Evil, Therapy, and Repentence

April 1, 2004 | 30 comments
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I have spent the last week or so working on a child sex abuse case at work. As a result, I have been reading a large number of judicial cases describing various forms of sexual abuse of children.

As I read these cases I can’t help but imagine how I would feel if my son were the victim of one of these people. My dominant response, I think, would be a desire to see the person punished. I would want justice, retribution, and vengence. I can quite easily imagine myself enjoying the thought that the abuser of my child was living a miserable existence in some prison.

There are, of course, two other responses to this. We could say that I ought to wish for the abusers repetence and redemption. The other response is to say that we ought to treat the abuser and come up with some regime of therapy that will “cure” him of what ever accounts for the urges and desires that motivated his crime.

I am wondering to what extent we can properly “medicalize” sin in order to treat it as a thereputic problem and to what extent this way of thinking and acting is inconsistent with the ideal of justice and repentence. At times we “solve” this problem by blurring things. We simply equate justice with vengence and dismiss it as an unworthy desire. We then blur repetence with therapy using pop-psychology, e.g. the atonment is a way of restoring self-esteem. At the same time, there is obviously something deeply WRONG with the people in the cases that I have been reading. They are not “normal,” and in a more reflective moment it does not seem beyond the realm of possibility that there is some miracle drug or regime of therapy that could make them less dangerous.

I am interested in what people might have to say about this, however, I hope that no one will try to turn this into yet another thread (yawn) on homosexuality.

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30 Responses to Evil, Therapy, and Repentence

  1. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 12:00 pm

    The problem with pedophilia is that therapy usually doesn’t work. There have been studies showing the medication that represses ANY sexual feelings does work. As does castration. However, we have not yet formulated a process of forcing meds on people and there are certainly not laws in place to force sterilization. The problem then lies in the fact that yo have removed agency completely. Not that I would think that’s a bad thing for these people. Recidivism is so high among pedophiles that only real answer is to keep them locked up and away from society.

  2. Bob Caswell on April 1, 2004 at 12:21 pm

    “…there is obviously something deeply WRONG with the people in the cases that I have been reading. They are not ‘normal’…”

    My first inclination is to be semi-cold-hearted, enforce justice, and let God “fix” them later. But again, that’s just my first inclination…

  3. wendy on April 1, 2004 at 12:24 pm

    My husband spent a year working in a residential treatment facility for adolescent sex offenders, where kids were sent in lieu of prison. Why does a 13 year old boy start molesting the younger boys in the neighborhood? Because he was one of those younger neighborhood boys being molested a few years earlier. Most of the boys came from crazy screwed up homes where they were abused and unloved. If your son were “a victim of one of these people”, you’d probably get him some intense, serious help pretty quickly so his confused sexual feelings didn’t take him in some messed up directions. A sexually abused boy who isn’t lucky enough to be the son of supportive, conscientious parents can become an abuser pretty quickly. Should we punish such kids, treat them, or both? My husband said that around 30% of the kids who completed the program went on to re-offend. Continue to treat them after that, or lock them up forever? Should they have been released in the first place? I don’t have any answers, this is just something I have thought a lot about. Probably 100% of those kids wouldn’t be sexually attracted to younger kids if they’d been born to nice Mormon families and had never been abused. Start early on a kid and you can do a lot of damage. I wondered a lot what God’s “plan” was for some of those kids. What would he have us do with them?

  4. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    The best thing you can teach a child is to talk. Don’t let anyone tell you not to tell your parents anything. Another important fact is sometimes children of abuse live in dire circumstances. The family may already be dysfunctional. A child may not want to add to the chaos by telling, they live with it suffering in silence. It is unfortunate when this happens. A child can carry a burden like this for a long time before feeling safe enough to tell anyone. And then it usually is not a family member.

    And unforutnately, the perp is usually a family close friend or even worse a family member.

    I’m with Bob. Lock them up and let them deal with FIH.

  5. Kaimi on April 1, 2004 at 12:34 pm

    Wendy,

    You wrote, “Probably 100% of those kids wouldn’t be sexually attracted to younger kids if they’d been born to nice Mormon families and had never been abused”.

    Are you serious? There is a _lot_ of abuse that goes on in “nice Mormon families” that never gets to anyone, and gets swept under the rug because those families want to continue to look like the perfect Mormon family. Particularly abuse of girls. Or, you have a bishop who _knows_ about a person with serious sex offense problems, but encourages victims not to involve the law, and tells the offender to pray for forgiveness — and then the person abuses again.

