Tag Archives: child porn

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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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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Statement To The Recruits

In a recent statement to the membership of the California Marriage and Family Therapist Association (CAMFT), association lead counsel Cathy Atkins issued guidelines for members regarding the controversial new law AB1775. It’s an interesting report featuring answers to questions posed by members, numerous interpretations of intent, none of them explicated in the Penal code, but leaving therapists and other mandated reporters (not to mention our clients) still wading in ambiguous waters.

* Firstly, it’s good to read a (sort of) acknowledgement that AB1775 is much more than a legal addendum designed to keep us all in touch with advancing technology. It is in effect a re-definition of sexual exploitation, to include the viewing of child porn (CP) alongside a pre-existing definition that was previously  confined to its production and distribution.
*Cathy’s guidelines addresses what I’ve called the conflation of child porn viewing into a definition of sexual exploitation by pointing out that the words “downloading” and “accessing” could be interpreted as meaning the exchanging of files, and so the additional language is designed to reinforce the original Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act ( CANRA) laws. She suggests that police will not investigate the mere “downloading” or “streaming” of child porn, and implies that law enforcement will take into account a therapist’s opinion as to whether CP use is “stumbled upon”, whether there are  “factors to be weighed” (such as a spouse’s contrary characterization of CP use), or whether CP use will lead to direct harm of a child. In short, she suggests that therapists will have discretion  in their reporting and that social services/police will take into account our opinions about our clients, but warns that said discretion will not protect us from liability, or even prosecution.
*Hmm? Do we accept this explanation? I’m dubious, obviously. Firstly, I think it likely that police will think that therapists who dispute potential direct harm to children are merely advocating for their clients; that police will not think the viewing of porn is “accidental” simply because we think it is (and wouldn’t such reports be a nuisance?); that police will think the viewing entails (or has entailed) exchanging by virtue of the aforementioned technological advances/nuances related to the internet, and will thus have a pretext for investigation, plus the ensuing legal fall-out, leading to disruption of existing therapeutic episodes, not to mention child abuse prevention efforts,  via the hegemony of the CASOMB system (an issue not referenced by Cathy), as I have described in previous messages to the CAMFT e-tree. So much for therapist discretion, I think.
*Also, I think police are likely to agree with the 2012 US attorney general’s opinion that viewing CP alone does indeed constitute exploitation because the viewer is judged to be aware of the abuse depicted in the CP. And since a therapist becomes aware through client disclosure, then that knowledge of the abuse in turn triggers the obligation to report. The logic here is as follows: we are witness to someone who has witnessed abuse, and because we don’t know the victim we report the witness. Next, Cathy warns that if a therapist is aware that a client has accessed pornography, fails to report that use, and the client later abuses a child, then the therapist may be held criminally responsible for the failed report of possession (or viewing, I guess). BTW: unless a solid correlation exists between use of pornography and direct contact child abuse, then this argument validates the use of prejudice as tantamount to reasonable suspicion–another form of conflation. Otherwise, we should be making Tarasoff reports (pertaining to reports of threats made against others) if our clients report owning copies of American Psycho. More topically, perhaps, are we to infer risk to others if clients are enamored with 50 Shades Of Grey? This law, or the interpretation of it,  thus strikes at the heart of the “imminent risk” principle of exception (of when to break confidentiality), so central to an understanding of the original CANRA laws. Oblivious, AB1775 supporters promote an inference (which belies current research, actually): that viewing of porn will lead to child abuse, or might; and that “might” is sufficient to trigger a process that will leave those tentatively disclosing clients wondering what, if anything, they will ever again share with a therapist.
* So it seems like glibness to assuage members that all will be worked out, and that AB1775 “does not affect the standard of intent of the CANRA statute” . We are not investigators, Cathy reminds us. But we are encouraged to do due diligence to protect children which, as the tautological thinking unfolds, invariably connects the viewing of porn with actual harm to a child. The bill’s author, Melissa Melendez, and others, want police making the distinctions between the accidental users, the regular users, and those relative few who will use CP and also directly harm children. Not the lawyers at CAMFT. Not the researchers. Not any mental health professionals. Not us.
We are the recruited.

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New Changes to Child Abuse Reporting Law

Graeme Daniels, MFT 

            In August of 2014, the California legislature passed bill AB1775, which stipulates important changes to the Child Abuse Reporting Act, and was apparently sanctioned by CAMFT(and conveyed to CAMFT membership the same month), despite objections by the National Association of Social Workers, which reasonably argues that AB1775 will stymie therapeutic disclosures and hamper child abuse prevention efforts. This law went into effect on January 1st of 2015. Ostensibly, AB1775 calls for all mandated reporters to report instances of child pornography to authorities, social services or police. Legislative author and state assembly woman Melissa Melendez, who authored the bill (it was actually written by lawyers for CAMFT–The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists in concert with law enforcement and child advocacy groups), pledges to crack down on child pornography, though the impact of the law is likely more far reaching.

To explain: pre-existing law dating back to 1980 (the once Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, or CANRA law) stipulates that mandated reporters alert authorities to sexual exploitation, material that depicts minors engaging in obscene sexual conduct, through the mediums of film, videotape, negative or slide. The language of AB1775 is updated as followed: “sexual exploitation includes downloading, streaming, or accessing through any electronic or digital media, material in which a child is engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct.” Meanwhile, Penal code 11165, subsection 311.4 defines obscene sexual conduct as, among other things, “exhibition of the genitals for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer”, as well as lewd and lascivious acts, which are further defined in subsection  288.2 as that which depicts touching intimate parts of the body, including “buttocks of a person and the breasts of a female” (subdivision d). The law further removes the need to observe an “identifiable victim”, as is typically required by social service investigators. Thus, the idea is not to protect victims per se, but rather to capture those who view obscene material, and engage therapists as informants. **But if you work with adolescents in particular, note the word minor (meaning under age 18), the reference to “electronic or digital media” (i.e.: cell phones and computers), and the language of the penal codes, and understand why sexting, for example, is now reportable under the law.

Of course, the issue is bigger than that. A person who discloses to you that he or she looks at teen or preteen pornography, who is perhaps seeking help, afraid they might hurt minors more directly, must be reported to Child and Family Services, who will likely defer to law enforcement investigation due to lack of identifiable victims. As an experienced sex addiction/offender therapist, let me describe the likely fallout: arrest, incarceration, loss of job, estrangement from peers, family, possibly lifelong registry on a public sex offender list. Next, because sex offender treatment is under the exclusive authority of The California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB), which certifies providers, YOU WILL LOSE CLIENTS that you report if you’re not certified. Finally, for those who recall the CAMFT Bylaws debacle of 2013, observe that once again CAMFT has co-signed an initiative that will bind its vast membership without actively engaging that membership in the process. Don’t be taken for granted! Discover research by Dr. Karl Hanson, whose work distinguishes child pornography users from child predators (versus conflating them), become educated as to the implications of this short-sighted legislation, and learn through the website, www.stopAB1775.org, how we can block it.

Graeme Daniels, MFT

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