Yes, Breitbart, 33,000 People ARE Killed with Guns Each Year

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

There is absolutely nothing controversial about Hillary Clinton’s claim that, in the United States, “We have 33,000 people a year who die from guns”–except maybe to those who don’t understand how words and numbers work.

Yet, AWR Hawkins, breitbart.com’s “Second Amendment Columnist,” posted a “Fact-Check” column, titled “No, 33,000 Not Killed with Guns Each Year” following the third presidential debate, claiming that Clinton deliberately inflated the CDC numbers of firearm deaths by adding in suicides. This is not the first time Hawkins has posted similar complaints.

What Hawkins fails to do is explain how suicides by firearm somehow fall outside of the “33,000 people a year who die from guns.” Certainly, Hawkins must understand that somebody who uses a gun to kill him/herself is dead, and did use a gun in order to die—making that person someone who ‘died from a gun.’

Using Hawkins’ preferred language of people “killed with guns each year” still doesn’t change anything. A person who commits suicide with a firearm still was, in fact, killed with a gun.

suicide-gun-mouth

Hawkins also strikes out by putting the phrase “gun violence” in quotation marks, saying that the use of that phrase (which Clinton did not use in the quote he complains about) somehow plays into Clinton’s strategy of fooling the public. But, again, killing oneself with a firearm does qualify as “gun violence”–first of all, because it involves an act of violence; and secondly, because it involves a gun. Or you can reverse that so the gun is first and the violence is second—still doesn’t change anything.

I don’t want to get into speculation about things that Clinton didn’t say, but perhaps if she had used the phrase “gun crimes” or had referred to murders using guns, then Hawkins would have a better argument. But Clinton didn’t. So Hawkins doesn’t.

And, in case you’re wondering, the 33,000 figure is dead-on. Here’s a chart, showing the CDC numbers of gun deaths for the years 2010 to 2014 (2014 being the most recent year statistics are available) clearly showing that gun deaths have reached well above 33,000 per year for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and averaged 32,964 per year for the five-year period.

avg-gun-deaths-2010-to-2014

A handy chart of CDC statistics on gun deaths, lifted from Everytown for Gun Safety at  https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/

Now, I get that gun-loving Americans, including the Breitbart crowd, don’t like to believe anything negative about guns. They also don’t like to believe that they may, at some point, end up so distraught, or so deep in the throes of mental illness, that they might use their guns on themselves, and/or their family members or other loved ones—or perhaps even neighbors or random strangers.

By pushing the suicide statistics aside, or pretending they ‘don’t count’, Hawkins ignores a harsh reality here: that people who own guns tend to kill themselves with those guns far more than they kill an intruder in their home, or otherwise defend themselves from the big, bad, scary world out there. People who own guns kill themselves with those guns more often than criminals use guns to kill innocent citizens; and more frequently than ‘gang violence’ leads to gun deaths.

There is also considerable overlap in the “murder/suicide” category—where gun owners kill their significant others, family members, co-workers, or random strangers, prior to turning their guns on themselves. And because guns are such a quick and effective killing tool, the decision to use them in an act of violence on loved ones or oneself is often impulsive—a few too many bad days in a row, a bad argument following a few too many beers, or even a partner deciding they want out of a relationship, and the gun comes out as the ultimate way to put a stop to whatever is so aggravating.

As for mental illness, Hawkins’ argument becomes even less convincing in the face of all the clamoring about how we don’t have a gun problem in the U.S., but we have a mental health problem. Of course, people who make such an argument are usually talking about the mental health issues of mass shooters. Yet, if we (properly) view suicide as a mental health issue, then the numbers of firearm suicides become that much more disturbing. Gun owners kill themselves at a rate roughly twice as high as the rate of gun murders. That’s a vast mental health issue that’s not being addressed, and that is being exacerbated by guns.

Yes, I know that many of the people who want to argue in favor of guns like to point out that people who commit suicide will find the means to do so, even if you take their guns away–an argument which is demonstrably false in terms of overall lethality. There are many ways to map out the evidence showing this falsehood, including the high rate of suicide by firearm–roughly 50% of all suicides in the U.S. are completed using guns. Another way to conceptualize the difference in suicide methods is to compare suicide completion rates using firearms relative to suicide completion rates using other methods. For instance, plenty more people survive suicide attempts by overdosing on pills than survive suicide attempts using guns.

Those who are willing to brush off the connection between firearms and suicide also sometimes argue that suicide is a matter of personal freedom—of being allowed to end one’s life when one chooses. I will say that I’m not completely opposed to people being able to end their own lives on terms they choose. However, I’ve learned enough to know that people are least equipped to make that decision quickly, impulsively, or while in a deep depression (among many other factors). Very few people attempt suicide while they are thinking in the clearest of terms, or making a rational decision based on a comprehensive review of the facts.

Depression and many other forms of mental illness are notorious for their association with cognitive distortions, aka, “thinking errors”—misinterpreting the world around one, the impact one’s actions have on others, and the view other people have of one (again, among many other factors). As I’ve pointed out before, the idea that a gun keeps one safe is, itself, a cognitive distortion. The suicide-by-firearm statistics make that clear.

There is also, perhaps, a great irony here, in that Hawkins believes he is advocating for gun ownership, when the “mental health” approach to suicide prevention involves removing the means for suicide. That is, safety planning for suicide prevention involves taking away those means most likely to be used in a suicide attempt, while the person at risk for suicide gets treatment.

So, how do we address the mental health problems associated with guns and suicide? Take the guns away, at least until the person moves beyond risk for suicide. Of course, mental health treatment is not predictive. Risk factors can be weighed, and support systems assessed, but given the ease with which a person can use a gun to end her/his own life, a dip back into depression, a few more bad days, a drift away from regular engagement with one’s (positive) coping skills, and the risk can escalate once again.

Hawkins thinks he is supporting gun rights by poo-pooing the statistics on firearm deaths in the United States. But what he is actually doing is pointing out that suicide is twice as big a problem, where guns are concerned, as murder is. His solution is to pretend the people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people who “die from guns.”

At base, he is arguing that people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people…or perhaps aren’t really people who deserve the support to go on living.

 

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Guns Don’t Kill People. Stickers Kill People!

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

For decades, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” did the job of letting tough guys/tough gals let everyone know that they viewed more gun violence and the threat of gun violence as the number one solution to gun violence.

But, with the Internet opening us up to increasingly contentious arguments with complete strangers, and with gun violence reaching into more and more corners of American life—claiming the lives of children at school, moviegoers, and people coming together to worship, to name just a few, the National Rifle Association (NRA) had to get more creative in promoting their simplistic ideology that guns are always the answer.

After all, how do you sell mass murder to people? How do you continue to convince people that guns are the answer to guns? How do you adapt the idea of mutually assured destruction—so effective in the global arms race—to the micro level, getting people to think it’s a great idea right in their homes and neighborhoods?

Well, you come up with more dumb slogans that are effectively meaningless, mostly untrue, and promote the continued stockpiling of weapons among the decreasing percentage of American homes where people actually keep guns.

