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How many children, INDIAN children at that, are aware that they have rights ?
Does the under-aged boy working at that tea-stall near your office know that child labour is illegal ? Does his employer know that ?
How old is the “young” looking domestic help who cleans your house and washes your dishes ? Does she go to school ?
How many of us have been witnesses to incidents of child abuse and haven’t done anything about it ?
You know, the young urchin who got beaten up for sitting outside a shop and “obstructing the view” of potential customers ?
Or the little girl who was slapped by a pedestrian for bumping into her pristine white sari ?
“These things happen”, you say.
Reverse the faces on these photographs. Place yourself in the lives of these children.
Life is harder for them than you would ever imagine humanly possible.
Child Sexual Abuse is a regular occurence with these children [*this is to say that they belong to a high vulnerability level*]. The picture below is self-explanatory.
Here are a few Articles from the Convention on the Rights of the Child , as adopted by young students in an American school:
Here’s a little background, courtesy UNICEF’s website
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too.
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:
(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;
(c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;
(d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;
(e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.
3. States Parties shall promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:
(a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;
(b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
(c) Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances.
How many rights do the children in the picture below have ?
The pictures represent the truth.
A truth that needs to be changed.
Recent news stories about sexual abuse of children in Alexandria and elsewhere should do more than make us disgusted and angry.
It should make us act.
Consider something that happened in Duluth about a year ago: A 70-year-old man was arrested for sexually abusing a 7-year-old girl who was being cared for at a child care business run by the man and his wife.
When an investigator asked the man, “Why a child?” The man replied, “Because it’s easy.”
Sadly, statistics indicate just how “easy” it is: More than 39,000 sexual assaults are estimated to be committed each year in Minnesota — the majority against children. One in four girls and one in six boys will have been abused by the age of 18. Some estimates put the number of childhood sexual abuse survivors in America at 39 million.
But there are things a community and families can do to make it harder for individuals to sexually abuse children. Ted Thompson, executive director of the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children, offered this advice in a Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota newsletter:
• We can make prevention of childhood sexual abuse a public policy priority. We can call legislators and prosecutors to express outrage at abuse. It would greatly enhance our ability to expose offenders if we would eliminate statutes of limitations, both criminal and civil, for the sexual abuse of children.
• We can educate our communities. People need to know that sexual abuse of children by someone known to the child is exceedingly more likely to happen than the more high-profile, but rarer, stranger-abduction and rape.
• We can come forward and address abuse we know about or suspect. It is likely in most cases that someone knows abuse is happening and needs to have the courage to come forward. Because sexual abuse is often perpetrated by people we know, this can be difficult.
• We can improve our ability to educate families and professionals to prevent as well as recognize, report and respond to abuse. We need to provide model curriculum to prepare professionals to recognize abuse; and understand that factors such as substance abuse, poverty and unemployment can significantly contribute to the risk of children being sexually abused.
• Parents can communicate with their children every day. We can teach children that sexual advances from anyone, including other family members, are not OK, and also teach them how to conduct themselves in sexually appropriate ways with others.
The province of Manitoba will today bring forward the first legislation of its kind in Canada to compel all citizens, including computer technicians and Internet service providers, to report any images or examples of child pornography.
The initiative is being introduced as an amendment to the province’s Child and Family Services legislation by minister Gord MacIntosh and will expand the definition of child abuse, which already has a mandatory reporting law, to include child pornography.
“Under the new law, if someone comes across something they believe to be child pornography they have a duty to report it to Cybertip.ca,” said Lianna McDonald , director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the registered charity that runs the Cybertip website.
The penalty for failing to report will be up to two years in jail and a $50,000 fine, Ms. McDonald said. It’s the same penalty for those who don’t report child abuse, although Ms. McDonald said she doesn’t know of any instances where that provision has led to a prosecution.
“What it means is that under the proposed legislation, [citizens] have a legal responsibility,” she said. “The idea is to facilitate reporting.”
Ms. McDonald said that making it a legal requirement might remove some of the moral qualms that exist for those who find images of abuse on a computer, for example, and might be concerned about violating someone’s privacy.
“It certainly will facilitate things for people thinking, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I report?’ It makes it clear. For companies that repair computers, it’s clear they have a duty to report,” she said.
