Suicide at the Oscars, part one: ‘Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1’

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

The topic of suicide came up in at least three acceptance speeches at the latest edition of the Academy Awards on February 22, 2015. (Okay, yeah, I’m late to the party again). And perhaps even more astonishingly, two of those acceptance speeches were actually related to films about suicide prevention hotlines. First up is the documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. (A post about the short film, The Phone Call will follow soon).

Having spent more than five years working full time for a crisis line, and continuing to work in a position sideways from, and occasionally overlapping with, such work, I can’t help but come to these films with something of a bias.

As a matter of fact, I first saw a portion of Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 on a Sunday morning after coming home from an overnight shift at a call center where the crisis line calls represent only one of many mental health functions with which the staff is tasked. Having spent the bulk of my work week on understaffed shifts, I was perhaps a bit resentful at flipping on the TV to see a scene what Bob Hosk, one of the Veterans Crisis Line supervisors who features prominently in the documentary, described as “five hours here at the hotline” utilizing “about four personnel to help one guy.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that the resources were available and the effort was made, with (spoiler alert) a positive outcome for an active duty service member in Hawaii.

In the time since I first saw that segment of the documentary, I’ve become more familiar with the workings of the military in addressing the epidemic of suicide among veterans and service members, and will say it is truly impressive to see the complete change that has taken place over roughly the last two decades—from an approach to suicide and mental health issues that could be described as ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to one of increasing and highly-promoted access to counseling services, to working with suicide prevention specialists and investing in the crisis line depicted in the documentary, among many other avenues.

But, back on that summer morning, knowing that in similar situations (an unknown caller making a vaguely suicidal statement, then hanging up) rather than having a specific staff member on shift to call a special “law enforcement” phone number at cell phone company to get information on the caller’s location by pinging cell phone towers, and then being able to devote ‘five hours and four personnel’ to find the caller, whichever one of us took the call would typically end up trying to call back, and, failing any respone from that, doing a quick Internet search on the phone number (like they show in the documentary) and then making a call to 911 dispatch in whatever location the phone number (probably) originated, to report that somebody had called and threatened suicide—‘no, we don’t have a name; we don’t have an address; we don’t know how they might do it or if they tried anything yet; we don’t know if there are weapons involved; no, we don’t know much of anything about anything—we’re following our protocol, sorry to bother you.’ Then on to the next call—which could range from a hospital social worker inquiring about a client’s mental health history, to a client with chronic mental illness telling us about his dinner, to someone struggling to get help for a family member with a mental illness, to…

In the case of Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, my sense is that the caller from Hawaii was truly coming from a place of desperation, and, perhaps, wasn’t aware of other options available to him, or just what sort of response might kick in as the result of the call he made. He may have thought that by hanging up, he could just drop the whole matter. He may have scared himself simply by voicing the thoughts he was having about ending his life, and so tried to walk away from that.

But beyond my initial reaction to the portion of the film I saw back on that sunny Sunday morning, and my somewhat-tempered-by-time-and-new-information response now, I have mixed reactions to the film.

I’ll say that, overall, I think it’s an excellent depiction of some of the most challenging types of work that happen at crisis lines, and at the Veteran’s Crisis Line Center in particular, which the film notes “is the only call center in the U.S. serving veterans in crisis.” (A more accurate description would be that it is the only call center in the U.S. specifically established to serve veterans, and specifically engaging the particular protocols of that call center in order to assist veterans. Any crisis line in the U.S. will take calls from veterans, and do what they can to help. Call centers affiliated with Lifeline routinely take calls from veterans and their families, in part because the callers don’t always ‘press 1’ when prompted to get transferred specifically to the Veterans Crisis Line Center. And, while Lifeline workers typically will explain to such callers that they have not reached the veteran’s line, they always offer to help.)

Semantics aside, not all calls to a crisis line are life and death—or even crises. Each time the phone rings, it’s not a given that the caller is a someone on the verge of taking her/his life, or a family member of such a person. But you wouldn’t know that from watching this film. You only get the slightest whiff of the lighter calls, when, early on, the camera moves through the call center, the sound of constantly ringing phones and poignant snippets of dialog, reaching the microphones at just the right time: “really proud of you…Where were you stationed?..So twice you tried to hang yourself before?…Do you want me to send someone there for you?…Did you get injured while you were out on active duty?…diagnosed with PTSD?…If there’s anything we can do for you…”

Okay, so those don’t come across as all that light. That particular scene is one of many subtle manipulations used by the filmmakers—layering audio to create a particular impression of an “always on” call center. For the sake of drama, the filmmakers leave out audio involving callers who are just seeking information or non-emergency services. They leave out the repeat callers who are really just touching base and giving a brief synopsis of their day. They leave out those calls having any of a number of angles that aren’t even remotely related to suicide.