Just read any comment thread on any article about gun violence or gun control, and it’s guaranteed you’ll see the tried and true “outlaws” and “guns don’t kill” slogans in there right alongside the NRA’s other branding strategy updates: killers will find a way to kill even if they don’t have guns; we just need to enforce the laws that are already on the books; Chicago has strict gun laws/high gun violence; mental illness is the problem, not guns; and so on.

One of the latest buzz-concepts is that “Gun Free Zones” are the problem, not guns. Put that little “gun free zone” sticker in the front window of a business or school, and it will attract mass shooters like fruit flies to old fruit.

Of course, just like every other NRA-sponsored motto, it defies logic, and isn’t actually true in any demonstrable way.

First of all, let’s take a quick look at the origins of the “gun-free zone” campaign. Of course anyone arguing on an Internet comments thread could look up the “Gun-Free Zone Act of 1990”—say, on Wikipedia which shows how completely stupid the “gun-free zones kill” argument is, but why bother knowing anything when it’s so much easier to get angry while being completely wrong?

Beware citizen!  Steer clear of this sign or you might get shot!

Beware citizen! Steer clear of this sign or you might get shot!

Basically, the act was put in place 25 years ago to keep high school students from bringing guns to school and shooting each other. Sounds pretty reasonable. Of course, gun lovers jump off at that point and say it didn’t work.  Kids are still shooting each other.  And, of course the only way to make sure kids stop shooting each other is to make sure more kids have the means to shoot each other.

Yet, as much as it may or may not have kept little Bobby from sneaking a gun into school in his Incredible Hulk backpack, one thing that the Gun-Free Zone Act did NOT do was prevent armed security personnel—and other authorized parties—from carrying guns in schools. In other words, gun-free zones are not actually gun-free. Ideally, they are free from guns in the hands of people who are not supposed to have them—just like the rest of the entire country.

That is to say, The Gun-Free Zone Act, and all of its attendant signs and window-stickers, was a politically-motivated band-aid measure that really didn’t do anything except make a few bucks for businesses that print signs and stickers.

Before the Gun-Free Zone Act, it was illegal for kids to bring guns to school and shoot each other. After the Gun-Free Zone Act, it was still illegal for kids to bring guns to school and shoot each other. The big change was that after the passage of the law, kids could get in lots and lots of trouble for bringing a gun to school, even if they didn’t actually get around to shooting anybody with it.

Due to other situations of gun violence, like mass shootings in post offices and office buildings, numerous business officials, and government bodies also decided they would declare their workplaces “gun-free zones”—basically meaning that employees were not supposed to be packing heat at their cubicles, or while stocking shelves, or sorting mail.

Somehow, though, we’ve gotten to the point where the NRA, and all of the people who parrot the NRA talking points, apparently think it is somehow unreasonable to prevent, say, junior high kids from bringing guns to school, or to keep Jerry in accounting from having a loaded weapon tucked in his waistband while he microwaves his Hot Pocket in the breakroom.

Despite the proliferation of numerous “gun-free zone” signs and stickers, schools and businesses were still free to have armed security personnel on site. And, thanks to “concealed carry” laws, which exist in several states, and often contain provisions to explicitly allow concealed carry in gun-free zones, plenty of people can actually take their guns into “gun-free zones.”

And lets be clear. Umpqua Community College—the latest site of a well-publicized mass shooting, if I get this posted before another one happens—was NOT a gun-free zone, as so many pro-gun folk are claiming. That is, concealed carry is allowed on the Umpqua Community College campus, so long as people are legally allowed to have their guns with them via concealed carry permits.

Still, there are plenty of pro-gun folk, even those who are aware that concealed carry is allowed on the Umpqua Community College campus, who inexplicably–even immediately after acknowledging that concealed carry is allowed on the UCC campus–cannot stop claiming that UCC is a gun-free zone. Apparently, allowing guns in a gun-free zone is not enough to appease some people.

Perhaps what the NRA is pushing for, with it’s blame-the-gun-free-zones campaign, is to allow open carry in schools, and everywhere else.

But what the NRA is actually demanding is the removal of gun-free zone stickers and signs. After all, the NRA has already crafted and passed many laws that have rendered the gun-free zone laws moot.

Sure, plenty of mass shootings, and just plain old shootings have happened in areas that were labeled “gun-free zones,” just like numerous shootings have taken place in areas with no such labels.

But there is zero evidence that any mass shooter ever chose a target specifically because it was labeled a gun-free zone.

And despite the frequent existence of “good guys with guns” in the very same locations where mass shootings take place—whether those are labeled gun-free zones or not—there has not been some sharp increase in citizens preventing mass shootings as the number of guns has proliferated in the United States, or some great reduction in the number of mass shootings as mass shooters get scared away at the possibility that there might be people with concealed carry permits on hand.

In other words, as much as the NRA pushes the idea that more people with guns means that mass shootings will be stopped, there are still a huge number of mass shootings, and just plain-old shootings, taking place in the United States. As much as the NRA has succeeded at establishing more concealed carry and open carry laws, the shootings haven’t stopped, or even decreased.

But it’s so much more convenient to for the NRA to launch polly-wanna-cracker slogan campaigns to its ready audience of parrots than it is for the NRA to engage in any substantive reform of laws that might actually improve the safety of all the “good guys with guns,” as well as those of us who really don’t feel the need to keep guns.

Of course, the NRA exists to provoke gun sales, not to concern itself with public safety.

In fact, the good folks at the NRA have gotten so desperate to distract the American people, that they are blaming an ineffectual band-aid law for gun violence.

So, let’s do it. Let’s take down all of the “gun free zone” signs and stickers tomorrow. All of them. Everywhere. And let’s repeal the gun-free zone laws. They’re nothing but a symbol anyway. It won’t do one stinking thing to stop gun violence, just like taking down the Confederate flag did nothing to stop gun violence.

But maybe we can shut down the talking point about gun-free zones a little quicker.

Then all the people who are suddenly so fixated on stickers and signs as the source of gun violence can get back to working on all those fixes for the mental healthcare system.

Elonis and the ‘Art’ of the Online Threat

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that making threats on social media isn’t always making threats on social media.

Call it the jk standard.

Or don’t call it that. That’s not really what the Supreme Court decided.

In this particular case, (Elonis v. United States, 13-983 U.S. ___ (2015)) a rather sad and unpleasant man named Anthony Douglas Elonis took to calling himself “Tone Dougie” on Facebook, where he wrote and posted “lyrics” and “comedy routines” involving threats to his ex-wife, former co-workers, an FBI agent, and elementary school children. But the Supreme Court really only decided whether the jury that convicted Elonis of criminal offenses was given the appropriate instructions for deciding that conviction.

So, the Supreme Court was not looking at whether Elonis legitimately acted in a criminal fashion, but whether the jury was instructed to apply the wrong standard in his case. In the court that convicted Elonis, the jury was asked to apply the “reasonable person” standard that is used in civil cases involving threats, when they should have been asked to apply the “criminal intent” standard that is used in criminal cases.

