Tag Archives: Melissa Melendez

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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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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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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