Sunday, March 28, 2010


The always-worthwhile Sex Offender Research site has an interesting piece entitled “Sex offenders share lack of empathy” dated 3/27/10.

The subtitle says “experts say refusal to acknowledge crime increases chance of new offense”.

The point that concerns me is that there seems to be no distinction between A) an accused (or convicted) SO who says “I didn’t commit the crime” and B) an SO who says “I did commit the act but I refuse to acknowledge that it is criminal or harmful to the person against whom I committed the act”.

SO (A) may well be a person who is maintaining his innocence in the face of an unjust conviction or – let’s admit it – a person who is maintaining that stance for the purposes of further court appeals. Every Citizen has that right. And heaven well knoweth that miscarriages of justice and wrong convictions happen with far more frequency than most folks would like to realize. Such as in times of Mania.

SO (B) is the therapeutically ‘remarkable’ person here. He refuses to admit that what he did was harmful. Or perhaps refuses to realize or acknowledge that – clearly harmful or not – his unwanted sexual activity violated the rights of another human being not to be used as an ‘object’ of his own sexual plans, needs, fantasies, or what-have-you.

Clearly, a person (SO B) who is not aware – or refuses to become aware – that his actions are illegal and harmful and in any case violative of the rights of another human being is not going to be reliably disposed toward not repeating such acts again.

Equally clearly, a person (SO A) who maintains that he did not commit the act is not denying the illegality or harmfulness of an act, nor is he necessarily denying the rights of other human beings not to be dragooned into satisfying one’s own sexual fantasies or needs.

It would take a substantial amount of further careful proving and thinking to assert that SO A is indisputably or even ‘probably’ predisposed to repeating his act (since he asserts that he did not commit the act in the first place).

I would make the further point that the ‘experts’ here are on very shaky factual ground when they assert that “when they commit their crime nearly all sex offenders are aware that what they are doing is illegal and harmful to their victim”.

This may well be true if you are talking about rapists and attempted rapists (since rape and the attempt at it has always been a crime). But once you get into the monstrously elastic ‘definitions’ such as ‘sexual assault’ and ‘molesting’, then you are in much more mushy terrain, swampy even.

And this problem is exponentially intensified when you realize that many ‘acts’ that are not overtly ‘sexual’ can now rather easily be imputed to have a ‘sexual motive’, such that an individual – perhaps even an observer – might not even consider them to be matter for ‘sex offense’ concern.

These are the swamps into which sweeping and ill-considered, ill-thought-out SO regimes can drag everybody, and the integrity and efficacy of the legal system and the legislative system as well.

And matters don’t get any better when ‘experts’ – who theoretically have the professional and scientific education and training to know better – allow themselves to make indiscriminate and overbroad assertions, either to ‘keep the numbers up’ or to avoid appearing ‘soft’ and thus losing governmental support and funding. This is also in its way a version of the old and somewhat unsavory union maxim: ‘don’t kill the job’ (i.e., don’t work so hard and fast that you finish the job too soon, which will end payments and raise other customers’ expectations).

Further, somebody in the position of SO A is not going to be accepted into any ‘therapy’ (assuming that his prison has any) until he final ‘admits and takes responsibility for his crime(s)’. Which is a neat little way of extending the confinement (or civil confinement after his court-sentence is completed) of any SO who maintains his innocence.

While I do not at all deny that there are individuals – the article refers to a particular sexual murderer at one point – whose ‘denial’ may indeed indicate ‘refusal to accept responsibility’ for a clearly heinous act, there are – I’m going to say – not very many of this type of subject in the general pool of SOs that a clinician would treat (unless, of course, that clinician was employed to work solely or exclusively with SOs convicted of the most heinous crimes).

And among such a type of offender, the refusal or the inability to voice remorse indicates a type well known to clinical work, the type that used to be called a “sociopath”. This term denoted a person who simply had no sense of – or concern for – the effects of his words or actions on other human beings with whom he came into contact.

But such “sociopathy” is present in many of the population – and not simply criminals (bank-robbers, identity-thieves, reckless drivers, say for example – or even politicians). Indeed in some careers, including ‘business’ and ‘entrepreneurial’ ventures, such an attitude (consciously intended or not) is considered a positive career advantage and an essential component of achieving ‘success’.

When such persons have committed a heinous act and refuse to accept (or are incapable of accepting) that what they have done is wrong and harmful, then such an individual may indeed be “beyond rehabilitation”. BUT EVEN THEN this clinical conclusion means only that ‘until this person is able or willing to accept responsibility there is nothing more that the present state of clinical practice can do toward rehabilitation’.

And who knows with any individual human being, how things may work out?

The ‘expert’ focus on ‘empathy’ is a particular reflection of feminist influence over the past few decades. And it’s not a bad one, in itself.

Myself, I lean first toward ‘respect for others’. Given that so many males are leery of ‘feelings’ at all, you may be creating an extra (and significant) level of difficulty for the therapeutic plan by getting a patient already unfamiliar with or averse to ‘feelings’ to not only ‘get into his feelings’ but then take on the already tough task of developing ‘empathy’.

Whereas, building on the much more ‘male’ appeal to ‘man up’ and ‘take responsibility’ – even to take responsibility for protecting society from one’s own disrespectful tendencies’ – you might get a lot further with a lot less complication.

This approach seems to have lost ground over the past decades as the more female-oriented ‘feelings’ approach dictated the push for ‘empathy’. It didn’t help that in a number of other ways the concept of ‘responsibility’ was repugnant to or at least incompatible with the general trajectory of feminist-oriented changes sought in the national culture.

I can’t help noting that the focus on ‘feelings’ rather than ‘responsibility’ immediately put males at a disadvantage from the get-go, which from a political point of view must have seemed one of its hidden advantages.

But patients/inmates who have committed such heinous acts as the sexual-murderer mentioned above are not so numerous as one might be led to believe.

And, of course, the numerous – verrrry numerous – population of ‘legal sociopaths’ may be equally deficient in empathy and a sense of responsibility to respect others.

I suppose that a criminalization of ‘lack of empathy’ (or ‘lack of respect’) to the point where approaches proper to the therapeutic forum are introduced into the criminal-law and forensic forum is going to fuel an ever-intensifying melding of the therapeutic and the forensic. And this will pave the way – as has already been seen in the SO Mania and its legislation – for grave Constitutional corrosion as the Regulatory-Preventive Nanny State continues to expand and intensify its intrusions.

Indeed, as the article to which this Post is linked reports, there is talk of “one-strike” SO laws – no doubt either as ‘the next logical step’ or as ‘required by the emergency’.

But even the State’s officials and other experts are leery of that – as well they should be.

Respect for the rights of other Citizens is something the whole country could use a lot more of.

I’ll go further and say that some decades ago the loud and almost arrogant disdain for Citizens who ‘just don’t get it’ started a stunning corrosion in common public respect – for other Citizens as well as for their rights and for the common national public heritage and tradition.

Perhaps there are now wayyyy too many ‘publiopaths’ loose on the streets, persons who have insufficient respect for the complexities and dignity of Our common weal. And many of them who not only deny their ‘publiopathy’ but also refuse to acknowledge the damage it – and they – have caused.

There’s a thought.

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