Tag Archives: AB1775

Another three minutes with the CAMFT board

Graeme Daniels, MFT

These CAMFT board meetings: they happen three or four times a year, in hotel conference rooms up and down the state, always on a Saturday. The board of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists consists of a dozen members, men and women who don’t talk like therapists, but rather business people or lawyers. They don’t even seem to think like therapists, but for three minutes at a time at the outset of these all day gatherings, they promise to listen to therapists.

Being listened to is not something I expect, necessarily. Recently, it’s been hard going, getting others to take things in. There are clients as well as certain others who don’t return calls. Publishers and agents who won’t respond to e-mails. Even Pete Townshend, who asked to meet me after my Tommy paper got published, didn’t have much to say and walked off before I could start a conversation. Why? I wonder. Why am I so drawn to unavailable men? Anyway, at eight-thirty on a Saturday morning, my friend Ben and I showed up at a San Francisco hotel ready to be listened to, about AB1775, that stupid child porn law I’ve been blogging about, and—from Ben, mostly—the problem of insurance companies not paying claims. That’s actually far more serious, I later thought after hearing him speak.

At eight thirty we were ready to take part in one of these ‘members forum’ segments of a board meeting. They are supposed to last thirty minutes and proceed on a first come first serve basis. Wading through a vestibule, entering the room allocated for the proceeding, Ben and I found ourselves alone, gazing at an array of chairs circling a large table. Moments later, board members sauntered in, chatting, carrying cups of coffee, schmoozing. They looked at us and acted surprised, as they’d not been told there would be ‘observers’ this time around. A woman I recognized named Cathy Atkins, who also recognized me, took a quick look my way but then glanced off, choosing to admonish Ben: “in future, perhaps you could write us an e-mail, let us know you’re coming.” Weird, I thought. Last time I came to this thing there were about a dozen ‘observers’, all ready to speak—no RSVP seemed necessary. I once saw a video of one of these meetings in which the room was filled with over fifty members, also lining up to speak. And by speak I really mean protest. Something’s changed, I realized. The spirit of dissent in this organization has, shall we say, diminished?

After a call-to-order and reading of agendas, a woman in charge announced it was time for our members’ forum to begin. Slightly disorganized, she asked who had the timer for the three minute segments. Then, looking down at the forum sign-in sheet, which contained only two names (Ben and I), she looked over and beckoned me to speak, pronouncing my name correctly, which rarely happens on a first reading. I’d have been impressed but for the sight of the woman next to her, whispering her knowledge of who I was, which was both gratifying and not. The three women at the head of the table were the new president of the board, plus two lawyers. The femicratic air was balanced by four or five men, most of whom sat at the other end of the table, looking detached, if thinly adversarial.

I began speaking through the anticipated personal blocks: the dry parch in my throat, which can drain the life from my hard syllables; the halting pass at stretched vowel sounds—a more common nemesis of mine. Then there were the externals to contend with: the expressions of a dozen people, most of whom gave effortful looks of interest; some bothered to twist their necks around to face me. There were one or two earnest faces, and even a faint nod from a former president—warmly supportive, if relieved to no longer be in charge. So, here’s what I said.


1.)      A year ago I was at this meeting in Santa Clara protesting 3 things: the passage of bill AB1775, which now mandates therapists to report ‘downloading’, ‘streaming’, or ‘viewing’ material depicting sexual conduct of minors;

2nd: CAMFT or CAMFT attorneys’ role in not only endorsing the bill, but writing it.

3rd: CAMFT’s misrepresentation of several aspects of AB1775 to the CAMFT membership

2.)      Yet it was clear to me after listening to a later ¾ hour discussion by this board that several members were like many therapists I’ve spoken to: they had not fully understood the implications of this bill at the time of its writing. They regretted their support.

3.)      Others appeared to support the bill, but with dubious arguments: that offenders should be reported to authorities, and by implication persecuted, not treated because “sex offender treatment is not effective”. This is an unfair and reductionist view. Another member, unwittingly paraphrasing the US attorney general, suggested that viewers of underage porn enable its production and are AWARE of the exploitation entailed in child porn. Interesting–not to mention one of our society’s staggering hypocrisies. So if we were aware of the child poverty, the exploitative labor conditions around the world ‘enabled’ by our innumerable consumer choices, would we be culpable…reportable? This insipid bill was written for facile people who concern themselves with exploitation, but only as it pertains to sex.

4.) But finally, for the future: member Mark Perlmutter argued that CAMFT should take a second look, as in scrutinize AB1775 in 2017, with a task force that CAMFT members might be invited to join. Well, 2017 is three months away. My requests to be a part of a task force have been ignored or deflected. I cannot get straight answers from CFS officials as to whether abuse reports have increased because of the new law. Well, they’ve gotten none from me, I’m proud to say. And the director of the SJPD internet crimes against children task force does not return my calls. Perhaps he doesn’t talk to therapists. Perhaps, like some lawyers and legislators, he’s got better things to do.

