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38 Responses

  1. Emily Guy Birken
    Emily Guy Birken November 1, 2011 at 11:54 am |

    I find it interesting that women are blamed for situations that are outside of their control in other arenas, as well. If you are a reader of the blog Free Range Kids, you’ll see that mothers are continuously blamed for their children falling victim to any number of normal and unusual childhood accidents and crimes. Children are not (very rarely) abducted by strangers because there are evil people in the world–it’s because their mothers didn’t do enough to take care of them. Putting the onus of protection on the woman, whether in making certain that she is not “asking for it” through revealing clothing or in making certain that her child never steps out of her sight, is a method for controlling women. Our culture wants very badly to keep women in a certain space, and these fears and expectations make sure that occurs. I’m raising my son to be free range in part to assert my right to live my life without being fearful. I wrote about these expectations earlier this year: http://sahmnambulist.blogspot.com/2011/06/call-me-irresponsible.html

  2. Angry Black Guy
    Angry Black Guy November 1, 2011 at 12:51 pm |

    Wow. We had a discussion on Jill’s post on this topic and I came away from that feeling like a good balance was struck between the “rape is only about power” side and the “rape can be about sexual urges” side and then we get this blog post.

    I’ll make the point again I guess: The causes of rape within the mind of the rapist are and should always be completely separate from the innocence of the victim. In other words, even if studies and evidence told us with 100% certainty that rape is the result of un-suppressed sexual desire, the victim would still be 100% blameless.

    Seems like a stupid point to have to make, but it feels obligatory to say up front if you argue anything other than the power/rape ideology.

    With that out of the way, I would repeat the very simple point made yesterday. Almost every deviant criminals (sexual and otherwise) is able to control their urges when necessary. A serial killer compelled to kill like Gayce or Dahmer were able to control their urges regularly in order to remain integral parts of society. Pedophiles within the Catholic church were able to maintain a face of normalcy for decades desipte harboring and acting on what psychologists, sociologist and criminologist agree were clearly sexual urges and impulses.

    The problem here is that Allen’s argument is viewed as victim blaming. And I understand that sensitivity. There is too much of that in society. However, pointing out that certain (but not all) rapist may be more willing attack based on the appearance of the victim is not victim blaming per se. It could just be a statement of fact supported by evidence.

    And I believe that there is some evidence to support that, from the results of chemical and physical castration to the study of rape within prison populations among hetero inmates wherein power is not at issue, to a number of other unique pieces of evidence.

    Bottom line: the fact that some use the concept of urge based rape to victim bash doesn’t mean that the concept itself is flawed.

    We should not evaluate any evidence scientifically on the based on the way that such information is used in any event, and the author of this post appears to be arguing that the use of a theory of rape is off limits because some misuse the theory. That can’t be right.

  3. tigtog
    tigtog November 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm | *

    There was a technical glitch whereby the closing paragraphs of this post were not published, which is why comments were closed for a while. The full text of the post is now in place, so please read Thomas’ conclusion before posting. Ta.

  4. Andie
    Andie November 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm |

    Angry Black Guy:
    to the study of rape within prison populations among hetero inmates wherein power is not at issue

    I know he’s been banned so there’s probably no reason to respond to this, but ABG brought this up a few times and I just can’t get behind the idea that there is no power issue at play in the context of prison rape.. I would think that this would be a context where power assertion would have a HUGE impact.. Nahida wrote a post recently about the sodomization of Gahdafi after he died as a way of emasculating and humiliating him.. I would think that prison rape would have a similar dynamic.. why else would there be so much rhetoric around the idea of someone being made someone else’s ‘prison bitch’?

    Sorry, that was a huge derail but his assertion that prison rape had nothing to do with power irked me, among other things.

  5. 1ceuponathyme
    1ceuponathyme November 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm |

    However, pointing out that certain (but not all) rapist may be more willing attack based on the appearance of the victim is not victim blaming per se. It could just be a statement of fact supported by evidence.

