The Bishops will no doubt take comfort in the Canadian belief that punishment is not the proper response to sexual abuse. The National Post reports:
As North America’s top experts on sex abuse gather in Toronto this week, a philosophical debate about how to treat some of society’s most reviled criminals is coming into stark focus.
The U.S. and Canadian specialists converging for their annual meeting say evidence is mounting that a “public health” approach centred on treatment, rather than lengthy incarceration, stands the best chance of curbing the sex offenders’ fearful urges and protecting the public.
Victims groups and the current federal government worried about what they consider lenient courts are pushing a more punitive approach, embodied by proposed new legislation that would force many sexual “predators” to spend at least five years in prison.
U.S. and Canadian delegates to the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse conference say Canada has been among the world leaders in championing an evidence-based, balanced treatment of the sexual-abuse problem, though they worry its progressive reputation among treatment professions is becoming “tarnished.”
Countless studies show that therapies including a Canadian-developed “circle of support” to ease offenders back into society will reduce repeat offences, said Dr. James Cantor, a Toronto psychologist who works with abusers. New MRI-imaging research he is pursuing even suggests pedophiles have unique brain abnormalities, pointing to the potential for diagnosing them and preventing abuse before it ever happens.
Not everyone is happy with the treatment model:
Some supporters of a law-and-order direction, though, say judges swayed by the testimony of such treatment professionals are handing out too many conditional or otherwise lenient sentences, and question the repeat-offending statistics that underpin the whole treatment model.
“The … system we have in Canada, often leaves [accused abusers] feeling that they’ve won, even if they were convicted,” said Roz Prober, whose group Beyond Borders raises awareness about child sexual exploitation. “Some way you have to get a message through to people that what they are doing is entirely wrong and hugely damaging.”
She said her group wholeheartedly supports treatment, coupled with stiff sentences, but complained that the data on repeat offences touted by Canadian professionals as proof their techniques work are often based on criminal-conviction statistics and underestimate the problem. Government “victimization” surveys suggest that much sexual abuse goes unreported or does not lead to charges and convictions, said the Winnipeg-based victim advocate.
The more correctional-oriented philosophy is getting a significant prod with the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, a government bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for several existing offences, as well as creating two new crimes. Judges, for instance, would have to mete out a penalty of at least five years to those found guilty of incest, aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault with a weapon involving a child under 16.
Ironically, Dr. Cantor said, many of the American treatment specialists coming here for the association’s annual meeting would like to see the States move to the less-correctional stance that has been the Canadian tradition in the past.
“For probably the last 15 or 20 years, the system in Canada has been the envy of the rest of the civilized world,” said Dr. Robin Wilson, a prominent Toronto psychologist who relocated to Florida. “[Now] our friends in the U.S. are saying ‘What’s up with Canada? Why are you trying to fix a system that is not broken?’ ”
Lengthy, automatic prison terms for sex offenders only create hardened criminals who are beyond being fixed by treatment, making them more dangerous when they get out, he charged.
A few reflections:
First of all, let me be clear: I am NOT equating pedophilia with homosexuality. But the argument that homosexual behavior must be natural and acceptable because God or Nature has made some people with homosexual desires can also be applied to pedophiles, and indeed is how they justify their acts to themselves. If pedophiles have different brain structures than other people, how can we blame them for their actions?
The problem is that we have forgotten that desires are not self-justifying. Just because someone really wants to have sex with: 1. the neighbor’s wife, 2. the handsome young man down the street 3. his secretary 4. a child, does not mean that he can act on those desires. Reason, that cold blanket, has to intervene and judge whether the desire is in accord with the reality of the situation.
Secondly, identify people who might commit crimes is a dangerous practice. Will these potential criminals be forces to undergo treatment? One study I discovered showed that a large proportion of a group of randomly chosen young men showed a sexual response to pictures of children. But these men would presumably never act on their desires, because they are moral people.
And why would this be confined to sexual crimes? Crimes of violence cause much more harm to society, and it is easy to identify which young men are prone to violence. Can they be treated, and can they be treated against their will, before they have committed a crime? And involuntary treatment is a form of punishment.
The purpose of punishment is not only to protect society, but to express society’s disapproval of certain acts and to enable the criminal to expiate his crime. Expiation has vanished from the vocabulary of theologians and criminologists, but ultimately it is the most profound rationale for punishment.
Tony de New York
It makes me sick! What about repeated offenders? How many times they need therapy?
I need help understanding all this.
Reading about all these studies and all the degrees behind them reminds me of all the talk by the exceedingly educated economists who have brought us to the brink of financial ruin.
When men force themselves into the bodies and souls of children, this is not about sexual attraction. It is, first and foremost, an act of extreme cruelty and needs to be treated as such.
We know this in our hearts core, even when we understand that hurting people hurt people.
The children must always be protected from these men. Idiot compassion does no good.
To follow up on the excellent comment by AW regarding the treatment model: About certain obviously ridiculous ideas, George Orwell said, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that; no ordinary man could be such a fool.”
If it weren’t so harmful, it would be funny- “experts” saying they’ve got it all figured out and know how to fix the problem….I think we’ve had enough of experts. The bishops heard from penty of “experts” in the 70’s and 80’s. Lifetime incarceration the best way to ensure that pedophiles don’t offend again.
Father Michael Koening
As a Canadian I should weigh in on this. We have a Conservative government on the national level that would be very wary of this sort of “expert advice”. I don’t expect much will come of this but will keep my people on the alert.