The filmmakers also choose to escalate the drama in a completely unnecessary way. For instance, the music, most often quiet, involves drawn-out, high-pitched tones that add to the tension viewers are meant to feel—as if trying to talk a stranger out of suicide isn’t drama enough.

I love this woman: Maureen--Crisis Line Responder, Extraordinaire

I love this woman: Maureen–Crisis Line Responder, Extraordinaire

On top of that, the final segment of the film takes place on Christmas Eve. The scene opens with outside shots of the call center at night, American flag flying, trees wrapped in colorful, twinkling lights, as a soft jazz version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays–the song adding a sting of dark humor with it’s ‘all our troubles will be miles away’ and ‘let your heart be light’ emotions. The timing of the scene was undoubtedly selected because of the heightened emotions many viewers are likely to have around the idea of a “Christmas miracle” or notions of family togetherness at the holidays. But it also serves to reinforce the popular, but ill-informed, notion that ‘the holidays’—Christmas in particular—are a time of heightened depression and increased suicide, an impression reinforced by a shot of the notepad where the crisis responder has written a quote from a suicidal veteran: “Holidays are depressing.”

There are other things that could be taken as manipulation, but which I think were not only clinically sound decisions, but also place the focus where the documentarians wanted it: on the people working at the crisis line. Not hearing the callers, for instance–while likely done just as much for clinical reasons, as for legal and artistic reasons–provides for greater control over how the information will be presented to the audience, and also removes any impressions viewers might have of the callers based on their voices, or the tones they are using.  While I obviously don’t know the specifics of how any of the callers in the documentary spoke or sounded, anybody who has spent time working on a crisis line knows that many of the callers can come across in a way that, shall we say, challenges empathy. Responders need to be aware of the potential biases they bring to calls, and need to develop skills for de-escalating and connecting with difficult callers. At any rate, difficult or not, hearing the callers’ voices would create a completely different film.

Still, one of the most valuable aspects of the film is in giving voice to the crisis line responders, not only in their moments of calm where they appear to be completely in control, but when they are giving voice to frustrations as well. During one call, Robert, a veteran himself, complains that the response time from police is “ridiculous.” In a separate interview segment, Robert expresses the anger that crisis line responders can feel toward callers: “How dare you take your own life?” But part of the reason Robert’s rawness comes across in a potentially endearing fashion is that the filmmakers also let him speak about his struggles with questions of his own abilities, whether or not he has made the right decisions, or whether he made them in time—questions born of situations where the interventions failed.

There are other responders in the film with whom I had a harder time connecting—feeling a sense of kinship, or understanding their particular reactions, or the ways they tried to connect with callers. I don’t want to dwell too much on my snotty, hypercritical reactions, though—or even mention them in any specificity. For one thing, I know only a very limited amount about what was happening in those particular situations. And I don’t know how those people move about in daily life, or in their routine work at the crisis line.

But why I will most back away from potentially harsh or nitpicky-sounding criticism of any of the responders is because I can’t imagine having to work a crisis call with the knowledge that cameras are on me, and that whatever I do could end up on HBO.

That said, there is one responder in particular, Maureen, who comes across as the undoubted ‘star’ of the film. Little is explained about Maureen or her background, except, perhaps, that she reveals that she has sons, as she is complimenting a caller on her handling of a difficult situation.

Beyond that, Maureen demonstrates the perfectly complicated balance of compassion and detachment that is rare in crisis line workers. She is able to connect to the callers, but does not get visibly drawn into the drama, despite mentioning calls that ‘stay with you.’ Early on, we hear her say, “It’s ultimately the veteran’s decision if they are going to live or die…and as a responder, you have to have a really good grasp of that.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Maureen is able to deliver lines of perfect connection to callers–lines that may seem odd to those unfamiliar with such situations. After asking a caller about how his friend (who died in combat) would react to news of the veteran’s suicidal intent, she listens for a bit, then says, “He’d kick your ass? So he’s a good friend.” Maureen is able to drably ‘contract for safety’ with callers, getting them to promise that they at least won’t kill themselves while they are on the line with her, and then works to expand on that promise.

