Monthly Archives: November 2016

Why child abuse isn’t as important as you think

 

When I appeared on the Bill Carroll radio show last year (an LA broadcast), I did so a day after Melissa Melendez appeared. Melissa Melendez is the state legislator who authored the controversial AB1775 child abuse law that is now close to two years old, and which I and some others have been criticizing since its passage in the summer of 2014. At that time, Melendez boasted on her website that she was “cracking down on child porn” with this law. BTW: for those who don’t know the process, “author” means she fronted the bill. It was written by others—lawyers, specifically—lawyers for the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, or CAMFT.

I have gleaned from my attempts to dialogue with these lawyers that they did consult with some therapists and social workers prior to writing the bill. I don’t know how many. I imagine them canvasing the wide and diverse opinion of—ahem—San Diego County (where the CAMFT offices are located), homing in on its clique of conversion therapy advocates and thinking, ah…we have found the like-minded!

Like minded in the sense that psychotherapy is deemed by these folks a tool of advocates, of social change, rather than something complex and unaffiliated with policing or justice. Well, you might ask, isn’t the protection of children from pornographers and other abusers a worthy cause? Isn’t the prevention of child abuse via the reporting of criminals something we should support?

Well, since you put it like that, then yes.

However, when you apply logic, the experience of real clinicians, flaws in this ideal leap out. Do criminals enter psychotherapy, looking to change? If they do, do you imagine that upon hearing a psychotherapist’s reporting requirements in the area of child abuse (which we’re required to provide—it’s called informed consent), an as-yet undiscovered child abuser would then say, “well, since we’re on that subject…”

When criminals are mandated into therapy by courts, or as a condition of probation or parole, they might report behaviors that merit our reporting of them, but at that point, if they are speaking of past behaviors, the matter is moot. And if the completion of probation or parole hinges upon NOT engaging in further illegal behavior, why would they further disclose their illegal acts?

The premise of psychotherapy, for those who apparently need this explaining, is among other things to provide a place, a “safe” place as we like to say, for the disclosure of all kinds of secrets, including many heinous crimes. Do you want to know what’s reportable under the law? Basically, anything really dangerous that might happen; meaning, it hasn’t happened yet. Do you want to know an example of something that ISN’T reportable? A murder committed in the past. Unless it was a child that was killed. Seriously.

With rare exception, people don’t enter therapy to boast or even speak casually of abusing or exploiting children, or the enabling of child abuse via the viewing of child porn. They do enter therapy disturbed by such behaviors, wanting to understand what leads them to such things; hoping to learn how to diminish if not eliminate those tendencies. Now, reporting laws can facilitate change in cases of ordinary child abuse (hitting, or verbal abuse), because those interventions leverage important conversations with parents, who thereafter can learn anger management skills, as well as process unresolved problems. However, reporting requirements like those set forth by AB1775 undermine a therapeutic process, because those reported for using illegal porn use are typically arrested, jailed, fired from their jobs, ostracized from family and friends—all of which tends not to encourage further talking with therapists.

I said all this to Bill Carroll, the partially persuaded conservative radio host of a year ago. But what are you saying? He half-complained. Is your office like a confessional?

Funny he should ask that. Shame that I didn’t have time to contradict something Melissa Melendez had said the day before. See, during her appearance, Carroll asked if priests are also mandated reporters of child abuse. At first, she didn’t know, so he gave her a commercial break to look it up. When she returned she quickly offered that priests ARE mandated reporters, and then her segment ended.

Though a sideline to the main issue, this piece of misinformation is the climactic point of this blog entry. In fact, priests (or clergy) ARE NOT mandated reporters of child abuse—at least not if you read the loophole provided for them in California Civil Code 11166 (d), which offers that if disclosures of abuse are heard in the context of a “penitential communication”, then the subdivision (requirement to report) does not apply. Civil Code 11165.7 outlines what professionals are mandated reporters of child abuse. Wanna know who else is not on the list? That’s right: lawyers. For good reasons, you might think; at least, reasons implicitly more important than the protection of children from child abusers.

