Tuesday, January 5, 2010


This continues my look at the California Sex Offender Management Board’s Report. The text is here.

Don’t forget the page-numbering system: the first number is the Adobe browser number and the second is the page number of the actual text.

Section 1 deals with the Prevalence of Sexual Assault and Services for Victims. The Executive Summary bullets several statistics. The first stat is that 1 out of every 6 US women and 1 out of every 33 US males have been the victims of completed or attempted sexual assault.

That’s a little fresh. Naturally, in this type of thing you always have to keep a wary eye on definitions: what is defined as ‘sexual assault’ for the purposes of compiling this statistic? This is especially true when you are reading stats that have strong ‘advocacy’ connections (and this Report is from a Board whose Chair and Vice-Chair are from victim-type volunteer advocacy organizations).

When you think of the term ‘sexual assault’ in terms of males … this assertion makes you wonder: are there actually that many males being raped or attempted to be raped in this country? Almost one out of every thirty-three? But of course, this simply makes more clear the too-little appreciated fact that ‘sexual assault’ is defined verrrry broadly; we’ve sort of gotten used to this when thinking of female victims and accept it now as part of the wallpaper of our modern American reality, but as soon as you imagine it applying to males in such huge proportions, it parts the ‘fog of advocacy stats’ (if I may).

And of course, this has implications for the consequences of such acts. If sexual assault is very broadly defined – to include one’s ‘package’ (or some female private part) being grabbed or touched, say for example, then just how disastrous are the consequences for a life over the long term? I am not saying that there are no consequences whatsoever; I am simply following up this statistic for its implications. Every human act that involves another human being has consequences, when you get right down to it. So too every criminal act; but perspective is necessary or else an exaggerated view of consequences will provide the ongoing emergency that justifies a police state (as I said in my recent Post on Carl Schmitt).

And 9 of every 10 sexual assaults are committed by persons known to the victim – which undermines the clearly misguided (but tactically useful) focus on ‘stranger-danger’ in the sex-offender mania.

And 67% of sexual assaults are against “juveniles” – and again definitions are vital here: the term is extensive enough to cover infants and graduating high-school football players and even military enlistees.

The Report continues on 11/5: “In studies of the victims of sexual assaults to date, the effects of victims have been described as profound”. As I said in the previous Post, this is a very elastic and complex area. Far too often, those ‘effects’ are primarily comprised of anecdotal victim self-reports; while they may be valid, they are hardly sufficient for diagnostic conclusions, and – human nature being what it is – their accuracy is highly open to further investigation (which so often is not done for fear of ‘re-victimizing’ the victim. You can’t get serious objective scientific research done this way.

Now it is certainly true that the younger or more fragile the victim, the more intense and extensive the possibility of damage, emotionally and psychologically. But we have to recall that scientific meta-study of a decade ago, that merely reported that in its comprehensive view of already-published research, nobody had been able to actually establish long-lasting harmful effects on the scale that the sex-offense movement presumes – and that for the first time in US history Congress responded directly and immediately by passing a Resolution condemning the Report and implying verrrrry clearly that any scientist who wanted to keep getting government funding for research had better not come up with any more such ‘results’. This disturbing event assumes an even more vivid hue when we recall the stunningly inaccurate quality of Congressional ‘Findings’ that have provided the pretext (not to say justification) for the entire matrix of sex-offender mania laws.

Further, the damaging consequences that the Report names – an increased likelihood for Major Depressive Episodes and attempts at suicide – are notoriously difficult to isolate as being caused by any single incident (although it is not impossible that such might happen). Large numbers of Americans are technically suffering from depression and undergo a Major Depressive Episode (although ‘Episode’ itself indicates a temporary condition).

And thus the Report’s immediate conclusion – that “The significance and scope of sexual assault is a major criminal justice issue with an impact on wider society” (11/5) – is demonstrably based on some sketchy ‘science’ indeed, and yet the conclusion is so sweeping and ominous in its scope, extending to a Public Health as well as Criminal Justice ‘emergency’.

Further, the Report quickly adds that “in light of the potentially deep and lasting impacts of a sexual assault, supportive services and resources for victims are essential”. So this bit of mushy science grounds not only the sex-offender mania but also the victim movement.

Further, the Report immediately adds that “victim service providers can assist with the development of offender supervision practices, community education plans, and other victim-responsive practices that can improve the effectiveness of public safety and management practices”. Again I note that this seems to be a victim-oriented approach, and not an offender-rehabilitation approach; which is what it is, surely, but is it really going to help get offenders rehabilitated.

And beyond that there is the queasy reality that – human nature being what it is – most victims and perhaps most of their victim-service providers (VSPs) are going to be more interested in punishment – revenge, even – than in offender rehabilitation and re-introduction into society. Surely this Report thus far seems to lean in that direction. Its concern, in its own words, is to valorize “victim-responsive practices”. So you wind up with a Regulatory-Preventive dynamic that bonds with a revenge dynamic, on top of the usual prosecutorial 'war' dynamic ... you see what sort of Storm is going to brew.

And just what useful input can VSPs have in the formulation of policies to manage – let alone rehabilitate – offenders? VSPs are not competent in the psychology of rehabilitation and therapy, not in the administrative complexities of public policy management. What do they bring to the table here? As I said, the likelihood is strong that their input will be in their own condition as victims and in ensuring that the offender is not treated ‘too gently’ or ‘let off too easily’, and they will set that bar very low, I imagine.

But again, this is a public Board and the politics of the whole thing have to be taken into consideration. Since the victim ‘constituency’ wants a place at the table, then the pols will provide it, if only to look good and – if I may – shut them up.

But I am hoping that the Board will still find its way – intentionally or otherwise – to some actually efficacious insights.

In its overview of the Pluses and Minuses of the current situation in California, the Board notes as a Minus “the lack of a statewide strategic plan for victim assistance resulting in inadequate planning for victim services and fragmented funding” and “a lack of funding for a victim advocate as part of the Vertical Prosecution team”. (Vertical Prosecution refers to the practice of assigning one prosecutor to handle a sex-offense case from beginning to end, rather than a bunch of different prosecutors taking bits and pieces of the case depending on who’s got a free slot in his/her court schedule.)

Again, this starts to sound like the Report is being used to make a case for more victim-advocacy funding rather than conducting a full and in-depth study of sex-offender treatment and post-release planning. Which from a bureaucratic point of view is a very common gambit, but it’s important to bring that little bit of reality to the surface.

In my next Post I’ll continue through the Sections of the Executive Summary.

No comments:

Post a Comment