“They say in SAA that you get to define your own bottom line,” offered another man. He licked his chops, tilling the ground of groupspeak as he had an equally dubious claim involving a late teenager (so he said). A hyper-masculine, balding figure, he personified a certain faction of my group: conventionally unattractive, sired in conjugal visits, wired towards the visual; overflowing with discharge, living just this side of incontinence. These guys tend to not open up much: they speak in code, use phrases like “I crossed the line” to briefly reference why they’re in treatment. Then it’s back to the persecution litany: about their hearings, upcoming or past; about the unfairness of courts, probation officers, the unforgiving nature of wives. I think of women and what they think. What do they expect from these men if not porn addiction? Come to think of it, do those women even look at porn? Have they watched the films, studied scores of images? You see, in some respects they have it backwards. Objectification—that’s the right word, isn’t it? That’s what’s happening to women. But hold on. Do they realize how many porn clips don’t even show men’s faces? Often, all you see are these girthy, circumcised peters sticking out between splayed pairs of legs. Talk about objects. In porn, the penis is the star, make no mistake about it. It is center stage, in the camera’s face, and literally in women’s. But at least their participation makes use of eyes.
— A passage from <em>Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole
The above passage describes the population of sex offenders that Daniel Pierce treats in his weekly group therapy. They’re a motley (as opposed to diverse) crossection of underdogs, typically unsophisticated, unlike predators who don’t get caught. Initial contacts with these guys are not just haunting, they’re an all-around humiliation, plus descent into a dark cave. Gruff, terse like their fathers and grandfathers were, they answer questions from counselors like they’ve just come from their lawyers’ offices, and are therefore still following the dictum, say as little as possible, which echoes their characters. Besides their illegal behaviors, the non-violent or non-direct contact offenders are socially withdrawn figures more so than anti-social; diffident more so than brutal. They shy away from intimacy, though more so out of bewilderment than contempt. Their relationships are with machines, computers–that which seems less impinging. To the average observer, they might seem like they’re on the spectrum of autistic disorders, and they might seem as self-absorbed or un-empathetic as any Narcissist. But the accent of their fears is less upon rejection as it is upon safety, and to remain safe this need must remain invisible. Difficult patients, they do not crave understanding, but rather a calculated space between themselves and others. It might sound a bit like this:
Therapist: So, what happened? What’s led you to make an appointment?
Client: (staring at therapist with concealed hate, as if the question is stupid) Got arrested. Crossed the line. (shrugs, pauses. The statement is done)
Therapist: I see, what exactly did you do that led to the arrest? (no more open-ended questions for a while, looking to avoid stonewalling)
Client: (ever externalizing) The charge was lewd and lascivious…with a minor…while intoxicated…something like that
* To get an actual narrative one will need a police report. Imagine what the more blunt truisms might sound like…
Client: Got caught with my dick in a hole
Therapist: By hole, you mean a female?
Client: Yup, one of them…
Most of the men I’ve worked with don’t betray thoughts like these, not so much out of shame, rather because they have little incentive to be honest, or to understand their disordered selves. Their situations mirror their fears, resulting in a self fulfilling prophecy: they are under someone’s control. See, sex offender treatment isn’t looking for honesty in its subjects. It’s looking for compliance, and in no other area of mental health treatment is this misguided objective more pronounced. Therefore, if sex offender treatment doesn’t work (an ambiguous conclusion) it’s because the systems that govern the treatment are misinformed, under-educated, and catering to public opinion rather than the recommendations of research. I write as a former provider under the California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB), and now operating privately and sometimes working with men who seek treatment BEFORE they get caught…BEFORE they hurt someone.
Treatment with them is not about compliance. It is about understanding. Imagine that.