Pedophilia is Not a Behavior

It is often easy to tell when some bit of science regarding pedophilia is brought out to the general public.  There is usually a rash of social media memes that are negative and frequently suggest that by agreeing with the emerging science, the writers or researchers are condoning the sexual abuse of children.

Recently, Dr. James Cantor, a highly respected and published researcher who focuses on the study of pedophilia, appeared on an Australian news show to discuss his findings.  He shared his research, which involves brain scans and neuroscience, which shows that people have differences in their brain structures.  His research suggests that people with pedophilia are born with this attraction and it is not something they can change.

Enter the memes……….  And where I get on my soapbox and continue to spout science and education.

I have written about this topic before because it is something that I feel strongly about. I feel very strongly about it being accurately portrayed in the lay community.  So, let’s recap.

Pedophilia (without giving you the entire DSM-V diagnosis) is a sexual arousal to a person who is prepubescent.  The age here is not the important thing (i.e. 10 vs. 11. vs. 12 etc.).  The important thing is that the attraction is to a child’s body that has NOT started the physiological changes associated with puberty.  If a person is attracted to pubescent or post pubescent children, that is considered hebephilia. 

Pedophilia is NOT a behavior.  I believe that this is one of the most common myths in the non-scientific community.  Pedophilia is an attraction.  Actions are behavior.  The frequently cited concern is that every person who has a pedophilic arousal template is a child molester.  Not true. 

Some people sexually abuse children because they are attracted to them.  Some people sexually abuse children for reasons that don’t have much to do with sexual attraction.  For example: issues of power and control, distorted thinking, emotionally connecting with children in an inappropriate manner that becomes sexualized.  Some people who are attracted to children never engage in any sexual contact with them, nor do they view images of child sexual abuse (child pornography). 

Many people have questioned why I get so revved up about this topic.  Why do I think it is important? When you get it wrong, when the press gets it wrong, it damages prevention efforts.  Every person who is attracted to children, whether they have offended or not, knows how society feels about them.  Most carry an immense amount of toxic shame.  This shame keeps them from coming forward to seek help from trained professionals (the stigma against this population by treatment professionals is a topic for another day). 

Every time a person who is attracted to children feels that he or she cannot come forward to seek treatment, we do a disservice to the protection of children.  What better way to engage in primary prevention than to make treatment accessible and not shame based for people who are attracted to prepubescent children, have not offended and want to keep it that way? 

The United States does a good job of secondary prevention.  Once we know you have offended and found guilty, you are mandated to treatment to prevent another offense.  We try really hard to make sure you don’t offend AGAIN.  While decreasing recidivism is a great thing, it misses the mark. I would much prefer to live in a world where there are no more first victims, not just no more subsequent victims. 

Pedophilia ≠ Child Molestation

Pedophilia is an attraction.

Child molestation is a behavior. 

They are not synonymous.

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: 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. 

 

 

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.

We Are Failing Male Sexual Abuse Survivors

I specialize in working with sexual addiction and problematic sexual behavior. Most of my clients are men.  Working with male addicts for over a dozen years has taught me, in person, that many more boys are sexually abused than the numbers tell us.  These boys do not tell anyone and do not seek help.  These boys turn into men who are profoundly affected by their sexual abuse experiences as children and most of the time, don’t even know it.  They do not name what happened to them as abuse, or they don’t want to.  They feel so much shame about being abused that they lock part of themselves away so tightly it can take years (like 5 to 7 years) of therapy before they even acknowledge to a trusted therapist what happened to them.  These men who were abused as boys suffer in silence.

I realize that many people (myself included) will respond to this by saying that many girls and women do not disclose their sexual abuse and that they too live lives that are deeply affected by their abuse histories.  Having spent time working in a Women’s Trauma and Addiction PHP and IOP program, I do not dispute this.  However, I see a difference.

When women finally find the courage to come forward to seek treatment for their sexual abuse, they can find resources.  There are many group, individual and support resources for women who are survivors of sexual abuse.  Finding help is not so easy for men.  I will share an example from my practice to explain.

