Fraternising with the enemy! Treachery! There, I’ve said it. It’s out there. Loud but not that proud and not yet that specific either, so I’d better spit it out properly.
Deep breath. Here goes. I HAVE BEEN NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS – although I’d better deny it immediately in case they send someone to have me beheaded. Deny, that is, that they are terrorists not that I have been in talks with them.
I refer, of course, to the fearsome international terror machine that is the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Well-funded, well-equipped, its tentacles stretching around the globe, this “association” has been responsible for untold suffering through its ruthless “treatment” of tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands, in its ideological heartland of Canada and worldwide. Specialising in coercion and mental torture, its “cognitive behavioural therapy” (CBT) methods used on captives have reached heights of sadistic sophistication the early Chinese pioneers of brainwashing could only dream about for their “re-education” programmes aimed at the enforced acceptance of communism.
So, you will be wondering, why would I be having anything to do with this evil force? Many of you know that I fell into the hands of forces loosely affiliated with ATSA in 2006-7. Did I succumb when I was held captive and subjected to CBT? Was I turned? Have I been cunningly embedded here on Heretic TOC as an undercover agent?
You will have to decide for yourselves on the basis of the evidence, which is essentially all of my published output since 2007, which we can notionally bundle together as Exhibit 1, with the Fragoso book review in my last blog separated out in its own tagged and sealed evidence bag as Exhibit 2. And now, as Exhibit 3, I offer an article of mine that appeared earlier this month in ATSA Forum – a secret (well, members only) strategy bulletin circulated online solely to around 4,000 elite cadres of the organisation’s ideological hierarchy: crucially, these include the brains who devise and refine the “treatment programmes” as well as the senior operatives in the field.
A defence lawyer might well argue for me that this article of mine has been planted as a Trojan Horse behind enemy lines: it seeks to humanise us heretics and hint in a subtly credible way that we are not their real enemy; thus psychologically, they may be disarmed.
So, what do I say without hiding behind a lawyer?
OK, time to drop the cloak and dagger stuff and tell you what the article is about. Copyright considerations, nothing more sinister, prevent me linking to the full text, though I hope I might get a release on that before too long.
The main aim of the 3,500-word piece is to criticise the style and content of sex offender treatment programmes in an obviously sober, careful, well-researched fashion, so that the professionals will actually take notice. The idea is that they will see a case for changing towards something that is genuinely more in society’s interests while also according much greater respect than at present to the dignity and human rights of those undergoing the courses.
It is an ambitious task but not necessarily an unrealistic one as there are reasons to believe the approach I have suggested would be far more efficient and cost-effective than standard CBT, which is massively time-consuming and often counterproductive.
To those who would say it is treacherous for a heretic to cooperate with the design and provision of any sort of programme aimed at changing the thinking of minor-attracted people, as though any such efforts amount to brainwashing, I would remind them that all education is aimed at changing our thinking (as indeed are newspaper opinion articles, conference speeches, etc.). In general we think education is a good thing. That is because we associate it not just with gaining knowledge but also with learning important skills such how to question assumptions and think for ourselves.
Thinking for ourselves is hardly what springs to mind, though, when we contemplate sex offender treatment programmes, especially when, as is often the case, they are coercively imposed on a literally captive audience in prison.
But this is my point: the courses need to be changed so that real thinking is truly encouraged rather than oppressively crushed as at present.
Whether society as a whole benefits from running offender courses is a separate issue. In principle the idea is surely sound. If an anger management programme helps someone learn to control his temper so he doesn’t beat up his wife and terrify his kids, isn’t that a good thing? The same goes for sex offending, which – let us not forget – includes violent rape and coercive child molestation. Just like adult-oriented heterosexuals, not all MAPs are well-behaved. Society, in other words, has a legitimate interest in persuading offenders to stop causing harm.
We can and should debate whether consensual MAP offences cause any harm, rather than just accepting the current authoritarian dogma that they do. Rest assured, this was an issue I addressed in my article.
Titled “What to do with the entrenched client: A paedophilic entrenched client’s view”, the piece began with a quote from an article in the academic literature:
…what do you do with the clients who are so entrenched and ‘anti’ everything? These are the clients who make our lives difficult, and who often cause us the greatest concern. Why are they so problematic?” (Wilson & Pake, 2010)
When I first saw that heartfelt plea, I thought “That’s me they’re talking about.” I had been just such a “client”, a member of the awkward squad undergoing sex offender treatment while released on licence in the second half of a 30-month sentence for distributing “indecent images of children”. They hated the fact that I asked too many questions and refused to swallow their simplistic assertions: the word “entrenched” was written into my official record.
What I now tried to get across in my article was that mainstream CBT might be OK for many offenders but not all. Troubled offenders, including those with problems such as drug addiction, depression, inability to hold down a job, etc., may readily accept that their lives need to change. In my experience they often actually welcome a firm, “no excuses” approach that forces them to face their “issues”.
