Tag Archives: child abuse laws

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 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 tautological nature of decision-makers’ interventions. Decision-makers will blink in confusion because they won’t know what a tautology 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 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:

YOU ARE ALL…

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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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