Maureen is the responder featured in the final scene of the movie—the one that takes place on Christmas Eve. Against this backdrop of heightened emotion, she is tasked with drawing a soldier with a gun out of the desert, and back to his parents, despite much of his life unraveling. She is further challenged by limitations on her involvement—having to direct the veteran’s mother on how to bring him home, and then sitting silently, listening, and hoping it all works out.

In the end, Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1 leaves much to contemplate—whether from a clinical or technical perspective—or any of the other myriad perspectives that could be brought to the film. It is incredibly effective in that it is able to provoke a range of emotions, and could, potentially, be used as a tool for training crisis line workers and volunteers, service members and their families, or really anyone who wants a better understanding of how crisis lines work, how the mental health system can be accessed, or how the military is responding to concerns of suicide among its ranks.

It remains to be seen if the film will help draw more workers and volunteers to crisis services, or perhaps scare more of them off. And this is where I have the most difficulty with the film. How much is too much when trying to convey the intenstity of real-life situations? What level of manipulation and film-making technique serves to create understanding, and what level serves to drive only emotional response?

Granted, the vast majority of people who see Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1 will never work in a crisis line call center. But, there’s always a chance they might need one.

So (obligatory ending)…

If you are concerned that somebody you know may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, call (or get them to call) the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255—Veterans Press 1.

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Box Office Schadenfreude? Nolte, ‘Selma’, and ‘American Sniper’

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

Full disclosure: I have not seen either ‘American Sniper’ or ‘Selma.’

An interesting item turned up in my news feed earlier in the week. And by “interesting” I mean “simplistic and misleading.” That item was John Nolte’s “Box Office: ‘American Sniper’ Breaks Records, ‘Selma’ in Death Spiral” on Bretibart.com. You can see the whole piece here: Nolte’s faulty stats prove America loves LBJ, hates Oprah

In the article, Nolte argues that Americans are refusing to see the movie ‘Selma’ because it “lies about race,” and the public is just plain tired of “race hoaxes.” In contrast, Nolte says that honest folk are rushing out to see ‘American Sniper’ because “God, family, and country are box office bonanzas.” God apparently makes a cameo in ‘American Sniper’ but refused a starring role in ‘Selma,’ after its makers reportedly told God that they absolutely refused to include anything about family and/or country in their movie.

Nolte’s earth-shattering evidence for ‘Selma’ being dishonest is that the film portrays President Lyndon Baines Johnson inaccurately. And, while I grant that, from my understanding of the film’s content as compared to actual history, Nolte has some support for this point, can anyone really imagine that historical inaccuracies are a major factor in the decisions of American movie-goers?

“Honey, I’d really like to go see ‘Selma’ this weekend.”

“Well, I’m all for going to see a movie, but I hear that ‘Selma’ isn’t historically accurate in its portrayal of LBJ.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, it’s true, unfortunately.”

“Those bastards!! Why would they do such a thing?”

“I don’t know. I think maybe they just hate white people.”

“Well, then we should just go see ‘American Sniper’!”

“I think it’s our duty as good citizens.”

One might note the weirdness of a Breitbart adherent championing the cause of a president who, by today’s standards, could only be considered an ultra-liberal Democrat. It’s also rather odd that Nolte labels ‘Selma’ as a “race hoax” despite not contesting anything else about the content of the film or its portrayal of events beyond LBJ’s lack of support for the Civil Rights Movement.

This is not to say that I think we should just ignore historical inaccuracies in films, but rather, that people need to understand that “based on true events” means that there are going to be elements that are altered for dramatic effect. Certainly, having discussions about such issues is worthwhile, much like the discussions that have been raised in regard to the accuracy of the portrayal of the main character in ‘American Sniper,’ which Nolte says is about “warriors…properly honored and honestly portrayed.”

I can't stand this victim mentality.  We're the real victims here.

I can’t stand this victim mentality. We’re the real victims here.

At any rate, Nolte gloats about how ‘Selma’ is tanking at the box office, compared to all other Oscar nominees for Best Picture that are still in theaters, and that ‘Selma’ is really getting trounced by ‘American Sniper.’