I have a male client who came to me last year who I will call Tom.  Tom has a pornography addiction and came to treatment after the problem began to cause a great deal of disruption in his life.  He had never gone to therapy and near the beginning of our work together, he disclosed that, when he was a boy, he was sexually abused by a neighbor boy who was near his age.  He had never shared this with anyone in his life and as soon as he acknowledged the abuse, the floodgates opened.  He started to have flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms.  Tom is a take charge kind of guy and we nearly immediately started to look for resources for him to do trauma work outside of our individual sessions.

First, we looked for men’s specific groups.  There was nothing and we are directly outside of a major east coast city.  Then we looked for trauma groups.  Tom talked to a few places that had groups for trauma survivors and was told that, as a man, he would make the women in the group uncomfortable so they could not have him join the group.  He then had an intake with a county resource for group trauma work.  After his intake, they told him that his case was too complicated and he could not join the group.  After months of looking, we literally could not find a group for sexual trauma survivors that was either all men or that would allow men into the group.

Tom continues his trauma work in individual therapy but craves the connection and understanding that one gets in group work.  He wants to know he is not alone and the therapeutic community was unable to tell him that, as a man, he is not alone.

Tom is just one example of many that I could pull from my case load.  To me, he is the loudest example of how we, as a treatment community, fail male survivors of sexual assault.  I have had other clients walk out of public events for sexual abuse survivors because, as the only man in attendance, they felt unwelcome and uncomfortable.

Why do we treatment professionals who work so closely with trauma not offer more resources to men? Are we uncomfortable?  Is there a reason we focus more closely on female survivors of sexual abuse?  These are questions to which I have no answers.  I have only heartbreak.  I can only do my part to welcome male sexual abuse survivors into therapy when they come and to start group programming for them in my practice.

I challenge other treatment professionals to process this issue and see what we can do to create more resources for men and to be more welcoming.

 

For a good online resource for male survivors of sexual abuse, please see www.1in6.org

Compliance, Coercion and Consent: Everyone Needs to Know This

coercion

American news and social media feeds have been consumed lately with the comments of a presidential candidate regarding the sexual exploitation of women. As someone who works with both sexual abuse survivors and sexual offenders, the responses of many people truly bother me. Therefore, I feel compelled to share on my blog one of the basic teachings that all of my sexual offender clients both know and understand.

We can all seem to wrap our head around the idea of non-consent when it involves sexual behavior with a pre-pubescent minor. Outside of this instance, there appears to be some confusion. Why do we talk about this in sex offender treatment? Because it is imperative that the person who committed a crime come to an understanding of how they hurt their victim as well as how they allowed themselves to engage in the behavior. Though I mostly work with non-contact offenders, everyone I work with has engaged in a non-consensual sexual act. Someone who exposes him or herself forces a victim to view something sexual that they did not consent to view. Someone who takes a video of a person that was unaware they were being filmed has done so without that victim’s consent. Even child pornography offenders who did not produce images and have not had a contact offense are engaging in a non-consensual act. The children in the pornography did not consent to being abused, to being videoed or to being viewed by others. Because the human brain is brilliant at justification and rationalization, we need to talk a lot about consent.

What is the difference between compliance, coercion and consent?

Coercion – This might seem obvious to most people. The most obvious form of coercion is actual violence and force. While this is what most people think of when they think of non-consensual sex, coercion can come in a more subtle or non-obvious form. If one party uses drugs or alcohol to influence a sexual outcome, this is coercion. A person cannot truly give consent if they are impaired. Another form of coercion is unreasonable pressure from one party to engage in a sexual act. This can be both personal or social pressure. If one party has to pressure or really talk the other party into a sexual act, this is not truly consent, but coercion. If one party has to get the other party drunk in order to get them to engage in a sexual act, this is not consent but coercion.

Compliance – Compliance is often seen in the context of relationships as well as other encounters. A person may comply to a sexual encounter if they feel that there is a negative consequence for saying no. One partner may comply to a sexual request from their partner out of fear that the partner may break up with them, not because they want to do it. A subordinate in a work environment may comply to a sexual encounter with a boss out of fear for their job if they say no. Some people will say that compliance is consensual, such as engaging in a sexual act with your partner that you are not really into because they are. To me this is different, as in this situation, there is no fear of consequences for not engaging in the act. I have seen this in my work with sex addicts where, for example, a partner goes to a sex club with their significant other, not because they want to engage in the behavior but because they fear that their partner will leave them if they don’t.