In general, we are more reserved about putting people in jail here than you are in the US. Indeed, you have one of the highest, if not the highest, percentage of citizens incarcerated in the industrialized world. Perhaps we are too easy going, yet we do have a much lower per capita violent crime rate than the US (something Michael Moore made a little too much about in one of his movies). Pedophilia aside, I wonder how effective prison sentences are in detering crime. Especially when one considers that other industrialized countries with low rates of violent crime do not incarcerate large numbers of people.
That folks in highly secularized societies like the Netherlands, Scandanavia, and Germany (and yes, to a lesser extent, Canada) behave themselves better in terms of crime than those in a more outwardly “religious” one like the US, has always given me pause. These same countries even have lower abortion rates (Holland’s is markedly lower).
I’m not trying to be an obnoxious Canadian. I’m just wondering.
There is not a lot of evidence that past or present treatment models including the now frowned upon aversion therapies that included painful shock and/or surgical or chemical castration, have ever worked to rehabilitate pedophiles.
A combination of permanent incarceration (isolation) and psychological treatment (using recent techniques such as those NARTH psychologists and psychiatrists have developed) is probably the safest for both the patient and society.
By isolation, I do not mean solitary confinement, but a restricted mandatory monastery community type environment such as Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald envisioned for these perpetrators on an isolated island.
The body of research does not support the popular notion that homosexuality is a natural (thus God-intended) and inborn trait.
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi who has worked with homosexually-inclined males for many years, contends that same-sex attraction is ingrained deeply by a combination of very early abnormal (adverse and perverse) conditioning, modeling and/or relational, emotional/psychological and physical trauma that disrupts the identity and emotional maturation processes.
The healing process for psychological illness is painful, hard and requires dedication and honesty, willingness to change and admit fault and to learn to empathize with others, which is why those with pedophilia and homosexuality are frequently unable to complete it. Both conditions frequently involve a self-centeredness called narcissism, but pedophilia is worse in that the patient cannot feel empathy or admit fault, which repells any idea of needing or wanting help.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (Ireland) has said that of all the perpetrators of abuse he has interviewed only two were able to feel remorse and accept responsibility for the harm they had caused.
Canada is being extremely irresponsible. (As is Obama by appointing a homosexual activist as the US safe school czar, and the various states that are mandating homosexual unions and adoptions.)
It is difficult to figure out, but some people maintain and with good reasons that prison life turns prisoners into worse criminals. OTOH, maybe there are fewer people in prison in Canada because there is less crime there. That is a good reason to visit/retire in Canada. I have been there three times and loved it.
People are either behaving themselves better in Holland or the contraception is working. I hope it is the former.
It’s pretty tough to put “pedophilia aside.” Incarcerating pedophiles in prisons or hospitals is the only way to assure that children’s lives will not be damaged by them. “Priestly pedophila” is worse again, as the so-called priests introduced evil into the sacred, time and time again ,and their soulless bishops yawned all the way to Rome.
Father Michael Koening
I said “putting pedophilia aside” in reference to the discussion about the merits or demerits of incarceration for crimes in general. Pedophilia is of a nature that those who perpetrate it must be kept from the innocent. That doesn’t rule out finding alternatives to putting drug users, prostitutes and juvenile deliquents in prison.
The essay above was indeed about punishing sex offenders, and more specifically, pedophiles, not “crimes in general,” so “putting pedophilia aside” was a bit tough to follow.
There is unending debate to finding alternatives for prostitutes, drug users, non-violent offenders of many stripes.
But not pedophiles. And especially, pedophile priests.
Father Michael Koening
Yes well Augusta, I guess I was being a bit nationalistic and openned the discussion to ideas regarding crime and punishment in general, especially as these differ between my country and the US. It seemed of some relevance as my country was put in a possibly bad light. One it does not deserve. We treat crime and criminals differently. That includes not having a statute of limitations on the sexual abuse of children.
Pedophia is wrong, period. No matter who commits it. In my years as a social worker and then as a priest, I have had many opportunities to see the results incest has on people. I can’t count how many women and men have shared with me how fathers, uncles, brothers and mothers forced themselves on them while they were children or adolescents. Is the violation of the family bond not also horrible?! What should we do with the dads and brothers and step-parents who have violated the children in their care? You write a lot about priests being punished for this crime (which they should be!!!), what about those who perpetrate the greater majority of cases – family members?! Let me assure you, If the lid is ever blown off of incest, many voices will ask for tighter social controls over the parent (close relative)-child relationship. That might not be a good thing, but I can hear them now. You’re evidently passionate about bringing priest offenders to justice, fine and good. I feel passionate about the guy who analy raped the step-daughter I’ve counseled, or the mom who sexually abused the fetal alcohol son who is now in therapy and who I see once a month, or the…ad nauseum!
In my experience, sexual offenders are extremely intelligent and highly manipulative. Their urges and subsequent actions are difficult if not impossible to control. Although the US, my home country, certainly does not have all the answers in terms of how to handle sexual offenders, I find it appalling that someone in Canada can commit these horrendous offences and be given a light sentence and years of support while the victim’s life is forever altered, often fraught with mental illness, chemical dependency, broken relationships and lifelong struggles to regain their sense of self. There is no established program or therapy that can guarantee a person will not reoffend. Another known fact is that for every victim, there are many more who have not have the courage to come forward. Canada is becoming a haven for sexual offenders and has abandoned the victims in their quest to present a “new age” approach to supporting the offender in their attempt to alter their abhorrent behavior.