The problem is, that, aside from the resounding box office success of ‘American Sniper,’ none of what Nolte says is entirely true. Nolte has to cherry-pick box office statistics about fluctuations in ticket-sale-percentage to make his arguments appear true.  For instance, Nolte’s statistics about ‘Selma’ experiencing a downturn in sales/sales percentage is only true if you look at the ‘three day weekend’ (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

However, since Nolte claims that the Oprah Winfrey-produced movie about MLK allegedly tanked over “the Martin Luther King, Jr. 4-day weekend,” (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) many of his claims become rather shaky, some outright false. That is, while it’s true that, following the Oscar-nomination announcements, many of the other Best Picture nominees enjoyed larger percentage increases in sales than ‘Selma,’ when the whole 4-day weekend is considered, ‘Selma’ actually increased it’s box office draw by 22% over the previous weekend, rather than experiencing a drop in sales, as Nolte contends, with over $5 million in business on MLK Day alone. So, it seems that plenty of people, although not record-box-office-numbers of people, did decide to celebrate MLK day by going to see ‘Selma.’

In further contrast to Nolte’s claim that ‘Selma’ is in a “death spiral,” ‘Selma’ was the fifth-highest grossing movie in the U.S. whether you look at the 3-day or the 4-day weekend. Currently, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘The Imitation Game’ are the only films among the Best Picture contenders other than ‘American Sniper’ to have earned more total money than ‘Selma,’ with ‘Selma’ likely on the way to besting ‘The Imitation Game.’ But I guess actual earnings are not a metric that fits in with Nolte’s imposed reality.

And although Nolte crows that ‘American Sniper’ is now the top-grossing MLK Day weekend movie of all time, and highlights its box office dominance compared to last year’s MLK Day weekend top-grosser, ‘Ride Along’, Nolte doesn’t mention that the previous all-time earnings record-holder for the MLK Day weekend is ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’, a movie rife with historical inaccuracies.

I’ll leave it to you to ponder why, at the end of his historically/statistically semi-accurate movie-earnings rant, Nolte later tacked on a brief paragraph urging his readers to go watch the PBS Civil Rights Movement documentary ‘Eyes on the Prize’, or Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’ or ‘Do the Right Thing’, just as I’ll leave it to you to contemplate the strangeness of a man gloating over a movie about a sniper earning more money than a movie about a black Civil Rights leader who was assassinated by a man using a scoped rifle.

Until next time, see whatever movies you want—and don’t be afraid to think critically about them, or to learn more about the events portrayed, or to question the accuracy of statements made by people who really should see a therapist about their anger toward Oprah.

Honey Boo Boo Needs Some Real TLC, Not Abandonment

by JC Schildbach, LMHC, de-commissioned ASOTP

Not quite a month ago, The Learning Channel (TLC) announced plans to drop production of its ‘reality’ show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, as well as shelving an entire season that has been completed, but not aired. The reason? “Mama June” Shannon was photographed out and about with her former beau, convicted sex offender Mark McDaniel. Even worse, a few days after the original story broke, a photo surfaced showing June, Mark, and Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson together.

McDaniel was convicted of “aggravated child molestation” for sexual contact with Anna Marie Cardwell, who is June’s daughter, and Alana’s half-sister. McDaniel served a ten-year sentence for the molestation, having been released from prison in March.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.   I’ve seen occasional clips on other shows, and watched most of one episode when I came across it while flipping channels. But in that episode, I saw that the family was accepting of Alana’s uncle, who is gay, without making a big deal about it. And, despite my unease at the general weirdness of the child pageant circuit, the family members seemed to enjoy each other’s company. And then the show concluded with Honey Boo Boo climbing up on a chair and sticking her butt in the air to fart loudly, which, strangely enough, served as the lead-in to a very somber, ‘feed the children’ infomercial.

At any rate, speaking of the weirdness of the child pageant circuit, having seen a few episodes of Toddlers in Tiaras, the TLC show that spawned Honey Boo Boo’s spinoff, I am disturbed by what can only be described as the sexualization of little girls on that show. The contestants are small children who are essentially treated identically to adult beauty pageant contestants—made to wear too much makeup, with piled-up hairdos, wearing a variety of—I guess you’d call them revealing, although that sounds weird when talking about children—dresses and bathing suits, while performing routines involving dance moves that I pray the girls don’t understand the origins/meaning of.