Two weeks ago, I wrote the office of Melissa Melendez, asking if she’ll revisit the issue of AB1775 in 2017, perhaps get someone to craft an amendment to section 11166 (d), close that loophole for clergy. Neither she nor a member of her staff has responded to me yet. I’m not holding my breath. I wonder if she’d consult with priests on this matter, or contact officials within the Catholic Church, to challenge the sanctity of their offices, compel them to be advocates, not mere listeners. I hear they’re a bigger organization than the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. They have lawyers too, don’t they?

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

 

 

 

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The big feelings

 

What’s your pleasure, asks your average service provider? How can I help, or rather, what would you like to consume? What’s your pain asks a therapist or a doctor. There are many symptoms, feelings to choose from: guilt and shame are the big ones…if you’re thinking long-term

Not that fear doesn’t get a look-in. Trauma casts a wide net, is part of everyone’s experience it seems, present and past. Some have it more than others, we think. Do we? To discriminate in that way is a matter of politics, and maybe economics. It depends on who is paying for the listening. On the whole therapists don’t have to decide who is the most traumatized; that is, unless you’re one of those people who thinks we ought to be making those calls, prioritizing a presumably limited, emotional resource. BTW, on the mind-economics front: I don’t agree with those who imply that if we over diagnose trauma we’ll dilute the meaning of the term, and somehow do disservice to the most acutely affected. Thankfully, whatever you think of this society, there are a lot of helping professionals in this interdependent world: roughly 30K practitioners of my discipline alone, in this state alone.

So back to shame and guilt: When shame works it’s not so bad. It breeds humility, a sense of limitation, mortality, and equality, for we are all small. We all die. When guilt works it’s not so bad. It reminds us we can be strong, and in being strong we can be generous, and charitable—giving back to the less fortunate. Guilt precedes redemption.

what’s your pain? Do you feel bad because you hurt someone, because you are hurting someone, and you can’t seem to stop? Does that push you into shame, wherein you decide the future is hopeless, that you don’t deserve to be loved because you are so bad. Will you withdraw as a result: refuse a gift, a more banal token of support, like someone giving you a hand with something you’re not good at, a break on a bill that’s overdue? Will you beg off, saying “I’m good” because in your mind you’re not. Will you try to not need ever again so you don’t have to ask? Will you disappear because you are a monster, that man/monster Mary Shelley wrote about, and will we find you one day shivering in the North Pole?

Do you feel bad because you’re on the other side? Is someone ignoring you, not understanding, or actively pressing a heel to your nose while saying, “what?” in nonplussed self-defense, or shrugging their shoulders, saying “sorry’, though not with remorse—more with sullen helplessness. Do you feel alone, abandoned, your utter unimportance exposed? And is everyone playing the support cast of Hamlet, saying this thing is not happening? Hope. What hope do you have? Do you keep having to ask for what you want or need, everyday? Or will you retreat to your room, to your bed, to gaze at the pet or child that won’t abandon you, and who needs you also. Will you thrash about in that room, or in the streets, screaming but not speaking, hoping the guilty will get something from the noise?

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

 

 

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Virgin Mountain

 

Superbored? You know who you are. If you’re ever feeling that way on a Friday or Saturday night, and looking for something to stir your heart and mind, then once a month check out something called the Mountain Shadow Film Society at the Walnut Creek Library. A year or so ago a local businessman named John Bennison had the idea of bringing to the east bay films that might once have been shown at the late, lamented Pleasant Hill Dome theater. Now he brings gems from all over the world: films that get shown at film festivals, that otherwise barely get distributed in this country.

The latest such film he showcased was Virgin Mountain, an Icelandic feature about a quiet, forty-something man whose friendship with a little girl and romance with a woman bring him out of his shell. For a while, anyway.