In other words, it’s as if the jury was instructed to decide whether Elonis should be forced to pay a financial penalty to the people he antagonized, and the jury said ‘yes,’ so Elonis got thrown in prison. The question the jury was asked did not match up with the penalty Elonis received—legally anyway.

So, while “reasonable persons” might recognize that Elonis was deliberately threatening his wife and numerous other people, a criminal conviction generally requires a standard of “criminal intent”—or proof that it was Elonis’ intent to threaten his wife, and the others.

The jury should have been instructed to decide whether Mr. Elonis had intended for his posts to be viewed as threats by those people who were the targets of those threats. Elonis argued that his posts were just “art” and a “therapeutic” way of working through his pain after his wife took their children and left him. Elonis and his lawyers pointed to Eminem as an artist who has built much of his career on songs threatening violence against his ex, and to the other posts on Elonis’ facebook feed where he asserted he was engaging in protected free speech, joking, or that otherwise had nothing to do with the threats, as proof that Elonis was not deliberately threatening anybody.  That is, Elonis argued that he had artistic and self-soothing intent, not intent to threaten anybody. And, although reasonable people might call bullshit on Mr. Elonis’ argument, reasonable people don’t count here.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Mr. Elonis did, in fact, intend for his targets to feel threatened. For instance, one of his jaunty little poems/rap songs questioned whether his wife’s protection order–granted because a judge saw that there was legitimate reason to keep Mr. Elonis away from his wife and their children–would, when folded up and stuffed in her pocket, be “thick enough to stop a bullet.” That same “poem” included claims that Elonis stood to earn plenty of money in a “settlement” against the police, and claims to own explosives that could be used against state police and sheriffs.

A little background from the court opinion, highlighting Elonis' 'art.'

A little background from the court opinion, highlighting Elonis’ ‘art.’

Another of Elonis’ quirky little fantasies involved slitting the throat of the (female) FBI agent who was sent to his house to question him about a Facebook post wherein Mr. Elonis suggested he was going to gain fame by shooting up an elementary school.

Elonis also posted some “art” suggesting that he could easily sneak into the Halloween events at the amusement park he was fired from, in order to engage in violence.

Such fun. So expressive.

Grammar fans are also upset by Elonis’ use of the botched phrase, “if worse comes to worse,” in his poem about his wife’s protection order.

There were other posts involving insults and threats against his wife, calling her a slut and a whore, indicating he should have smothered her with a pillow, posting floor plans of the house where she was staying, and describing how, from a nearby cornfield, he would have a clear shot in through some glass doors at said house.

And beyond just the words that Elonis posted, there were plenty of other indications that his words were meant as more than just artistic expressions.

For instance, Elonis called his sister-in-law to make sure his wife had seen his posts on Facebook. And, prior to threatening his co-workers online, he was fired, in part, because he had begun to undress in front of a female coworker after cornering her in her office one night.

But—and this is a big but—the Supreme Court wasn’t deciding whether Elonis’ actions were A-OK, or whether he was engaging in acts of protected speech. In fact, the Court declined to address the issues of free speech, since the main question was about whether Elonis had been wrongly convicted.

Simply stated, the Court decided that, because Elonis was convicted on criminal charges by a jury using the standards for a civil decision, Elonis had been wrongly convicted of a criminal offense.

This is not to say that the jury would not or should not have convicted Elonis had the jury been given the appropriate instructions–to decide Elonis’ (criminal) guilt based on whether he had criminal intent to threaten his wife and other parties—rather than deciding whether a reasonable person would have recognized Elonis’ words and actions as threatening.

"Ammo Can Kiss."  Media: Selfie.  Artist: Tone Dougie

“Ammo Can Kiss.” Media: Selfie. Artist: Tone Dougie

So take heart, reasonable people. The Elonis case does not mean that threats are now a protected form of speech. I would guess that a jury would likely see Elonis’ behavior as meeting the criminal standard of having legitimate intent to threaten—given the specificity of the targets and actions laid out in his ‘rap lyrics.’ That the targets of Elonis’ behavior took his words as legitimate threats, and lived in fear of what he might do, and that his “art” provoked the necessity for a visit and monitoring by the FBI, suggests that Elonis was not somebody who was just a misunderstood artist.

Yet, that’s a question for another day. Or, put a different way, the Supreme Court makes decisions based on the questions it gets, not the questions the public wants answered. And the only question the Court really decided here was whether the jury got the right instructions to make the decision they were tasked with making in the Elonis case.

To be sure, the Supreme Court’s decision leads to a shift in how cases like Elonis’ will have to be prosecuted. Plenty of lower courts have allowed criminal convictions using the same “reasonable person” standard that was used in the Elonis case. And the “criminal intent” standard can be much harder to prove.

There is much to be said about how to successfully address online threats, and questions of how our slow-moving legal system can adequately respond to rapidly- changing technology and online environments. For practical advice on those issues, Crash Override, started by Gamergate target Zoe Quinn, is an excellent resource

And in related entertainment news, I’m guessing Tone Dougie’s album drops around the 12th of Never.

Serving Mammon, The Duggar Way

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Last week, it came out that Josh Duggar, of the “19 Kids and Counting” Duggars, sexually assaulted four of his younger sisters as well as a young girl from another family. From what we know, this all happened back around 2003, when Josh was 14 or 15 years old.

Josh Duggar does not deny that he committed these crimes, although he refers to them as “sins” and “terrible things” and “mistakes” rather than crimes.

Josh Duggar never faced any legal consequences for his crimes.

The Duggar family claims that they addressed the sexual assaults by getting “closer to God,” by pursuing counseling for both Josh and the victims, and by going to the police.

But let’s be clear about this–the Duggar family NEVER GOT COUNSELING FOR JOSH OR THE VICTIMS OF HIS CRIMES, and THE FAMILY NEVER WENT TO THE POLICE.

How can I possibly know this? Well…

Let me first address the police situation, even if that is a bit backwards. Jim Bob Duggar (father to all of the Duggars—victims and victimizer), following Josh’s “counseling” took him to a law enforcement officer who was a family friend, for a “confession” that resulted in a “stern talk.” According to Josh’s parents, the law enforcement officer told them that since Josh had already gone through counseling, there was nothing more that could be done. So either 1) Josh’s parents are completely lying about what the police officer advised, or 2) The police officer was completely derelict in his duty, as far as what he was supposed to do when given information about sexual abuse involving children.

Also, the cop (again, a family friend) that the Duggars took Josh to meet with is currently SERVING MORE THAN 50 YEARS IN PRISON FOR POSSESSION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. I’m sure he quite enjoyed his meeting with the young Josh Duggar.