I’ve had offender clients specifically mention Toddlers in Tiaras as a kind of ‘gateway’ form of visual stimulation leading to seeking out even more exploitative material. And, while such ‘gateway’ comments are often spoken with the intent to limit the personal responsibility of those clients—the whole ‘society is sexualizing young girls, what am I to do?’ complaint—it is somewhat difficult to view the show without thinking, ‘Wow—pedophiles must really enjoy this.’

So, while I could start shaming Mama June for putting her daughter in the beauty pageant circuit, or for taking up with a man who molested one of her daughters; instead it seems a better course in all of this would be for TLC to invest some more effort and money in the show, and maybe take it in some completely different directions—maybe even directions that would involve some actual learning.

Broken portrait of an exploited family unit--Anna Marie, Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and Mark McDaniel.

Broken portrait of an exploited family unit–Anna Marie, Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and Mark McDaniel.

That is to say, it’s very odd to have a show built on the highjinks of a family that is portrayed as a bunch of unsophisticated rubes chasing a weird dream, and then to turn around and cancel the show when the matriarch of the family does something that shows she really doesn’t understand what’s at stake in a particular situation. According to Anna Marie’s own statements to the media, June minimized McDaniel’s behavior, telling Anna Marie that McDaniel wasn’t all that dangerous because Anna Marie was McDaniel’s only victim.

Such a statement is a big red flag that Mama June just might be buying a whole lot of lies from McDaniels—the kind of lies that offenders tell all too frequently. ‘It was just the one time;’ ‘I was drunk;’ ‘It was a mistake;’ ‘The victim did X first;’ ‘I paid the price/did my time;’ ‘I won’t ever do that again;’ etc, etc.

I don’t know what kind of treatment McDaniel may or may not have received in prison. But unless McDaniel has developed some understanding of his own behaviors, and unless Mama June has been educated on exactly what McDaniel did, how he did it, how he justified it to himself, what kinds of things Mama June needs to look out for in McDaniel’s behavior (preferably coming from McDaniel’s own confession); and unless she’s been given instruction in what McDaniel’s behavior means for the safety of her other children, and how to reduce risk (risk can never fully be eliminated), then it’s a little hypocritical of TLC executives to cut her off, claiming that it is in the best interest of the safety of the children involved.

And just for context, here’s the statement issued by the network at the time of the show’s cancellation: “TLC has cancelled the series HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO and ended all activities around the series, effective immediately. Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children’s ongoing comfort and well-being.”

Great, TLC, but where’s the support? I’ve seen many mothers of victims continue on in relationship with the men who molested those women’s children. And a supportive and appropriate relationship with an adult partner can actually reduce risk for re-offense. However, that risk isn’t (generally speaking) reduced when the offender is allowed back around likely victims, particularly without the partner being fully informed as to the nature of the offender’s behavior, and how to provide adequate support for the offender and for other family members. But maybe TLC executives are just looking at this as another example of the stereotypes they’re comfortable promoting–of poor, Southern folk accepting child molestation as a routine part of life.

It is potentially extremely damaging for victims of molestation, like Anna Marie, to see their mothers return to relationship with the offender, or to, in any way, be given the impression that they are being treated as secondary to the perpetrator of sexual violence. It definitely sends some disturbing messages about who is being given priority, and where the concern of the mother lies. It is possible to mitigate that damage, but only with some very involved, professionally-guided therapy.

I don’t want to over-simplify things here, but a major reason for women to continue on in relationship with offenders is economic. I don’t have any idea if McDaniel has any real way of providing for June’s family, but since TLC just cut off the family’s current main source of income, they are increasing Mama June’s likely reliance on someone who can provide support—and at a time when the person June is in relationship with is an offender who is very much putting Honey Boo Boo—that “remarkable child”—at risk.

So, again, why not take the show in a new direction? A learning direction? I don’t mean to advocate for making an offender a reality TV star, but TLC could at least build in scenes to Honey Boo Boo’s show, or maybe a spinoff, that follow McDaniel through treatment, and through all of the difficulties he now faces as a convicted offender trying to rebuild a life outside of prison, in conjunction with Mama June’s exposure to McDaniel’s treatment process.  The audience could see scenes of June attending sessions with McDaniel—scenes of McDaniel explaining his ‘offense cycle’ to June, of McDaniel explaining his actual offense to June, of June going through a chaperone class where she learns just what limits need to be placed on McDaniel and his contact with June’s children.