We meet Fusi, an overweight, seemingly modest man, as he hovers over a large model replica of a World War II battle in Egypt. He is arranging miniature figures—tanks and soldiers—that he has lovingly hand-crafted or painted alongside his best friend, a similarly reclusive, albeit more curmudgeonly man, who shoos away kids that show an interest in the model. “This is not a game,” Fusi’s friend rebukes them. Later, he and Fusi smoke weed together, observe without emotion their lack of female company, and lose consciousness. Fusi lives with his mother and her lover-of-the-moment, a man who encourages Fusi to show interest in the internet—either in porn or online dating, it is implied. Fusi sees his mother having sex with this man and turns away, not so much embarrassed or disgusted as merely stolid, as if sex was not and would never be a part of his world.

His male co-workers (he loads luggage at an airport) intuit his asexuality. They tease and later bully him, exhibiting not just homophobia, but a more basic revulsion towards men who don’t conform to a traditional sex role. We are reminded that for men in particular, or between men, deviant sexual behavior is actually not as shameful as not being sexual at all. A sympathetic boss tries to support him against the bullies, but Fusi conforms to social rules in at least one respect: he won’t narc.

A lonely eight-year old girl knocks on his door on his day off. She is superbored, inquisitive and non-judgmental, the way eight-year old girls are, I guess. Through her interest, we learn that the war model depicts the first battle the allies won in World War II. The full significance of that tidbit remains lost on me, but the purpose of his play is clear: Fusi is frozen as a latency age child, devoid of a father, no less refusing of growth than the surrealist main character of Grass’ The Tin Drum. Unfortunately, the bond with the little girl is short-lived. Thinking as a same-aged child, he takes the girl (at her request) on an ill-advised ride in his truck. When they return to their shared apartment building, a police car is predictably waiting for them, as well as an irate father who insinuates perversion in Fusi, thus he is arrested. Fortunately, a truly depressing path for this story is averted when a psychiatrist observes Fusi’s essential innocence, so he is released from the police station, though he is later ostracized by his neighbors.

Prior to this (or sort of interwoven), at the behest of his mother and her partner, Fusi reluctantly attends a dance class, or rather he sits in his truck, listening to thrash metal on his radio, resolved to tell tall stories about his dance class the next day. A woman emerges from the studio after the class and asks him for a ride. Fusi agrees and at first she rewards his generosity by asking if he’s a pervert. Later, she asks him out to dinner. He accepts and they go to a restaurant, but when she invites him into her home after dinner he declines awkwardly. She says goodnight and skips away, disappointed. Then he changes his mind, rings her doorbell, enters, and—still refusing alcohol or coffee—asks for a glass of milk. His resulting white moustache captures his psychological age, but on that endearing note the romance begins and he begins to grow.

The relationship treads a sweet course for a spell: the couple attends the dance class properly and learn to line dance together. Between this and several other scenes, we learn how remote communities like those in Iceland import pieces of western culture. In other humorous turns, he adds Dolly Parton songs to his musical tastes (girlfriend is a fan), and helps his mom bake crème boule with a blow torch borrowed from work. Sadly, the girlfriend has her own problems—worse problems, in fact. Exhibiting a manic streak, she lies about working in a flower shop (instead she works as a garbage collector), invites and then disinvites Fusi to move in with her; accepts and then rejects his idea for a first ever vacation, in Egypt, to the site of that World War II battle. Then she retreats depressively into a closet, compelling him to take time away from work to help her. A poignant scene amid this drama happens while Fusi is working one of her shifts at the garbage dump. A group of foreign-seeming men observe Fusi sitting alone and chatter about him. Given the prior bullying, we expect the men to begin harassing Fusi, but instead they invite him for a beer. My interpretation of this scene could go different ways: one might think the director is offering hope, saying society, or men, are not all cruel. I’m inclined to think something else: intuiting his growth, Fusi’s becoming a man, the group gives him respect.

