Fear of Relapse
Alternatives for aggression and scapegoating
Short lecture at Movies that Matter, Amsterdam, March 21, 2012.
Frans E J Gieles, PhD in forensic special youth care, and since thirty tears voluntary helper of people with pedophilic feelings.
The Documentary: No Entry, No Exit
Julie Kreuzer & Mareille Klein have made a documentary about a case in a German village where a man, Karl, just released from jail, where he has been fifteen years because of child sexual abuse, arrived to live in his brother's house.
The inhabitants grimly and aggressively demonstrate 315 days and fight against the man and his brother. They, and even some people who tried to start a dialogue and to find diplomatic solutions, are banned from the community. Karl escapes the village. He tries two times to find another house, which failed. Ultimately, he voluntarily goes back to prison.
"Attention! Child molester!"
The documentary makers take a neutral position to both sides of the conflict. They have tried to show a human being, not a monster.
Fear of relapse
Figures about recidivism ...
... represent the percentage of people who re-offended. Thus, they are a measure to estimate the chance that people might re-offend. Actually, those figures are also used to estimate the rate of success of interventions like therapy, help or supervision; thus, the value of the methodology used.
Figures about conviction
Thus, the people that recently attacked a man in Hengelo, the Netherlands, one of the board members of the Association Martijn, a man who never had offended, wanted to prevent an offense that had a chance of 0.7%. The risk that their children would become a victim of a car accident with their car or that of their neighbours, is much higher. This is quite not rational. The field we speak about here is a field full of emotionality, not of rationality. Let's try, at least we here today, to remain rational, by viewing the figures.
Does treatment or helping help?
Oh ... the mean recidivism rate after treatment or help, 10 - 15%, is nearly the same as the general mean, the 13.4% concerning all sex offenders! Does it mean that helping does not help?
No. The difference is not the mean - this appears to be quite constant - but the standard deviation. See the roughly drawn curves here below:
The first curve, with the mean of 13.4, has a tail. Left of the mean are most incest cases: many cases, not too much relapse. Right of the mean are the 'outside family cases': less cases, more relapse.
This is understandable: incest repeat itself nog often, because the father is often removed from his children. Accusations of incest are often lately given; in the meantime, the daughters are grown older, and relapse is often no longer possible.
In the right area are ... well, let's say ... the fathers of the children's homes, who every year could welcome a new class, thus relapse is more possible.
The curve of the recidivism rate after help or treatment is more like a normal curve, the Bell-curve. The tail is cut off after treatment or help - just in the area of people's fear: the cases outside the family. This, helping helps.
Concern, but no panic
These figures represent cases of child sexual abuse, of which every case is one too much, so they are a cause for concern, but not a cause to panic - at least not a cause to attack people, to ban people from the community and by doing so increasing their feelings of anxiety, frustration and stress, thus ... increasing the chance of relapse. The same figures are a cause to find other ways of acting.
Other ways of acting
A better way is offering therapy, help or support, in order to try to prevent relapse and to help with re-integration in society. For the 'heavy cases', a therapy might be the right way, but for most cases, in my humble opinion and my experience, help or support will be sufficient. There are many people who feel sexually attracted to children, but who, in psychological and social respect, function normally in society. They feel not obsessed and they live within the limits of the law. For them, no treatment is needed, now and than some help will be enough.
Circles of support
I want to
mention especially the circles of support, described by
Kirkegaard and Northey
These circles are started in Canada, initiated by church communities. The first 32 circles reported only one sexually re-offending client, which is 3%. Just nowadays, the Dutch Probation Services are starting such groups.
Also the supported person is supposed to undertake a kind of action: making appointments and respecting them. Not too difficult, in my humble opinion, as long as the appointments are reasonable, maybe a kind of diplomatic compromise.
Another kind of alternative I want to mention are the self-help groups we have here in the Netherlands and in Germany since many years. In these groups, people with pedophilic feelings gather to help each other to find a way of living that is legal and social.
Since thirty years, I am the chair of one of those groups. Note: not the therapist, because it is no therapy but help. What I lead is the talk, and thus more or less the group process.
As far as possible, I have
tried to estimate, as far as possible, the relapse rate of the participants I have met. The
result was just the same as the rates of the therapy groups lead by
professionals: 10 - 15%. Again a figure as the general 13.4%
mentioned earlier, clearly a quite general figure.
Last but not least, I want to mention that groups of people with pedophilic feelings, who are able and permitted to meet in real life, at least in my experience, do not tend to develop strategies to molest children or to download pictures, no, they tend to develop ethics.
Recently, the Dutch Association Martijn
has done so.
The statement acknowledges the chance of harm, even after
consenual sexual acts, and advises not to take this risk.
I conclude by quoting the concluding paragraph of the just mentioned statement about ethics: