Sunday, November 13, 2011

Child abuse: We’re making the problem worse

Original Article

Hey media, if you are talking about sex offenders in general, then please use general terms, if you are talking about pedophiles, then talk about pedophiles.  This article, and almost 99% of the ones we've read in the past, start off talking about sex offenders, but then starting making it sound like all sex offenders are child molesters, pedophiles, or predators, which they are not, and this is one of our biggest pet peeves.  Use the darn terms correctly, you are "experts," are you not?

11/13/2011

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Experts say America's approach to sex offenders only increases the likelihood that they will re-offend

The alleged Penn State sex abuse scandal may provide a powerful lesson about institutional corruption — but it’s also a good time for some self-examination. The general consensus among experts who treat sex offenders is that America has taken the wrong approach to dealing with child molesters. In fact, some say that we’re only making the problem worse.

Just last week, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse conference in Canada surveyed the latest research in the field. The narrative that emerged from the meeting is that we should place a stronger emphasis on something proved to actually reduce the recidivism rate: treatment. The potential for bias here is apparent — it’s like incarceration experts highlighting the importance of incarceration — but studies show that treatment, particularly group approaches, can be highly effective. (Although, as a 2009 report put it, “Despite these advances we, as a field, continue to fall well short of the community’s expectation of ‘no more victims.’”)
- But recidivism is already low.  Recidivism among ex-sex offenders is lower than any other criminal, but we don't have insane laws and regulations for those with higher recidivism rates!

Some experts, like clinical psychologist James Cantor, also take aim at the ways that we’ve made it more difficult for offenders to be rehabilitated and successfully re-enter society. We’ve also made it harder for offenders to voluntarily seek treatment. Cantor, a professor at the University of Toronto and editor in chief of the scientific journal “Sexual Abuse,” says we have a troublingly distorted view of where the greatest threat of abuse comes from — it isn’t from shadowy strangers, but from within children’s own homes.

I talked with Cantor, a bitingly funny, fast-talking 45-year-old, by phone about how intervention in the Penn State case might have changed things, why Canada’s sex offender laws have it right and how brain mapping might allow us to prevent pedophilia, period.
- And this reporter seems to think sex offenders are all pedophiles, which they are not.  True pedophiles (by definition and diagnosis) is probably around 2% or less of all sex offenders in this country.

This week, the Penn State case is getting a lot of attention. How might earlier intervention have changed things in a case like that?

For a lot of people, when they’re first confronted with how grossly inappropriate their behavior was, it’s almost like a slap of reality. Many grow up being kind of aware that they’re sexually attracted to children (You see, they are talking about sex offenders, but then make it seem as if all sex offenders are attracted to children!), but over time — because that’s where all of their psycho-social energy is pointed — they talk themselves out of the harm they could do to children. They talk themselves into believing that the rest of society underplays the amount of sexually based love that children have; they talk themselves into believing that there’s more equality in the relationship than there really is. It’s often only when they’re caught that they snap out of that, realize what they’re doing and often come willingly into treatment saying, “I really can’t do this on my own, I need help.”

If a pedophiles identifies having these desires and actually wants to prevent acting on them, can they just turn themselves in for treatment?

People used to come to clinics that I worked in — maybe not all the time, but also not infrequently — and say, “Doc, I got a problem.” But one of the early laws that was passed during the pedophilia hysteria of the 1980s (Day-care sex abuse hysteria, Satanic ritual abuse) was mandatory reporting. Before those days, if somebody came in seeking help, you could start therapy with them — but now, if there’s a kid in that guy’s environment anywhere, psychologists, psychiatrists and the rest of us are required to report that person. Of course, the thinking at the time was, “We have to catch the person to save the children,” but what really happens is it just stops people from seeking help in the first place. So instead of having people asking for help and getting it, we still have these people in the community — but they have no help whatsoever.

So, how effective is treatment in general?

There is a great variety in how much risk individuals pose. The predominant form of therapy is group therapy where we have many people in similar situations, and they can recognize in each other when they’re starting to fool themselves again and they hold each other accountable. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are psychopathic or have genuine anti-social personality disorder. They behave almost as if the part of the brain that handles empathy is damaged. These folks are the most dangerous and the least amenable to treatment.