And what about making sure Anna Marie’s okay? How about, instead of channeling any income to McDaniel, any money involved in a standard TLC reality-star fee, over and above the cost of his evaluation and treatment—funded by TLC—goes to Anna Marie to make sure she can get some ongoing treatment herself?  Perhaps let Anna Marie gain some economic benefit from the exploitation she’s already suffered? She’s had various media outlets contacting her to ask how she feels about the man who molested her being released from prison. How about making sure Anna Marie’s not being re-traumatized by all of this? After all, how many victims of molestation really want the molestation being made public, and then want to have to address it, with complete strangers, for the purposes of having it blasted out all over the airwaves and the Internet?

Of course, TLC doesn’t have to do anything in this case. Perhaps TLC executives were grateful that a scandal of this sort came around when Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was pulling ratings of less than half of its peak performance, just so they had a good excuse to cut their losses. Then again, TLC could really do some good in this case. TLC could truly support the “health and welfare” of their child stars. TLC could really help advance public discourse on offenders, offender treatment, and victim advocacy.

Or TLC could just leave Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and the rest of the clan dangling—dangling over a cliff where falling means families torn apart and potential acts of child sexual abuse—and move on to whatever other ‘reality’ show goofballs America wants to laugh at, until ‘reality’ creeps in and undoes them as well—leaving TLC to cut its losses, abandon its ‘stars,’ and run.

 

“Are All Men Pedophiles?” Who’s Asking? And Why?

By J.C. Schildbach, MA, LMHC, ASOTP

Although a significant portion of my professional life involves work with sex offenders, Jan-Willem Breure’s “Are All Men Pedophiles?” escaped my attention until a few friends alerted me to its presence on Netflix. The documentary is meant to be provocative. In fact, Breure labeled his own work “the most controversial film of all time”—which is roughly akin to describing Creed as “the most important band of the 20th Century.”

I suppose that Breure’s film is controversial, inasmuch as the bulk of its content is unsubstantiated, unquantifiable hooey, put forth by somebody who has admitted (in sources other than the film) that he is attracted to teenage girls as young as fifteen years old. Breure’s is an argument put forth by somebody attempting to normalize his own sexual desire for teens by saying he is just like all other guys, and that all other guys are just like him.

Breure doesn’t get around to delivering his answer to his title question until after the credits—that answer being that, yes, all men are pedophiles, but only if one uses an incorrect definition of pedophilia. Pedophilia, Breure clarifies, is an attraction to prepubescent children. Hebephilia, Breure explains, is an attraction to teens (although if we want to get even more specific, hebephilia really only applies to younger teens). So, Breure says, all men ARE attracted to teens, whereas NOT ALL MEN are attracted to prebubescent children—therefore all men ARE pedophiles in the popular use of the term where pedophilia includes teens, but are in actuality hebephiles if the (somewhat more) correct terminology is used. Or, to simplify things, Breure claims that all adult men want to have sex with teen girls, call it what you will.

It’s probably pointless to engage in a clinical discussion about why Breure’s terminology is overly broad, thereby negating his argument, given that Breure is casting a net so wide that he hopes to catch every adult male on planet Earth. But I will say that, clinically speaking, sexual attraction to anybody who is physically/sexually mature is not considered pathological. In addition, for somebody to be properly considered a hebephile, they actually have to have a sexual preference for teens over people in any other age category.  There is also a complicated interplay between what is culturally “taboo,” what is prohibited legally, and what is considered an actual paraphilia or sexual disorder. Under Breure’s nebulous definition, any adult male who has ever entertained a sexual thought about a minor teenager is a pedophile/hebephile—even if that sexual thought occurred before said adult male was an adult. Under Breure’s all-inclusive concept, a 16-year-old male who had sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend is a hebephile/pedophile the moment he becomes an adult, as is any male who was ever, say, a 15-year-old boy who rubbed one out to thoughts of a peer-age classmate.

The definition-exploding, argument-negating core of Breure’s presentation in support of the idea that all men are incorrectly-defined pedophiles, or correctly-defined hebephiles, is the concept that sexual attraction does not ‘age’ but that it merely expands. That is to say, he believes that because boys first become sexually attracted to teen (or younger) girls, their attraction to teen girls stays with them forever, even as those boys become men and “expand” their field of attraction to include older women.