  6. Reader on April 1, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    But Cooper, what if the offender is the sibling of the victim? Nate talks about the feelings he would have if this happened to his child? But what if one of his own children abused one of his other childern (regardless of genders)? How does a parent deal with it then? What should the parent do to help both children?

  7. Charles on April 1, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    I’m a firm believer that criminal justice should do three things. Punish the offender, Deter other offenses, and work to rehabilitate the offender.

    In cases where the offender can be rehabilitated the best effort should be made. But that person should also be fully aware that they owe it to society and thier victim to be punished. Prison should not be a vacation from your responsibilities to society but a place to learn and hone them. Once time is served and the person ready, reintegrate them with the understanding that repeat offenses will carry dire consequences.

    It might be a bit extreme but I say for people like this, put them away permanently.

  8. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Kaimi, that better not ever happen. Church authorities have been advised that whenever child sexual abuse has happened they must report it to the police. It is never to be swept under the rug. If it is, the church is then responsible for the actions of that bishop. This has happened in the past and the church has now adopted a much greater stance on bringing in proper legal channels.

    I do agree with you one the “nice Mormon family” thing. We are a microcosm of the world. We have all the good and all the bad.

  9. Joseph N on April 1, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    Mat 18:6

    “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    The millstone drowning would be considered cruel and/or unusual, but the principle I draw from this is that it is better to prevent pedophiles from repeat offenses by punishing the first offense strictly. Personally, I would see a life sentance minimum for adult offenders. (By the way, I am not a lawyer. One of a growing minority here :P)

  10. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 12:53 pm

    Reader, if the abuser is a sibling. Find out where it began. Everyone in the family will be in therapy. I don’t think that Nate is expressly speaking about in-sibling abuse. I think what Nate has been reading and seeing is recurrent pedophilia. Nate could probably illuminate us on what type of offender he is talking about.

    Wendy is right when she states that most abusers have been abused as children. That’s why my stance on talking about abuse to your children They must know that anytime someone says not to tell it is wrong.

    Child victims of abuse must be given therapy. They need to know that there are appropriate times for sexual activity. This is what happens: a child is abused, once you deal with it’s severity while talking with a professional. If it is on-going abuse over time – definitely seek professional help. The child that has been abused has conflicting feelings about the abuse. They are being told it was wrong that this happened, that they were not at fault. They also have torn loyalties at this point. They could have possibly enjoyed the encounters and are confused at why everyone is so upset. Can you see the dynamic? This is why it is so insidious.

    When I said lock them up. I meant repeat offenders. If a young person has begun experimenting can get professional help quickly enough it may help. There are no known cures.

  11. Adam Greenwood on April 1, 2004 at 12:59 pm

    C.S. Lewis makes a distinction between therapy and sin/punishment in Mere Christianity. Therapy is for ‘abnormal’ desires that prevent the person from making good and wholesome choices. Sin/punishment involves people who have the option of making good and wholesome choices but choose not to. The problem is that a regular course of sinning will distort the personality in a way that limits future choice, and that psychological compulsions and sinful choices are indistinguishable from the outside.

  12. wendy on April 1, 2004 at 1:11 pm

    Kaimi — should have read “(i) if they’d been born to nice Mormon families and (ii) had never been abused”. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Mormon nice family of course.

    I just talked to my husband. He thinks my “probably 100%” is wrong — he says some of the kids were there for experimentation gone awry, urges that shouldn’t have been acted on. He thinks those kids are treatable. One kid that he liked actually was from a good Mormon family, so I really was off. That kid did some experimenting with a little sister that he shouldn’t have. I think it’s good his parents called the police and got him some help — that may be indeed be something that my family would have tried to sweep under the rug!

    Some of the more messed up, predatory kids, my husband thinks there’s no hope for, they should just be locked up. I like to think there’s hope for everyone. I think that comes from my Mormon upbringing.

