Trying to Predict and Prevent Institutional Abuse

It seems as though there is another story in the news every day about the discovery of some type of sexual abuse in a church or school.  This is both a good and a bad thing.  It is good because it means that more victims are starting to come forward, speak their truth and hold their abuser accountable.  This is obviously a bad thing because people continue to be abused by those whom they trust and are in positions of power or authority. 

The more media coverage these incidents gain, the larger the public outcry.  As with any type of sexual abuse, the question becomes, how do we prevent institutional abuse?  We all want to believe that there is some way to screen out those individuals who might be prone to sexually abusing others and not allow them to be priests, clergy, boy scout leaders, teachers, etc.  Despite the prevalence of this form of abuse, there is not a lot of research on institutional sexual abuse as a specific form of abuse.

To try to combat this lack of research and work toward decreasing sexual abuse in institutions, ATSA’s most recent edition of their scientific journal, Sexual Abuse, was dedicated to the problem of sexual abuse in institutions.

I believe that it would be easier for the public to believe that there is something particular about people who abuse others in institutional settings than people who commit sex crimes outside of these settings.  In reviewing the literature on the subject, Harris and Terry (2019) indicate that CSA perpetrators who are in institutional settings possess similar characteristics to those who offend in other settings.  Additionally, the factors that make children vulnerable to abuse are not unique to these settings either.  This makes it difficult to identify those who might abuse and keep them out of situations where they have easy access to victims.

Amrom, Calkins & Fargo (2019), researchers from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, looked at personality characteristics of sexual abusers in the hope of finding a way to identify sexually abusive clergy.  They used the MMPI-2 and MCMI0-III in the study, which are widely accepted personality measures.  What is known from studies of pre-employment MMPI-2s is that clergy applicants tend to present as defensive, extroverted, compulsive, self-confident, uncomfortable with expressions of anger and in possession of a strong need for approval.  Additionally, past research shows us that Episcopal and Presbyterian clergy applicants tend to present as generally well adjusted but do display elevations of narcissistic, compulsive and histrionic traits. 

Amrom et. al.’s study looked at the MMPI-2 and MCMI-III of three categories of people.  The first category was clergy who were sent to treatment for child sexual abuse.  The second category was clergy that were referred to treatment for noncriminal sexual behavior with adults and the third category was clergy that were referred to treatment for non-sexual reasons such as depression or drug or alcohol problems.  The control group was a group of clergy that took the test for pre-employment and had no history of clinical or sexual issues. 

The results of this study indicated that there were no differences between the sexual abuse group and the sexual misconduct group.  There was a difference between the sexual abuse group and the clinical group in that the clinical group showed more signs of psychopathology than the sexual abuse group.  One elevation was found on the Sexual Abuse group MCMI-III scores and that was for the trait of Aggressive/Sadistic subscale.  Ultimately, the authors opined that the MCMI-III and MMPI-2 were not able to distinguish between the Sexual Abuse group and the other three groups suggesting that these personality measures are not very helpful when it comes to screening out possible future sexual abusers from the clergy applicants.

Another study in the special edition by Spraitz and Bowen (2019) looked at the grooming techniques used by priests who have sexually abused.  Some studies into the topic have shown that, in addition to traditional grooming techniques, clergy will use their role as priests or as an extension of God as grooming technique when abusing parishioners.  The researchers analyzed records from several Archdioceses and unsealed records that all involved priests or monks in sexual abuse cases.  From these files they created a taxonomy of grooming techniques in the priest sexual abuse cases.

Grooming is the term used for the process that a person uses (normally an adult with a child victim) to create a “special” relationship with a victim and create opportunities to abuse.  In this study, priests used the following techniques:  1) giving alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to the victim, 2) giving gifts to the victim, 3) taking the victim on overnight trips, 4) physical contact, 5) using mentorship or friendship, 6) playing favorites, 7) creating a relationship with the family and 8) abusing the position of respect and reverence. 

Like other studies in this special journal edition, the researchers found that the abusive clergy in their sample were no different from non-clergy who use grooming to sexually abuse .  The technique of abusing the position as a person of God was not an overt form of grooming. They found that the use of this technique may not be “purposeful, overt, or done consciously in all instances.”  There were clergy who did use this technique overtly but not many in this study.

In short, the studies in this special issue of Sexual Abuse confirm that (for the studies published) the individuals who perpetrate sexual abuse in institutions are not significantly different from those who abuse outside of institutions.  These results are frustrating as it would be a boon to the prevention of sexual abuse if there was a way to predict who might abuse versus who might not. 

