs to get his life back in order or is it the government entity sending her more clients? If Cheryl and Jennifer fail to please the courts, their practice dries up.

When a therapist is allowed to keep a client until the client thinks the way the therapist wants him to think, that is a problem. When a registrant, required by his PO or a judge to attend therapy, cannot escape unhelpful or damaging therapy without running the risk of going back to prison for a probation/parole violation, that is a problem.

These are not bad men. They are, with rare exceptions, men, women, and children who committed a crime, completed their sentence and now might need some help from a therapist to get back into society.

Dockterman closes her article bleakly:
After those meetings end and the men leave the house for good, Cheryl and Jennifer may never know what becomes of them. Mostly, they hope they won’t read about them in the news.
If that is the best that Cheryl and Jennifer can do, their therapy isn't worth much. That 3.5% figure should let them rest easy.

Of course people can change.

Those who have committed sex offenses are not animals to be trained nor are they contagions to be contained.

1 comment:

oncefallendotcom said...

The reporter is a Feminist.

The headline says "Bad MEN."

The covers shows a scary shadowy figure.

The article contains a prominent link to Time's feature on the MeToo cult.

It does not matter what is the intent of the article, these other issues I mentioned play on the personal biases of the readers who think everyone on the registry are evil male monsters. If she's trying to serve us a steak, she's wrapping it in used tissue paper.