  13. Gary Cooper on April 1, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    I have been acquainted with a number of people over the years who have worked, either in law enforcement, corrections, or the mental health field, with this issue. All of them believed that ADULT pedophiles should be at least incarcerated for life without parole, and most of supported the death penalty for this crime (which was in fact the punishment for child rape in every state as late as the 1920’s). One of them, a close friend who has worked as a psychologist for two different states’ depts. of corrections, once told me than in the entire history of the medical profession, there is a not a single case of an ADULT pedophile EVER being cured. No amount of therapy, punishment, or fear can overcome the dark urges that dominant the minds of such persons. Worse, because they become very adept at manipulating and deceiving others, they take advantage of the parole system, always becoming “model prisoners”, so they can obtain parole and then more victims. This friend, himself a Latter-day Saint, confirmed what others have said here, that most adult pedophiles were abused themselves as children (studies estimate between 60%-85%, a key problem being that only those who are caught can be included in surveys; those never caught can’t be studied). He has interviewed hundreds of these individuals, and found that for the vast majority, the motivation is power and revenge–a deep hatred of the world for the innocence that was robbed of them, and a dark desire to “get even” by destroying the innocence of others, with a hideous connection to sexual pleasure in committing such acts. As for those pedophiles who were not molested themselves, the chief catalyst seems to be very early contact with pornography, leading to addictions that somehow become twisted into finding release in abnormal ways. In any case, there is no cure (castration, defined as surgical removal of the testes, often does NOT diminish the sex drive of men over age 30, and in any case the crime is based on emotion, not sex drive, for most pedophiles, so my friend is concerned that if states were to carry out such a punishment, the pedophile could be motivated to actually kill his victims, which many often do).

    Two more points. My friend points out that there has been an explosion of pedophile criminal acts over the last 50 years, and one of the reasons he feels this is so is because of the trend to “de-criminalize” this evil after the Kinsey sex research (which we now know was in many instances fabricated and skewed)was published and many states moved to lessen the penalties for convicted offenders. The result was thousands of more victims, many of whom themeselves have become offenders, creating a vicious cycle of abuse.

    Finally, all of what I have shared here has dealt with ADULTS. Adolescents and children are a differnt story. In many cases they can be helped and lead normal lives, provided they are treated correctly and early. Also, the vast majority of children who are abused do not become abusers themselves, but the key to their being able to grow up in a normal way is adequate and effective therapy, with loving parental support a powerful foundation.

  14. Gary Cooper on April 1, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    I have been acquainted with a number of people over the years who have worked, either in law enforcement, corrections, or the mental health field, with this issue. All of them believed that ADULT pedophiles should be at least incarcerated for life without parole, and most of supported the death penalty for this crime (which was in fact the punishment for child rape in every state as late as the 1920’s). One of them, a close friend who has worked as a psychologist for two different states’ depts. of corrections, once told me than in the entire history of the medical profession, there is a not a single case of an ADULT pedophile EVER being cured. No amount of therapy, punishment, or fear can overcome the dark urges that dominant the minds of such persons. Worse, because they become very adept at manipulating and deceiving others, they take advantage of the parole system, always becoming “model prisoners”, so they can obtain parole and then more victims. This friend, himself a Latter-day Saint, confirmed what others have said here, that most adult pedophiles were abused themselves as children (studies estimate between 60%-85%, a key problem being that only those who are caught can be included in surveys; those never caught can’t be studied). He has interviewed hundreds of these individuals, and found that for the vast majority, the motivation is power and revenge–a deep hatred of the world for the innocence that was robbed of them, and a dark desire to “get even” by destroying the innocence of others, with a hideous connection to sexual pleasure in committing such acts. As for those pedophiles who were not molested themselves, the chief catalyst seems to be very early contact with pornography, leading to addictions that somehow become twisted into finding release in abnormal ways. In any case, there is no cure (castration, defined as surgical removal of the testes, often does NOT diminish the sex drive of men over age 30, and in any case the crime is based on emotion, not sex drive, for most pedophiles, so my friend is concerned that if states were to carry out such a punishment, the pedophile could be motivated to actually kill his victims, which many often do).

    Two more points. My friend points out that there has been an explosion of pedophile criminal acts over the last 50 years, and one of the reasons he feels this is so is because of the trend to “de-criminalize” this evil after the Kinsey sex research (which we now know was in many instances fabricated and skewed)was published and many states moved to lessen the penalties for convicted offenders. The result was thousands of more victims, many of whom themeselves have become offenders, creating a vicious cycle of abuse.

    Finally, all of what I have shared here has dealt with ADULTS. Adolescents and children are a differnt story. In many cases they can be helped and lead normal lives, provided they are treated correctly and early. Also, the vast majority of children who are abused do not become abusers themselves, but the key to their being able to grow up in a normal way is adequate and effective therapy, with loving parental support a powerful foundation.

  15. Kaimi on April 1, 2004 at 1:55 pm

    I have read an article on the subject, discussing the problem of labeling all sexual relation with under-18-year-olds as “child abuse” or “pedophilia.”