The research will continue and hopefully, in the future, more work will be published that can help prevention efforts.

Sentence Mitigation: Is it just a defense tactic or can it be a motivator for treatment?

A recent posting about our intensive program for sexual offenders on a professional social network greatly upset a person on the network.  This person felt that it was disgusting that we offer a treatment program that can aide sentence mitigation for people accused of sexual crimes, or to paraphrase, that we help sex offenders get lighter sentences for financial gain.  This upset me greatly as I take our work with people who have committed sex crimes very seriously and consider it prevention of sexual abuse.  As I consider part of my work as an expert to counter emotion with science, I thought to put my own emotions on the back burner and write something educational about sentence mitigation.

What is Sentence Mitigation?

When someone is being sentenced for a crime a judge is obligated to take into consideration all of the information about that person.  It is the job of the prosecution to present evidence of all of the aggravating factors in the case.  These are the things that help them make an argument for stronger and harsher sentences.  Aggravating factors can include prior offenses, vulnerable victims, hate crimes, violence, etc.

It is the job of a defense attorney to present the facts about the person that would support a less harsh sentence.  Any facts presented for sentence mitigation are not related to the guilt of the person, they have acknowledged what they have done (pled guilty). Mitigating factors can be those that were in place prior to the offending such as lack of criminal record, mental illness, addiction, physical illness, history of being abused.  Other mitigating factors are those the occur after the offense has happened.  These can be acceptance of responsibility, rehabilitation post offense (treatment), cooperation with law enforcement, addiction, mental illness, etc.  Mitigating factors do NOT excuse a crime but help provide an explanation. 

Therapy as a Sentence Mitigation Tool

Do defense attorneys suggest clients go to therapy so they have some fuel for sentence mitigation?  In a word, Yes. Many of our clients are referred to us by their attorneys after they have had a visit from the police or the FBI.  This happens basically no matter the type of offense.  DUI?  Get a drug and alcohol assessment.  Domestic Violence charge?  Do some classes.  Assault charge?  Complete an anger management program. 

What most people might not know, but all of us in the treatment community do know, is that very few people self-refer for treatment relating to addictions of any kind or offending.  In over 10 years of practice ownership, I can count on one hand the number of clients who came to treatment with no outside pressure because they felt like they had a problem.  Many clients are pressured into treatment.  This pressure may come from a partner, spouse, employer or the police.  People don’t self-refer for many reasons, shame, fear, stigma and wait until they are caught in some way shape or form be that watching pornography at work, getting a DUI, getting caught in an affair, running up the credit cards with gambling debt, etc. 

The act of going to therapy itself does not help the defense attorney make a mitigation argument.  It is what happens in therapy that can help a defense attorney make a mitigation argument.  If a client is referred by an attorney for treatment, the initial thought might be something like “ok this will look good to the judge.”  Any good therapist will know whether or not a client is taking the therapy work seriously.  If the client is just biding time, trying to look good for a judge, that is reflected in the treatment reports that go to the attorney.  Trust me that bad treatment reports never make it to court.  Same thing for evaluations that deem a client high risk to re-offend.  They hardly ever see the light of day in a court room.

Changing motivations

What gets a person in the door of a therapy office is not necessarily what keeps them there.  The goal with pre-sentence treatment is to help the person move from the “oh shit I’m caught” stage into really deeply and truly looking at their actions and the motivations for the actions.  Though it is popular to believe that people who commit sexual crimes are deviant monsters who deserve to die, most (not all) people who are committing these crimes know they have a problem, feel a good deal of remorse and want to do what they can to help themselves.  Thus, an attorney referral to help with sentence mitigation can turn into a person who really wants to do a lot of work on themselves to get better and make sure they never offend again. 

Sitting at the end of a day filled with many emotions, I reflect on the work I do.  I am proud of the work that I and my staff do working with people who have committed sexual offenses.  I realize that I work with a population of people that the world would rather forget about and many people think don’t deserve treatment.  Though it would be great if more people self-referred, I ultimately don’t care if it is an attorney referral that gets them through the door.  Those of us who work with sexual offenders are doing prevention work. 

My final words are not mine but those of one of my wonderful colleagues:  Everyone deserves treatment.  Period. Full Stop. 