The problem is that we try to make sex offender management one size fits all. A lot of laws require one blanket decision, rather than trying to allocate the most treatment to the people who need it the most. For example, very long incarceration is very expensive. Rather than creating a very long mandatory minimum sentence, which applies a most expensive technique to everybody, we should be saving that for the people that are least amenable to treatment and are at greatest risk of committing a new offense, and we should apply more treatment and supervision resources to everybody else.

It sounds like that’s the conclusion that came out of the recent Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse conference.

That issue probably more than any other is finally getting more airtime. Being up here in Canada brought the issue to greater light because it was an opportunity to compare the American system with the Canadian system, and to acknowledge that the latter is almost unanimously considered the more appropriate and more efficient way to go.

What does the Canadian system have so right?

The largest difference is that Canadian systems are much more consistent with what we know scientifically and epidemiologically about how forensic systems and criminology work. For example, it’s been very well determined that longer and longer and longer sentences don’t actually decrease crime rates. However, a common response in many different jurisdictions in the U.S. has been to increase and increase and increase the sentence length, even though we know that doesn’t help.

Another example is residency restrictions. There’s no evidence that preventing people from returning to whatever neighborhoods they came from actually works, and there’s some evidence that indirectly suggests that might actually make the problem worse. Essentially, these are communities that are trying to kick out every sex offender and to make the living situation so intolerable that the sex offender leaves. Well, “leaves” really just means “goes to another community” — and then another community, until finally the offender, who’s already served their time and been released after treatment, is driven underground and nobody can supervise them. So instead of having a person that the police know about and that the parole officers can check up on, we have people who we can’t supervise at all.
- But if a person has already served their time, why do we need to monitor them and know where they are at all times?  If he/she is on probation, then yes, they probably should be monitored, but once they are off probation/parole, they should be able to go and live anywhere they wish, and the mob needs to be stopped by police, since it's harassment.

So, although we have this gut reaction of punitive, punitive, punitive, we may be working backward and making it more difficult and more expensive to provide any kind of supervision.

When we talk about shifting the emphasis to treatment, what does that look like in terms of actual sentencing and length of incarceration?

The literature is complicated, but going through the system appears to be the major effect. Jail doesn’t seem to have a deterrent effect at all — of course, jail isn’t meant only to be a deterrent, it’s often meant to be pure punishment, retribution. But as a method for actually preventing future offenses, there is very little data suggesting that it’s effective. Instead, people appear to commit sexual offenses when they feel like they have nothing else to lose. These are generally people who know that they’re sexually attracted to children (once again, talking about sex offenders, then making it appear as if all are attracted to children!) and society, of course, is asking for them to live a completely abstinent life. But when they come to feel that they’ve been excluded from communities, banned from their own families, they can’t get a job, they can’t get a place to live, we create a situation where they have nothing left to lose.
- And this brings up another problem.  Jail/prison were, at one time, for rehabilitation, to help and treat people so they can become better citizens, now it's just a place to lock them up and forget about them for awhile, and when they come out, without any treatment, do you think they are going to be better off?

It isn’t a matter of, “We need 50 percent punishment and 50 percent treatment.” What we need is an overall response for in what types of cases do we need to engage in what kinds of interventions.

Do we know anything about how public registries affect offenders’ rehabilitation?

Essentially, they prevent the reintegration. There have been a series of follow-up studies that show that having open registries also fails to decrease recidivism. They also, as a side effect, create very, very difficult situations for the victim’s families. People often envision strangers who pull a kid from a park or a school playground, because of course that’s what appears in the media the most. But the predominant types of offenses actually happen within families. It’s often a step-parent and a step-child or an older sibling and a younger sibling. A side effect of having the registry public is that it actually makes public the entire family. So rather than the family being able to move past, heal, do whatever it needs, some of them feel victimized once again.

Moreover, if a parent discovers that one of their children is abusing one of their younger children, when there are very long sentences and very public labeling, it’s going to make parents think twice about calling the police and asking for help. So, though I more than appreciate the gut reaction that the public has, it’s very rarely the most scientifically sound reaction. This is one of those situations where we need to swallow our emotions and do our best to think rationally. It’s not just that the irrational arguments have no effect and are costing money, it’s that they’re also making the problem worse.