    There is a vast difference between being sexually attracted to a physically mature 15-year-old girl (or boy, for that matter) and being attracted to what we think of as children (under, say, age 12 or 11). Laws and news stories conflate these two phenomena.

    Attraction to sexually mature people, whether they’re 21, 18 or 15, is pretty normal. This is not to say that it should not be controlled; if society says don’t sleep with 15-year-olds, you shouldn’t. (Society has not always had such rules; it was common a century ago for 14- and 15-year olds to be married and start families).

    Attraction to actual children is a pschological or mental problem, and is not normal.

  16. Clark Goble on April 1, 2004 at 1:55 pm

    There was an interesting article in a recent New Scientist that touched upon this topic. As our knowledge of the brain increases we can target deviant brain functions that lead to sociopaths, psychopaths, pediophiles and many other danger people. How should society react with this knowledge? Should we start acting in a prevent-defense? ie. register those we *know* are very likely to harm others? Even if perhaps some environmental trigger is required to cause them to start acting in a certain way?

    It’s a difficult question. Our own judicial system is a re-active one. Even if we know someone is going to do something, we do nothing until they do.

  17. Kaimi on April 1, 2004 at 2:41 pm

    Everyone so eager to lock away all sex abusers for life should remember that the law makes all sorts of wacky mistakes, and we should be careful.

    In one very recent case, a girl is apparently being charged with sex abuse of herself. See http://blog.qiken.org/archives/000526.html .

  18. Gary Cooper on April 1, 2004 at 2:42 pm

    Clark,

    Funny you should mention that article, because it references something my friend I mentioned in my last thread once told me. Evidently the area of the brain that has to do with sex tends to be metastazied in the brains of sex offenders (rapists, pedophiles, etc.), many times larger than it should be. However autopsies of otherwise healthy men have sometimes shown the same metastization. Some studies that have compared sex offenders vs normal men with this same condition seem to indicate that the factor that separates the normal men with same condition from the sex offenders is that, in every case, the normal men came from normal, two-parent homes that were very affectionate and where the man grew up with a strong sense of self -esteem. Many of these studies are not as conclusive as we would like, but they seem to point to the theory that some people may be born with a genetic PREDISPOSITION to sexual problems, but that this can be overcome by a healthy childhood enviornment, and/or may be triggered by an unhealthy childhood environment. Hopefully this research will continue, and may help us understand a great deal more.

  19. Ivan Wolfe on April 1, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    Clark – your comment reminded me of a science fiction short story (the name I forget, but it was in a collection entitled “How to Save the World”) where in the future, religion was declared to be a mental disease and so, using the same technology that had eradicated sexual child abuse and other crimes (by targeting and rewiring certain parts of the brain) religous belief was eliminated in society.

  20. Clark Goble on April 1, 2004 at 4:09 pm

    Gary, the New Scientist article was very careful to point out that many of these “disorders” are at best propensities towards a certain state and not the state itself. Almost always they require some trigger – often emotional stress.

    As several have pointed out, childrens brains appear more malleable than adults as well. So there is more hope to aid children.

    Ideally as the brain structures associated with these things are discovered we can start to treat mental illness far better. However I suspect that truly effective targeted treatments are still decades away. Right now electroshock is still the most effective treatment for depression, for instance. Which is rather surprising. While current drugs have had success, they tend to have limited success. And they don’t work on all people.

    Ivan, religion is an interesting issue since many argue that significant religious experience is tied to mental illness. Signature, as I recalled, even has a “psycho-history” of Joseph Smith arguing this. I tend to be very uncomfortable with this equating of religion and mental illness for obvious reasons. I don’t deny mental illness can lead to counterfeits of religious experience. But obviously your point highlights the dangers of our views of mental illness.

  21. TrevorHen on April 1, 2004 at 4:30 pm

    It was always taught in my Psych textbook that castration does little to prevent pedophilic passions and desires. The book said sexual desire is for the most part a patholigical drive, although I don’t remember exactly.

  22. Clark Goble on April 1, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    I should point out that while I suspect castration will have relatively little effect that many have been highly critical of psychology and especially feminist views of rape and abuse as being non-sexual. I know Stephen Plinker has a chapter on this in _The Blank Slate_. He argues that sexuality in such matters is systematically downplayed by many in the soft sciences.