References

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/mitigating-circumstances-sentencing.html

https://www.justia.com/criminal/aggravating-mitigating-factors/

https://www.criminaldefensemitigation.com/mitigating-factors-criminal-sentencing/

Book Review: Assisted Loving: The Journey through Sexuality and Aging

The second gem of a book I found while planning for my graduate human sexuality course last fall is Assisted Loving:  The Journey through Sexuality and Aging by Ginger Manley.  It is really easy to find books on most sexuality topics, such as sex addiction, sex therapy, general sex education, teens, pornography, etc.  What does not exist is a lot of good quality resources for sexuality of seniors.  Our world seems to forget that seniors have sex too!

Ginger Manley is a nurse practitioner and a certified sex therapist.  She has been doing this work since the 1980’s.  She also wrote a column in Mature Lifestyles magazine where people could write in to ask advice about sex, sexuality and aging.  She has also taught sex education classes at Vanderbilt University specifically for those over 60 years of age.  This book is a compilation of her columns that cover everything from relationships to medical issues.

So, what makes this book special?  It specifically addresses the issues that most other sex therapy or sex advice books do not.  When discussing relationships, most books do not tackle topics such as dating after the death of a spouse, how to date online when you are in your late 60’s or how to talk to your adult children about your new love interest.  The fact that these are real questions from real people make the book very relatable.  Ginger Manley’s frank and humorous style make the book fun.

I will relate a short story related to this book.  I am the type of person who just reads my books related to work wherever I am, be that on an airplane, etc.  If people ask me what I am reading I will show them.  I was in a tire shop, waiting on my new tires, reading this book.  A lovely older gentleman sat down next to me.  He got a flat on the way to his church’s men’s group that needed to be fixed.  He asked me what I was reading.  I replied with a “do you really want to know?”  And off we went.  Turns out he was 83 years old and happily married for well over 50 years.  We had a wonderful, long conversation about sexuality in older people, his own relationship with his wife and a million other things related to sex.  Never in a million years did I think I would be having such an open and honest conversation about senior sex in a tire store with a man I never met!  I relate this story because I think it shows that people want and need to talk about relationships and sexuality no matter the age.

So what are some of the issues that this book addresses?  It is divided into four sections.  The first focuses on relationship issues.  Many of the issues that seniors face in their relationships are the same as the issues faced by younger couples.  There are issues of communication, lack of sexual interest, and dissatisfaction in the bedroom.  Other issues that are more frequent in older couples involve starting new relationships after the death of a spouse and how to navigate online dating when you are older.

The second section focuses on male issues.  Not surprisingly, many of these focus on erectile issues or lack of sexual interest.  Using both her sex therapy background and nursing background the author delves into issues of ED, low T, sexual functioning after prostate surgery and TURP (Transeurethral resection of the prostate).  Section three turns to women’s issues.  Again, the author’s role as a nurse is helpful in working through issues that come with aging including hormonal changes and incontinence issues.

The final section is devoted to other medical issues.  The issues in this section are those that are not most commonly brought to the clinical office and I assume are not frequently brought to the medical doctor as well.  She covers topics such as resuming sex after joint replacement surgeries, dealing with added weight or things such as blood pressure medications.  Additionally, and much less talked about in general, are topics of Parkinson’s symptoms and sexuality as well as how to manage sexual activity when one spouse has early stage dementia.

If you work with sexuality issues in your practice, or if you are a senior who wants to get questions about your health and/or sex life answered, this little book is for you.  It is a fun but serious look at how aging affects our sexuality and offers great advice to help us to enjoy a healthy sense of sexuality no matter our age!

Dr. Weeks is the founder and director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services. For more information on her practice, check out the website at www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

Sex, God & The Conservative Church: Book Review

Charity (The United States)’s review of Sex, God, and the ...

I was asked to teach the graduate human sexuality course last fall at the Moravian Theological Seminary. As it had been years since I taught, I was on the hunt for new books for the course.  Because this course was being taught at a seminary, we had to at least touch on religion and sex.  I found Sex, God & the Conservative Church:  Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy, by Tina Schermer Sellers, Ph.D. at the AASECT conference and thought it might be a perfect fit.  Once I started to read the book I thought “WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN ALL MY CLINICAL LIFE?”

As someone whose primary clinical practice involves issues related to sexuality (Sex addiction, sexual offending and other problematic sexual behavior), issues of faith are frequently brought into the treatment room. It seems, that for many, faith and sex are intertwined.  As someone who is not a Christian counselor, I didn’t always have the perspective or language to help some clients work through this as much as I could have.  This book is an exceptional resource both for clinicians and clients or church groups.

