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.

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.  

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: 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 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.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: Now What?

 

gavel and handcuffs on laptop

If you are reading this blog, either you or someone you care about has recently been visited by the police and are under investigation for a cybersex crime.  You are likely in shock and are likely panicking.  After many years of working with people in this situation, I have learned a thing or two of what to do next.  Even though you might be panicked, immobilized, in shock or depressed, you must take action.

Here is what you need to do right away.

  1. Hire an attorney

If you have the money or can rustle up the money, you need to immediately hire an attorney.  I will talk about what to look for in an attorney in a later post.  What you need to know in these first moments is that you should not just hire the first attorney you talk to.  Talk to several criminal defense attorneys.  Find out how much experience they have working with cybersex cases.  Make sure that the attorney has experience working with cybersex cases at your level.  If the FBI is investigating you, you need an attorney who has experience in Federal Court.  If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you are going to have to be your own advocate during this process.  A court appointed attorney won’t have the time to give you what a private attorney will.  You will have to do some of the leg work yourself.

  1. Make sure you are safe

When I say make sure you are safe, I mean make sure you are emotionally safe.  People who are investigated for cybersex crimes frequently feel immediately suicidal.  The majority of cybersex offenders have never been in trouble with the law before and the entire process can cause a shame spiral.  If you feel suicidal, go to the emergency room or find a hospital where you can go for a few days to ensure your emotional health and well-being.  If you are the loved one of someone who is under investigation be aware that they may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.

  1. Find a therapist

Now is not the time to just go down the list of in-network treatment providers from your insurance.  You don’t just need a therapist, you need a specialist.  The therapist you see should have experience treating people in your exact situation. They should have experience treating sexual offenders and perhaps pornography addicts.  While many therapists might be able to help you work through the anxiety and depression that will occur related to the investigation, if they don’t have experience working with the specific sexual behaviors or the court process, they will not be as effective as someone who specializes.

The criminal justice system works at a rather slow pace.  You will have time to deal with all of what comes after the investigation.  I will address many of these things in further posts.

If you are newly investigated please do things now and start to let experienced professionals help you through this process.

 

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is a Clinically Certified Sex Offender Treatment Specialist and an expert witness in the areas of sexual offending, cybersex offending and sexual addiction.  For more information on her services please go to the Sexual Addiction Treatment Services website. 

 

 

What Young Women’s Experiences with Sexting can tell us about Compliance, Coercion and Consent

The #MeToo movement has brought much needed attention to the experiences of women, of any age, of sexual abuse and harassment.  If you look behind the sensational headlines, the movement has sparked a much-needed conversation about consent.  I have previously written about how we teach consent in our practice in a blog on the topic.  The #METOO movement combined with some recent research published in the Sexuality Research and Social Policy journal can help us shed some light on how young women navigate sexuality and consent in the digital realm.

Dr. Sara Thomas recently published a research study in the journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy that looked at how young women handled pressure to send them a nude or semi-nude photograph from a peer.  Dr. Thomas’ study analyzed stories from teenagers about their experiences of digital drama.  She then identified three main dilemmas that young women experience in relation to sexual photographs.  These were interpersonal negotiations, consequences and self-concept.  She then identified six different categories of behavior for how women were induced to send nude photographs.  These were desire, personal gain, asked, relational scripts, bombardment and coercion.

One of the first dilemmas faced by a young woman is the decision of whether to send a photograph.  The study found that 2/3 of young women reported that they engaged in this ongoing struggle to decide if they should send a picture, if so to whom and when should they do this.  When a woman decided to send a nude photograph, the motivations ranged from it being consensual to giving in to pressure or threats from the person asking for the picture.

The young women in this study knew that if they chose to send a nude picture there could be consequences.  These consequences ranged from the picture being seen by people they did not want to see (mass distribution) to social ostracism, rumor spreading, legal consequences, emotional distress and getting in trouble with parents.  The study found that the biggest concern was the possibility of the image being spread without consent.