Breure has a 14-year-old female model in makeup and a small, tight, pink dress, present his idea of expanding attraction as if it were fact, while neglecting to cite the source of the information, which, from a brief survey of the literature, appears to be Breure’s ass.

Advocating for perpetual adolescence--Breure's model tell us our teenage attraction to teenagers never lessens.

Advocating for perpetual adolescence–Breure’s model tell us our teenage attraction to teenagers never lessens.

As an aside, I’m not sure what the theory of expanding attraction is supposed to say about all of the (cisgender, heterosexual) boys whose first sexual thoughts are aimed at adult women, or what it says about my own fifth/sixth-grade infatuation with Annette Funicello who turned up on TV most weekdays in both her “Mickey Mouse Club” teen form, and as her peanut-butter-pushing mid-30s self.

Pubescent confusion, thy name is Annette.

Pubescent confusion, thy name is Annette.

And, incidentally, if Breure’s theory of attraction expansion is valid, it would mean that all women are also pedophiles, or hebephiles as it were, unless women/girls are never attracted to, say, 15-year-old males at any point of their development, or unless Breure believes that the phenomenon of “expanding attraction” is exclusive to males—as if women move on sexually, but men do not.  But since Breure is mostly fixated on male attraction to females, he doesn’t spend much time considering anybody who falls outside of that focus.

While Breure belabors the point that people use the words “pedophilia” and “pedophile” incorrectly, he also confoundingly claims that there is no universal definition of pedophilia, because age of consent laws range widely from country to country (or state to state). Of course, “age of consent” and “pedophilia” are not synonymous, nor do they define each other. Whether a country’s age of consent is 11 or 19, pedophilia still involves sexual attraction to children lacking in secondary sex characteristics.

Breure’s use of statistics is as questionable as his slippery use of definitions. Among other things, he reports that child pornography is a $3 Billion-a-year business. I’ll give him credit for at least using the low end of the unsubstantiated claims regarding the income potential of child pornography. However, he then goes on to assert that 20% of all pornography on the Internet involves minors—a claim that, to anyone who is at all familiar with the vast quantities of pornography available on the Internet, is obviously false.  There is just no way child pornographers could keep up.

At any rate, viewers are left with no clear connection between child pornography and Breure’s argument. Combined with yet another vague and unsubstantiated discussion of teen nudity in fashion shoots, delivered by the same 14-year-old, pink-dress-wearing model, Breure suggests that all those men out there using the Internet are already masturbating to images of nude, underage girls in pornography and fashion, and so are obviously sexually attracted to teen girls, and therefore hebephiles/pedophiles.

Breure even strays into an argument about how ALL men are treated like bad guys because SOME men do bad things, (something that some of his supporters have placed into the category of “reverse discrimination”) and that the problem of pedophilia is being blown out of proportion. Of course, as Breure is bemoaning the great injustice of all men being viewed with suspicion, and treated as if they were all potential pedophiles, he is, at the same time, promoting the idea that all men want to have sex with teenage girls, and implying that they should be allowed to.

In addition to condemning all adult males for already jerking off to teen girls, Breure sets himself up as an apologist for pedophile priests, saying priest pedophilia is not true pedophilia (engaged in out of true desire for sex with chidren) but only pedophilia in practice–because it’s just the natural consequence of too many guys being around too many other guys without sexual access to women/girls. Unfortunately, in his super-simplistic argument, ignoring a vast array of factors for the abuse, Breure forgets to include an explanation of why the adult guys don’t just have sex with the other adult guys if they’re not really interested in sex with children.

Breure’s film also implies that because other cultures in other time periods allowed for sex between young teens and adults (with evidence based on ancient Greece, the Virgin Mary, and a wife of the Prophet Mohammed), that sex between adults and teens should be perfectly acceptable. In other words, Breure wants viewers to believe that girls between the ages of 11 and 15 having sex with much older men is just fine, because people have done it plenty, and—y’know—the Bible tells me so. It’s a compelling argument because, of course, the only times that we, as a culture, have prohibited past practices involved misunderstandings about the true nature of humans. So, maybe while we’re working to bring back pederasty, we can lobby to allow 8-year-olds to work in coal mines again. And, hey, who’s up for a bit more human sacrifice? Legalized slavery anybody?