Sex, God & the Conservative Church takes the reader first through a journey of the history of how sexuality and faith became derailed.  Of particular interest to me, working with sexual addiction, was her discussion of Saint Augustine, who she labeled a sexually troubled soul.  This is of interest to me as one of the main 12 step fellowship groups for sex addiction is Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).  This fellowship is an Augustine Fellowship, named after the saint.

“While Augustine offered much that was foundational in the formation of Christian Theology, sexual desire and his own desire for women, which he was never able to completely escape, tortured him until the end.  His legacy of shame, fear of the body, and suspicion of its desire is with us today” p 33-34

The author suggests that a great deal of the root of sexual shame that Christians struggle with is rooted in his teachings.  I find it ironic, or perhaps a bit upsetting, that one of the main 12 step fellowships for recovery from sexual addiction is rooted in sexual shame.

Once past the history, the book delves into tangible ways to help people heal from their sexual shame and pursue sex positive messages from God and a sex positive Gospel.  Dr. Schermer Sellers frames the healing of sexual shame in a four-step process which will be very helpful for all people who are struggling with sexual shame, not just those that identify as Christian.

  1. Frame – provide sexual education to a client that they did not receive
  2. Name – help the client get their story heard by someone important to them.
  3. Claim – the client works to accept and own their body as a wonderful unique thing to undo the harmful messages inherited from religion and culture
  4. Aim – help the client write a new story of what they believe and what their legacy is to become.

Another aspect of this book that I really enjoy is the authors emphasis on normalizing childhood sexuality and the need for real, accurate and frequent sexual education being taught to children.  When families do not talk about sex and sexuality to children, they often assume it is something to be kept secret.  Worse yet is when a parent or care giver overtly shames a child for expressing normal sexual behavior or curiosity.  This can create a go to thought process of sex being dirty and bad.  If I (the child) have a sexual thought or feeling, I must be bad. Those of us who do this work know that so much of the struggle is rooted in shame and secrets.  If we normalize and teach children about healthy sexuality we can erase the shame that is often at the core of sexual problems.  To again quote the author:

“A culture that shames children for normal sexual expression plants seeds that manifest themselves in adult life in the form of disturbances in relationship, libido, and sexuality.  Sexual shame can sever the experience of sensual pleasure in a deep, loving attachment because it eclipses the person’s ability to feel seen, known, loved and accepted with and through their sensual body.  “ p. 106

I don’t think I can express strongly enough how wonderful this book is.  It should be a required reading for anyone who works with clients who struggle with sexual issues, be they sex therapists, sex educators or sex addiction therapists.  One of my strongly held beliefs is that we have to be sex positive in our work and not perpetuate sexual shame in our clients (see previous writing on being a sex positive sex addiction therapist).  Learning to integrate a sex positive Gospel for those of the Christian faith will go a long way to reduce sexual shame and reduce problematic sexual behavior.

 

For more information on Dr. Jennifer Weeks and her practice, head over to Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  

Book Review: Tell Me What You Want

Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life by [Lehmiller, Justin J.]

Earlier this year, Dr. Justin Lehmiller published his book Tell Me What You Want:  The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.  Dr. Lehmiller is a researcher and writer about human sexuality. I became familiar with his work from his blog, Sex and Psychology and use his textbook in my graduate Human Sexuality Course.  I was excited to see him write something for the general public as his previous writings have been more academic.

Dr. Lehmiller wrote this book based on the results of a survey he conducted in which he asked more than 4,000 Americans over 350 questions about sexual fantasies.  He also obtained information about sexual histories, psychological profiles and demographics.  What emerged from the data is that Americans fantasize about sex a lot and many things that might not seem “normal” are quite normal after all.

When people come in to treatment for anything relating to sex, I always get questions about what is normal.  How often do people have sex? How much porn viewing is normal?  I have a fetish, does that mean I am not normal?  For some reason, we are worried about our sexual appetites and arousal templates not being normal.  I always answer that there is no such thing as normal but after reading this book, the “normal” that so many people assume about American sexuality is not terribly normal at all.

So, what are the top seven things Americans fantasize about?  The number one sexual fantasy is about multi-partner sex.  Coming in at number two is power, control and rough sex.  Third is novelty, adventure and variety.  Fourth is taboo or forbidden sex.  Rounding out the bottom three are partner sharing and non-monogamous relationships, passion and romance and erotic flexibility (homoeroticisim and gender bending).