But what works for these offenders can be less than useless for another group I dubbed The Dissidents – people like myself, who rail against the system, either openly or with a suppressed “silent scream” of protest. Many such offenders, I pointed out, are not only educated and astute; they may also have strong and well-grounded moral values – albeit at odds with majority opinion. I wrote:
Dissidents, as opposed to fundamentally antisocial troublemakers, respect evidence and argument. In dealing with them it is important that therapists engage in debate without worrying about having to win the argument. In the last analysis, the offender will be aware that the law is the law, and scoring points over the therapist is not going to change that. The therapist’s trump card will always be that maybe the law is not fair in all circumstances, but we must all live with it unless it is changed through the democratic process.
Instead of heavily didactic, simple messages that may be suitable for some – but not for the sincere and thoughtful Dissident – there is a need to introduce materials capable of prompting really deep discussion. These might include novels with a relevant theme written from a victim’s viewpoint, or even academic papers.
This is the point at which I gave as an example Tiger, Tiger, the memoir by Margaux Fragoso cited in my last blog Love is confoundedly complicated!
Continuing, I said that traditional CBT group therapy is set up so that participants quickly learn to self-censor in order to avoid dire consequences:
… It is a frustrating business because any attempt to string an argument together will be brusquely shut off… those seeking to curry favour with authority are often only too ready to gang up on the Dissident(s) in the group.
Enforcing resentful conformity is no way to encourage real and lasting change. The profession must have the courage to allow proper debate as to what actually causes harm to victims; including, harms caused to children by neglect, emotional abuse, violence, and chaotic dysfunction in the family. Those who read Fragoso’s memoir will find that she grew up in just such a dysfunctional, emotionally abusive family. Peter “rescued” her from it; albeit with some costs. But, if he had ever ended up in treatment no one would have wanted to know about that because such possibilities are a taboo. As long as this remains the case, therapists will lack credibility with offenders – especially the Dissident – who will continue to present intractable responsivity problems.
The more “credible” approach that I advocate would certainly be experienced as a valid debate, not a degrading insult to the intelligence such as the CBT brainwashing style seeks to impose. I am confident that, as such, it would be experienced not only as a more humane form of treatment but it would also help to reconcile the offender calmly to compliance with the law until such time as it can be reformed, rather than leaving him full of poisonous hatred towards “the system” and perhaps increasingly to society and humanity in general. This does not preclude protest and activism for change, far from it.
What truly appals me in all this, and what motivated me to write the article when the opportunity came along, is the nightmare situation faced by some of the most honest Dissidents when they are faced with indeterminate sentences from which they can be released only when they are deemed no longer to be “dangerous”. It is easy for glib liars. They can “pass” the courses with ease in Britain and elsewhere (though not perhaps the US where few escape “civil commitment”). All they need to do is say they agree with the authoritarian dogma, even if they do not believe a word of it. They don’t mind fudging the truth or telling outright whoppers.
But that strategy sticks in the throat of the sincere Dissident, who feels honour-bound to tell it like it is. By doing so, though, he guarantees that he will always “fail”: his candid difference of opinion with the authorities is deemed a thought-crime that guarantees his continued incarceration as a “dangerous” criminal. In the name of humanity and decency, we must reject this barbaric dogma.
It would be naïve as well as immodest to suppose one article is going to make a huge difference, but there has to be a start somewhere. I do believe, though, there is a chance the profession will listen: after all, as indicated in my quote from Wilson & Pake, above, the authorities are beginning to ask relevant questions; also, the sheer fact that a professional journal has been willing to carry an article under my own name from me as a known “heretic” – something unique so far as I can tell – suggests that opinion among the powers that be is not as steely and unwavering as might be supposed from the impression they so dispiritingly give in the therapy sessions.
Wilson, R.J. & Pake, D.R. (2010). Treatment readiness: Preparing sexual offenders for the process of change. In Herzog-Evans, M. (Ed.), Transnational criminology manual. Oisterwijk, Netherlands: Wolf Legal Publishing.
I have given only one reference above, to Wilson & Pake, as this is the only item to which I have referred directly. I might add, though, that some 17 references, from academic and offender sources, appeared with the ATSA article. Additionally, in order to do a thorough job of understanding all the relevant research on sex offender therapy, I found it necessary to read a number of textbooks and pushing up towards a hundred research articles.
As for getting the piece accepted, it took over two years and more drafts than I care to contemplate – with alterations required following criticism by some half dozen editors and reviewers at ATSA and Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, which is where a version of the article was first submitted. I make no complaint about this; and if people want to say my efforts are just a waste of time, or kowtowing, or Uncle Tom foolery, they won’t be raising any questions I have not asked myself. My fear is that they may be right; my hope is that they are not.