Why do young women send nude or sexual photographs?  In this study, only 8% of the young women sent the photograph because they wanted to.  If they didn’t want to send the image, why did they?

Compliance:  The study found that many young women were sending nude images because they wanted to please the person asking for the image or because they wanted to avoid negative consequences from the young men that were asking for the images.  One of the troubling findings from the study was the tacit nature of the compliance by the young girls.  The young women justified the compliance by saying that they liked the young man who was asking for the image.

“..compliance was frequently accompanied by an assertion they liked the young man who requested them.  These stories did not express coercion by the asker, but they also did not express a desire to send them.  Rather the decision to send was a compliant “so I did” to a male-initiated request for a photograph.”

Coercion:  The majority of the women in the study experienced some form of coercion.  The level of this coercion ranged from milder “If you loved me” statements from the young man requesting the image to more intense forms coercion.  When a woman was unsure of sending an image, they reported feeling guilty that their partner questioned their love by not sending a nude image.

Many of the women had experiences of coercion that were more intense.  The study found that some young men pressured, threatened, got angry or cut off contact with the young woman in order to try to obtain nude images.  The women also experienced threats of blackmail.  Some of these women were blackmailed into sending more images after they sent a first image.  The blackmail threat was often that the images would be mass distributed.  The young women who experienced these situations didn’t feel like they had any options and that they had to send the images.

Can young women refuse?  The answer to this is yes.  In the study about 30% of the women refused to send a sexual image.  Of those 30%, 79% of those women faced consequences for not sending images.  Partners would get angry.  Relationships would end.  Based on the consequences, several of the young women reported they ended up sending images to the young man who requested them.  Only 12 women in this study refused to send nude images and did not experience any negative consequences for holding their boundary.

What does this study show us?  In this study, 25 of 314 young women engaged in sexting with a partner because they truly wanted to, and the experiences were devoid of compliance or coercion.  This means that most of these young women engaged in sexting that was truly without consent.  Their behavior was induced by compliance or coercion.

We, as parents, teachers, educators, need to do a better job at many things.  First, we need to teach all young people the true meaning of consent.  We need to empower young women to say “no” to coercion and to feel strong enough to not feel the need to comply to an unwanted request.  We need to give young women access to resources to help them make decisions about their sexuality.

The young women in this study did not seek adult help but turned to peers for advice.  They often cited fearing an adults’ response as why they didn’t talk to parents or another adult in their life.  As adults, we also need to create an environment where our children feel safe to come to us with their challenging dilemmas and we need to react calmly and lovingly.

Thomas, Sara.  (2017) “What do I do?”:  Young Women’s Reported Dilemmas with Nude Photographs.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

For more information on Dr. Weeks please check out our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

 

Pedophile: What’s in a Label?

The news is awash with reports of famous men, actors, directors, and politicians whose victims are coming forward to report the sexual abuse and sexual harassment they have been subject to at the hands of these people. I applaud the bravery of each and every victim who has come forward to share their painful story. It takes an immense amount of courage to break through years of shame and silence to confront one’s abuser. Bravo. I am glad that these men and women’s voices are being heard and hopefully they can find some sort of justice or closure.

My writing today is not for those brave men and women but for the media. As someone works with sex offenders every day I have a pet peeve. That pet peeve, which sometimes gets me in hot water in facebook posts, is the fact that people throw around the word pedophile every time someone is found to have abused a minor. Besides frequently being inaccurate, it sends a message that pedophiles are the only people who abuse children. It generates fear. If we are truly going to protect children from sexual abuse by adults, we need to spread accurate information and create effective prevention plans.

So, let’s talk about attraction. When we specifically are looking at age, attraction is clinically categorized three ways.

Pedophile: A person who is attracted to PRE-PUBSECENT children. Doesn’t matter the gender of the child. The attraction is to the lack of sexual development.

Hebephile: A person who is attracted to pubescent children. Again, gender does not matter. The attraction is to a child who is in early adolescence and has signs of sexual development.