Graeme Daniels, MFT




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The bourgeois hypocrisy

Lira hissed through her teeth—a disappointing, face-contorting habit, I wanted to say but didn’t.  “That’s irrelevant. Men are the ones that buy porn. The consumer is the oppressor.”

I paused, studied her face for a credulous moment, and thought politics, the global order. “Do you own a cell phone?” I asked. I knew she did having watched her scroll through it several times, but she didn’t answer, instead giving me an I’m-thinking-of-your-next-move look. “Ever think about who assembles those things and what wages they make?”

She rolled her eyes, said, “Here we go,” as if knowing my path.

“What would you say if I said that all your electronics purchases are made on the back of unfair labor practices in the developing world; that your cosmetics are made possible because of animal cruelty?”

She gave me a lazy-eyed stare. “Apples and oranges,” she replied.

I paused. “Really? That’s your rebuttal, a tired fruit metaphor?”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“It’s not a subject. It’s called context.”

“Context my ass. It’s a specious argument, Dr. Pierce, You’re saying the average consumer has as much culpability as a sex offender. That’s bullshit. No one would buy that argument.”

“Not in this society, maybe, but only because people here are hypocrites. The consumer is the oppressor, you said.”

It’s a shame that talk moves quickly sometimes, because I wanted to patronize her saying ‘specious’, which sounded impressive, like something a law professor would say—maybe that guy from the bar, I considered. Actually, I didn’t want to patronize Lira. I just wanted to argue some more.

–passage from  Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole

Maybe it’s the rhetoric of certain politicians currently reminding me of the polity’s gullibility, but I can’t let this go: one of the reasons AB1775 passed so easily through the California legislature was the notion that users of child porn enable child pornographers. Assuming you haven’t read my twenty or so other blog essays on that subject, let me remind that AB1775 is a 2015 law that re-writes the California civil code relating to child abuse reporting, apparently for the first time in 35 years, after the original Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act overlooked the issue of child porn, I guess. The new law allows–no, compels–mental health professionals to report to police clients/patients who view child pornography. Specifically, it mandates reporting with respect to that which depicts the sexual conduct of a minor (as in anyone under the age 18) over an electronic or digital medium. Genius. Now we have to violate confidentiality when teens sext one another.

The other pretext for this law was/is the unsubstantiated claim that such a measure will “crack down on child porn”. In other words, it will crack down on child porn to report to police individuals who, in the context of a psychotherapy session, talk about their child porn use, or e-mail pictures of their junk to their partners. For some this law will lead to humiliating discussions with unctuous adults who will educate about how to respect self and others. Boys will be schooled on how to respect girls’ bodies. Girls will be schooled on how to respect girls’ bodies. Some might criticize the circular nature of decision-makers’ interventions. Decision-makers will blink in confusion because they won’t know what circular reasoning is.

For others (men, basically), the law will lead to their arrests, their job losses, their ostracism from society, the sudden loss of custodial rights with respect to their children; the convenient awarding of full custody to another likely informant, the other parent. In case you think these are good things (and you probably do), one other likely outcome is that such individuals, following the adjudication of their cases, will be mandated into mental health treatment (this is hilarious!) wherein–it is presumed–they will honestly disclose further their history of child porn affinity and commit themselves to healing, trusting fully the confidentiality of the psychotherapeutic space.

This law will have no effect on the sociopaths who produce and distribute child pornography, any more than a generation of arresting pot smokers has won the drug war. People like me won’t be reporting such people to police because…how should I say this…THEY DON’T GO INTO THERAPY, IDIOTS!

For all the politicians who voted for this bill; for the lawyers who wrote it having consulted with maybe two therapists in San Diego County who also believe in things like conversion therapy for gay people; for the right wing politician who fronted (“authored”) the bill, declaring it would “crack down on porn”, scoring cheap points with an illiterate constituency determined to scapegoat society’s sexual miscreants because it doesn’t understand real social issues; and for all of you who enable poverty and economic exploitation in developing economies everyday of your lives with your electronics hoarding, drooling consumerist habits, I have the following message:


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Sexual Narcissism


“I’m in porn.” He’d said it quickly, in a clipped voice, while looking away, like he’d wanted the words off him, shooed away. I gave him a stilled look at which he grinned teasingly, masking unease. “Well, alright. I’m getting into porn, I should say. I’ve been in one clip so far.”

“Uh-huh. What film? What’s its title?” Rick laughed again, and shook his head. I felt like an idiot, stalling with questions to conceal my blushes.

“What film? I don’t know, man. Who cares…what film? Big dicks. It’s called ‘Big dicks’. There. I just gave it a title.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to—”

“Nah, it’s cool. I don’t know why I’m giving attitude, actually. I’ve got a name, if that means anything. Kane—Kane Able. How do you like it?”

“A play on…I suppose.”


“That’s good,” I lied.

