nasjail

Realistic Alternatives

If society is going to continue to assume that paedophiles should be subjected to criminal sanctions, then we are still left with the question of what should happen legally to both the victim and the offender if detection of their relationships occurs. To answer this question it might be salutary to return once again to the analogous crime of incest.

Generally in cases of incest where detection occurs, disastrous results occur for the adult and for the child. Take the case of father-daughter incest where, because of complaints by a neighbour or by the child herself, the police are called in to take action. What appears to happen in most cases is that the father is charged with incest and typically sent to jail for a substantial period of time.

The mother, who as often as not knows that the incestuous relationship was occurring, is then placed in a position where she becomes economically at risk. The daughter is seen by welfare authorities and because the family is poor and now fatherless, the state considers she is at risk and requires institutionalisation in a government welfare or juvenile home. There she often languishes in an impersonal bureaucratic setting en-cumbering all the disadvantages that such institutions inevitably provide.

In effect, the victim has been doubly punished by not only the act of incest itself, but also by the response of the legal and welfare authorities to her predicament.

An alternative approach in dealing with incest offenders and the children who are involved with them is to adopt a more humanitarian strategy which does not involve a punitive criminal justice system. Under this approach welfare workers attempt to alleviate the situational, psychological and economic factors that might have contributed towards creating the incestuous relationship.

Under this strategy the father and husband would not initially be sent to jail, but instead would be asked to participate in well-designed family therapy programmes which attempt to locate the problems in the family structure that led to the incestuous situation in the first place.

The incest experience is a salutary lesson for those concerned with paedophilia. If we insist in keeping paedophilia as a crime, then I suggest that a more constructive approach in dealing with both the victims and the offenders be instituted. In the case of Clarence Osborne the scenes that would have occurred if he had not taken his life might well have been destructive for all. Osborne undoubtedly would have gone to prison and either through his own hand or those of other inmates, died. Many of the boys he had been involved with would have been subjected to rigorous police examination and some undoubtedly, would have been further traumatised by presenting evidence in court.

As with incest offenders there are more constructive alternatives. For example in the Atascadero State Hospital in California there are approximately two hundred paedophiles. West reports that in the past, in spite of the widespread use of aversive methods to produce conversion to asexuality or heterosexuality, many of the patients were found ‘unamenable’ to treatment and were committed to prison by the court.

A retraining programme for paedophiles was introduced based on an acceptance of one’s homosexuality and encouragement of participation in the homosexual community. This approach was adopted because it was found that many of the paedophiles had limited their friendship to juveniles partly because they lacked the social skills needed to establish contact with adult homosexuals.

Under some Californian and British programmes homosexual volunteers are called in to act as models and instructors in an assertive training programme that includes role playing and social skill training in settings where the paedophile can learn to relate with other adult homosexuals. Evaluations of these approaches indicate that the paedophile’s self-confidence and his willingness to discuss his problems frankly and I openly improves dramatically.

I do not suggest that these training programmes are ideal ways of dealing with paedophiles. After all there is a certain amount of coercion involved in each of the programmes and coercive models do not generally lead to long-term changes of behaviour. And all of the social skill training programmes and assertiveness techniques that are used beg the question of whether paedophiles should be treated in the first place.

Paedophiles themselves argue that child-adult relation-ships should not be an offence in themselves and that the law should intervene only when coercion is used as in equivalent homosexual or heterosexual crimes. But there can be no doubt that the adoption of welfare approaches based on voluntary participation by paedophiles themselves is a vastly better alternative to the past coercive ‘therapeutic’ measures of castration, drug therapy, or even aversion therapy.

In a sense, though, considerations of the alternatives in treating paedophiles are really premature, given a more important prior question. And that question is whether society should intervene in relationships between men and boys. If we do not attempt to come to terms with this question, then we have neglected some of the lessons that the Clarence Osborne case has taught us and failed in the process to learn anything about the sexuality and needs of adolescent boys. It is to this issue that we now turn.

crime-on-my-mind