Instead of summarizing the entire book (go read it for all the juicy details), I’ll give you some fun facts.  Men and women are different in how they fantasize.  Interestingly, Dr. Lehmiller found that when women fantasize, they don’t really fantasize about a particular person but in their fantasies, women frequently see themselves as the object of desire.  They are the focus of the fantasy, not the other person.  Men, on the other hand, tend to be the actors in a fantasy, acting on an object of desire.

What do your politics say about your sexual fantasies?  Well, if you are a Democrat, you are more likely to fantasize about things like intimacy, bonding and BDSM.  The Republicans, on the other hand, were much more likely to fantasize about things that are a bit more taboo such as orgies, infidelity and swinging.  Republicans were also more likely to fantasize about things like exhibitionism and voyeurism.  Why you ask?  Dr. Lehmiller suggest that we tend to want what those in positions of authority tell us we can’t have!!!

Dr. Lehmiller’s book is a helpful resource for both therapists and non-therapists alike.  Many Americans deal with a great deal of sexual shame.  They either have been told or believe that their sexual fantasies, desires or behavior are wrong, sinful, perverted etc.  The fact is, the opposite is quite true.  When we hold sexual shame, we tend to repress our true sexual feelings.  This can cause problems in relationships but also in our own mental health.

I will end this short review with the following quote from the book:

“What all this tells us is that we need to stop judging whether sexual desires are healthy or unhealthy based only on how many people in the population have them.  Instead, what we really need to do is look at sexual interests on a case by case basis and ask ourselves two questions that have nothing to do with how many people have them: (1) is this sexual activity consensual or non consensual? (2) does it pose an unacceptable risk of harm to one or more people that goes well beyond the usual risks of having sex?” p181

Dr. Lehmiller has a slightly different take on what I say frequently to my clients and students about sexual desires.  I don’t care what it is as long as it is consensual and legal!

I encourage you to read Tell Me What You Want:  The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.  If nothing else, maybe it helps erase some sexual shame, which is something our culture needs more of!

 

What BDSM Can Teach Us About Consent

Let's Talk: Consent | Her Campus

Consent is a hot button topic today.  The #metoo movement continues to grow and the supreme court nomination brought to light the suffering of many sexual abuse survivors.  The general public is starting to realize that we do not teach consent to our children

Those of us who work in the fields of sexuality (sex therapists, sex offender therapists, sex addiction therapists) have long known that there is a lack of education about consent.  We have moved from no means no to yes means yes but that still leaves a lot of grey area.  For instance, what happens when yes turns into no?

To help learn more about consent, I turn to what some might think is a strange source, the Kink community.  The BDSM community has a lot to teach the rest of us about the concept of consent.

While there are many aspects of the BDSM world, consent lies at the heart of these communities.  Here’s how:

Negotiation:

Critical to the BDSM community is negotiation.  People who are going to play (engage in BDSM) together spend a great deal of time ahead of time negotiating what will happen during the session.  These discussions about the sex practices that will or will not be engaged in during the session are often extensive.  Negotiations include what each participant’s limits are (what they will not engage in), what types of things they enjoy as well as the discussion of the safe word.

When two people engage in extensive negotiations before an interaction it removes the grey areas that can happen when there is not good communication.  There is no room for miscommunication because it has all been talked about ahead of time.

Safe Word:

The safe word is the word that is agreed upon ahead of time which, when invoked, means the behavior that is currently happening ends immediately.  This process of safe word shows that the BDSM community understands that consent is not a broad concept.  Consent is an ongoing process that can be revoked at any time during an interaction. Just because someone says yes to something initially, it does not mean theywant the behavior to continue.  Everyone’s experience of a sexual behavior is dependent on so many things.  What they might have enjoyed engaging in during one session may not feel good in another based on many things, not limited to mood, stress level, partner and environment.

Aftercare:

Aftercare is a concept that is not often talked about in traditional sexual encounters.  The BDSM community understands that these interactions can be emotionally and physically intense.  Aftercare takes this into consideration and involves physical and emotional support for the parties involved.  This can be physical, meaning food, water, etc. or emotional, such as cuddling, holding, stroking etc.  When both parties engage in aftercare it demonstrates a mutuality in the interaction.

Traditional sexual interactions among the non-Kink community normally do not involve any of these processes.  Traditionally, there is very little discussion about what behaviors are ok between two sexual partners.  Safe words are hardly ever employed and frequently, in our hook up culture, the after-sex behavior lacks emotional and physical nurturance.

I will end this post with a quote I heard at this years ATSA conference.  “We spend more time negotiating what we want on a pizza than we do negotiating sex.”