  23. lyle on April 1, 2004 at 5:37 pm

    Wendy’s comment re: how much can get messed up so much & so early in a child’s life highlights yet another reason why LDS folks should take positive steps to ensure that every child is raised in a two-parent mother & father family.

  24. Cal on April 1, 2004 at 9:07 pm

    Victim advocates say that rape is not about sex, rather it is about control…however, they definitely have an agenda when it comes to what rape is. Not that I really disagree with them.

    However, I do have a problem with all this talk of what science has come up with by studying different parts of the brain.

    Earlier it was mentioned that Science is looking to target deviant brain functions, and then speculated on all the interesting moral dilemas that arise from that. I just want to remind people that Science, especially in regard to human beings, has a very hard time establishing causation. Most of the time we’re stuck with probabilities that are themselves based off of interpretations.

    The problem is that we give Science to much credit and it ends being the “ultimate” appeal to authority.

  25. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 9:50 pm

    Wow Cal. I agree. Scientific Theory = someone’s best guess.

  26. Clark Goble on April 2, 2004 at 1:03 am

    Good science isn’t someones best guess. The issue is always within science the empirical evidence.

  27. Cal on April 2, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    I also wouldn’t say science is someone’s best guess. Empirical evidence is, of course, the issue.

    However, the rigor required to obtain “good” empirical evidence is not easily satisfied in regards to science and human behavior. Science is a great tool, but in our day and age that tool is often mistaken as the end in itself.

  28. clark on April 2, 2004 at 2:43 pm

    I think that while the soft sciences have had a lot of poor science in them and questionable conclusions, that neurobiology has significantly improved this. For one it moves it far more to a discussion of material substance and interaction as well as to physics and chemistry. It also avoids a lot of the behavioralism and related movements which plagued psychology, economics, and sociology the past fifty years or so. The problem with such instrumentalist approaches is that one isn’t ever sure exactly what one is speaking about.

  29. Ethesis on April 3, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    For the record, in Europe they treat sex offenders with castration. Treat, not punish, it is elective. The vast majority (around 80% or so) report that their quality of life increases, about 5% report that life worsens.

    Sex is a compulsive behavior, of sorts, more so in sex offenders. The drive behind sex appears to be greatly muted by castration, though I will note that in the Roman empire eunuchs were used as a form of birth control and that dogs who are castrated at later ages often act somewhat as if they were not (though they do mute their behavior). The same with cats.

    Lots of science.

    Much of it has been debated over the past few years in Texas.

    One of the problems with castration is that as a part of lynching, aside from the photographs and the post cards, the victims were usually castrated as well.

    So, due to historical issues, Texas practices a sort of reverse affirmative action on castration and a prisoner has to really fight to obtain theraputic castration, which is not allowed to affect any penal decisions.

    I don’t want to get into the politics of sexual offenses, just note that there is actually some real science developing on this point and a fairly statitically useful sized body of castrated offenders in Europe for research purposes.

  30. Wendy O on August 28, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    I believe that no matter who or what the reasoning is, that the abuser has to be separated from society. However, I feel that pedophiles are sick people (much because of them being victims themselves) who commit ‘evil’ acts. It is hard to ‘judge the sin and not the sinner’ in this case but, when they were still kids, we had empathy for them. As they grew into adults, society has hatred for them.
    I think that since we love children, to hate abusers and want revenge make us feel we are giving the children what they want and need. . However, is it? And is it really helping them with their victimization or keeping them stuck in it? Remember, most molesters are someone they know and still maybe even love. They may feel doubly traumatized to see their abusers get hurt instead of helped. I truly wish there was some sort of ‘safe house’ facility where pedophiles can turn themselves in without fear but knowing they can’t get back out, at least in the foreseen future. That way, our kids will be safer. I say this because our hate and vengence chase them into hiding making our streets more unsafe, not safer. We need to think with our heads and not our hearts if we really care about our kids and not just our understandable vengeful desires. If molesters choose to act out instead of turning themselves in, those are the ones who can go straight to prison and hell. But, then, God only knows all the variables of why and so therefore is suited to be the ultimate judge. It would also, be good for potential abusers to safely go for help. To salvage the good in them and help keep our kids safe. I was abused. I would rather see evil turned to good then the good destroyed with the bad. For there’s evil in every good person and at least a little good in evil people. Guide the ‘lost sheep’ home because that is what God ultimately wants and deserves. I wish there was more support and resources for people to undue their thinking/feeling patterns to prevent abuse in the first place. However, in the meantime, we need to ‘lure’ abusers out of the shadows not chase them in.