Perverts and Rapists and Creeps, Oh My!
A couple of weeks ago my colleague Jenner Bishop posted an open letter on the IITAP (International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals) listserv about clinician prejudice toward sex addicts and sex offenders. Jenner had just come from a “suite meeting” for an office she’d recently rented, at which she’d been bombarded with angry questions from the other therapists about how they were supposed to protect their clients from her “unsupervised” sex addicts and offenders. She had explained that she doesn’t work with violent offenders, and that the offending behaviors of her clients were typically something along the lines of hiring prostitutes and/or looking at illegal pornography – which the other therapists’ clients were probably also doing, even if the therapists weren’t aware of it – but Jenner’s fellow professionals just wouldn’t let it go.
I was shocked. Eventually someone admitted that – despite the landlord sending around an advance email informing tenants the potential new renter is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist – they wish they’d further investigated what a CSAT does, because they’d have informed the landlord that my practice is incompatible with theirs. You know, I just forget. We’re on the front lines of healing such a grossly misunderstood population. And it’s not just the masses, it’s fellow clinicians with these massive prejudices and blind spots.
Jenner is absolutely right. The world is filled with sexual prejudice of all types, and even highly trained professionals are not immune to this bias. I face this fact every single day both in my educational efforts and in my practice. Honestly, even the most basic and factual of my blogs is likely to draw “friendly fire” from certain colleagues. And only a year ago I had to host a three-day staff training session at one of the addiction treatment facilities I work for, the sole purpose of which was to calm the staff’s fears about working with a sexually addicted, potentially offending population. And their concerns – their prejudices if you will – were exactly the same as what Jenner recently faced. In other words, they were convinced that the facility’s sexually addicted clients were monsters who were going to be molesting and raping all over campus. Never mind the fact that they’d been treating these same people for years as part of the chemical dependency population.
Ignorance = Fear
The good news when it comes to clinicians is proper education can help to alleviate concerns. While it is true that some people’s prejudices toward sex offenders are simply too deep to overcome, for the most part therapists are open-minded individuals who respond well to unbiased, factual information. And that is my goal with this blog – to present the facts about who sex offenders are and the risks these men and women do and don’t present.
For starters, many clinicians don’t fully understand what sexual offending is. Oftentimes therapists, like the general public, are of the opinion that there is a one-size-fits-all definition. In reality, there is a clinical definition, along with multiple legal definitions. The clinical definition of sex offending is nonconsensual sexual activity. Essentially, a person’s carnal activity is nonconsensual (offending) if one or more of the following occurs:
The legal definition of sex offending is sometimes quite different, and it varies from state to state and nation to nation. Consider, for instance, a fully cognizant 19-old-male and a fully cognizant 17-year-old female who engage in consensual sex after dating for nearly two years. In one state this might be a crime, while in a neighboring state it might not be. And in the states where it is a crime the caliber of the offense and the potential consequences might vary significantly. Even more confusing is the fact that laws sometimes change. Behavior that was illegal last year might not be today, and vice versa. Either way, from a clinical perspective this behavior is unlikely to be considered sexual offending. Another interesting example is same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. Such behavior was illegal in most of the United States until the late 20th century, and it is still illegal in several countries. So even though consensual gay sex was (and in some places still is) by law a sex offense, it does not now nor did it ever meet the clinical standard. In other words, from a legal perspective sexual offending is subjective, based primarily on the collective moral code of a specific community at a particular time.
From the clinical perspective, sexual offending typically involves one or more of the following behaviors:
Categories of Sex Offenders
Much of the clinical prejudice toward sex offenders stems from the fact that in addition to not knowing what offending is, some clinicians have very little factual information about who the perpetrators actually are. Generally speaking, sex offenders, regardless of age and/or gender, fall into one (or more) of the following four categories:
The Clinical Reality
In the clinical community there are two highly destructive beliefs about sex offenders.
These two opposing opinions, neither of which is accurate, have caused a great deal of confusion, the wasting of valuable resources, and harm to the offender population, the therapists who treat those men and women, and society as a whole. The simple fact is some sex offenders can be successfully treated, while others cannot. Generally speaking, violent sex offenders and fixated child offenders do not respond well to treatment, while regressed child offenders and SASOs usually benefit greatly from proper clinical intervention.
These latter individuals, the “treatable” sex offenders, are the people that I see in my practice, and that Jenner sees in hers. They present little danger in a therapeutic setting. The odds of such a client taking advantage of another vulnerable person while sitting in the waiting room of a clinic are infinitesimally small; it’s about as likely as a recovering drug addict robbing his or her therapist’s office as a way to pay for his/her next fix. It’s possible, sure, but it doesn’t happen. In other words, we have every reason to treat these individuals, and little to no reason not to.
In next week’s blog I will discuss ways to effectively (and ineffectively) treat sexual offenders.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, he has developed clinical programs for The Ranch in Nunnelly, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, and The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. Mr. Weiss has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and numerous other treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. He is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and the upcoming 2013 release, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships, along with numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters. An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, he has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others.
This post currently has
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.
From Psych Central's website:
Effective (and Ineffective) Treatments for Sexual Offenders | Sex and Intimacy (May 3, 2013)
Last reviewed: 1 May 2013