The proposed law could have significant implications for Internet service providers, according to Roz Prober of Beyond Borders, an organization that advocates for the protection of children.
It’s already mandatory in the United States for Internet service providers to report instances of child pornography, but the issue has not been tackled in Canada until now.
“The foot-draggers in this scenario are the Internet service providers,” Ms. Prober said. “In the U.S. they can be heavily fined [for not reporting child porn] and I think that’s the way to go here.”
Ms. Prober said she hasn’t seen the proposed legislation but expects it to be comprehensive.
Citizens will be directed to report their suspicions to the Cybertip.ca website. The site receives funding from the federal Department of Public Safety and from Manitoba Justice, Ms. McDonald said, and since 2005 it has acted as a national clearinghouse for all Internet child sexual-abuse reporting. In that time, it has received more than 25,000 reports from the public.
Ms. Prober said the site is very sophisticated and secure and would be able to resist attempts to infiltrate its database.
She said it’s important the public pass on as many tips as possible because each new image allows police to narrow in on the victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse
Do visit the website and have a look through the comments section. I find that most insightful, more than the article actually !
November 19th is the day we remember the promise we made to our children.
It is the day we read the UNCRC and make a check list to see if we are really giving our children their “writes” and “rights”.
Elaan has been occupied with in-house restructuring and longterm planning activities and will not be holding an event this year.
We are, however, working on a 5 tier sex education plan who’s longterm objective IS intended to benefit the child in conformity with the UNCRC, which India signed in 1992.
[UNCRC = United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child]
Three examples of why online safety is recommended.
The aforementioned examples, although of cases not based in India, could very well be in India soon. As a matter of fact, they are occuring in local schools without the knowledge of parents and teachers.
A few years ago, a young student of St. *’s School, Kolkata, began meeting middle-aged men whom he discovered via online chat rooms. The men would meet him at his home, or theirs, and sexually abuse him.
A friend intervened and claimed to have “cured” him of his “homosexuality” and the matter was closed. The boy, now a confused young man, is unsure of his future and is reported to be scouting around online for the only solace he knows.
A young girl who had previously lived in a repressed social atmosphere, discovered freedom over the internet for the first time. She began communicating with a vengeance, “making friends” with everybody and even posting her personal cellphone number with semi-nude photographs on her online profile. It wasn’t long before she began receiving solicitations that went beyond coffee invitations.
There are so many cases, all in India. Unless the media and society wake up to the fact that it does happen to their own people in this very country, it will continue to be a sad, repressed, pressure-cooker like existence for these victims of online sexual abuse who’s fate and post-abuse trauma is similar to those who face regular abuse.
Sweet and sexy
Cases like that of Lina Sinha, the New York school principal who was sentenced to a jail term by a US court for having sex with a 13-year-old boy, are common in India, discovers Padmaparna Ghosh
hyhyhyAkshay was a reluctant traveller and he picked the last seat on the bus to prove his point. He sat sulking by the window, unlike his other classmates, wild with the excitement that’s usual for 16-year-olds. But excitement he got. When Sheena, the 24-year-old trip organiser, picked the seat next to him, the trip just got better.
Over the next couple of days, Sheena made sure they shared the same lonely loft in the vacation camp. And, of course, they shared more than just dirty jokes and teen talk. Sheena got her pick and Akshay got his kick. Sounds like a fun trip, but it’s not.
Incidents of adult women indulging in sexual relationships with minor males, shockingly, are not skeletons in the cupboard anymore. Especially now, with Lina Sinha (picture on right), a 40-year-old NRI school principal, who was sentenced to a 14-year jail term by a US court for having sex with a 13-year-old.
The most common male reaction to “Lusty Lina’s” amorous activities was, “Wow, why didn’t I know her when I was 13.” But experts warn that it’s not funny. Sexual abuse of young boys is no more a fantasy. It is a reality that parents have to deal with. “Right after the Lina story, I read a story about a woman abusing a nine-year-old boy in Chennai. Suddenly, they are coming out of the woodwork,” says Vidya Reddy, programme facilitator, TULIR-Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse.