Speaking of advocating for salacious behaviors, for those viewers who want some prurient content with their pedophilia documentaries, Breure offers up plenty, including:

  • Breure’s sexualized 14-year-old female narrator, engaging in some slow-motion, hand-in-hand running with another teen girl, as the camera operator forgets to keep the girls’ heads in the shot.
  • A teen model embracing and kissing a much older man.
  • A woman discussing her past as a victim of incest and rape, by her father and another man, before the age of five. And, not to deny a victim of sexual assault a voice in a discussion of sexual violence, but it’s unclear why this woman’s story exists in the film, except perhaps to suggest that true pedophilia is ugly and violent, whereas hebephilia is not.
  • A self-proclaimed female pedophile describing how she digitally raped a menstruating girl in a story so contrived it sounds like it was created for a rather specific form of fetish porn.
  • An interview with a male (non-practicing/non-hands-on) pedophile discussing how he avoids acting on his attraction to children, shot in an outdoor setting where he is sitting on a park bench…eyeing little girls with bad intent (okay, there were no little girls in the scene, but I was already going out of my way to fit the Jethro Tull reference in there, so cut me some slack—Breure clearly made the decision to film the interview this way to invoke the idea of perverts lurking in a park—in contrast to perverts lurking at malls where teens gather, or at high school sporting events, or…).

Yet, despite the inclusion of all manner of ideas semi-related to his almost-thesis, one of the things that Breure doesn’t bother to include is actual data from actual studies utilizing plethysmography, among other things, to measure adult male sexual response to girls and women (or boys and men) across a range of ages—data and studies that don’t support the conclusion Breure wants us all to accept.

And maybe Breure leaves out real evidence, and real studies because he never actually manages to explain the conclusion that he wants us to accept, at least not until after the credits roll and we are only still watching if we suffered through a terrible, terrible song about angels and guilt and religion that Breure wrote and performed (I can’t help but think of a fictional album review from the movie “Spinal Tap”–“treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry”). And even then, he gives us a watered down explanation of what he is thinking, without acknowledging his own personal stake in the argument.

But, really, rather than asking the question, “Are all men pedophiles?”—a question completely ludicrous to anyone who is using anything like the actual, clinical definition of pedophilia, or even hebephilia, the question that should really be asked is, “What exactly is it that an adult male would see in a teenage girl that would make her more attractive as a sexual partner than an adult woman?”

I’m going to give Breure a pretty wide berth here—please bear with me. Currently, Breure is a 25-year-old male. When “Are All Men Pedophiles?” was released, he was 23. So, I’m guessing that when Breure first began his work on this project he was around 21 or 22, if not younger.

I like to imagine that the idea for Mr. Breure’s project came about after he expressed interest in, say, a 15- or 16-year-old girl when he was, say, 20. In my imagination, a friend or two of Mr. Breure, or perhaps friends of the girl or the girl herself, told Mr. Breure that he was f*cked up for trying to ‘get with’ with such a young girl; or that he was a pedophile for even expressing his interest. Mr. Breure then reacted defensively, and in the greatest overreaction of all time, decided to raise money to make a documentary defending himself against (rather limited) allegations of pedophilia—all while saying his behavior is just fine because teenage girls are hot, and all men know it.

I only hope that all of the effort that Mr. Breure put into defending his position hasn’t made him shore up his stance that it’s perfectly fine for adult men to lust after teens. I hope he’s not forever, ahem, planting his flag on the “adult men should have sexual access to teen girls” hill, but might, instead move on to have a mature relationship with an adult who he can approach as an equal.

Breure, attempting to normalize adults having sexual access to teens, advocates for nothing more than serial abuse of young people. Because, Breure’s idea of “attraction expansion” is more properly labeled as “attraction stagnation.” He is not advocating for growing up and engaging in mature relationships with adults, while still being able to appropriately acknowledge that, yes, there are teens who are attractive, but they are off limits to adult men, because otherwise we are advocating for manipulative relationships.  Instead, he is asking for permission to make teens objects of sexual gratification, while labeling manipulation and objectification “love.” He is saying that, because we start off in one place, we should be able to continue circling that one place, without ever truly advancing, as we grab at those who pass through, no matter how damaging such circling and grabbing is to those trying to make it through, or to ourselves.