So I asked about plot. About the film with no name: I asked if his clip contained any plot, or acting, or even theme. Surprisingly, Rick, or Kane—was pretty sure I’d not make the shift on this one—said there was. Firefighting, he said, not surprisingly. His part, as in his role, was that of a firefighter who has entered a burning building to rescue a trapped woman, who is feebly crying out (I imagined the acting) until the hero arrives, ready to spare her. The room is very hot, about which the performers comment wittily, and then the room gets hotter, and soon they don’t care so much about the fire and…well, you get the picture.

“Any dialogue?” I asked. Rick looked at me as if I were reading from a book of stupid questions.

“I ad-libbed this one line as I came: ‘fire in the hole, baby’, I said.” This time I said nothing. “I know, don’t tell me,” Rick lamented. “Pretty dumb, huh?”

“Did she say anything, have any lines, ad lib or scripted?”

Rick shook his head, uttered a dismissive noise, like I’d asked whether the props spoke on set. I blew air through my teeth, and thought of Lira.

“That’s typical. It goes to show there just aren’t enough good roles for women these days.”

— a passage from Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole

An example of parody in my mischief novel: the name Kane Abel is a play on words, of course, common to porn actors. My favorite from the real world of porn? Peter North. Subtle, right? Anyway, Kane is otherwise Rick, a young man whom Daniel Pierce meets while living at a sober living house, wherein he’s in retreat from a fraught personal and professional life. Rick’s day job is in a seafood restaurant, as a chef. There he causes trouble, disturbing his boss and Daniel’s temp boss, Jimbo, by stirring unrest, harassing female staff, flirting with nubile customers, doing very little cooking, it seems, while strutting his sex like a farmyard stud. Rick likely thinks his place in the service industry has layered meaning. He’s the kind of man who feels entitled to promiscuity, who feels offended, let down by another man’s diffidence, thinking that humankind benefits from the indiscriminate sharing of seed. He’ll try to re-ignite something in Daniel, provoke a libidinal return in the grieving, wilted psychologist. That last line, Daniel’s teasing of a feminist complaint, glides over Rick’s head, not so much because of stupidity, but rather self-absorption.

The role of women. What indeed is the role of women?

**image by Philip Lawson



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Venus and AB1775


In August 2014, the California legislature passed bill AB1775, a law that redefines sexual exploitation for the purpose of mandated reporting guidelines. For the first time since the codification of child abuse reporting law in the early 1980s, the consuming of a product (such as the accessing or downloading of illegal pornography) must be reported by mental health professionals and other mandated reporters to authorities. For many in the field of mental health, this bill constitutes a threat to therapist-patient confidentiality, a bedrock principle in the treatment of mental health disorders. The bill was written by child advocacy groups in coordination with California police departments, and was promoted as “cracking down on child porn and child abuse” by assembly woman Melissa Melendez, though it was written by lawyers for the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, whose 30,000 deep membership mostly learned of the bill just weeks prior to its passing.

This controversial law serves as a real life backdrop to my novel, Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole, a first person narrative about an alcoholic, widowed psychologist named Daniel Pierce who takes an impromptu hiatus from his practice, only to be stalked by a former prostitute and lawyer who wants information about and his intervention with a recent patient of his whom she says has perpetrated a child molestation. Pierce resists intervening or giving information, citing patient-therapist privilege, though he is intrigued by the woman’s ardent appeal, for professional and personal reasons: attracted to her, he is nonetheless unmoved by her insistence that he break the confidentiality of his patient as he finds her pretexts grounded more in prejudice than in substance. Aware of his patient’s substance abuse, predilection for prostitutes, and compulsive use of pornography, he doesn’t dismiss the possibility that a crime against a child has occurred, but he resists reporting information that will likely prejudice police, a criminal or family court, or a jury. Unknowingly dodging subpoenas, Pierce retreats to a sober living house to examine his grief, his conscience; even his role in society. However, in the small world of 12-step recovery, he meets the patient who is the object of so much fear and suspicion. The impromptu hiatus becomes an impromptu therapy between two men, neither of whom is a shining example of mental health.

The novel is a dramatic expression of social concern: about the role of the psychotherapist in society, which is a subset of society’s broader desire for heroes, sometimes at the expense of reason; about the need for privacy such that effective mental health treatment can transpire; about the relationship between pornography and sexual abuse; about the influence of feminism upon sexual mores, the process of family courts. As a psychotherapist who works with self-proclaimed sex addicts, state-identified sex offenders, I observe a degree of cynicism on all sides: within the minds of the offenders, or addicts, but also within the schemes of their critics and persecutors. In one sense, it’s no surprise that Daniel Pierce is a burn-out case. His personal drama illustrates what has previously fascinated readers of Irvin Yalom’s novels, or viewers of the HBO drama, In Treatment: that mental health professionals are also flawed, and vulnerable to addictions, if not anti-social behaviors. I think this unknown facet of the mental health professional intrigues members the public. As my protagonist states, they want “in the room” of psychotherapy, to find out what’s being said and done.