Teleiophile: A person who is attracted to adults. This attraction is to fully sexually developed adults.

A person does not have to fit into just one category. There are people who are what we call fixed pedophiles. This means they are only attracted to pre-pubescent children. Other people are attracted to several categories of sexual development. I work with many men who are attracted to pre-pubescent children, pubescent minors AND adults. They do not have a fixed attraction but find all ages of people to be sexually arousing.

The next piece of this puzzle is that ATTRACTION DOES NOT EQUAL ACTION. Many people who have a pedophilic or hebephilic attraction do not ever have any sexual contact with minors. They live with this attraction but have the awareness to know that they cannot act on these urges and they can inhibit any behavior toward minors to whom they may be attracted. In the clinical world, we call these folks non-offending pedophiles.

In Germany, there is a great program called Project Dunkelfeld that offers free treatment to any person who identifies as attracted to minors to help ensure they do not act on those attractions. This project runs ads on buses or billboards and runs public service announcements on television. These folks are getting prevention right.

The next piece of the abuse puzzle is that people offend against children for many reasons, only one of which may be sexual attraction. There are many, many reasons why adults sexually abuse children. There are too many to go into here (future post on this topic forthcoming). Only one of the reasons a person sexually abuses a child is attraction. I have worked with many contact sexual offenders against children who were not sexually aroused to children. This may make no sense at all to someone who doesn’t work in this field, but it is true. Why else might someone abuse a child? Power, control, emotional identification with children, using a child as replacement spouse (frequently seen in incest), and/or antisociality to name a few.

As I am sitting here writing this, I am trying to determine why the misuse of the term pedophile pokes my buttons. I think that if we throw around the term pedophile to label anyone who sexually abuses a child we can put them in a metaphorical box. It makes it easy to put abusers into a category and then not think about it as much. We can think, “oh watch out for pedophiles, they abuse children”. Even if it were true, how do you identify one? They look just like you and me and act just like you and me. There is no way to know someone’s sexual preference by looking at them. Labeling gives people a false sense of security that children are abused by people in this category and not by anyone else.

If we put child molesters in this lump category we diminish the complexity of the issue. It is not just about attraction to minors. The people perpetrating the abuse most often are not “the others.” They are most frequently family members or close friends of the family of the children. They are frequently people in positions of power who have the trust of the child and the child’s parents. Abusers are, most often, people that know you and your child. (the exception here being cyber cases).

If we are going to truly protect children from sexual abuse, we need to make sure that everyone has accurate information. Creating a fear reaction to a clinical label does nothing to enhance child safety. What can you do to enhance your child’s safety? Learn the truth about the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Create an open and safe relationship with your child so that you can talk to them about sex, sexuality, sexual boundaries. Learn what grooming is and help them to identify behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable, so they can come to you immediately. Arm yourself with knowledge, not fear.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of SATS, an out-patient program that treats sexual offenders, problematic sexual behavior and trauma.

Her book The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about pornography and cybersex in the digital age is available on amazon.

Three Things to Teach your Child About Safe Sexting

Sexting

If we choose to face reality, we know that teen sexting has become a normative part of adolescent culture.  Of course, not all adolescents are doing it, but many are sexting.  What we learned from the years of the “JUST SAY NO” campaign and more years of research is that preaching abstinence just doesn’t work.  If we want to protect children from the darker side of sexting, we need to educate and inform them about the practice, so they can make their own, hopefully well thought out, decisions.

What are the tenants of Safe Sexting?

  1. You are responsible for your own safety.
  2. Know the risk
  3. Know how to protect yourself

You are responsible for your own safety

 The digital world can be a risky place.  Aware parents will have talked to their children about online sexual activity and perhaps filtered or monitored devices such as phones or laptops.  However, no filter or monitor can truly protect a child from the risks of online sexual behavior.  Ultimately, your child is responsible for his or her own behavior online.  What they do or do not post, text, snap, etc.  is their own responsibility.