But who are these women? The most commonly held notion of a woman abuser is of a powerful, independent predator, who skulks around in dark alleys, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting boys. But it might be a misplaced idea. “It is a wrong notion. Powerful women have a lot of other options. Mostly women abusers are close relatives, domestic help, parents’ friends etc,” says Neelam Matai, programme manager, Save the Children, India.
Most psychiatrists and social workers agree. It is no secret that most abusers enjoy a trusting relationship with the victim. In fact, a 2007 report on child abuse by the ministry of women and child health says that sexual abuse is more prevalent in upper and middle class families. Also, among respondents, 48 per cent of boys and 39 per cent of the girls faced sexual abuse.
“It is very common in Mumbai,” says Matai. “Older women would lure young boys from the nearby slums, feed them, make them happy and then take them to Mumbai local platforms or trains and exploit them. On each of our night rounds, we found many. It is increasingly coming out in the open in Delhi also.”
Reddy though cautions that it is dangerous to profile an abuser as they could come from any walk of life and there really is no way to recognise an abuser by characteristics, though past patterns of behaviour can be used as a cautionary measure. But it is hard to say whether such incidents are on the rise or if they are just getting reported more. Matai adds that reporting of such abuse is low.
The case of Suraj, a nine-year-old boy who was being sexually exploited by a classmate’s mother, came to light because of an observant mother. Intervention by Swanchetan, a Delhi-based non governmental organisation that supports victims of abuse, finally discovered the truth. “After interviewing both of them, we found that the woman was sexually abusing the boy. The boy is in counselling with us,” says Rajat Mitra, director, Swanchetan.
Suraj, however, did not think of telling his mother about his relationship because he knew it wasn’t right. He trusted his abuser implicitly. Also, having recently lost his father, he saw the relationship as an antidote to his grief. “It is very common for older women to take advantage of children emotionally and physically. In Suraj’s case, she filled in the void left by his father’s death,” explains Mitra. Also, many abusers do not view it as a crime, as they are women.
Sheena, for instance, is unapologetic about her “fling” with Akshay. “The moment was right and it wasn’t emotional. He called the week after to talk about his exams and I really didn’t care. That was the end of it,” she explains. Even Suraj’s abuser told Mitra, “Why don’t you look at my life and me as a victim?”
Mitra explains that mostly such relationships are power games. “Abusers view themselves as victims and sometimes they are. They exploit others to gain complete control over a minor to rid themselves of the victimisation,” says Mitra.
Neither do many of the victims view themselves as such. Elaan, a Calcutta-based organisation dealing with child abuse, is currently counselling a 14-year-old boy who is “involved” with a 47-year-old woman, his teacher. According to its founder, Pranaadhika Sinha, the boy had approached Elaan seeking guidance. “He didn’t really consider himself to be a victim of abuse. In fact, his friends consider him to be a ‘human God’ having a relationship with an older woman and a teacher,” explains Sinha. The “relationship” started with the teacher not only giving him tuition but expensive gifts, including music and films. The child is also doing very well in school.
But Sinha points out that the abuse can lead to severe psychological disorder in the future, including his inability to have relationships with women his own age. “It’s also about conditioning. Boys grow up, knowing that they are sexually more powerful and they are usually the abusers and not the victims,” explains Matai.
Ripples of an abusive relationship in the childhood can be felt throughout one’s life. “The effects can be myriad. From lack of assertiveness, avoidance of confrontational situations, post-traumatic syndrome, self esteem issues, depression — all of these can fester,” says Samir Parikh, chief, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Health. But frequently, while in the relationship, boys might not understand that they are being abused. Adolescence is rife with sexual experimentation and a nascent awareness of one’s sexuality. “During this time of experimentation, it could be that the child also longs for attention and excitement. Then, it is very easy to fall prey to abuse,” says Mitra.
Also, because social mores espouse the dominance of males over females, minor boys don’t realise it when they are the victims. That is just the scenario in one of the cases Sinha is dealing with, of a 12-year-old boy and his 52-year-old woman teacher. She cooks for him, buys him presents and gives him great marks. And they have sex.
“When boys are abused, they don’t often feel like victims, but like the abuser. He feels he is exerting power over her and she makes him feel like she is taking care of him, physically and emotionally,” says Debashis Ray, a Kolkata-based psychiatrist. He adds, “Young boys are also less likely to report sexual abuse because it will be perceived as a weakness.”