Consent – Consent is rather a clear cut concept in reality. It means saying “yes, I agree to engage in this act with you.” People who consent do so clearly and knowingly without fear of repercussion or being hurt. Consent can be revoked at any time by any party in an interaction.

The concept of consent is discussed frequently in the media and taught to children and adults alike. The concepts of coercion and compliance are not as frequently talked about. Hopefully, the media’s presentation of comments made by the presidential candidate can help us initiate conversations about compliance, coercion and consent.

Using one’s celebrity or status as a business person as a means to engage sexually with another person (who does not desire the contact) can and should be considered coercion or compliance. This thinking implies that the person who is receiving the unwanted sexual contact won’t say no or say anything at all out of fear of repercussions based on the power and status of the person who is engaging in the unwanted sexual conduct.

It deeply disturbs me that the sex offenders I work with have a MUCH better understanding of the difference between compliance, coercion and consent than does the general public.

 

Image from www.consented.ca

Dr. Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services and the author of The New Age of Sex Education:  How to Tali to Your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.  She is also an expert in the field of Cybersex Offenders

 

Sexual Abuse – Societal Double Standard

Last week there were two high profile cases in the area newspapers involving sexual abuse.  One was about a male psychiatrist who is accused of sexually assaulting several female clients, some of which were underage.  The second was about a female high school teacher who was accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. I made the mistake of looking at the comments sections of the online versions of these stories.  Though I really should have known better than to do so, these comments brought to light a shocking difference in how these events were perceived.  Granted, this is the perception of those persons willing to put a comment on a newspaper web-page.  Nonetheless, they do represent a sample of our society.

What was glaringly evident, based on these comments, was the difference in how the sexual abuse was perceived based on the gender of the perpetrator and the victim.  Both of the alleged perpetrators were in a position of trust, one a teacher and one a psychiatrist.  Both of the alleged perpetrators had sexual contact with a minor.  What was very different was how the commentators viewed the issues.  In the case of the male psychiatrist accused of assaulting female victims, the comments were a relative consensus of negative feedback, some cruder than others.  The overall impression was that this was a horrible abuse of trust of his position as a doctor and that he was a sick or depraved man.

In the case of the female teacher accused of having sexual contact with her male, underage student, the comments were of a very different vein.  Many of the comments involved people commenting on how this was the quintessential adolescent male fantasy.  Many of the commentors stated that they would have had sex with her if they were in the teenager’s shoes.  What was missing was the plethora of comments about how horrible this event was or that it was, clearly, sexual assault.

This disparity in societal feedback was made even more pronounced in my brain as that same day I received an announcement for the Creative Changes Conference promoting its 6th Annual “It Happens to Boys” conference in February of this year.  (www.creativechangeconferences.com). This minimization of the impact of sexual abuse on boys is damaging in so many ways.  As a clinician, I work with many men who were sexually abused as boys.  This abuse is, in fact, very impactful for them and a source of deep shame and trauma.  The fact that it is often perpetrated by men can add to the shame of the event and decrease a boy’s likelihood of coming forward to report the abuse.

The organization Male Survivor (www.malesurvivor.org) discusses many of the myths of male sexual abuse.  When I think about the event recently in the news here, Male Survivor’s Myth #7 comes to mind (http://malesurvivor.org/myths.html), “If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been introduced to heterosexual activity.”  The comments in the news article overwhelmingly supported this myth.  Not confronting this myth does a disservice to those boys that are sexually abused.  Any sexual abuse of any kind is dangerous and damaging.

In no way do I want this post to infer that I am minimizing the impact of sexual assault on female victims.  This post is simply the result of my experience both in reading the comments of these news articles and my work with many men who were sexually abused as boys.  I challenge all of us to confront our own judgments and myths about sexual assault. It is imperative that we all realize that sexual assault is damaging and traumatic to the victims, no matter what the gender of either the perpetrator or the victim.