To help your child be more proactive about their online safety, here are some things to think about and talk to them about.  Before you send a picture or post, stop and count to ten.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really want to send this picture or video?
  2. Do I feel pressured to take or send this image?
  3. Do I trust that the person I send this to will never share this image without my consent?

It is very true that many children, particularly girls, feel a great deal of pressure to participate in taking and sending sexual images.  There are also online predators who will groom, intimidate or threaten a young person to convince them to take pictures.  In these instances, there is no consent.  Coercion is never consent.

If your child chooses to engage in consensual sexting with a peer, they should truly want to take the image without feeling any pressure to do so.  They should also trust that, no matter what, the person they send the image to will not share the image.   If all of these parameters are met, then the sexting is consensual and if your child takes and sends an image, they are assuming responsibility for their actions.

Know the Risk

 Even in the case of consensual teen sexting there is a lot of risk.  In order to engage in safe sexting, the person doing it (adult or minor) needs to know the risk involved with the behavior.  So what are the risks?

Sexting as a minor may be illegal.  Every state has a different law regarding minors producing and sending illicit or sexual images.  The punishments for the behavior also vary from state to state.  In some cases, a child can be the producer and distributor of child pornography as well as the victim of the same crime.  Some states have decriminalized consensual sexting between two minors.  Know the law in your state and share that with your child.

Another risk is that someone you do not want to see your image may see your sexual image.  This is non-consensual sexting.  You may have sent a sexual image to someone with whom you are in a relationship.  This may have been consensual at the time.  Then, something goes wrong in the relationship, and you are not together.  Revenge porn is a real thing.  If the person you were dating changes their feelings or gets mad, they have an image that they can send out to every other person in high school or post to a revenge pornography site.  Anytime you send a sexual image there is always a risk that someone you do not want to see it will see it.  It is also possible that many, many people may see the image.

Protect Yourself

 In this arena of uncertainty, where something can go viral in the blink of an eye, how do you protect yourself?  Here are some guidelines to help your child protect themselves.

If you choose to consensually share a sexual image with someone, only send an image or video that you would not mind someone else seeing.  Are you ok with just anyone seeing you nude or engaged in a sexual act with someone?  If you are not okay with that, and choose to send an image, perhaps send a picture in a bathing suit or underwear.  I don’t want this to be read as advocating for teens sexting but for those who choose to do so, to send an image that the sender would not mind any and all to see.

If you choose to send a sexual image, only send an image to someone you trust.  Sending an image is a great act of trust as you lose control of that image the moment it is sent.  You need to truly and completely trust that the person you send it to won’t someday get mad at you and send it to all of his or her friends or post it online without your consent.

How do you know who you can trust?  To answer this, I will borrow from Brene Brown’s concept Anatomy of Trust otherwise known as BRAVING.  This can be applied to you or another.

  • Boundaries – The person you may send this image to always respects your  boundaries
  • Accountability – The person you may send this image to always owns their mistakes,  apologizes and makes amends
  • Integrity –   The person you may send this image to always acts with integrity, does what is right instead of what is easy or fun.
  • Reliability –  The person you may send this image to is reliable.  They always mean what they say and say what they do.
  • Vault-  The person you may send an image to NEVER shares things that are not his or hers to share.  They don’t gossip and they keep confidences.
  • Non-Judgment- The person you may send this to will not judge you.
  • Generosity-   The person you may send this image to will assume the most generous thoughts about your actions and intentions.

If the person you are thinking about sending a sexual image to does not meet the core pieces of the anatomy of trust, you may wish to rethink sending him or her a sexual image.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that my intention here is not to encourage or glamorize the practice of sexting among adolescents.  My point is to be realistic.  If teens are going to engage in sexting we need to empower them with accurate information and guidance about how to do so safely.  Talking to your child about Safe Sexting arms them with information to make their own informed decisions.

For more information on how to talk to your child please see my book, The New Age of Sex Education: how to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.

