Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mandated reporting: the pedophile perspective

The basics of <mandated reporting> are simple: Lots of child sex abuse went unreported for years, even though people knew about it. Laws were passed requiring them to report suspected sexual abuse. Some kids were rescued from abuse. But pedophiles found out about these laws and stopped seeking out therapy that might prevent them from abusing kids. Many mainstream people are coming to think that this latter cost is higher than the benefit. (These laws also cover non-sexual child abuse and require reporting by teachers, police, doctors, etc. But here the focus is on psychotherapists and child sex abuse).

A <recent Vocativ article> describes the dilemma.

The article does quote pedophiles' perspectives on this in general terms, but the bulk of the article is about the therapist's side of the issue.

Legislators craft mandated reporting laws with some attention to detail, and courts interpret them with some care. Professional associations advise their members on how to stay within the law, simplifying the situation and erring on the side of their staying within the law (rather than protecting their clients' rights). Individual therapists will tend to have a less clear understanding, and simplify further, erring in the same direction. Some will just plain get it wrong. Therapists as a group are nearly as hostile towards pedophiles as the rest of society is, and that too can influence them in the direction of reporting rather than siding first with their client. It is also a safe bet that a pedophile suing a psychotherapist over inappropriate disclosure would face an uphill battle -- what jury will side with a pedophile if their opponent has any sort of case at all?

I come at this very much from a pedophile's perspective, as it is pedophiles who I communicate with online regularly. Pedophiles are typically even less informed than therapists. Horror stories get passed around on the internet. A typical view of the online pedophile is, "I cannot say anything about my attraction to children to a therapist or he or she might report me to the police." Any explanation put forth to ease his mind is necessarily a complicated explanation. It surely does not help that the laws differ by jurisdiction, including different laws in all 50 US states. With California's law requiring a report for child pornography viewing, the message is getting worse. Now that the word is out there, it will be very hard to take it back. If some jurisdictions soften their mandated reporting laws or if some repeal them entirely, it will make little difference -- those are details. The damage will be long-lasting. Pedophiles in danger of offending who want help to stay on the right side of the law won't feel safe seeking out therapy.

For the sake of therapists and children, one major improvement in the law would be discretionary reporting -- the therapist can use their judgment to report a case without running afoul of confidentiality requirements, but they are not obligated to do so. The vocativ article also mentions therapists who refuse to obey the law. These might help individual pedophiles who have decided to trust their fates to a therapist. But they will mean little to pedophiles who are now staying away -- it makes no difference whether the therapist might report them or would report them. It's still very risky.

What might make a difference? The distinction between what a person has done and what they might do.

The law typically covers a need to report if (1) a child is being abused or (2) if there is an imminent danger of abuse. These two cases sound very reasonable and almost identical to the public and the therapist, but they are night and day for the pedophile.

Most pedophiles I meet online have not abused a child. If they became convinced that the therapist could only report them if they actually admitted to abusing a child, most would feel safer and be safer. They wouldn't say they've abused a child since it's not true. But "imminent danger" is a judgment call by the therapist on the basis of intangibles. If a pedophile describes an attraction, maybe even an attraction to some particular child in his life, how can he possibly know that he won't be reported? An "imminent danger" clause keeps pedophiles away. Any sort of exception allowing a therapist to make a report if they think the client is lying is just as bad for the pedophile as imminent danger. The requirement to report admitted abuse would address the flagrant cases that motivated these laws -- a therapist knowing for years that abuse was taking place and doing nothing.

If such a uniform change were adopted, pedophiles could come in to therapists again. Child sexual abuse could be prevented.

Individual jurisdictions could take a helpful step in the mean time. They could publish a statement in plain language making clear to pedophiles (and other potential offenders) what they can safely reveal to a psychotherapist. What is definitely on the safe side of the law? Doubters could think of that as warning the enemy, but the enemy has already been warned. You should instead think of it as a way to help people from slipping into the enemy camp.



5 comments:

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  2. The law is very clear in Pennsylvania as to who gets reported to CYS. It is if a client specifically admits to child abuse. Could the therapist report anyway? Yes, and I could get struck by lightning as well.

    Mandatory reporting is necessary for the protection of children. Everybody has a different idea of what constitutes abuse, and so we need a uniform reporting standard.

    Is there an imminent danger clause in PA? Yes, but I have heard my father, a former therapist, say that any therapist worth his or her two cents knows that a client is prone to fantasy. Many clients say they want to kill themselves because they are so stressed. Will they? No they won't. Therapists are smart enough to know that people fantasize, and that such is a normal defense mechanism...Even if I was reported under this clause, it wouldn't go to CPS. A therapist here has to have her ducks in a row before she can report me.

    I am out to four people in the health field. Two pediatricians and two therapists. I was never reported, and they all said they had no basis to report. Also, my mother who I live with is a mandated reporter, and I am brutally honest with her about my condition. She has never reported me, and I highly doubt she will.

    This whole bit about therapists reporting clients - for their thoughts - seems unreal to the therapists and former therapists (including both my parents) that I have talked to. It is an example of the paranoia that comes with being a pedophile, and that too should be dealt with in therapy...Many did not like the system in other states, but were glad I am in Pennsylvania. Some didn't believe me.

    Mandatory reporting is necessary. Without it, people would give each other the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because child abuse signs are just so subtle.

    Take it from me. I have known people who have been mental health professionals. They are my family, and I have talked to them in great deal about this. My father refuses to believe that such laws are the case, even in other states. I would know, since I have talked to a lot of mental health professionals.

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    1. On the other side we have the first-person stories of many pedophiles who have been reported for their thoughts alone. The consequences are so severe that even if it only happened one time in four it would be a serious concern.

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    2. What I am basically saying is that in Pennsylvania, the risk isn't as great. A way to deter the risk even further is to pick a therapist with a humanistic/person-centered approach, because a therapist with that approach won't judge a pedophile. My therapist has that approach, and my parents had that approach when they did therapy.

      Some of this fear of therapists is good fear. If you live in Delaware or Puerto Rico, everyone is mandated to report you - maybe for your thoughts alone - if they think you have abused a child. But Pennsylvania law is unique, and I think pedophiles in Pennsylvania should take advantage of that.

      Can a therapist report you for your thoughts? Yes, and I can get hit by lightning too. Coming out to a therapist here is safer than coming out to your family. Some pedophiles would rather tell their loved ones when the loved ones aren't ethically bound by confidentiality like a therapist is. The therapists I know, including my own, take these ethics very seriously. They think they could lose their license if they reported me.

      Should most pedophiles be cautious? Definitely. In most states, you can be reported for your thoughts. What I was saying was that such a concept seems alien to therapists here in Pennsylvania, so much that my father (a former therapist) still doesn't believe me, I don't think. My therapist, despite taking serious issue with pedophiles who have hurt kids, will never report me for my thoughts. I am positive. She doesn't even want to label me a pedophile, because she doesn't like labels. Maybe in most jurisdictions one has to worry about being reported, but not in Pennsylvania.

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