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?