Sprinkled within this heavy drama is an equally heavy dose of satire. While excoriating the state’s intrusion upon mine and others’ professional space, I also poke fun at a few segments of society: at the subcultures of pornography and 12-step recovery in particular. Meanwhile, my text lampoons the social engineering that occurs in advertising, via the themes of TV commercials; the products that line the shelves of retail. I write with mischief about contemporary issues that subtly divide men and women, teasing feminists and paternalists alike. This commentary is intended as comic provocation, but is not comic relief or gratuitous soapboxing. These themes are the subtext of my protagonist’s alienation.

The result is a melancholic, if sometimes flippant (some say arrogant) story that is typical of my style. I’ve written four novels prior to this one, but despite better reviews for previous efforts, I think this novel my best. I like repeated themes, inside jokes, and metaphor that stirs the imagination of the reader. I like anti-heroes, difficult people who are not easy to understand, because real people are not easy to understand. Venus Looks Down On A Prairie is an obscure title, no doubt—but no more so than Catcher In The Rye or even Fifty Shades Of Grey—and its meaning should not elude an attentive, curious reader, whom I intend to engage in the deepest possible way.

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Poking ideology, ladies first



Whenever I consider a critique of a social group, an organization, or an ideology, I try to pause and think about where I am vulnerable; about who or what my sacred cows are, and whether I can take needling comments from the lesser knowing on the sidelines. I’m not a religious or especially political person (I think), so I don’t get my feathers ruffled when viewing debates. I am only thinly amused by scoffing comic journalists, and I sigh at the familiar rhetoric, bemoan all I don’t know or can’t know. As for miscellaneous activism, well, the AB1775 thing was about the only cause I researched well enough and thus felt qualified to comment on.

In most matters I prefer the observer’s role, plus the ethos of the neutral, hence my affinity for psychoanalytic thought, my periodic disdain for reductionist thinking in psychotherapy, as expressed elsewhere in this blog. Activism is an adjunct of psychotherapy for some. With a particular cause in mind, many enter grad schools wanting to “work with ___” because their lives have been touched by whatever their bone of contention is. That wasn’t me and it still isn’t. Mine is an ideology influenced more and more by the unknown, so the stance of the neutral radiates through Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole, my mischief novel about a jaded psychologist/neutral (or neutered) male, Daniel Pierce, who is stalked by a former prostitute and thereafter challenged to assume the activist role. Lira is a law student who likely saved money from her night job to earn an education and a better life for herself. She is an empowered woman looking back, looking to help the less fortunate, the not-yet-survived sisters on the streets, plus the odd John or two who needs redemption, whether they want it or not. Her ideology, which is a broader, not goal-specific construct, is likely feminist, though she doesn’t indicate this in such specific terms.

It’s difficult tackling an ideology because ideologies are multi-faceted and evolving. They defy simplification, require and deserve considerable thought and reading, so I’m skeptical of labels from those who identify with an ideology without putting in study time; from those who oppose an ideology based upon a similarly stereotyping process. If you haven’t combed through The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, or “Beyond The Pleasure Principle” by Freud, or read anything by either Cordelia Fine or Melanie Klein, then stop with the broad-brush dismissals. So when Kirkus remarks in their review that Daniel Pierce is anti-feminist, I have to take issue because I don’t satirize feminism in my novel, but rather some of its derivative rhetoric that is co-opted by common opportunists, and which informs a modern narrative. Besides, I have to wonder what ruffled the feathers of my reviewer because he or she didn’t get specific. It’s certainly true that my narrator issues a few sideways jibes aimed at popular trends: at women’s seeming double standards in the dating arena; at the goading of men that happens in advertising: the suggestion that men should take drugs to enhance sexual performance, whether to serve ego, the pleasure of a wanting partner, or both; the way media increasingly presents women as sexual aggressors, men as on the run, clutching fearfully at their pants, acting like fools; the way musical/lyrical clichés are deemed misogynist if depicting women in supplicant roles—romantic or millennially winning if men are.

Daniel Pierce is traditionalist in some ways, but is neither an anti-feminist nor a misogynist. He’s monogamist, partly because of love, otherwise by constitution. Sexually, he’s played it safe in life while keeping at arm’s length the influence of promiscuous men, so he’s wary of Rick, the would-be porn star who buddies up to Daniel, liking his quiet non-conformism. Rick is aware that Daniel is not a player, but scarcely registers the psychologist’s critique of reckless sex. Daniel could give or take guys like Rick, knowing them to be endangered, but he’s more concerned for his own psychological kind: the sexually diffident or undersexed; the workaholic, drab men who sacrifice decades to the man and then die of heart attacks. If pushed he’d point out that if women want the same pay or workplace opportunities as these men, they may need to do more of the work his masculine forebears did: the blue collar or dangerous jobs that still comprise well over ninety percent of workplace injuries. Let us not forget that the harbinger of feminism, the suffragette movement, more or less suspended itself to support men in their most dangerous traditional role, that of soldier. Subsequently, World War I slaughtered nearly half of the European male population of that era, which is not women’s fault, but what did they do? Time moved on: women organized and confronted the alcohol industry with temperance movements, industrialists about child labor; they rightly won voting rights, the right to own property, etcetera, while never having to register for the draft, and few women over the years complained about that.