Now, as to the counseling…

If any of the victims, or the perpetrator, had gone to any kind of legitimate counselor who deals with sexual offense behaviors, or with sexual victimization, or with any form of recognized counseling that requires a person to be credentialed at all, a report would have been made to Child Protective Services, and an investigation would have occurred much earlier than it did—early enough that Josh would likely have faced some legitimate legal consequences before the three-year statute of limitations on his crimes ran out, and early enough that his family would not have been able to completely manipulate the situation, and keep it out of the legal system, and out of the public eye—well, out of the public eye until now.

Simply put, counselors are mandated reporters. They cannot keep things like this on the down-low—not without losing their licenses.

Such a lovely wedding.  You'd never guess...

Such a lovely wedding. You’d never guess…

As it is, if it weren’t for an anonymous “tipster” contacting the authorities in Arkansas and the production staff of the Oprah Winfrey Show (who also contacted the Arkansas authorities) back in 2006, there never would have been an investigation at all. Josh would have victimized four of his sisters, and another young girl, and had to face the “punishment” and “counseling” he got by spending four months away from home, reading the Bible and helping a family friend do some remodeling work—not exactly an evidence-based means of addressing sexually predatory behaviors.

And, again, that’s exactly what happened: No punishment. No real counseling.

The victimized girls also did not receive anything that might be considered an evidence-based form of counseling for addressing sexual trauma and sexual victimization. We have a key to what kind of treatment the girls might have received, in Samantha Field’s blog post, where Duggar-family Guru Bob Gothard’s insanely creepy “Counseling Sexual Abuse” graphic is posted—a chart that, among other things, suggests that being sexually assaulted brings one favor with God, and special spiritual strengths.

In other words, the Duggar girls were almost certainly told that being sexually victimized was a good thing in the eyes of Jesus—in no small part because it helps them recognize how terrible they were as prepubescent temptresses, and because it makes them super-spiritual. In case there is any need for clarification, such “reframing” is not considered “best practices” for addressing sexual victimization.

In fact, if any of the children had gone to any legitimate form of counseling, the girls would have had control over whether they even had to listen to an apology from Josh, much less having him allowed back in the home after a few short months away.  And there would have been a much more involved discussion of how/whether to integrate Josh back into the home.

And just so you know where I’m coming from, I spent over two years working full-time with juvenile sex offenders, and then spent over six years working part-time with adult sex offenders.

I also read the entire (redacted) police report —something I have had to do in many other cases.

The story of Josh Duggar is not unique—in the sense that families are generally unsure of what course to take when such situations arise. Families do not want to invite shame on their children–victims or victimizers–or the family as a whole, and often delay any meaningful action or professional intervention until the problem has progressed to a state where it can no longer be viewed as a “phase” or as “innocent exploration”—or until one of the victims reports the abuse to a therapist, or a school counselor, or a camp counselor, or a teacher, or a friend who tells a parent, or a pastor, or anybody else who chooses to act in a responsible fashion.

I have had contact with families who earnestly sought help and support, and tried to do right by both their daughters and their sons—and any other victims. I have had contact with families where the abusers were clearly given the benefit of the doubt, and the victims shamed as if they had deliberately ruined the family–even to the point of sending the victims away so the abusers could come back to the home. And I have been in contact with families who tried to beat the bad behavior out of the victimizers, and who go on pretending they are being persecuted over some dumb crap that they are perfectly capable of handling.

Clearly, the situation with Josh Duggar progressed to a dangerous state. His was not a case of budding sexual curiosity leading to “playing doctor.” His was a case of repeatedly exerting sexual “authority” over girls who were smaller, weaker, and devalued in his family’s “culture.”

From a fan blog--a charming sign in the Duggar family home.

From a fan blog–a charming sign in the Duggar family home.

In fact, what many have viewed as the Duggar family’s “wholesomeness”—their constant harping on values of purity and modesty—could not be further from a healthy attitude toward relationships and sex.  It places girls and women on a “pedestal” that values their virginity first, their breeding abilities second, and their whole selves not at all.  It is a “culture” that infantilizes women, treating them as too stupid to be trusted with control of their own bodies. It is a “culture” that preaches submission of wives to their husbands to an extreme degree. Women are told to recognize their inferiority, and to be celebrate it, because that’s what God wants.

Consider what message is being sent to one’s daughters—and one’s sons—when the matriarch of a family asserts publicly that it is her job to submit sexually to her husband, even when she does not want to.

Consider the message being sent to one’s children when parents say they should keep having children, no matter what, simply because it is biologically possible.

Consider the message being sent to one’s children when it is deemed acceptable for a pre-teen male to “chaperone” his nearly-adult sister on a date, to make sure she and her boyfriend do nothing inappropriate.

Many conservative/Republican figureheads have come out in support of the Duggars, and in condemnation of people who are now criticizing the Duggar family for their handling of the sexual abuse situation—mostly in the vein of “quit picking on Christians” and “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” With few exceptions, those defenses involve labeling Josh’s actions as teenage frivolity, rather than what they are—deliberate, sexually predatory behavior that was covered up by his family.

Family friend, and Duggar-political-endorsement-recipient Mike Huckabee used the argument that a victim, or multiple victims, of Josh’s behavior, wanted privacy–both in defending the family and when he had a judge he appointed destroy the un-redacted police report about Josh’s offenses. He claims the Duggars sought out help, and went to the authorities. But, yet again, they didn’t—not in any real way.

Likewise, Matt Walsh, used the childish “Oh yeah?!? Well—liberals!!” argument (along with the ‘persecuted Christians’ argument) in a post where he also made the poignant observation that, “As a parent, you have to think whether your 14 year old son deserves to have his life ruined over his mistakes.”

Really, Matt? What about your 12-, or 10-, or 8-, or 6-year-old daughter, or the 5-year-old neighbor girl? (No, I don’t have actual information on the specific ages of the victims). They’ve already had their “lives ruined” by the “mistakes” of your son. So, devalue the daughters? They’ll get over it? What’s important is that you protect your sexually-predatory teenage son?

But it’s not just a “mistake” when a 15-year-old male repeatedly gropes the genitals and chests of multiple younger girls. It is sexual assault.

I will note that the recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders (and for adult sex offenders) who are caught and go through some sort of legal proceeding is much lower than the public perceives it to be, and that said rate goes down even more with appropriate treatment. So, given that Josh was caught, but not actually subject to legal punishment or real treatment, I guess I can believe that he’s steered clear of further offenses—as Josh and the family assert–although there’s not a lot of data on people who got caught but essentially are allowed to skate.

But I do not believe Josh has really changed his attitude toward his behaviors—especially when he calls them “mistakes” for which he feels he has already paid a big enough price.

Also, for those who are claiming to support the Duggars, let’s be clear about what is being supported. In pursuit of both political power, and celebrity, (the truest of Christian values) the Duggar family decided to bury sexual offenses committed by their son, against their daughters and another girl. Their attempts to prevent Josh from getting in trouble were successful, inasmuch as the offenses did not come to light until after the law no longer allowed any punishment for son Josh.