Not just socially, legally also child sexual abuse of boys is given short shrift. In India, sexual harassment falls under the purview of section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, which is referred to as “Violation of a woman’s modesty.” But what happens if the victim is a boy? Child sexual abuse, on the other hand, is covered by section 375 of the IPC, which deals with rape. But most child abuse workers agree that rape is not the only abuse a boy can go through. “There are a million other ways a child can be exploited. Let’s hope the Offences against Children bill will cover all sexual acts against children in a gender neutral manner,” says Reddy. The bill might come up in the monsoon Parliamentary session.
Experts agree that legally, socially or physically, childhood has to be protected, whether of a boy or a girl. While it is true that the latter are more at risk, boys are equally vulnerable. And if steps are not taken to fight abuse, boys might never be boys again.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY REENA MARTINS IN MUMBAI AND DOLA MITRA IN CALCUTTA
There are a good number of organizations in the US that are actively tackling not only CSA but other related issues by building teams and creating community-centered initiatives that are active in schools, colleges, community halls, clubs and public places.
Courtesy Askios’s excellent and timely updates on news about CSA awareness, here’s a link that i liked very much.
www.whatwillittake.org – excellent resources and information on building an initiative to tackle violence against women and girls.
what i liked most about this was the fact that they include men in the decision-making and participatory process, something which Elaan is also doing actively through sensitizing, involving and speaking with boys and men about CSA and related issues.
AUSTIN – The Texas House gave final approval Tuesday to a measure that would allow the state to sentence sex offenders who repeatedly prey on children to death.
The House voted to create a new category of crime â€” continual sexual abuse of a young child or children ” that carries a minimum of 25 years to life in prison and possibly the death penalty for a second offense.
The final proposal was a compromise after some lawmakers bristled at broader a death penalty provision over concerns that it might lead some molesters to kill their victims.
The House voted 119-25 in favor of the measure.
The bill is named Jessica’s Law after Jessica Lunsford, a Florida girl who was abducted and killed. A convicted sex offender has been accused in her death. More than a dozen states have passed versions of Jessica’s Law to crack down on sex offenders and Gov. Rick Perry has deemed passage of a child sex offender bill a legislative emergency.
The Texas version would make the Lone Star State the sixth to allow some child sex offenders to be sentenced to death, although some legal experts question whether it is constitutional to use the ultimate penalty in cases where the victim did not die.
The House bill defines continuous sexual abuse of a young child as more than one sex act committed against a victim younger than 14 over a period of 30 days or more.
The first offense would carry 25 to 99 years in prison. If an offender was released and later convicted of the same crime again, he or she would face life without parole or the death penalty.
The Jessica’s Law bills are HB 8 and SB 5.
Self-mutilation, like Child Sexual Abuse, is another untapped evil that takes root from feelings of inadequacy and “un-loveability”.
Dr.Robin Smith hit the nail on the head by telling a self-mutilator or “cutter” – Youre not doing this because you want to die. Youre doing this because there’s so much pain inside you that you can’t get out, so what you’re doing is, you’re venting your hurt out on yourself.
The biggest mis-conception about self-mutilation is that people do it in order to “die”. That is incorrect. We don’t do it because we want to die, we’re not stupid. We do it because we lack a trusting and supportive system around us who will not judge and try to take advantage of us when we are weak.
Another reason as to why “cutters underground” has formed (my terminology for people who cut but are afraid to talk about it) is because of the attitudes and mis-conceptions surrounding self-harm. Teenagers and adults are cruel.
to be continued..
ATASCADERO, Calif. During five years of psychotherapy at a treatment center here for sex offenders who have finished their prison terms, Bill Price, a pedophile who admits to 21 victims as young as 3, has constructed a painstaking plan for staying straight.
A requirement of his treatment, the plan catalogs on five single-spaced pages the tactics Mr. Price has learned to stop molesting.
There are 42 so far, including avoiding places where children congregate, abstaining from alcohol, shunning the Internet and sniffing ammonia whenever he has a deviant thought.
“It was just like a hunt for me,” Mr. Price, 59, a former Sunday school teacher, said of his sexual crimes. “I kept choosing children because they were easier prey; they were easier to deal with than women.”