When pushed by Lira to co-sign her assessment of Derek Metcalf as a child molester, Daniel pushes back, supposing that the child in question (Derek’s five year old son) may be a pawn in a protracted custody dispute, latterly mired in manufactured charges, coached and inconsistent reports from the son about alleged behaviors, the adjudication of which is meant to leverage a favorable custody outcome for the mother. While Daniel’s familial background is thinly sketched in Venus, I suggest towards the end that his father was not a Prairie Vole (a monogamist), and that Daniel’s mother, a figure on whom he once doted, left his father at some point in Daniel’s childhood. On the one hand, I accept Clarion’s critique that my title, Venus Looks Down On A Prairie, may be too obscure, or confused, for the average reader. I’d intended to give clues in the text, but otherwise leave room for you to wonder. Well, I guess I’ll supply an answer, whether you wonder or not. Daniel is looked down upon by women (or would be so), not because he’s a philanderer and therefore commonly misogynist (he’s not), and certainly not because he was a devoted husband, but rather because he isn’t a hero. He simply refuses to split in that traditional way. His refrain, I don’t do anything, is partly a complaint, partly a muted boast, and he defies a traditionalist male role that lingers in our society, whether feminists want this or not.



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Talkin’ about it



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Deviancy Today

The latest issue of Psychology Today features an article entitled “Sympathy for the deviant”, fronted by a teaser, “Do we misunderstand sex offenders?” It’s a leading question, suggesting, as such questions tend to, that misunderstanding constitutes prejudice. The thesis of writer Jennifer Bleyer is that sexual abuse stigma may prevent people from getting help before they commit harm. She follows accounts of men who slide from attraction to early adolescents, to grooming behaviors, skinny dipping, sleeping nude with underage partners, from embracing to sexual intercourse. The passage from intrigue to abuse is insidious, laden with denial, compulsion and horror. Partners share their trauma as they watch their husbands being hauled away to jail. The husbands, like the wives, are shaken, apologizing desperately, seeking forgiveness before anything’s been understood.

How can it be understood? the article asks. Given the legacy of silence and collusion, it won’t be easy, writes Bleyer. She points out that discussion of sexual abuse emerged from the cultural shadows in the 1980s, when a confessional culture lead survivors to speak out. “For the first time, its prevalence and its adverse effects became apparent. The pendulum of public concern swung hard in the direction of indignation, as sexual abuse went from being largely ignored to intensely condemned.” In psychoanalysis this is called reaction formation. In short: guilt. The guilt feelings are appropriate, but as many within our profession argue, guilt also gets in the way, by stirring its derivative, rage. It gets in the way by disregarding some facts: that recidivism rates for sex offenders, for example, are lower than for other major types of crime and much lower than is commonly believed. Take radio show host Bill Carroll, for instance. In July, he and politician Melissa Melendez clucked righteously that sex offenders can’t really be treated. “You can’t change a pedophile’, he said. The next day I went on his show and told him what’s what. In September, a board member for the California association of marriage and family therapists (CAMFT) opined that sex offender treatment was ineffective, offering in a public forum that over half of offenders continue to offend despite treatment. After the forum, I stepped up and with a polite smile told her she was wrong also.

No surprise that this side of the information divide makes it to public ears, coloring opinion. Given the hysteria that such opinions generate, few learn the truth as Jennifer Bleyer reports: that only 40% of convicted sex offenders meet criteria for pedophilia, or that pedophilia refers to an attraction, not necessarily a behavior or set of behaviors. It chills the skin of progressives to consider that pedophilia is likely an orientation, and likely because they don’t wish that sympathetic term co-opted by an unpopular segment of society. They may be assuaged to learn that pedophiles have been shown to be shorter on average and more likely to be left handed, as well as having lower IQs. One study has shown they are more likely to have suffered childhood head injuries. My own clinical experience (not based upon a large sample, I should note) bears out the impression that pedophiles are prone to childlike personas, presenting as sexually diffident, living on the margins.

In Germany, a prevention project begun in 2005 aims to prevent abuse by offering anonymous treatment to people who are sexually attracted to minors. In on TV ad, a masked man recites a script of self-loathing, followed by a pronouncement of what he had learned in therapy. In the ad’s climactic moment, the man removes his mask, exposing his shame, but also expressing his hope. “I don’t want to be an offender,” he says. According the Bleyer, over 5000 people have come forward seeking treatment as a result of the ad campaign, leading to the establishment of 11 clinics across Germany, with a specific sexual abuse prevention at the core of program mission statements. CBT and testosterone-reducing pharmaceuticals are the preferred interventions, not so much psychoanalysis. Oh well, progress not perfection, I say. With this article in hand, I approached my colleague at work, a man exhorting me to renew my credential for treating sex offenders with the state. We should be bypassing the state, I said. Long term, we should be trying a version of what they’re trying in Germany: reaching out, through our website, through social media, through CAMFT board meetings, meetings with the California Coalition on Sex Offending (CCOSO). We should be aiming at those individuals who are out there, seeking help, looking for therapists, programs, who will speak to their particular problem.