One criticism of the push to emphasize treatment is that the research is based on convictions rather than actually offenses, and that that distorts the actual, real world rate of repeat abuse. Is that a legitimate concern?

It’s a legitimate concern, in theory. We don’t know to what extent it’s true, because we’re talking about, by definition, offenses that we don’t know about. But it would be a mistake to say that everything we know based on the apprehended offenders is wrong, because very often we’re comparing a group that did go through treatment to a group that didn’t go through treatment. The idea that we’re not learning about all future offense is true, but that holds true for both groups. So it cancels out as a difference between the groups. There’s no reason to think one of these groups would be more underestimated than the other.

Is it true that thanks to brain mapping we might be able to one day identify pedophiles before they offend?

Yes and no. We’re quickly getting to the point technologically when that might be possible, but when we think about how we might apply that technology, we run into familiar problems. We can’t force a person into a brain scan any more than we can force them into psychological screening.
- Not yet anyway.  And I personally believe "brain mapping" is like the lie detector, it's junk science.

My greatest hope is that it tells us when in development pedophilia starts. So far, it suggests that whatever the chain of events, it starts before birth. If we can identify what happened and when it happens, then we might be able to prevent pedophilia from developing at all. It could be something like stress on the mother, some congenital factor, so my greatest hope is primary prevention.
- So you see, this entire article is not really about sex offenders in general, from what I read, it's about pedophiles, and there is a big difference.  So these folks might start off by using the terms correctly, and stop putting all sex offenders into the pedophile, predator group.

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter. More Tracy Clark-Flory


PA - Upper Dublin repeals sexual predator residency restrictions

Original Article

11/13/2011

By Thomas Celona

The Upper Dublin Board of Commissioners reluctantly repealed an ordinance placing residency restrictions on registered sexual predators at its Nov. 10 meeting.

The board voted to repeal the restrictions it had placed on the books due to court rulings that deemed them unconstitutional.

The commissioners created an ordinance in April 2007 that forbid a sexually violent predator — a person convicted of a sexually violent offense and deemed likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses — from residing within 2,000 feet of a K-12 school, according to Gazette archives.

"The board had worked hard to create that sexual predator ordinance several years ago," board President Robert Pesavento said. "However, there has been court action at the state Supreme Court that invalidated a very similar law."

Alan Flenner, of the High Swartz LLP, who was filling in for township Solicitor Gil High, said a federal court had said there was a problem with how the law was being enacted and turned it over to the state Supreme Court for action.

The state Supreme Court subsequently ruled the practice of local governments restricting housing for sexual predators is unconstitutional, High told the board at its Oct. 11 meeting, when the commissioner first considered repealing the ordinance. The ruling specifically voided an ordinance in Allegheny County similar to the one in Upper Dublin.

The suggestion to repeal the ordinance came from township's insurance company since having it on the books presents a financial liability.

Pesavento said if the board were to keep the ordinance after being told by township staff it was unconstitutional, the commissioners could be individually sued and would not be covered by township insurance.

"This repeal of this ordinance is entered into reluctantly, but I don't believe, nor do I believe any of the other commissioners believe, we have any other choice," board Vice President Ira Tackel said.

The ordinance was repealed by a 6-0 vote. Commissioner Chet Derr was absent. Continued...


OH - Complying with Walsh Act costs Ohio $10 million

Original Article

11/13/2011

By Matthew Mangino

Four years ago, Ohio became the first state to comply with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (AWA) which mandated a more comprehensive, nationwide system to track sex offenders. The intent of the AWA was to standardize sex offender laws across the country (And yet it hasn't happened, nor will it ever). The AWA established minimum national standards and provided some consistency with regard to sex offender legislation.

The AWA gave states five years to bring their laws into conformity with the new federal guidelines. The federal government had some leverage when it came to convincing state legislatures to comply. Every state was mandated to comply with the public registry provisions of the AWA or lose 10 percent of their allotted Byrne Justice Assistance law enforcement grants (Basically extortion).

The deadline was extended twice, first to July 2010 then to July 27, 2011. Have state lawmakers crumbled in the face of federal cuts, not exactly. Only Ohio and 13 other states met the deadline.

10 percent penalty

According to the Harrisburg Patriot News, New York and Texas have informed the Department of Justice that their respective states will not comply with the AWA and will voluntarily submit to the10 percent penalty.
- Good, these are smarter than average states.