So, if you’re supporting the Duggars, you’re arguing that families should dodge the law, allow their daughters to be sexually assaulted by their brothers or by family friends, and do what they can to keep their sons from getting in legal trouble, all while counseling the children that sex is bad, but that it’s okay that the sexual assault took place because boys and men can’t help themselves and girls and women are really only important as breeding stock–and provoke sexual assault in the first place.

Furthermore, you’re advocating that it’s acceptable for the son who committed the offenses to take a prominent job with a well-known organization that utilizes bogus research in an attempt to control women, and demonize the LGBTQ community in order to deny them the basic rights that heterosexual adults have—all while accusing the LGBTQ community of habitually engaging in the behaviors that Josh engaged in, and that his parents covered up.

That’s not wholesomeness or purity.

Those aren’t “mistakes.”

Those aren’t the kind of beliefs, or actions, anyone should be lauding.

Pam Geller’s Free Speech Chum

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Two heavily armed, body-armor-clad, wannabe-jihadists shooting a security guard in the ankle and then getting picked off by a pistol-wielding traffic cop in a parking lot outside a cartoon contest in small-town Texas is not, as Pam Geller would have us believe, some kind of religious war in the United States. Rather, it was Geller’s own failed effort to start a larger fight.

Before I go any further, let me state up front that Geller, along with everybody else in America, has every right to say whatever paranoid, delusional things she wants to say about the inevitable imposition of Sharia Law and the ensuing mandatory ‘honor killings’ by our ‘secret Muslim’ President. She also has every right to hold a cartoon contest deliberately designed to insult a particular group of people over their religious views. Said group of people, or any of its members, has the right to fight back with words, logic, cartoons or delusional rants of their own—but not with bullets, bombs, or knives.

Let me also point out that some people have stated that there are prohibitions against engaging in speech that is designed to incite people to violence. But that doesn’t really apply in this case. If Geller held a rally where she encouraged the attendees to go out and physically attack somebody, then she would be inciting people to violence. Saying something to deliberately offend somebody is not inciting that person (or group) to do anything. Their reaction is entirely up to them.

That said, Geller sailed into Garland, Texas, along with Dutch politician Geert Wilders, to hold a cartoon contest intended to insult Muslims over their belief that the Prophet Muhammad should not be depicted in any physical form—much less in any deliberately offensive form. (Judaism and Christianity, among other religions, have similar prohibitions written into their holy books regarding depictions of holy figures, but plenty of Christians really like pictures and statues of Jesus—unless they’re offensive, in which case they call for bans on whoever made them, whatever paid for them, and whoever hung them on a wall).

Geller’s reason for holding the event at a community center in Garland was apparently related to a Muslim event held there earlier in the year, called “Stand with the Prophet in Honor and Respect,” an event which had been held in Chicago the previous year. In 2015, the “Stand with the Prophet” event had the unfortunate coincidence of having been scheduled to occur shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

Geller has stated that her cartoon contest is intended as a response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. The Charlie Hebdo folks, though, were equal-opportunity offenders. That is, they didn’t seek only to piss off Muslims, they wanted to piss off everybody. And they’d been going at it for years. They didn’t just hire their own little paramilitary-force-for-a-day and set about trying to troll militant Muslims.

Geller, on the other hand, tried to chum the waters with her cartoon contest, thinking she’d draw a feeding frenzy of violent jihadists to her little event—perfect target practice for the $10,000 worth of security she hired. What she got instead was a pair of inexperienced, young pups, mouths full of aimlessly-chomping teeth, drunk on the blood and guts of Geller’s antagonism, who bit off way more than they could chew.

We're gonna need a dumber boat!

We’re gonna need a dumber boat!

Geller, when she isn’t directly attempting to insult all Muslims, claims that she is an opponent of Muslim extremists and extremism. However, she does not actually draw that line, or make any consistent effort to explain where that line actually is. To her, Muslims who actually do attack things and people like her cartoon contest and its attendees are seen as proof that she is right about the intent of Muslims to take over America and kill all non-Muslims. Unfortunately, to Geller, Muslims who do not attack are seen as evidence of a quiet, creeping plot—sleeper cells who are biding their time, before they make their move to take over America and kill all the non-Muslims.

Geller also claims she is a defender of free speech, religious freedom, and individual rights. But, again, her position on such freedoms is a bit muddled. For instance, if she is so supportive of religious freedom, it’s hard to understand why she pushed so hard to stop the “ground zero mosque” from being opened, or why she spends so much time antagonizing Muslims in general, accusing the religion as a whole, and all of its adherents, in whatever form, of heinous crimes (and future crimes).

Likewise, Dutch madman Wilders has attempted to ban the Quran in his home country, as well as trying to prevent mosques from being built there—all under the guise of protecting women and other ‘victims’ of Islam. These are not exactly the actions of someone who thinks that the ‘marketplace of ideas’ will lead to the best possible outcome.

In short, Geller and Wilders are in favor of freedoms for those who they agree with, but want to shut down those with whom they disagree, even if Geller’s and Wilder’s disagreements are with vague caricatures of their alleged enemies, or if those disagreements are assumed to apply to all people who fit under a vast umbrella of a label.

Yet, despite Geller’s and Wilders’ proclamations of war, Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi do not represent all of Islam anymore than, say, Michelle Bachmann represents all of Christianity, or anymore than Geller and Geert actually represent the concerns of all people as relates to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Still, if we’re going to ban Geller from her weird little attention grabs, than might we also have to ban things like, say, The Book of Mormon (the play, not the book)?  As much as the authors of The Book of Mormon might have been making a more nuanced critique of religion and what it means to believe, they certainly weren’t out to avoid offense.

And if we’re going to justify Simpson’s and Soofi’s actions as some kind of expected or normal response to Geller’s provocation, then aren’t we moving dangerously in the direction of saying that perpetrators of violence are only acting in ways that the victims of the violence should have expected, and have to accept?

Make no mistake, there are consequences to Geller’s form of speech. The main form of those consequences is that stupid people will agree with her, and will buy into her ridiculous ideas that there is some vast Muslim conspiracy that is mere days away from taking away all of our freedoms as U.S. citizens in order to impose Sharia law. Said stupid people may even commit violent acts of their own, and will certainly engage in forms of speech that are as similarly unappealing as Geller’s. There is also the potential consequence that people of the Muslim faith around the world will view Americans as somehow aligned with Geller’s form of thinking (as opposed to tolerating it, because that’s what we do). Such people may view our tolerance of Geller as evidence of the ill intent of Americans toward the Muslim world, potentially perpetuating a long chain of conflict.

Although I’m not exactly demonstrating this by writing about them, perhaps the best response to people like Geller and Wilders is the response that all but two of the members of the Muslim community in the United States exercised: ignoring them/refusing to take the bait.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about Voltaire, expressed the core idea of freedom of speech as follows: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I’m not sure I’m actually willing to take a bullet so that Geller can continue to peddle her special brand of targeted, incendiary bullshit. But I’m definitely not ready to make an argument that she must be shut down/shut up (like the arguments she has made about Muslims).

