Tag Archives: lawyers

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 problem of listening

 

“Thanks,” said the man in the bad shirt to his group. He kept a peripheral eye upon me, picking up my distaste in the air, my discrepant air. The process moved on, with my journeyman skills keeping things in order, neutral—not taking sides, not standing up for anything yet; not saying much of anything, even though talking’s easier than listening. Talking’s way easier, believe me. Storytelling: now that’s a cinch. Neutral is how I am, professionally and, now that I’m alone, also personally. Wanna know what listening looks like? It’s a stifled yawn pinching oxygen; a blank stare held together with tautened facial muscles, and a soft, metronomic nod providing faint reinforcement, possibly a tease, because maybe it’s a nothing, this service I give. Some really want it, and I’ve been like this for years: a cipher into which people deposit their brokenness, and then leave. Not much of a story here, you might think. If you’re a film producer, you’d say, “I’m not touching this, it can’t be done”, thinking this dull: unwatchable, or unreadable. Pornified eyes wouldn’t like it. But in the unlikely event that it hits big, is binge-read and wins awards I’ll gladly take the stage, drunk, saying “For twenty years people tried to write this script but everyone said it couldn’t be done. So and so tried it and failed. So did whatsisname, that other really famous guy.” That’s when I’d punch stuffy air; thank doting mom and rival dad, the wife and kid for their support, God for doing whatever he does, and say goodnight.

In group I became restless, started saying some things I shouldn’t have said, slipping from the listening stance: fighting with men as well as women. It’s what happens when people stop listening.

— a passage from Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole

Part of a polemic that runs through the novel: I set up a binary between notions of listening versus doing. Therapists don’t do anything. That’s the sometimes comic refrain that Daniel Pierce expresses, at times to punctuate a dramatic event. It’s not a popular image, this one of therapist neutrality, this sense that we sit back in our cozy offices, smugly observing pathology, remarking on it but not acting as agents of change. Not really. See, the task is to render it invisible…the change…so you won’t notice.

Not good enough, of course. For the general public, I mean: this traditional stance of not doing is not good enough.”I’M A DOER”. Isn’t someone scoring political points with this currently? When parents bring oppositional teens into therapy (as in Working Through Rehab), when wives call up and make appointments for their depressed husbands, when a couple presents for therapy needing help with a ‘crisis of communication’, and when people get out of line with respect to drugs, violence, and especially sex, people from officialdom call, asking for therapists to do something.

And so I chat the other day with an amiable lawyer, a good guy looking to represent his client and mine, someone who did something he shouldn’t have done, with a girl who was younger than she should be if doing what she was doing. But it was his fault. No argument there.It’s just that this lawyer wanted to know…what I was going to do. He knows what therapists do. He knows that we listen; that we don’t judge. But could I give him something, anything, live or in a letter, that he could share with a court and sound, ya know, convincing. He even voiced his suppositions, as if he’d hacked my association’s list-serve and scrolled through the typical ways therapists market themselves. Would I offer coping skills, he asked tentatively?  Teach ‘tools’ for affect regulation (actually, he didn’t ask that).

Empathy. Victim empathy.That’s what I offered. That plus the hope that what my client did he would not do again.

 

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