We have a lot to learn from the Kink community and if we employed some of their practices into our own sexual practices we would be having safer and more truly consensual sex.

Reference:  “Unorthodox Rules”:  The Instructive Potential of BDSM for Consent Law.  Bennett, T (2018) Journal of Positive Sexuality, 4(1), 4-11.

 

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She is a clinician and expert witness working with sexual abuse, cybersex offenders and all types of problematic sexual behavior.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: Do You Take a Polygraph?

If you have been following our blog series, you know that we are trying to use our years of experience to help you find the best counsel and treatment possible for the issues that brought you into the legal system.  This post may be the only controversial one of the series.

Should you take a polygraph test?

When most people think of a polygraph, they think about something they saw on TV or a lie detector.  The polygraph is not a lie detector but a device that measures physiological responses.  It is often not admissible in criminal court (though it is in some places and can be used for probation violations).  So why am I even talking about it?

Despite it’s issues, the polygraph is routinely used in the treatment of sexual offenders and is considered a standard of practice.  So even if you don’t do a polygraph pre-trial, you will while you are on probation.  While on probation it is used as a therapeutic “tool” to assess whether the person on probation is following rules and regulations of probation and/or keeping any secrets from treatment and probation.  It is a measure used to gather information.

Again, why on earth am I talking about you possibly taking a polygraph examination before you go to court?  Just like it is used as a tool after adjudication, we can use it as a tool prior to sentencing.  In our geographic area, the FBI likes to ask people they are investigating (often within hours of knocking on your door in the wee hours of the morning) to voluntarily consent to a polygraph test.  What are they looking for by doing this?  They are seeking any evidence that you may be a mixed offender.  A mixed offender is someone who is being investigated or arrested for a cybersex crime that ALSO has committed a hands-on sexual offense in their lifetime.  It will come as no surprise that many people to take this polygraph test right away don’t do very well.  There are many reasons for that, anxiety, fear and absolutely no preparation.

As someone being investigated for a sex crime, why might it be helpful to you to do a polygraph?  Honestly, for the same reasons that the FBI does them.  Research now tells us that the assumption that people who look at child pornography must also be contact offenders is false.  However, it is hard for a court or an evaluator to just take someone’s word for it.  Though it is not admissible in court, if you take and pass a sexual history polygraph and have no history of contact offending, this has a favorable effect on your risk of recidivism.

Guidelines for taking a polygraph before sentencing

  1. Make sure your attorney is on board with this decision.  As with an evaluation, you can do this through your attorney so if you don’t have a favorable result from a polygraph it will be protected under attorney client privilege.
  2. Find a polygrapher who is trained, accredited and familiar with working with sexual offenders and giving sexual history polygraphs. You want to take a Sexual History Polygraph.
  3. Do your homework. This means that you and your therapist need to spend a great deal of time going through your sexual history with a fine-tooth comb.  This takes time.  People often have trouble on polygraph tests because they don’t really go through their history.  Work through your sexual history from the first time you kissed someone through the moment you are ready to take the polygraph.
  4. BE HONEST. It is best to be honest and pass than to keep and hold your secrets and have a deception indicated.  Also remember, that though this may be a tool to help you in sentence mitigation, it is ultimately about you getting honest with yourself to help your treatment and growth into a better human!

 

Shame lives in secrecy.  If there are no more secrets you can start to work on shame reduction.  This means that the value of the polygraph can be something more than just another measure your attorney or psychosexual evaluator can use in sentence mitigation.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She specializes in the treatment of sexual offenders and cybersex offenders.  Through her program she provides psychosexual evaluations, treatment and expert witness testimony.  SATS also offers coaching services for those people who are being investigated but are not in Pennsylvania.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: The Psychosexual Evaluation

 

So far in our series of articles we have talked about finding a good attorney and a good therapist.  The next step in the process is to talk to your attorney about a psychosexual evaluation.  In most states and in Federal cases, the prosecution will have you undergo an evaluation with a therapist who works either for or on behalf of the state, county or Federal government. It is normally always a good idea to have one done by a psychologist who is not working for the organization that is prosecuting you.

First, what is a psychosexual evaluation?  The evaluation is comprised of an interview with a psychologist, a lot of psychological testing and a review of all forensic documents related to your case.  What tests you take often depends on the clinician who is doing the evaluation.  These objective measures will test for factors that may have both influenced your committing the crime you are accused of and may influence you to commit the crime again.  For example, you will likely do some type of personality test to see if you have any mental health diagnoses that influenced your crime such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, etc.  You will also likely be asked to take some test that will assess your likelihood of having a substance abuse problem, as this is sometimes correlated with certain types of crimes.