Treatment plans like Mr. Price’s, known as relapse prevention, have been a cornerstone of efforts to reform sex offenders for the past 20 years. Yet there is no convincing evidence that the approach works, or that others do either.
Similar to aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous, relapse prevention has sex offenders own up to wrongdoing and resign themselves to a lifelong day-to-day struggle with temptation. But one of the few authoritative studies of the method, conducted in California from 1985 to 2001, found that those who entered relapse prevention treatment were slightly more likely to offend again than those who got no therapy at all.
Clinicians who work with sex offenders cling to relapse prevention nonetheless, and its durability speaks volumes about the troubled, politically fraught science of treating sex offenders. Not only is relapse prevention of questionable value, but so are the tests to gauge whether sex offenders in treatment still get inappropriately aroused, the drugs used for so-called chemical castration and the methods of predicting risk of reoffending.
Treatment methods have become particularly topical as thousands of sex offenders are confined or restricted beyond their prison terms under civil commitment laws on the books in 19 states. The laws have been found constitutional in part because they aim to provide treatment if possible; New York legislators announced last week that the state would soon allow civil confinement.
On average, the civil commitment programs cost four times more than keeping sex offenders in prison. But too little research has been conducted into how to treat sex offenders, experts say, putting psychotherapists and others working in civil commitment centers at a distinct disadvantage.
“It has never been regarded as a legitimate and recognized topic for research by psychologists, ” said Robert A. Prentky, director of research at the Justice Research Institute in Boston. “There is a very strong undercurrent of disrespect for this area of research and perhaps even skepticism, frankly.”
As recently as the 1970s, research on treating sex offenders was practically nonexistent. Barbara Schwartz, a psychologist with New England Forensic Associates in Arlington, Mass., said that when she wrote her first paper on rehabilitating sex offenders in 1971, “I read everything there was to read, and I had a half of one page of references.”
That is partly because sex offenders present major challenges as research subjects. There are far fewer convicted sex offenders than most other kinds of criminals, so sample groups are unreliably small. And sex offenders tend to be so secretive that “it’s really hard to get information from them that you can have confidence in,” said Ted Shaw, a forensic psychologist in Gainesville, Fla., who has treated offenders since 1982.
Even now, in an advanced phase of California’s treatment program for the most persistent sex offenders, Mr. Price says he questions his ability to keep his urges in check. His relapse prevention plan says that if let out, he will seek more treatment at Pure Life Ministries in Kentucky, whose Web site says its goal is “leading Christians to victory over sexual sin.”
“I’m very afraid of just being out there,” Mr. Price said, sitting near the nasturtiums and petunias he had grown in a courtyard of the Atascadero State Hospital here, which includes a wing for civilly committed offenders. I’m less dangerous than I was, but I’m definitely in touch with my dangerousness. ”
Treatment in Phases
During one therapy session, Mr. Price and five other men aggressively tested one another’s ability to stay straight, while two social workers moderated. Sitting in a circle in a locked conference room, briefly sealed off from the loud, grim bustle of the hospital halls, they fell into an argument over whether to protect a young new arrival from predatory older residents.
“If I can save this kid from being hustled or taken advantage of,” said Paul George, a convicted pedophile who has admitted roughly 100 offenses, “I’m going to at least try to make that effort.”
But another man pointed out that Mr. George had habitually groomed child victims by acting as their protector, asking him, “How was that different from this situation?”
At most civil commitment centers around the nation, offenders young and old meet several times a week for group therapy rooted in relapse prevention as well as what are known as cognitive-behaviora l techniques. While the former is meant to curb sex offending in particular, the latter are intended to change broader destructive patterns of thinking and reacting, and are commonly used in treating other ailments like anxiety.
Civilly confined men move from one phase of treatment to the next, learning to recognize which situations, thoughts and behaviors have led them to offend, developing skills to avoid them, and applying those skills to their daily lives. They try to learn empathy by writing detailed letters to their victims and even essays in their voices.
“It’s a slow business,” said David Thornton, the treatment director at Wisconsin’s civil commitment center. “You’re talking about years of work, two steps forward, one step back.”
