Tag Archives: Sexual Assault

An Inconvenient Truth About Pedophilia: It’s a Curse, Not a Choice

6028playground_swingA friend sent me this link to a New York Times op-ed on pedophilia, the technical term for the DSM-Vparaphilic mental health diagnosis that describes a person (usually a male), sexually interested only in pre-pubescent children.

Apparently, the DSM itself (the “bible” of mental health professionals) will not describe pedophilia as a sexual orientation, but rather a paraphilic disorder. This is basically a sexual predilection detrimental to the object of the interest, and which causes the sufferer significant distress or difficulty dealing with it. Since pedophiles are solely, sexually focused on prepubescent children, any manifestation of the disorder will be- in essence- harmful and unacceptable. Rightfully, we punish such manifestations, including consumption of child pornography as well as “hands-on” offending.

Regardless, I know of no reputable mental health expert who would call pedophilia a “choice.” When it comes to the persistent, chronic sexual attraction to prepubescent children, what we’re dealing with is more of a burden.

Or more bluntly, a curse.

What’s chosen is behavior.  Sexual behavior involving prepubescent children should remain 1) anathema to what is societally acceptable, and 2) severely punished. I’ve spent a career seeking to do these things.

But the author of the op-ed makes valid points when she discusses the need to understand pedophilia instead of just aiming vitriol and anger toward those saddled with this miserable circumstance. There are, as she notes, people with pedophilia who do not act out in response to deep-seated urges. They understand the concrete wrongness of sexually acting out against children, so they painfully but dutifully deny themselves a sexual life.

In my opinion, with a career of seeking to protect children from child molesters behind me, I believe these successfully restrained people should be commended for this, particularly when their concern is more for the children they might harm as it is for the legal or societal consequences they might face. Certainly, they should not be further marginalized, ostracized, or hated. But regardless of how balanced any appeal to common sense or baseline compassion might be, hatred and viciousness are usually what pedophiles encounter.

And so they remain in the shadows, untreated and more deeply misunderstood.

We still have almost no idea what causes pedophilia; correlations between childhood experiences (abusive or non-abusive) have been at best inconclusive. If it’s genetic, we’ve yet to discover a traceable etiology. We know that the vast majority of victims of childhood sexual abuse do not turn around themselves and abuse later in life or “become” pedophiles. Rather, it seems more ingrained, but we don’t know why or how.  We also know that, while most confirmed abusers will claim past sexual abuse, even the threat of a polygraph exam during treatment will bring those claims far down.

So we’re dealing with a very dangerous mystery. But largely as a society, we’re interested in nothing but punishing pedophiles, regardless of their actual status as offenders. If they have this desire, too many of us seem to believe that they’re worthy of the worst we can legally (or otherwise) dish out to them.

The comments to Dr. Margo Kaplan’s piece in the NYT are enlightening in this regard. While some applaud her for her courage in being a voice of reason, many more seem to fall into a couple of categories that, while understandable to some degree, are irrelevant. First, there are commenters who simply make legally and psychologically incorrect assertions, and lump pedophiles into the far larger subset of child molesters, most of whom are not pedophiles. Second, there are woefully unfocused comments that address the harm done to the victims of pedophiles (or people they assume are pedophiles) with no further thought.

Focusing on victims and prevention of harm is more than understandable; it’s completely appropriate and it needs to continue to be our highest priority. But we must also understand what drives offending- particularly when the drive is so despised that passion chokes that understanding.

Again- most predatory, sexual offenders are not pedophiles. The word is grossly overused and misused. Regardless, there are harmful pedophiles in our midst. We need to stop them, but in order to do so, we need to understand them.

Blind hatred won’t help. Blind hatred never helps anything.

 

 

 

Honored Beyond Words: Being a Part of “Lived Through This”

LTTIt has to have been 8 years or more since I first heard of the Voices and Faces Project, although it seems like much longer. Its mission is so beautifully simple that it tends to transcend its also beautifully simple name: Voices and Faces.

But that’s the point.

The best prosecutors, investigators and advocates I ever worked with in this business knew that the word “case,” and the dozens of other words we use to categorize, triage, sanitize and process human misery as a result of crime, was a reprehensible substitute for the person we came to know at the center of it.