Texas called the AWA “one-size-fits-all” legislation that would cost 30 times the amount of federal funds that will be withheld if the state does not comply. Texas has estimated the federal funding penalty at $1.4 million, compared to an implementation cost of $38.7 million.

In California, the state’s sex-offender management board recommended that the legislature reject the AWA. “California should absorb the comparatively small loss of federal funds that would result from not accepting the very costly and ill-advised changes to state law and policy required by the Act.”

A National Conference of State Legislatures’ database revealed that 48 states have enacted nearly 350 laws related to residency restrictions, sentencing and monitoring sex offenders since 2008.
- And yet the registry or the residency laws do anything to prevent crime or protect anybody.

The AWA mandate seeks to undo most of the independent sex offender legislation. The AWA will expand the categories of crimes eligible for registration and increase the period and frequency of registration for certain adults and juveniles, effectively growing registries by as much 500% in some states, reported CNN.

This summer an Ohio Supreme Court decision exposed the vulnerability of the more onerous requirement of the AWA. For the second time the Court found a portion of the AWA mandated legislation unconstitutional.

In State v. Williams (PDF), the Ohio Supreme Court held, “All sexual predators and most habitual sex offenders are expected, for the remainder of their lives, to register their residences and their employment with local sheriffs. Moreover, this information will be accessible to all. The stigma attached to sex offenders is significant, and the potential exists for ostracism and harassment.” Justice Paul E. Pfeiffer went on to write, “These restraints on liberty are the consequences of specific criminal convictions and should be recognized as part of the punishment that is imposed as a result of the offender’s actions.”

Retroactive laws

Justice Pfeiffer continued, “The General Assembly has the authority, indeed the obligation, to protect the public from sex offenders. It may not, however, consistent with the Ohio Constitution, ‘impose new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities ...’ We conclude ... S.B. 10 (PDF), violates Section 28, Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from enacting retroactive laws.”

As the first state to comply with the AWA, Ohio’s problems with constitutionality are an ominous sign for other states. Amy Borror (Video 1, 2), spokeswoman for the Ohio Public Defenders Office, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that complying with the AWA spawned more than 7,000 lawsuits and increased the workload on sheriff’s offices by about 60 percent. Her office estimates that Ohio has spent at least $10 million just on legal costs defending the AWA.

If Ohio had chosen not to comply with AWA, the state would have lost about $935,000 in federal grant money.

Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County. You can read his blog, The Cautionary Instruction, every Friday at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette legal page Ipso Facto. You can contact him at www.mattmangino.com).


GA - Georgia drops hundreds from sex registry

Original Article

11/13/2011

By Joy Lukachick

Hundreds more sex offenders have been allowed to remove their names from Georgia's registry since the state's law was relaxed more than a year ago.

More than 800 names have been taken off the registry since July 2010 when state laws were amended to give sex offenders who were convicted of crimes that are now considered misdemeanors a chance to clear their names. Nearly 300 were removed as a direct result of changes to the law.

But the new law also makes it easier for offenders who committed felonies such as child molestation and rape to disappear from the public eye if they meet the state's lengthy qualifications and get a judge's approval.

Once removed from the registry, offenders also could be freed from restrictions on where they can live, work or volunteer.

Georgia's sex offender registry law -- once considered one of the nation's toughest -- was challenged by civil liberties groups and critics claiming it was unconstitutional. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, led the effort that resulted in last year's changes.

From 2007 to 2009, an average of 510 sex offenders per year had removed their names from the state's registry, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Allowable reasons for removal included death, deportation or being a first-time offender who had completed probation and all other state requirements and gone an additional 10 years without another offense.

But since the law changed, the names of 819 sex offenders have been removed from the list. Their names no longer can be found in the state's registry that anyone can access online to locate offenders.
- This is just confusing as hell.  She says 800, then 300, now 819.  So which is it?

This gives sex offenders considered to be low or no risk to society a chance at a more normal life and removes their stigma, advocacy groups and some authorities say.

But others worry that these offenders will commit another sexual crime.
- Well, their personal opinions and facts are not the same.  The facts are that most do not re-offend, despite the lies they, the media and others have said over the years, and we have many studies to back that up, if you care to look at them.