So far, no one in this neck of the woods is doing this. No one’s aiming a marketing strategy at sex offenders, or sex addicts who might transform into offenders. No one’s funding a public service announcement on a bus or billboard, outreaching with a message like the one suggested in Bleyer’s article: “If you’re concerned about your attraction to children, call this number.” My colleague claims–rightly, I think–that new reporting laws such as AB 1775 will make preventions efforts such as what’s happening in Germany virtually impossible. Maybe that’s true. Maybe someone with a problem can’t really talk to me. If they tell me they look at underage porn, I’d have to report that to authorities, who may choose to let therapy do its thing, or they may not. They may choose to break down my client’s door, confiscate electronica, make an arrest that will trigger a catastrophe in that person’s life. I guess they’d call that prevention too. But they couldn’t call it understanding.

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Three minutes with the CAMFT board

The board of directors of CAMFT (The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) meets once every…I don’t know how often they meet. Anyway, their all-day meeting is open to members to observe. We can also speak for three minutes on issues pertaining to our profession. Here’s a rough transcript of my well-memorized three minute speech regarding AB 1775. * Context note: the previously speaker had taken her three minutes to express appreciation for the recently increased transparency of board procedure.

“…Good morning, my name’s Graeme Daniels and I appreciate transparency, though I’m here to speak of the lack of it. I’m here to speak of AB 1775–a controversial new law–and to speak of CAMFT’s role in writing and supporting it. (Pause) I’ve heard a lot of demagoguery over the last year, from people who claim that AB 1775 will crack down on child porn, that it will protect children, when there’s no evidence it will do either. Bill supporters like to quote child abuse statistics, as if that counts as an argument. To my mind, that’s like reading out the Pearl Harbor casualty list to justify the internment of Japanese-Americans. So, to the salient matter: what happened with this law?

AB 1775 inserted three important words–downloading, streaming, accessing–into the penal code, conflating this language into an existing definition of sexual exploitation for the purposes of child abuse reporting. This was presented as a mere modernization, a technical updating, reflecting changes in technology. That’s incorrect, because these words are not synonyms for pre-existing language. The words downloading and streaming indicate data transfer, a receiving of information, not a reciprocal act. They’re not synonyms for ‘exchange’, ‘depict’, ‘distribute’, ‘duplicate’, or any of the words previously in the code. So the change was not ‘technical’. It was ideological. For the first time, the viewing of porn for personal use is reportable to police. For the first time in history, the consuming of a product that is exploitative is reportable to police. (* BTW: this comment is an allusion to broader comment that got nixed due to time constraints), and contrary to what Cathy has written in the spring edition of The Therapist, this bill is indeed a change to spirit of existing CANRA (Child abuse and neglect reporting act) law.

And if this exploitation is so heinous, then why does Cathy inform us that police will generally not investigate cases of merely ‘downloading’ or ‘streaming’. Why then are we to violate our clients’ confidentiality? Why does she write that the existing CANRA law was unclear in its language, because it was clear. It simply didn’t say what some people wanted it to say. And finally, why does she begin one paragraph with the words “it seems that the legislative intent (of the new law) is…”. It seems as if the intent was…? (pause) AS IF YA’LL DIDN’T WRITE THIS THING (yes, I did say ya’ll, with a British accent), present it to a political puppet to thrust before a legislature that, frankly, knows nothing about child abuse reporting. There’s a lot wrong with AB 1775–too much for me to say in three minutes. But above all, I want this board to look at how it gets manipulated.”

There. Just under three minutes.

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Sex, lies, and penal codes

So a drift back from passivity might begin with something like this: “Have you heard of the next thing in child abuse, this AB 832?” Sleepily, I reply, “No, is that a Melendez bill?”

“Nah–someone name Garcia.”

I shrug. “What of it. What’s it about?”

“Child abuse”

“Yeah, got that. Can you be more specific?”

“I thought you might know about it, since you’ve been caught up with that other law, AB1775”

“So you don’t really know anything about AB 832?”