At the same time, I’ve also written numerous pieces suggesting that maybe certain forms of speech should be curbed in an attempt to reduce hostility toward people with mental illness, toward minorities, and toward people who generally don’t find themselves at the top of the power pyramid. Curbing such speech is, of course, a matter of personal choice, and a matter of seeking to be decent human beings. Under the banner of individual freedom, we get to say and do what we want, so long as we aren’t actually hurting anybody in some directly demonstrable way.

Of course, Geller isn’t on some quest to prove what a decent person she is, or what decent people Americans are in their acceptance of diverse traditions and differing viewpoints. She’s not on any kind of mission to promote free speech, despite her claims to the contrary.

And Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi went down to Garland Texas with the intent to fight and die, much like Geller and Wilder went down to Garland Texas to try and provoke a fight.

They all got what they wanted—sort of.

Sylvia Frumkin’s Place

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

I’d venture a guess that many who enter the mental health field, as with any potentially dramatic profession all the way from police to executives, do so with visions informed by Hollywood. One of the main Hollywood portrayals of the mental health worker is is that of the therapist/psychiatrist as a well-compensated genius, ensconced in a plush office, treating the worried well or other “eccentric” or “neurotic” types, while constantly being admired by clients for one’s observational skill and ability to call forth ‘breakthrough’ moments. The other end of the spectrum is the heroic social worker who, through sheer tenacity, overcomes all the problems an impoverished neighborhood can throw at her, overcoming multi-generational patterns, and very recent traumas, to really, really make a difference in the lives of an entire community.

Many in the field are drawn to books by Yalom, or Rogers, or perhaps even some acolytes of Oprah, who tell us that just by listening and accepting our clients, or by throwing the right bit of tough-love advice a client’s way, true transformation will take place, and clients will make huge leaps forward, forever changing their lives for the better.

Susan Sheehan’s “Is There No Place on Earth for Me?” is perhaps the perfect antidote to the pie-in-the-sky visions of one’s brilliance and dedication making all the clinical difference in the world. It balances out the ideas about the wondrous gift of therapy with the reality of chronic and severe mental illness, and its resistance to ‘ah-ha moments’ and dramatic progress. It pushes past that “we don’t need no medications” mantra, which can, in fairness, apply to a lot of mental health issues.

“Is There No Place on Earth for Me?” was first published as a four part series in The New Yorker in 1981, then published as a book in 1982. For it, Sheehan won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1983. A new edition of the book was released roughly a year ago, including a new afterword by Sheehan. On reading about the re-issue in the online version of the New York Times in January of 2014, and having never read it before, I put it on my ‘to read’ list, and eventually checked out an old edition from the library.

Frumkin cover

The book, written from the perspective of a journalist, and not of a therapist trying to convince the readers of the efficacy of particular approaches to treatment, is involved in ways that few case studies can be. Sheehan spent over two years with Sylvia Frumkin (not her real name), a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia. Sheehan had a great deal of access not only to the information on Frumkin’s treatment and behavior during the period when Sheehan shadowed Frumkin, but also to family members and others, getting a great deal of background on Frumkin’s life prior to her diagnosis, and the progress and setbacks that took place before Sheehan had ever met her.

Having had numerous contacts with clients diagnosed with schizophrenia, or suffering from other forms of psychosis, most often from a distance, it took me a while to get through the book. That is, the kinds of delusions, rants, and flights from treatment that plague Frumkin and those trying to help her, and which Sheehan documents in detail, were familiar to me—of course, with Frumkin’s behaviors being particular to her own case. Still, it was like trying to read about many of the most frustrating aspects of work during one’s down time.

For the uninitiated, I imagine the book is much more compelling, rather than overly familiar, and thus, somewhat draining. In discussing “Is There No Place on Earth for Me?” with colleagues, I’ve most often likened it to Kafka’s “The Trial”—a book that is deliberately tedious in its depiction of a bureaucracy more intent on sustaining itself than serving any clear purpose—although, that comparison probably has much more to do with what I bring to the reading of Sheehan’s book than to what she has documented in such depth of detail. Also, I don’t think the mental health system—either now or at the time—is deliberately set up to be frustrating…it just frequently is, particularly for those most in need of help.

In addition to capturing the daily details of the behavior of a (this) client with schizophrenia, Sheehan also does a masterful job of explaining, simply and concisely, some fairly complicated legal, medical, and treatment-related concepts. For instance, Sheehan outlines the concept of “least restrictive” forms of treatment, both the bane and the beauty of our mental health system, which has been around since well before the current lack of options made it so completely mandatory.  In doing so, she answers that most familiar of questions about why we can’t “just lock up” people suffering from chronic forms of mental illness who can become rather taxing to a variety of public and private resources.

The most fascinating elements of Frumkin’s story to me, though, were the ‘side treatments’—pointless, and sometimes dangerous, programs that Sylvia was subjected to. Without going into a great deal of detail, the treatments ranged from moving in with a relative and his family who believed that all Frumkin needed was a good dose of Jesus and discipline to overcome her laziness and wicked ways, to a doctor who felt that manipulating the insulin levels of patients to extreme degrees could cure them of schizophrenia.

Ultimately, what works for Frumkin (or worked back around 1980) is what still works for clients today: a small number of medications that prove effective in treating schizophrenia, as well as (to greatly simplify things) a structured environment and supportive professionals. Unfortunately, said medications can lose their effectiveness over time, or the side effects can become increasingly detrimental to the clients. It is also quite common for clients to simply quit taking their medications, feeling them unnecessary or viewing them as the root cause of various forms of discomfort or other troubles in their lives. In addition, the structured environments can only be maintained for as long as clients are compliant with treatment, and as long as the treatment remains effective, and as long as funding and various programs allow. On top of that, anything from the restructuring of institutions, to changes in law and other policy, to the career changes of providers, to differences of opinion between providers and family members, can lead to new doctors and other providers making changes, sometimes rather arbitrarily, to a client’s medication regimen or support systems. In Frumkin’s case, alterations to her treatment and medications were made numerous times, in the most haphazard of fashions, often by doctors and other providers who seemed ignorant of her case history, or of how the medications work.

One might also note that this book was written back before the U.S., under President Ronald Reagan, decided that people with chronic mental illness enjoy the freedom that homelessness brings. So, Frumkin’s movements within the system are relatively easy in terms of her various forays into decompensation leading to fairly quick, and relatively long-term inpatient placements, with step-downs to semi-independent housing, and other supports that are much rarer today (and for most of the last three decades).

Ideally, Sheehan’s book would be taught in graduate schools, or maybe at earlier levels, by instructors who are familiar with the clinical aspects of schizophrenia; the current and historical treatments for it; and the current and historical state of affairs with regard to mental health facilities, available inpatient beds for clients with mental health issues, and legal and systemic complications to accessing those beds or other program options.

To be clear, it is necessary, as therapists, or in other capacities in the mental health field, to come equipped with a belief that we can make a difference. Without a bit of the dreamer in us, we would never head down this path to begin with.