How do you find the right person to conduct the psychosexual evaluation?  If you have an attorney, he or she may have a psychologist that they work with closely and will refer you to that person.  If you are looking for this person on your own, there are a few things you should be on the lookout for.  First, you need someone who has a Ph.D. and has been trained to give the types of tests that you need.  Not all therapists have the training to be qualified to administer certain psychological tests.  Second, the psychologist who performs your evaluation needs to be experienced in performing psychological evaluations for sex crimes.  Not all forensic psychologists work with sex crimes.  Some, for example, perform evaluations for competency to stand trial.  Third, your evaluator should be a member of ATSA and familiar with the latest research related to offenders of your type of crime.

A question I often am asked is “what happens if the evaluation says something bad?”  My first response to this question is that there is nothing about an evaluation that is “bad.”  An evaluation is a combination of facts, testing results and opinion based on all those elements.  However, if you are concerned about the outcome of the evaluation, there is a solution.  If the evaluator is retained by your attorney and paid for by your attorney, the report then falls under attorney-client privilege as client work product.  This way, if your attorney does not feel that the evaluation will help you, he or she will not use it during your sentencing.

In most cases, the psychosexual evaluation is used for sentence mitigation.  Your attorney may use a favorable evaluation in the plea negotiation process beforehand.  Your psychosexual evaluation will be part of the pre-sentence memorandum that your attorney files with the court prior to your sentencing.  This report will give the judge information as to some of the reasons why you committed your crime as well as provide the judge with some information about your risk of recidivism (commit another crime).  The judge will take all this information into account when they are determining your sentence.

If your attorney does not suggest an evaluation, ask them about it.  Whether or not you need an evaluation or if it may be helpful will depend on your case and your jurisdiction.  We provide these suggestions as they are helpful in our geographic area of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She specializes in the treatment of sexual offenders and cybersex offenders.  Through her program she provides psychosexual evaluations, treatment and expert witness testimony.  SATS also offers coaching services for those people who are being investigated but are not in Pennsylvania.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: What to look for in a therapist

In my first blog in this series, I wrote about the fact that getting a therapist is one of the first things you need to do when you are under investigation for a cybersex crime.  I briefly mentioned that you will need a specific type of therapist in that post and I am going to expand on what you need to look for in a therapist here.

Given how expensive this entire process is, one’s inclination is to just find a therapist who takes their insurance, can help with the anxiety and depression they are experiencing, though not necessarily specializing in treating people engaging in cybersex crimes.  I understand that thought process.  However, there are some things you need to know.

  1. Many therapists will not work with sex offenders. You would think or hope that someone who works as a mental health counselor would be able to work with anyone without prejudice.  Unfortunately, that is not true.  Research studies have shown that a high percentage of therapists will not work with someone who is attracted to children or has engaged in sexual behavior with a child (even if it is online).  This means that if you go to see just any therapist, you do not know if you are meeting with someone who is personally comfortable working with you.  If they are not, ethically they are to refer you to someone else.  However, not all therapists will do this.   This means that you may get advice biased by their own opinions about sexual offenders and often this is not accurate or helpful.

 

  1. Many therapists are not comfortable talking in depth about sex and sexuality. If you are going to really get to the root of the behavior that led to you engaging in a cybersex crime, you are going to be talking in depth about sexual behaviors.  This means that the therapist you choose to work with needs to be completely comfortable in their own sexuality and able to nonjudgmentally sit with the sexual behaviors of others.  Again, just as not all therapists can work with sex offenders, not all therapists are very comfortable talking about sex and sexuality.  That might sound odd, but it is true.

 

  1. Most therapists are not trained in treating sexual behavior that crosses into offending. In the process of graduate training to become a therapist, unless a person knows they want to specialize in treating sexual behavior problems from the get go, they are likely to receive limited training in the topic.  Normally all counseling programs make students take one course on human sexuality.  That’s it. This means that a general therapist will not have the training or knowledge to help you with the specific issues that brought you to being investigated for a cybersex crime.

 

What do you need to look for in a therapist?

  1. A therapist who has experience working with sexual behaviors. Most therapists will have listed somewhere on their website or Psychology Today profile what types of issues they work with.  If a therapist states that they work with sexual issues such as pornography addiction, sexual dysfunction, or other sexual health problems, they are going to be comfortable talking to you about details of sexual issues.