“No,” my colleague replies forlornly. There is a pause between us, an awkward waiting. “I think this discussion’s hit a wall, don’t you think?” I remark playfully. Not that it wouldn’t hit a wall anyway. Such are the somnolent beginnings of dissent in the public sphere, across coffee tables and in between cubicles; in between sessions. Elsewhere, I picture a quiet, pine-enveloped room, filled with the soft buzz of ‘live’ microphones, with radio voices speaking collegially, passing laws that make perfect sense when spoken about in this way. This is the legislative realm. The subtext of AB 832, a bill that removes mandated reporting requirements for consensual sexual behavior between minors, is two-fold: first, it more or less acknowledges the normalcy of teens having sex; secondly, it tempers language that has long implied a homophobic edge to the existing Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA), which casts acts such as oral copulation and sodomy as tantamount to sexual assault. Assembly women Garcia and Eggman (the authors–both Democrats) want minors of similar age (teens, I assume), gay or straight, left alone to pursue voluntary sexual behavior; to maybe talk about sex with teachers and counselors; to not be bullied, and most specifically, to not be reported to authorities when they are having sex voluntarily, unless one party is over the age of 21 and the other is under 16.

Well, clearly they haven’t reached across the aisle and coordinated their efforts with the AB1775 supporters. Don’t they realize that talking to police can be as therapeutic as talking to any counselor or social worker? As Garcia and Eggman peruse their worthy new text of California penal code 11165.1, subdivision (a), what might they make of subdivision (3), I wonder, which is situated just twenty lines south of their progressively amended words?

In it lies the controversial language of bill AB1775, authored (in legislative terms, that means written by someone else while a politician’s name is attached) by Republican Melissa Melendez last year, which added to penal code 11165.1 the infamous words “downloads, streams, accesses, through any electronic or digital media, or exchanges (other mediums indicated) in which a child is engaged in obscene sexual conduct” (which is defined in several other penal codes beginning with the numbers 311). This is the language that now defines sexual exploitation, which, like sexual assault, is a subset of sexual abuse, which is subject to mandated reporting by those who are guilty of a misdemeanor if they don’t report such behavior. BTW: in those other penal code sections, it’s clear that a child (alternately termed a ‘minor’) is anyone under the age of 18, and that obscene sexual conduct includes the aforementioned ‘voluntary’ behaviors. No where is it stipulated that behaviors must be coerced in order to constitute obscene sexual conduct.

So…wait. If I understand this right, we are now proposing that it’s okay for kids to have sex with each other (all of the major sex acts I’m aware of fall under the definition of ‘obscene sexual conduct’) unless one of them is over 21 and the other is less than 16. Meaning, as therapists we wouldn’t have to report this to the police if AB 832 went into effect. That’s nice. Seriously, it would be good if we didn’t have to narc on kids getting it on, or out gay or straight teens that engage in oral copulation or sodomy. However, if upon having sex or behaving sexually in any way, one such kid takes a picture of the act and later “sends’ or ‘accesses’ said picture, we would then require the ‘discretion’ of police, to whom we must report that latter behavior, to address said child’s sexual behavior and ensure that abuse has not occurred.

Seriously? Who is observing this absurdity, taking note as the zeitgeist of one social cause passes another moving in the other direction. Where is the corpus callosum of our society, assuring that our right and left brains communicate versus split, as manifest by our detached political mirrors. What am I saying? you ask. Here it is: as the cultural right keeps fighting for teenage abstinence, or to extinguish gay sexuality, it ups its game with respect to sexual exploitation, looking to widen the scope of persecution because it needs new scapegoats, the less fashionably sympathetic (I mean heterosexual males, of course). In doing so it squeezes the law into an illogical corner–caught somewhere in between the ‘free love’ left and the ‘protect children’ right .

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In The Times (can’t remember everything)

July 14th, 2015: an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled…wait, I’ve forgotten what it was called. Oh yeah—“Child Porn law hinders treatment, therapists say” An okay title, I thought–a bit limited, maybe. Stephen Ceasar, the journalist who authored the piece, hadn’t told me when we’d spoken two weeks earlier what it would be called. He didn’t tell me what the slant of his article was, and he certainly hadn’t told me that my quotes would be the first ones referenced in the story. There are so many facets to this issue it’s hard to remember them all. But that’s how it goes with interviews, I guess. Can’t remember everything. On the whole, however, this opportunity was well taken, so as I read the whole article, including the familiar arguments from the other side of the AB1775 divide, I could see why my point of view had been placed up front. So far, I’m the only one passing along an actual story to illustrate the issue.

The AB1775 controversy has been kicking around for about a year. A year ago is when The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) announced its support of the bill; alerting members to the first major changes to The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) laws in a generation like it was announcing a summer social gathering. Since then, therapists have been gradually waking up to a law that, contrary to the statements of Cathy Atkins, CAMFT lead counsel (the principals who sanctioned the bill are all lawyers), does a lot more than “clarify” the existing requirements of mandated reporters of child abuse. As written before in these pages, bill AB1775 inserts the following words into a subsection of California penal code, defining sexual exploitation of minors: “downloading, streaming, accessing, through any electronic or digital media”. The older language referred to photographic stills, slides, videos, among other things, and was of course anachronistic, but the definition of exploitation was confined to production and distribution, not mere “accessing”. Now the viewing of obscene material through anything electronic is conflated into a definition of exploitation, thus opening up several rabbit holes: notably relating to the prevalence of so-called “sexting” among teens, as well as the murkier issue of what constitutes exploitation in our society.