But it is also necessary for providers at all levels to understand just what they are up against, particularly given that almost all providers in the mental health field will end up doing at least a round or two in the public mental health system–from practicums/internships to early jobs to entire careers–where the most challenging of clients often end up by default—frequently after being abandoned by families and other support systems, including insurance companies.

Frumkin’s family, as dysfunctional as they are, and as frequently detrimental to her treatment as they can be, at least hang in there to the extent that they can—which I imagine was at least somewhat less difficult when hospital beds and supported living options weren’t at such a premium as they are today. In the end, though, this isn’t a story of a family hanging together and triumphing over a terrible disease. It’s the story of a debilitating mental illness, and the toll it takes on the client, as well as those around her, and the wildly inconsistent efforts by a variety of people and systems to help her cope.

Welcome to Sylvia’s Place.

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.

 

Why John Grisham Wasn’t All Wrong about His Child-Porn-Viewing Friend

by J.C. Schildbach, LMHC, ASOTP

Way back in mid-October, an eon ago in Internet time, an article and partial interview was published in The Telegraph, wherein John Grisham decried the unfair treatment an old law school buddy of his had received at the hands of the overzealous legal system. After all, Grisham argued, his friend had only looked at some child porn that was really just technically child porn, because it involved 16-year-olds who looked 30, or some such rot.

You can read that piece here: Grisham on What Makes a Real Pedophile

Jessica Goldstein put together a piece for Think Progress that explains a whole lot about what was wrong with what John Grisham said, from the perspective of why maybe, just maybe, seeking out pictures of 16-year-old girls, even if they look mature, might be problematic. It is available here: Goldstein Explains Why Grisham’s Friend Shouldn’t View Child Porn

I would add to Goldstein’s piece that, developmentally speaking, if you think 16-year-olds are capable of making rational decisions about being ‘porn stars’ then, well, you’re wrong. Look into brain development, and when people actually become capable of making decisions about the long-term consequences of their current behaviors. Add to that the problem that sixteen-year-olds, legally speaking, can’t enter into ANY contracts (even if they can legally consent to sex) and, well, it’s pretty cut and dry that 16-year-olds (and minors of all ages) in pornography are just plain being exploited, as well as frequently being abused, drugged, threatened, or otherwise coerced.

In the time since the publication of the original piece, Grisham’s friend has come out to say that his treatment in the legal system was not unfair, that he deserved what he got, and that he should have never done the things he did. It also came out that, unlike what Grisham said, his friend did not just accidentally look at some 16-year-olds who looked like adults, but that he was actively participating in the exchange of child pornography, including files involving children as young as 12 (who presumably did not look like they were 30).

Much has been made about why Grisham would have given such a distorted view of what happened with his friend. My guess is that he didn’t know exactly what happened, and that he was going off of an explanation his friend had probably given several times to family and friends when his legal troubles started. That explanation probably went very much like Grisham explained it: ‘I was drunk. I was unhappy. I clicked on a link that I didn’t realize was child pornography.’

Not surprisingly, when friends and family of an offender first hear of allegations of any kind of sexual misconduct, particularly when it falls into the realm of sexual misconduct involving children, whether that is “hands-on” contact or viewing child pornography, the default position is to not want to believe it. Likewise, the default position for the person engaging in the offending behavior is to not want to admit to it.

When offenders are “found out,” there are several stages that they often go through on the way to actually being able to own up to their actions. Very roughly speaking, those usually look like: 1) Nothing happened; 2) Something happened but it’s not nearly as bad as they say it is; 3) It was an accident/the victim did x first; 4) Something happened that is worse than I originally said, but really not as bad as they are saying; 5) Really, I have a pretty extensive history of this kind of behavior.

The offender, and those closest to the offender, simply do not want to believe that what happened actually happened, and often cling to that as long as possible, and often to the detriment of the victims of sexual abuse.

Grisham's factual failure may have led to a bit of a headache for him

Grisham’s factual failure may have led to a bit of a headache for him

So, I’ve highlighted a few of the things that Grisham said that were clearly wrong and stupid when it comes to offenders. So, what did he get right?

Grisham’s words were rather careless. Citing old white guys in prison as a big problem is not really the best way to go about making a case. Old white guys in prison is about as big a problem as young white guys not being able to get into college because of Affirmative Action. In other words, relative to other systemic problems, it’s nothing.

But something that is pretty limited is the threat that old guys (regardless of ethnicity) represent to the community at large. In the case of old guys looking at child porn, the threat can be further reduced by eliminating their Internet access and by eliminating any contact they are allowed with children.

But how do such limitations get put in place or enforced? In several states there are “sentencing alternatives” for sex offenders (and for people who have committed various other types of violations), particularly those who are not considered “violent offenders.” And, I realize the language is odd, but “violent offenders” are those kinds of offenders who, say, go after kids they don’t know or engage in physical violence beyond just the sexual acts they inflict on their victims, as opposed to “grooming” children that they are in regular contact with. Groomers, or non-violent offenders, tend to work slowly and patiently to get what they want from their victims. Violent offenders smash and grab and are a small minority of overall offenders.

At any rate, from what has come out, Grisham’s friend had no hands-on victims. And really, what’s the bigger punishment? Putting him in prison for three or more years, and then letting him out, all done, all paid for; or putting him in jail for less than a year, and then putting him out to go about rebuilding his shattered life, while under strict supervision and treatment guidelines?   Once on the outs, he has to get a job (probably not a high-paying attorney job as I’m guessing that door has probably closed), pay for whatever housing is available to him—which will likely be severely limited, be under the supervision of a Community Corrections Officer (CCO), and have to go to/pay for outpatient sex offender treatment for the next several years, potentially for the rest of his life.

At any rate, the sentencing alternatives cost taxpayers a lot less money, are just as effective from a treatment perspective. And, for the vindictive among you, such sentencing alternatives are plenty demeaning—loss of status and being under a harsh set of rules, with the threat of being bounced back to prison for violating those rules, is not something anybody wants to live with. And for those offenders who manage to maintain any kind of support network, or rebuild a new one, they get to go through the rather unpleasant process of explaining their offenses again and again, just so that they can build a group of chaperones, or at least informed contacts.

So, in a way, Grisham was right that people like his friend don’t need to be clogging up the prison system, just like Grisham is right that non-violent drug offenders don’t need to be clogging up the prison system. Sure, there need to be consequences, but there are more and less effective consequences, and more and less expensive consequences, both to offenders and to the public at large.

But since laws are generally written by politicians, and not for the purpose of doing what is most effective, but for doing what is most politically expedient/most popular, things like sentencing alternatives are created and used less and less frequently. No matter how much sense such policies make, or how cost-effective they are, lawmakers don’t want to be labeled as the ones who let sex offenders, even offenders with no hands-on victims, even offenders who are made to pay severe penalties other than prison time, out into the community.

But such short-sightedness means that more offenders actually get out of prison somewhere down the road, and with little or no supervision, and no organized checks on their behavior.  Grisham is right that there are better places for his friend to be, even if he was completely wrong about what his friend did, and what it meant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Would You Work in the Field of Sexual Abuse?