But Virgin Mountain seems destined to not end upon a conventionally happy note. Mom’s lover leaves her, as perhaps many men have before him, and upon this event, we learn the likely genesis of Fusi’s arrested development. She now speaks hatefully of Fusi’s girlfriend, not because she is disturbed, but rather because his potential happiness with her equates to the mother’s abandonment—a fear hitherto concealed because she was ensconced in a relationship. As the film draws to a close, we come to understand that while the events of the story may be unique—the dynamic that prevails is a repetition. In the final scene, we see Fusi back at the airport, back on his regular job, loading bags onto a plane, and staring enviously at passengers walking along a tunnel towards it. The film ends and we are left wondering about cycles, repetition, enactments, the problems of separation and growth from a cold place on earth.

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

 

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Working and asking for it

 

I didn’t like the e-cigarette. A drug on the rise? Surely not for long, I thought. Do people really wanna suck on ball point pens? What do I know? I just drink. Still, the robotic smoke didn’t stop me learning something about Lira. She made two hundred and fifty dollars for a half hour of work. A thousand, sometimes it was more, for a full hour. Those were Lira’s rates, not that I was or would ever be a customer. My rates aren’t even close to that. Sex is obviously worth more than empathy. Pleasure’s a better deal than pain.

“Sometimes more? What is that, a sliding scale or something?”  She returned a chilly, closed-mouth look.

“Just kidding,” I uttered, apologizing. Shit, No humor. This was a real problem, because without humor, I’m stuck. I’m really stuck. “Why do you do it?” I asked squarely.

“I don’t…not anymore,” she said after what seemed a lengthy, inner consultation. I’m not sure I believed her.

“Okay, why did you do it?”

Her face turned stony again. “Seriously? This is your idea of getting to know me?”

“Fine. Talk about another career path, or about finding a husband, making babies…whatever.”

“I’m not gonna make babies.”

A pause: a (ahem) pregnant pause. “Alright. What about hobbies or the Facebook lives of your friends? How long have you been pulling drunks from bars?” Seriously, I was slightly better with…with…whatever her name—fuck it—the Persian woman. Lira must have wondered why anyone would sit with me and tell their life story, which is why it surprised me when she rewound the tape.

“I needed money—the same reason any woman does that.”

“People pay you for taking drunks out of bars? I thought interventions happened in homes, with hapless relatives looking on, not the shadow cast of Cheers.” Was the microphone on? She looked away while I lamented my leaden wit, a lifetime of not giving women my best lines. “I’m sorry. Please, you were saying,” I managed with a gulp. She took another moment to collect herself.

“That’s it. I needed money. It was what I did to survive. What else is there to say?”

“I don’t know,” I said dully.

“Well, you’re lucky you never had to do that,” she added severely, and was then quiet, buried in martyrdom. I pulled my head back and frowned. A joke didn’t come to mind, but what I started next I shouldn’t have. I should have just written it instead.

“Wait. How do you know I haven’t?” She pulled her head back, showcasing a reluctant, wraparound smile.

“Are you messin’ with me again? You’ve been a male prostitute?”

“Most of my life, actually.” Her expression soured.

“Is this a joke, cuz if it is, I—”

“It’s not a joke. I think most occupations force people to prostitute themselves in one way or another.”

She tilted her head to one side, looking at me out the corner of her eye like I was an advancing arachnid.

“Oh my God, this is some kind of bullshit. You think doing what you do is anything like the danger of being a sex worker?”

“You’ve clearly never dealt with an insurance company.”

** a passage from Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole

A flippancy that illustrates a point, plus a theme that opens my novel. My protagonist, Daniel Pierce, calls an insurance company, frustrated that his claims for reimbursement are being ignored. He teases the robotic agent on the line, evincing a latent sexuality, also his preferred method of deflecting stress. Getting paid, earning: it’s an issue. It’s consuming, makes people do what they don’t want to do, sometimes temporarily, otherwise out of habit, a lifestyle. The habit of work breeds entitlement, a sense that one is earning, versus asking for things. “I’m a kid, really”, Pierce says later in the story, in another context. “We’re all kids,” I said to someone recently. The context was sex. “You don’t want to ask for it. You think because you paid for it you’ve earned it?”

A stupid question

Graeme Daniels, MFT

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