Dr. Thornton said relapse prevention forced sex offenders to focus too heavily on a concrete list of high-risk situations – sometimes as long as 50 pages – that could overwhelm them and lead to failure. Wisconsin’s program rejects relapse prevention and sticks to cognitive-behaviora l techniques in an effort to change deep-rooted traits and behaviors.
Instead of helping a sex offender compile a list of specific situations to avoid, therapists in Wisconsin might seize on the fact that he reacts impulsively when something upsets him, teaching him self-regulation skills. Instead of having the offender recount every last detail of his crimes, they might help him correct long-held misperceptions about children (that they enjoy sex), power (that it is best attained by raping or molesting) and so forth.
Some who represent offenders in Wisconsin, though, say that even the new program there has not answered offenders’ frustrations about their ability to progress in it and to demonstrate that progress.
“The program has gotten larger, more involved and progressively longer,” said Robert W. Peterson, a lawyer in Wisconsin who has worked on such cases since 1998 and says he has seen the state’s program shift repeatedly in design and focus.
“Regardless of the structure of the treatment program, the duration of the treatment program, the nature of the treatment program,” Mr. Peterson said, “what we basically have is living experiments. “
Research Is Sparse
Reliable studies on the treatment of civilly committed offenders do not exist, since so few have been set free. Much of the research into the treatment of sex offenders has come out of Canada, where national criminal history records are easily accessible.
Canadian psychologists have studied not only treatment outcomes but also risk assessment, or determining who is likely to reoffend.
Combining findings from hundreds of smaller studies, R. Karl Hanson, senior research officer for the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in Canada, has found that roughly 15 percent of convicted sex offenders are caught reoffending after five years and that those driven by deviant sexual interests, like pedophiles and exhibitionists, are the likeliest to do so.
Dr. Hanson’s research has also suggested that even lifelong offenders tend to stop, for the most part, by the time they reach their 70s.
He said various studies had shown that “most treatments don’t work very well,” but that, over all, treatment had a modest beneficial effect. One analysis that he published in 2002 found that 12 percent of offenders who got treatment were caught committing new sex crimes, compared with 17 percent of untreated offenders.
Researchers have found that chemical castration, or using hormonal drugs to curb sexual appetite, can be problematic, too.
Doctors have experimented for decades with antiandrogens, which block the effects of sex hormones like testosterone and are most commonly used to treat advanced prostate cancer. But while some consider antiandrogens crucial for the most predatory offenders, the drugs remain controversial, not least because they are expensive and can cause weight gain, osteoporosis and breast development. It is also hard to ensure that released offenders keep taking the drugs.
More than half of states with civil commitment programs say they allow voluntary antiandrogen treatment, but as of last fall, only California, Illinois, Washington and Wisconsin had more than one offender taking the drugs, which can cost several hundred dollars a month. Dr. Fred S. Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic in Baltimore and a longtime critic of civil commitment, said he was troubled by the scant use of antiandrogens.
“I get letters from men around the country, in prison or sometimes civil commitment, asking if I can help them in their efforts to have it made available,” Dr. Berlin said, “because the administrations in their facilities are not even willing to discuss it with them.”
Here in California, where about 40 civilly committed men took antiandrogens several years ago but only four do now, Jesus Padilla, a clinical psychologist at Atascadero State Hospital, said the drugs did not address the underlying emotional problems that lead to offending, nor even necessarily eliminate sex drive.
“I’ve had numerous situations where they say they are working just fine,” Dr. Padilla said of civilly committed men on antiandrogens, “only to catch them having sex with each other or engaging in deviant sexual fantasies even though their testosterone level was down to zero.”
Some doctors see more potential in antidepressant drugs, which can dampen sexual desire while also curbing compulsive behaviors like chronic masturbation, which can preclude offenders from participating in treatment. Some civil commitment programs prescribe antidepressants sparingly or not at all, while others, including South Carolina’s and Wisconsin’s, have dozens of men taking them.
One approach that civil commitment centers have avoided is surgical castration, though at least one state, California, allows it if the offender pays for the procedure himself.
In Virginia, the General Assembly considered a proposal last year to allow voluntary surgical castration as an alternative to civil commitment, but took no action. One pedophile in Virginia castrated himself in a jail shower with a shoelace and a razor blade as his civil commitment trial approached.