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

There are few circumstances where one would relish the opportunity to talk about sexual assault with one’s niece. But given that my niece and I both work in fields related to sexual abuse, and don’t get to see each other very often, chances to “talk shop”—despite “shop” involving some rather heinous things—are pretty great.

You see, my niece, I’ll call her SC for short so I don’t have to keep calling her “my niece” and so I don’t have to use her actual name, spends a portion of her workweek as a Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE). I spend a portion of my workweek as an (Affiliate) Sex Offender Treatment Provider, and have worked with offenders in one capacity or another for over seven years.

Among the topics we discussed was the rather personal issue of why anyone gets into a field related to so much trauma and other forms of ugliness.

One big similarity we found is that, on learning of our professional lives, most everyone says, “I couldn’t do what you do.” In fact, we said it to each other. I have zero desire to be involved in anything that involves touching patients or perpetrators in order to draw blood or gather other bodily fluids and materials. I cannot imagine dealing with people who have just been traumatized, when the wounds are so fresh and the pain is still so raw. SC has no interest in engaging with those who commit sexual crimes, in order to get them to accept responsibility for what they’ve done, and unravel the knots they’ve tied themselves into on their way to convincing themselves it was okay.

One huge difference SC and I found in relation to the subject of why we do the work we do is that almost everybody asks me how I got into the field, while almost nobody asks her the same. The split in questions about why anyone goes into any career built around sexual crimes may be based largely on gender, and stereotypical beliefs about how one’s gender informs one’s connection to sexual assault. Then again, the particulars of our jobs might connect to different expectations. She’s involved in the early stages of trauma intervention and evidence gathering. Generally speaking, I’m involved with people with impending court proceedings or who have already served time for their crimes.

At any rate, in her estimation, it’s likely that nobody asks SC about her entry into the field because there is an underlying assumption/fear that she chose her path because she was sexually victimized. There is an assumption that asking her will unleash some history of traumatic experiences that will lead to all manner of emotional unpleasantness and the conversation rapidly turning uncomfortable.

Anna Gillespie's "I Don't Want to Know"

Anna Gillespie’s “I Don’t Want to Know”

On the other hand, people ask me because they assume that, since I’m a guy, I’ll have some interesting tale that is much less likely to involve me having been sexually victimized. From a purely statistical standpoint, the gender-based assumptions make a fairly good bit of sense. Although, with SC working mostly with adult victims of violent crimes, and me working mostly with offenders who groomed and manipulated underage victims, and no fully accurate statistics existing for crimes in either realm, statistics only say so much.

On top of the statistical inadequacies, despite such gender-based assumptions, I’m really not sure what people might think would be my reason for getting involved in the field that wouldn’t involve at least some form of indirect (to me) trauma—such as someone I know and love having been victimized. Or perhaps there’s some stereotypical thought that men in this field are engaged in matters of clinical interest due to career-building, problem-solving pursuits, while women are involved with their choices for more personal reasons. Perhaps a bit of research on gender-based perceptions of the career choices made by other people is in in order.

Inevitably, when I attempt to explain my involvement in evaluating and treating sex offenders, and I mention a connection to a pastor at the church I attended growing up, I get a “say no more” response. That is, once a pastor is invoked, the person asking me makes a quick re-evaluation of their question, resulting in the immediate reaction of trying to cut me off before I say anything they’d rather not hear.

But the connection to the pastor has much more to do with struggles of faith, and just what it means to have a significant portion of one’s religious education delivered by a sexual abuser of children, than with having been victimized. It has to do with understanding how anybody, let alone a religious leader, could have developed such behavior. But I rarely have the chance to get all of that out once the question has been raised.

And now that I think of it, while talking with SC, I didn’t get through much of that either—through no fault of hers, but due to my own hesitation/difficulty at explaining myself in this matter—or perhaps because I’m so used to being cut off. I did get to the “I’m not doing this because I was molested by a pastor” part, but didn’t get into the more esoteric components of my attraction to the field.

I don’t fault people for their (perhaps prurient) interest in hearing disturbing tales of twice-removed personal trauma. Anybody in this field has at least a clinical interest in such stories and understanding what is behind them, or how those involved might be healed or rehabilitated to the extent possible. Still, it’s much easier for most people to deal with such tales when they involve an unknown or distant victim, or when a computer or TV screen or a printed page is safely containing that victim’s story, than it is to deal with somebody whose emotional scars may burst open right in front of you.

In my work, I am much less likely to deal with such potential emotional eruptions than SC is. I’m used to dealing with all manner of misdirected, sometimes explosive, anger and shame. Still, the focus of my work involves a significant amount of distance from the victims of sexual crimes, and the pain of those experiences. As much as those of us who are involved in the treatment of offenders may attempt to dig in deep and uproot the sources of objectification and emotional distortion that may lead to further offenses, we providers are spared that intense level of immediate pain that comes from sexual assault. Even when dealing with offenders who have a history of victimization themselves, providers are generally removed from such experiences by years. In other words, I’m afforded a high level of abstraction of the victims and their pain that SC is not allowed in her work.

It may ultimately be that the distance from, and abstraction of, pain and victimization involved in my work makes it easier for people to ask me why I do what I do. In fact, the people I deal with are, to the general public, abstractions themselves. “Sex offenders” and “pedophiles” are little more than skewed ideas to large portions of the population. People want to know what such offenders are like, and if they fit the pervasive stereotypes. In that context, asking me what I do is merely a precursor to getting to “the good stuff,” the hope for a glimpse at the back-stories of true crime tales, as well as the actual true crime tales.

In contrast, the immediacy of the hurt SC deals with as a routine part of her job, and the connection to so much pain, is perhaps too real for most people to want to delve into. It doesn’t involve that level of abstraction, where offenders stay as cartoon characters, and, where the bad guys have already been caught and made to pay.

Or, to put it another way…SC deals with “us.” I deal with “them.” We all know what “us” is about. But what’s up with “them”?

People understand how a person could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, how someone could be so unfortunate as to become a victim, and they want to keep that out of their mind as much as possible, because it suggests their own vulnerability. They really want to know how a person becomes the factor…the thing…that causes that shift in time and place that makes that time and place all wrong. What they don’t realize is they’re still touching on another form of vulnerability, but one that they can’t acknowledge in themselves. They want to remain “us”—potential victims but still ‘normal’—while looking at “them”—the offenders as something alien.

Perhaps it’s just that people want to know more about my work, or why I’m doing it, because it involves the more unfathomable end of the abuse equation, the place where they cannot imagine themselves being, while they don’t want to know about SC’s work, or her connections to it, because that speaks to a form of vulnerability they more immediately understand…how they could be assaulted. Failing to imagine how anything could ever happen to lead them to become a victimizer (although, statistically speaking, a huge number more people victimize than are ever held to account for such behavior—whether with adult or child victims) people are much more comfortable asking me, “Why did you get into this field?”

“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.