 

  1. A therapist who has experience working with sexual offending behaviors such as child pornography, sexting minors, online solicitation, etc. This will require a phone call or an email to the therapist and direct questioning.  Have they worked with people in your exact situation before?  If they have not, you might want to continue searching for a therapist who as at least seen a few people who are in your situation.

 

  1. A therapist who has specific training, certification or professional membership to organizations that work with sexual behavior problems. The best thing is to find a therapist who is a member of ATSA. This stands for the Association for Treatment of Sex Abusers.  This is an international organization that is entirely dedicated to research and treatment of people who engage in sexual offending behavior.  The website atsa.com has a referral page where you can find a therapist.  A second tier choice would be to find someone who is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist through IITAP (www.iitap.com) or trained through SASH (www.sash.net).  If you find a clinician who is experienced in treating your issue and they are not certified or a member of ATSA please make sure they stay informed of the latest treatment research and trends.

 

Again, if you are reading this you are in a very particular situation and need a very particular therapist to help you.  You need a therapist who is comfortable discussing sexuality in all forms, is willing to work with people who are attracted to children, has experience in treating people with sexual offending behavior and is up to date on the latest research in the field.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She specializes in the treatment of sexual offenders and cybersex offenders.  Through her program she provides psychosexual evaluations, treatment and expert witness testimony.  SATS also offers coaching services for those people who are being investigated but are not in Pennsylvania.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: What to look for in an Attorney

 

First, here is my proviso and you will hear it a lot.  I am NOT AN ATTORNEY.  I am not writing this in any way as a form of legal advice.  That’s not my role.  My role is to help people advocate for themselves and find the criminal defense attorney that is the best fit for their needs.

If you have had a visit from some type of law enforcement and they told you that you are now under investigation, you need an attorney.  Most people do not have a criminal defense attorney on speed dial so you, or a family member or loved one, are likely frantically trying to figure out several things.  First, what attorney do you use and second, how the heck are you going to pay for it?

What do you need to look for in an attorney?

  1. You need an attorney who has experience with sex crimes. Many criminal defense attorneys spend their entire careers mostly working with DUI type cases.  They don’t all work with sex crimes.  If you are searching attorney websites, they should state on the site that they have defended sex crimes.  If their website does not state this specifically, if you call, you need to ask whether or not they have experience with sex crimes.  And by experience I don’t mean they have tried one or two cases.  I mean that they have worked on many sex crime cases and know all about the laws and how to help mitigate your sentence.

 

  1. You need an attorney who has experience with sex crimes in your jurisdiction. This means a few things.  First, they obviously need to have passed the bar and are approved to practice law in your state.  Second, they need to have experience in the court where your case will be seen.  What court your case will be in depends on who showed up at your door.  If the FBI or Homeland Security is investigating you, you need a defense attorney who has experience trying sex crimes in the federal court system.  The federal courts and county courts handle these cases differently.  There are nuances in the Federal System that someone who has not seen cases in that venue will not know.  If your case is a county case, you want an attorney who has worked on a number of cases in your county.  Part of this process is the relationship that your attorney has with the prosecutor.

 

  1. You need an attorney with a strategy. When you are interviewing attorneys, you want to know what type of strategy they propose for your case.  At this point, they will not be able to create an actual solid plan as they do not know the details and will not know until the discovery is provided by the prosecution.  However, they should still have an idea of how to proceed and give you some things that you can do now to help with the case.

 

  1. You need an attorney with good reviews. Just like a doctor or a restaurant, there are sites that will help you find a lawyer and also will give you information on the lawyers rating.  For example, you can go on avvo.com to find a criminal defense attorney and read client ratings.  The website www.superlawyer.com can help you find a criminal defense attorney with a good track record and good ratings.

 

In the legal process, the decision about what attorney to use is so important.  I cannot understate how critical it is to have an attorney with experience specific to cybersex crimes.  Do not choose rashly or lightly.  Take some time.  Talk to the attorney.  Do some research.  Any attorney is going to be expensive.  The price tag will likely be daunting.  If you have any ability to find the money for an attorney, it is my suggestion that you go for it.  If you cannot afford an attorney and have to use a public defender, your defense will not be nearly as customized, and you will have to do a lot of this work yourself.

The next article in our series will discuss the psychosexual evaluation.

Dr. Weeks is a forensic psychologist who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of cybersex offenders.  Her treatment program provides counseling both pre-trial and after adjudication and she provides expert witness testimony.