Douglas Carlin, a convicted rapist who completed treatment and was released a year ago from the commitment center in Florida, said he thought a lot of offenders there were deceiving their therapists.
“Most of those guys, they are just faking it to make it,” Mr. Carlin said. “They’re just waiting to get released so they can go right back to what they were doing.”
Tools of Assessment
Therapists can gauge the success of various treatments by observing offenders’ behavior, interviewing them and using two instruments. All have serious shortcomings.
One instrument, the polygraph, is routinely used to determine if people continue to offend once conditionally released or have deviant thoughts in the course of treatment. Civil commitment centers also use polygraphs to make sure an offender has admitted all his crimes, a requirement for progressing past the early stage of relapse prevention treatment.
“Usually they will give up lots of information soon after failing a polygraph test,” Dr. Thornton, the Wisconsin treatment director, said.
But polygraphy, which measures blood pressure, breathing rate and perspiration while a series of questions is asked, is generally considered so unreliable that its results are inadmissible as proof in court. Some offenders, especially psychopaths who feel no anxiety when lying, can beat it, experts said.
“Polygraph on its own isn’t the answer to anything,” said Dr. Don Grubin, a forensic psychiatrist at Newcastle University in Britain who has studied the tests. As part of a bigger package it seemed to have an effect ” to help reduce the risk of reoffending. ”
The other device routinely used at civil commitment facilities is the penile plethysmograph, which measures changes in the circumference of the penis while the offender is shown sexually suggestive pictures of men, women or children.
Some clinicians and offenders say it is easy, particularly in a laboratory, to stifle arousal and thus cheat on a plethysmograph test.
Mr. Carlin, the Florida rapist, said that during one plethysmograph test, “I just stared at a shelf of cleaning products and read the labels.”
The field of risk assessment, or determining which sex offenders are likely to repeat their crimes once released, has been equally slow to evolve, even as judges and juries are keeping more men locked up after their prison sentences in the belief that they will be dangerous on the outside.
A cottage industry of professionals who diagnose sexually violent predators has developed in the last two decades, and several hundred psychologists, often with little or no background treating sex offenders, make a lucrative business of recommending who should be committed.
During a recent commitment trial in St. Augustine, Fla., one psychologist with hardly any experience treating sex offenders told a jury he had evaluated 350 candidates for civil commitment and testified in dozens of commitment trials since 2000.
Some in the field question why professional organizations like the American Psychological Association have not set ethical and training standards for the many psychologists entering the civil commitment field.
“I don’t think, in my personal experience, that the vast majority of the examiners I’ve come across have sufficient working knowledge of the empirical literature,” said Dr. Prentky of the Justice Research Institute.
But that literature is still of limited use. Most actuarial tools used to predict someone’s risk of recidivism consider only unchanging factors, like their number of past offenses and the sex of their victims. Some scientists say that so-called dynamic factors – how much treatment an offender gets, for example, and how old he has grown – should factor heavily into actuarial risk assessment, too.
“Science hasn’t gotten there yet,” said Eric Janus, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., who opposes civil commitment.
Professor Janus said he hoped for “an explosion of knowledge” about how to prevent sexual violence before it happened, which he said would prevent far more sex crimes than civilly committing offenders.
That sort of research is unlikely to happen in the United States, Dr. Berlin and other experts said, because so many Americans believe that the only investment in sex offenders should be punitive.
“People need to recognize that these are not just criminal justice problems but also public health problems,” Dr. Berlin said, “and the surgeon general as well as the attorney general ought to be supporting research in this area.”
Earlier efforts to rehabilitate sex offenders, like Freudian psychoanalysis and electric shocks to the skin, failed definitively decades ago. A recent case in Orange Park, Fla., offered more evidence that relapse prevention treatment is no solution, either.
There, the authorities say, a convicted rapist who had spent 12 years in prison and 5 at the Florida Civil Commitment Center raped and killed a young woman before dawn on Jan. 23 after following her into the veterinary clinic where she worked.
The suspect, Michael Renard Jackson, 37, won release from the commitment center in 2005 after reaching the highest levels of a relapse prevention treatment program, people familiar with the case said.