For more information on Dr. Weeks, Please see our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

Parents – Get Your Kids off Adult Dating Apps

grindr.PNG

I started engaging in prevention and education work as a direct result of my experiences working as a forensic psychologist in the field of sexual addiction and sexual offending. Despite my efforts and the efforts of many others more well-known than myself, we continue to see an increase in cybersex issues with teens.

This month, I have had several new forensic cases involving teens and dating apps. These new cases involved adult men who were found to be having sexual contact with minors that were met via the adult dating app Grindr.

First, let’s talk about dating apps. The most well-known adult dating apps are Tinder and Grindr. Tinder is used more for those who are attracted to the opposite sex and Grindr is targeted at the gay male audience. Other names you need to know: Jack’d, Scruff, Adam 4 Adam, Growlr, Plenty of Fish, Ok Cupid.

Why do you need to know about these apps? Because under age teens are on these apps, using them and meeting with adults for sexual encounter. Any and all of these apps are for people over the age of 18. They specifically state in their information that you cannot be under 18 (or 21 in some places) and use the app. The apps are for adults. The problem is that often all you must do is enter a birthdate or check a box that affirms you are at least 18 years of age and there is no age verification. Anyone under the age of 18 can do the math and figure out what birth year they need to enter to comply. If someone mutually swipes and connects with your child, they will text or chat to see if they are compatible and arrange a hook up or meeting. Sometimes, during these chats, the child may disclose that they are under the age of 18. Many times, they do not.

There are two ways your child could end up having sex with an adult via an adult dating app:

  1. They could be targeted by an adult who is specifically seeking a young or young-looking man or woman on the app. However, there is an assumption that all on the app are of legal age. During the chat, the child could disclose that they are underage. Obviously, at this point, the right thing for anyone to do is to discontinue the conversation with the minor and NOT meet them, connect with them and surely not have sex with them. However, some people will ignore what is right and hook up with the minor for sex. In this case, the person meeting the minor has full knowledge that they are underage when they are hooking up with them and knows this is illegal.

  1. A child could go on an adult dating app and create a profile that says they are at least 18 years old. They could engage with men or women on line and meet up with them for sexual encounters. The child could never disclose that they are a minor to the person they are meeting for sex. Therefore, the person who is meeting them for sex is under the assumption that they are at least 18 and they are not knowingly having sex with a minor.

What can you do if you are a parent?

  1. Talk to your child. Talk to them about dating apps, hook up apps and any social networking apps. Ask what they use and how they use it. Ask if they are on the sites. Discuss with them the inappropriateness of being a minor and being on an adult dating site. I have had clients tell me they were on these apps when they were as young as 13 years old.

  1. If necessary, block your child’s access to these sites. I am not usually a fan of blocking sites completely, but in these cases, where there are such serious risks, I say, block your child’s access until they are the legal age to use the apps.

  1. Be open to your child’s curiosity about sex and sexuality. Many of these issues occur on same sex dating sites. This is likely because adolescent men are exploring their sexuality and may not be out, feel safe doing so in their school or social network and/or have no one to talk to about their questions and feelings. Be that safe person for your child to talk to and help them find appropriate resources to answer their questions.

What can you do if you use a dating site?

  1. If you find out someone you are talking to is under 18, stop talking to them IMMEDIATELY. Report their use of the app to the administrators of the app per the app’s instructions. DO NOT MEET THE UNDERAGE USER.

  1. If you think someone is younger than 18, ask for some form of ID to verify their age. Ask for a driver’s license. Yes, someone can get a fake ID If they are underage, but you need to do this to protect yourself and not make a life altering bad decision.

Does the app bear any responsibility when a minor is preyed upon in an adult dating app or ends up having sexual encounters with an adult? The answer to this is, NO. They do not. This has been challenged in court and the apps have won, meaning that the stated age requirements and acknowledgment of the user of the rules removes them from any liability in these cases. I would urge the makers of these apps to do more to try to remove under age users from their platforms.

As always, the key to prevention is awareness and communication. Talk to your child!

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.