"It's kind of like a judge granting a bond," said Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Kermit McManus. "There is a calculated risk."
- No, it's like once a person has completed their time, they can get on with their lives, that is what it's like.

MANY TO MONITOR

More than 20,000 sex offenders are registered in Georgia.

Within each county, the sheriff's office is responsible for monitoring where each offender lives and whether he or she is following the state's guidelines.

Of that 20,000, only 244 offenders are considered violent sexual predators required to wear a monitor for life, GBI statistics show. The rest of the offenders are considered a low or moderate risk or have never been assessed and assigned a risk level, officials say.
- Well, based on the information they have online, in the SOR.CSV that you can download, which we've been keeping track of for over a year now, on 11/02/2011 there were 251 predators, which is 1.22% of the over-all sex offender population, and you can see from the online spreadsheet we have, about 98% of them are not considered dangerous.

"That's a lot of people for the sheriff's office [to monitor]," said Tracy Alvord, executive director of Georgia's Sex Offender Registration Review Board. "They need to be spending time on violent offenders."
- Which is about 1.22% instead of 100%, and makes more sense.

That's where the changes to the law kick in, Alvord said.

According to the Georgia Code, sex offenders who qualify to have their cases reviewed and their names possibly removed from the registry now include:
- There is more to it that is mentioned below, so click the above link for the actual info.  Don't ever trust a reporter or police officer at face value, look it up yourself.

  • Those at low risk to repeat an offense. The risk assessment takes into consideration the offender's age and how many years have elapsed since he committed the crime.
  • Those convicted of a kidnapping that wasn't sexual in nature;
  • Those who fall under the state's "Romeo & Juliet" clause for statutory rape. If the victim is between 14 and 16 and the convicted person is 18 or younger and no more than four years older than the victim, then the crime is considered a misdemeanor.
  • The disabled;
  • A person sentenced for a crime that became punishable as a misdemeanor on or after July 1, 2006.

Other requirements within these categories are lengthy and range from completing parole and probation to making sure the offender didn't use a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime.

But in the end the decision lies with the judge.

The state doesn't have control over who is stricken from the registry, said GBI spokesman John Bankhead. If the review board decides a person is a low risk, the Superior Court judge in the circuit the person was convicted in hears the case and makes a decision.

So far, judges across Georgia have released 136 offenders from the list, while 160 were removed automatically because they no longer were required to register based on the new law.

NOT A SIMPLE PROCESS

The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a federal class-action suit against the state five years ago seeking improvements to its sex offender laws.

Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the advocacy group, said last year's changes improved their fairness, particularly where misdemeanor offenders are concerned.

While the advocacy group represents only clients seeking to get off the registry in extreme cases, Geraghty said it gets calls daily from people interested in getting their names removed from the list.

Page Pate, an Atlanta-based defense attorney, said his experience is similar.

So far he has represented only half a dozen clients on the registry because the offender first must meet the state's lengthy requirements to file a petition. But Pate said he won the two cases that have been heard by a judge.

"As you might expect, the less egregious [the crime] the more likely they will get approved," he said.

Because the law is so new, judges don't have a precedent to consider, he said. Plus, it's not a good political move if a judge lets an offender off the list and the offender commits another sexual crime.
- So basically, not many are ever going to come off, because of the mass hysteria that has been spread.

Officials say financial problems and the fear of going before a court again could be other factors that have kept more offenders from trying to have their names removed.

Since the law changed, officials of Catoosa and Walker Superior Courts say they haven't received any petitions from sex offenders, while Whitfield County has received only a handful of requests.
- If you live in this state, and you are a sex offender, you should consider contacting a lawyer and petition the court to get off the list, if your situation matches what is mentioned in the 42-1-12 law.  Don't just sit there and accept the label for life, do something about it.

"It's not a simple process," Alvord said. "To a lot of people, it's intimidating."

Even with all of the precautions in place, any decision to remove an offender from state oversight carries an element of risk, officials said.
- So does almost everything else!

Prosecutors are limited in what they can argue in court when someone petitions to have his name removed, McManus said. They must determine if the person meets all the requirements, but they can't predict with any certainty whether that person will commit another crime.

"You don't know what they're going to do," he said. "We have to trust [the court's] judgment and hope they're right."
- Yeah, imagine that.