Yes, it was a case, and it had to be dealt with as such. But the thing that haunted us wasn’t the case. It was the she or he, the unique, mysterious, and sometimes broken, sometimes remarkably unbowed, person before us. To the extent we were responsible to her or him- at least for what we could control in the almost comically blunt and fractured, imperfect system we worked in- we struggled to keep that person’s face foremost in our minds. We struggled to hear her or his voice as we strategized, made decisions, and dealt out “justice” as we’d been conditioned to accept and define it.

But even that voice- the one we heard- was truncated. I was good at what I did, and I listened well. But what I needed to hear professionally, and what I could spare the time and emotional energy for, was always far less than what could have been fully related to me. When I parted ways with a survivor, whether she was 5 or 75, I often wondered what I’d missed, and was missing then and forever. But it wasn’t something I could dwell on. There were more “cases” coming in. Pretty much every day.

The pinnacle of what I did wasn’t winning those cases (and yes, I accept how self-serving that sounds, having lost my share). Regardless, the pinnacle was responding to the voices and acknowledging the faces in a way that gave them- and not us- the measure of dignity and recognition they deserved.

That is the day to day challenge that simply must be met in the Anglo-American criminal justice response to sexual violence, or all else is lost, and our critics are right to say we serve no one but ourselves.

But even at our best, we could only see so much, and absorb so much. There was- and always will be- an ocean of human experience going woefully unnoticed by those of us tasked with responding professionally to the harm done. We’re simply not equipped to know it all, whether because it’s not legally relevant, not immediately discernible, or not emotionally digestible given the spectrum we work on.

And the saddest fact, of course, is that the incalculable amount of suffering, resilience, inspiration and courage that results from sexual violence in our world could be at any time multiplied exponentially from what I missed, and that all of us in the entire system miss. This is because we only see what enters the system we created in the first place. The vast, vast majority of sexual violence that occurs the world over, day in and day out, is never revealed to any sort of system of authority or adjudication. It simply goes unmet, unaided, unanswered. Unheard.

Voices and Faces changes that, and with no more than the courage of the survivors and the ability to memorialize their accounts. Of course, the project stands apart from the criminal justice response and well it should. I simply came across it as a practitioner with no other perspective.

Except for one. I am a victim, myself of child sexual abuse, a fact known now to most who know me in any capacity, but unknown to most during my tenure as a special victims prosecutor. A few years ago, the author of “Lived Through This,” herself a survivor of a brutal home invasion rape and a dear friend, approached me about being a part of the compilation she envisioned. She knew my story. She wanted to tell it for me. The proudest thing I’ve ever done is to allow her to do so.

Thank you, Anne, for doing it so very beautifully.

Proposed Changes to Military Preliminary Hearings: Reasonable, Easily Implemented, and Sorely Needed

While I believe Congress should pass the Military Justice Improvement Act, there’s a far more easily implemented change being urged on the President that should meet little resistance. But even it is considered “radical” in some military circles. Recently, a Navy Times article focused on proposed changes to Article 32 hearings, which under the Uniform Code of Military Justice operate like preliminary hearings in civilian systems. The “32,” as JAGs typically refer to it, is a less formal hearing where evidence is presented to a neutral investigating officer. That officer then makes a recommendation about the case to the Convening Authority, that is, a commander (usually a general officer) who then makes the final decision as to whether the case is “referred” for court martial.

The changes- implementable by the President- are being proposed specifically for the enhanced protection of complainants in sexual assault cases; the need for them became apparent to reformers particularly after the exhausting, multi-day examination of a Naval Academy midshipman involved in a rape case against three classmates late this summer. The changes are sorely needed, in least in terms of how Article 32 hearings often play out in sexual violence cases, and they are eminently reasonable. 

Yet the language used in the article is perhaps a measure of how concerning any change to the military justice system is to insiders. The reporter describes the proposal as a “major reform” and a “radical overhaul” of the process. It is neither.

The officer who presides over the Article 32 hearing listens to evidence, prepares a summary of the testimony, and gives recommendations for disposition to the Convening Authority. At present, there is no requirement that the investigating officer in an Article 32 hearing be a military judge. Or a JAG. Or someone with any legal training at all. The I.O. can be simply another officer uninvolved with the case, meaning a company commander in an artillery brigade, a signal corps officer, or one of any other specialty.