Not that the LA Times fully explored all of these angles–again, can’t remember everything. For example, the remarks attributed to LA district attorney Jackie Lacey (one of the defendants in a suit seeking injunction of AB1775), suggest that a child is abused and exploited each time an obscene image is viewed. Really? So, it’s not just the production and distribution of obscene material (BTW: also defined in the penal code) that constitutes exploitation, it’s also the consumption of the product. Interesting. What implications, you might wonder, does this have for an economy enamored of electronic and textile imports, many of which are manufactured and/or assembled in developing economies, by individuals, including children, who are subject to unfair, even inhumane labor practices; and living in extreme poverty as a result?

None, some will say, nonplussed by analogy, but still edging protectively towards their I-phones. I have one or two terms to describe these people: hypocrite is one. Selectively moralistic, is another. The conservative bias that ignores economic exploitation while frothing at the mouth at anything relating to sex fills me with contempt. It’s okay for kids to starve or not have access to healthcare or clean water, so long as they’re not having sex. That’s their blinkered, simpleton, corrupt point of view. “Well, that’s happening over there”, stammered one dissenter I spoke to, before adding, “it’s not our responsibility what’s happening overseas”. In other words, it’s okay to buy cheap products made overseas, produced on the back of indentured servitude. It’s not our problem, even though we benefit from the labor. “Okay,” I said, pulling back. Like a focused motivational interviewer, I choose to meet them where they’re at. “So, if an image of child porn comes from, say, Thailand or Russia, does that mean it doesn’t matter because it’s happening overseas?”

At such points in these debates, mental short circuits start happening. The subject, once simple and clear, has become muddied, complicated, and is implicating all. My dissenting listeners start to tremble and shake, feeling the defenses crumble. It’s too much, I think. They won’t remember everything, so I amend the focus, keep things closer to home, which is all that some people really care about, actually. “How about this: it’s estimated that a third of all current teens have consentingly ‘sexted’ at least once. Do you really want each of them reported to police, because that’s what this law calls for?” The person in question said she wanted both police and therapists involved in a discussion of “decency”: a worthwhile, if naïve answer. My rebuttal made things complicated once again–oh well: I indicated that a therapist who reports confidential material to police will almost certainly lose the trust of a teen patient. If the sexting teen is a girl she’ll likely receive a stern lecture from police, with feminist overtones about respecting herself and her body. A boy will receive a similar lecture, only with a tautological catch: he’ll be told to respect girls and their bodies also. Or, he may be referred to sex offender treatment through a provider who is certified by the California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB). I’ve been a CASOMB provider for a few years and I offer here that sex offender treatment is to psychotherapy what traffic school is to a college education. In this system, therapists operate under what’s called a “Containment Model”, wherein clients are subject to polygraph exam, and providers must report to probation or parole any ‘slips’ of behavior (as in recurrence of viewing of obscene material), which may then lead to probation or parole violation. This manner of therapy-with-a-stick is no one’s idea of sound or authentic care, but it will be the standard when anyone’s arrested via the new law.

I know. It’s too much. Some of you have stopped reading this, haven’t you?

My story, as I put it earlier, which fronted the LA Times article, concerned a man to whom I’d explained mandated reporting law as part of the informed consent process. His subsequently tentative suggestion of illegal porn use, followed by his withdrawal from therapy, was illustrative of the ‘hindering therapy’ problem, which the LA Times highlights. The other side might complain that the article was weighted in favor of those opposed to AB1775, but they’ve only themselves to blame. You’d think that if laws like AB1775 “help authorities prevent serious crimes from taking place”, then supporters would provide an anonymous example to support this claim, as I did with my counter. Believe me: journalist Stephen Ceasar was interested in a story, not just bombastic rhetoric. But supporters of the new law didn’t provide an example. They merely reiterated their empty pronouncements. Why? Because they don’t have examples, I think. They can no more illustrate that arresting porn users leads to arrest of porn producers than illustrate that arresting pot smokers leads to the arrest of drug lords.

So, why did AB1775 get written, or passed through the California legislature so easily? (78 yes votes to 0 no votes—and quickly rubber stamped by Governor Jerry Brown). Here’s why, in my opinion. A Southern California assembly woman, named Melissa Melendez, was looking to sponsor a bill that would simply score points with her conservative constituency. On her website she could (and she did) proclaim that she was “Cracking down on Child Porn”, knowing that voters would lap it up and not even require her to substantiate her claims. Her supporters are the type who will have co-signed similar impingements that comprised the Patriot Act in 2003; were they alive in 1942, they will have vociferously supported the internment of Japanese Americans, arguing that it could lead to the capture of saboteurs. It could work, they will have cried, like today’s AB1775 supporters. And they are the spiritual descendents of Wisconsin residents, who in 1946 were already sniffing for the next great evil of their time: holding up signs calling for the election of Joseph McCarthy to the United States Congress.

There. How’s that for remembering everything?


Graeme Daniels, MFT

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