For many UCMJ offenses,  this is not a matter of concern. The idea of the Article 32 hearing is to allow for a neutral party in the officer corps to consider the matter before a commander at a much higher level considers whether to convene a court martial around it. That officer doesn’t have to be legally trained, in many cases, to competently consider facts and listen to witnesses.

But sexual assault cases are unique and difficult to adjudicate fairly. This is particularly true when they involve (as they almost always do) circumstances like parties known to each other, alcohol consumption, or counter-intuitive behavior like delayed reporting or post-assault communication. Aggressive defense attorneys, bound by ethics to defend their clients zealously, can and do sometimes take advantage of both the relative informal setting and legal inexperience of the I.O. to ask questions of complainants that would not be permissible in a court martial.

In the extreme, this can amount to a strategy of harassment in hopes of improperly discouraging a victim from continuing with a prosecution. Certainly not all defense attorneys plan this kind of legal attack, but without an adjudicator that is familiar with the limits of the law, aggressive and improper questioning can go unchecked even when prosecutors object. I.O.s can seek legal assistance during an investigation, but they don’t have to. Further, defense attorneys may actually outrank both the prosecutor and the I.O, adding a further complicating dynamic. Senator Boxer and co-sponsors (Senator Blumenthal and Congresswoman Speier) are asking the President to formalize the Article 32 process so it mirrors more closely preliminary hearings in Federal courts. This is not too much to ask.

I’ve been told by JAG friends in other services that military judges are regularly utilized to oversee Article 32 hearings. My observation of the Army process though, was much different. I personally never saw a military judge assigned to an Article 32 hearing, and knew of only one or two cases when a JAG presided over one.

Military-wide, the process should be tightened to guarantee that justice for both parties is best approached, and in exactly the way that American criminal procedure provides: By guaranteeing that legally trained professionals who know the rules will also enforce them.

MJIA: The Right Approach to Military Justice with the Right Kinds of Cases

iStock military justice

C.S. Lewis, in the character of a demon in The Screwtape Letters instructing a protege on how lead men to Hell, notes that murder is no better than cards, if cards will do the trick. Lewis was talking about sin, of course, and which ones could successfully separate a person from God. But a limited analogy can be drawn between Screwtape’s analysis and the subtle circumstances that can thwart criminal justice. Cynicism, perfidy and incompetence are all well-known enemies; players in the system influenced by these will fail victims and their community. But there are also more subtle, even inadvertent circumstances that can hinder justice as well.

In almost three years as a civilian expert with the Army JAG Corps, I encountered almost exclusively highly competent, honorable and devoted trial lawyers both prosecuting and defending criminal cases. I also largely found commanders- the decision makers within the military system- to be fair-minded, conscientious and decent.

Still, at least in terms of how the concept of criminal justice is viewed in the civilian world, I saw systemic aspects of military justice that, despite best intentions, somtimes stand as impediments to the kind of justice we expect in response to serious crimes. These are best confronted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act.  

Military expedience and deference, in particular, can have unintended negative consequences, at least in the cases I consulted on, which included rape, assault and murder. Expedience is demanded in the court martial system given the common exigencies of military life. There must also be great deference, not only to individuals of higher rank, but also to the institution itself.

These are not negative in and of themselves; indeed, they are important principles of an institution that must be cohesive, responsive and lethal. Service members willingly accept a lower value on individuality for the good of the institution. Being a part of the military is a very different experience from civilian life. Its justice system should and does reflect these differences.

But when it comes to felonies, particularly ones not instantly related to military readiness, it does not have to. That is the thrust of the Military Justice Improvement Act.

Under it, commanders, the men and women responsible for increasingly larger units within the ranks, can and will continue to have complete judicial authority where mission-specific crimes like desertion, insubordination, and espionage are concerned. What will shift, partially, will be the responsibility for deciding the merit for prosecution of more traditional felonies like sexual violence, murder and robbery. These crimes can certainly affect a unit’s readiness and cohesiveness, but they have a decreased relationship to military operations, and a profoundly different effect on victims. Traditional, often interpersonal crimes deserve an approach both 1) unhindered by the larger concerns of the command and 2) enhanced through handling by specially trained, unformed legal experts. Sexual violence in particular, given its utter uniqueness in criminality, demands this approach and thus has largely inspired it.

In the meantime, commanders will still have involvement over cases, including supervision of the accused and the victim during the process, and the opportunity to seek lesser disciplinary action in the event that a case is not referred for prosecution. We ask more from military commanders than ever before; the vast majority respond honorably and competently. But asking commanders, even with legal counsel, to make decisions about interpersonal crimes- particularly when inextricably burdened with concerns about unit effectiveness- is both unnecessary and potentially detrimental.

Where sexual violence is concerned, critics point to the willingness of commanders in most cases to pursue charges against offenders, and this is a fair point. But we only know about what is reported, and a major belief behind the MJIA is that the direct involvement of commanders in criminal justice decisions has a chilling effect. This is more than a hunch; it’s been gleaned from surveys, interviews and the accounts of service members over time.

The MJIA is not a panacea for sexual violence or other major crime in the United States military. But it is an idea far less radical than critics charge and worth implementing to bring one aspect of military justice- and only one- in line with that of the larger world.

Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, Navy Undersecretary Nominee, Has Made Sen. Gillibrand’s Point on Military Justice

I’d say that Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, the President’s nominee for undersecretary of the Navy, perhaps misspoke when she made the patently awful sounding statement “the impact [of judge advocates outside the chain of command making prosecutorial decisions in sexual assault cases] would be decisions based on evidence rather than the interest in preserving good order and discipline.”

Except that Dr. Rooney didn’t speak. The statement was written, as testimony, to the Senate committee considering her nomination. One would think that answers reduced to writing are a product of more coherent thought and willful expression than what is sometimes uttered, despite best intentions. Rooney chose, or approved of, these words, and frankly they sound shocking, at least to people who don’t view justice the way she appears to view it. In fact, it seems that Rooney views military justice the way many military commanders and insiders do, that is as a tool for commanders to maintain discipline and good order rather than an ideal unto itself.

I’ve written on this before and I’ve pointed out, in fairness, that the promotion of justice is the first of the three clauses that describe the purpose of the United States military justice system. But Rooney’s apparent attitude that justice is more of a tool toward the forging of a larger goal- the maintenance of a cohesive and lethal fighting force- is one I commonly saw reflected during my civilian service to the Army.

She has since back-tracked in a letter to chairman Carl Levin, saying that while commanders certainly need to consider evidence in whether to bring charges such as sexual assault, they also need to consider more than that, and include factors such as the impact on morale and discipline.

Small wonder this clarification served to alarm Gillibrand more, not less.

Rooney believes that prosecutors are, apparently, too narrowly focused on simply whether a crime was committed against one human being by another. “Prosecutors, in my experience, evaluate evidence with an eye toward whether a conviction is likely,” she said. “Commanders consider additional factors.”

I’m not sure what prosecutors Rooney is referencing. Prosecutors are not, despite this description, auto-piloted hammers who bring charges as long as a cold analysis favors a conviction. In fact, prosecutors at all levels do consider other factors like resources and the interest of the involved parties and the community.

But what civilian prosecutors don’t do, ideally and certainly structurally, is concern themselves with whether the prosecution of a wrongdoer might be best avoided because of its effect on a larger group as an organism or entity.

This is exactly what Gillibrand is correctly fighting to end once and for all: The understandable but potentially justice-adverse tendency that commanders have to consider factors unrelated to whether one individual committed a serious criminal offense against another.

Rooney also notes favorably that commanders have “non-judicial punishment options” in dealing with offenders. But the offenders that Gillibrand’s initiative targets are service members who are committing rape and felony sexual assault. Non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the UCMJ involves relatively minor confinements, restrictions, extra duty, counseling, and other disciplinary measures in lieu of a court martial for minor offenses.

Gillibrand herself, in reference to Rooney’s original troubling statement, asked “in what world would you recommend that the decision to prosecute a serious crime….not be based on evidence?”

Indeed, I’d follow up with, “in what world would you recommend non-judicial punishment for a felony sex crime?

Gillibrand’s proposed Military Justice Improvement Act does not disturb a commander’s ability to use non-judicial punishment for minor offenses, which means Rooney is either dreadfully misinformed or actually believes that NJP might be the answer to some cases of sexual violence, given the “other factors” she believes commanders should consider.

The supremacy of the individual observed in our culture is not one that can be similarly observed in military life. Many aspects of it involve compromising the needs of individuals for the larger health- and fighting ability- of the group.

But where justice, and a competent and effective response to sexual violence is concerned especially, the current system should be amended- reasonably- to do better. Dr. Rooney seems to make this very clear.