    Where is this evidence? I’m not familiar with any evidence that proves as fact that rapists are more willing to attack based on the appearance of the victim. I am aware of the existence of research which found that most convicted rapists could not even remember what their victims were wearing. I’m also familiar with research which concludes that the majority of rapes are planned in advance so, unless the rapist is psychic, I’m not sure how the victim’s choice of clothing have any bearing on a premeditated act.

    to the study of rape within prison populations among hetero inmates wherein power is not at issue

    How is power notat issue in any rape? Are you denying that there are power relations and dynamics in prison among men? Are you aware that most men who rape other men actually identify as heterosexual?

    Supposing, for the sake of argument, that Angry Black Guy is right; that rapists are more willing to attack because of the appearance of their victims. How would this information be helpful or practical? Are women required now to age faster? Hide all possibly ‘attractive’ features? Disguise our voices? I mean, this is really quite ridiculous.

    Personal risk reduction is only going to go so far because rape doesn’t exist solely on the level of the individual. And, we’ve flogged to death the horse which says that women can avoid rape by dressing a certain way, by avoiding dark alleys and parking garages, by watching our drinks, and it isn’t reducing the rate of sexual violence. What we need and what does work is early, consistent, and comprehensive education for both boys and girls which deal with the norms and values that perpetuate rape culture.

  6. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 1, 2011 at 3:46 pm |

    Talking with a friend who did a multi-year bid, and a few other ex-cons I’ve met, I don’t believe that there is anything in prison where power dynamics are not involved.

  7. konkonsn
    konkonsn November 1, 2011 at 3:47 pm |

    Emily Guy Birken:
    I find it interesting that women are blamed for situations that are outside of their control in other arenas, as well. If you are a reader of the blog Free Range Kids, you’ll see that mothers are continuously blamed for their children falling victim to any number of normal and unusual childhood accidents and crimes. Children are not (very rarely) abducted by strangers because there are evil people in the world–it’s because their mothers didn’t do enough to take care of them. Putting the onus of protection on the woman, whether in making certain that she is not “asking for it” through revealing clothing or in making certain that her child never steps out of her sight, is a method for controlling women. Our culture wants very badly to keep women in a certain space, and these fears and expectations make sure that occurs. I’m raising my son to be free range in part to assert my right to live my life without being fearful. I wrote about these expectations earlier this year: http://sahmnambulist.blogspot.com/2011/06/call-me-irresponsible.html

    I agree that it’s about controlling women. I also think it’s about making sure the most privilege members of society are always above suspicion. The situation you’re talking about is, like rape, one where men are the first to spring to mind as perpetrators (can’t seem to find stats on if it’s a true or not, but regardless, it’s the stereotype). So if a kidnapping takes place, it will inconvenience the privilege class since they’ll be the primary suspects.

  8. MH
    MH November 1, 2011 at 4:20 pm |

    “Supposing, for the sake of argument, that Angry Black Guy is right; that rapists are more willing to attack because of the appearance of their victims. How would this information be helpful or practical? Are women required now to age faster? Hide all possibly ‘attractive’ features? Disguise our voices? I mean, this is really quite ridiculous.”

    I don’t think ABG was claiming that this perspective should lead to changes in the behaviour of women (who, he notes, remain completely blameless); I took the implication to be that it could affect how we approach issues of rape-prevention education among men, as well as rehabilitation techniques for convicted rapists.

    (Which is not to say that I agree with ABG’s claim — though I do think there are some aspects of rape that need further research to better understand, and that efforts by some feminists to completely close off other possible explanations reduces the chances that that research will happen.)

  9. zuzu
    zuzu November 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm |

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: Talking with a friend who did a multi-year bid, and a few other ex-cons I’ve met, I don’t believe that there is anything in prison where power dynamics are not involved.

    SRSLY.

    Whether it’s because of overt coercion, or in order to create alliances that will prevent violence against you, there is always going to be power involved in prison.

  10. machina
    machina November 1, 2011 at 5:54 pm |

    Thomas,

    Careful, planning predators are not overcome with urges they can’t control. They don’t test and see, plot to isolate and intoxicate. That takes hours, or even days. That is the work of a cold, calculating predator.

    Well I often plan getting food for hours, or even days, before I eat it and I would say that hunger is as close as we can get to an uncontrollable urge. I don’t think intelligence implies self-control.

  11. JSH
    JSH November 1, 2011 at 6:20 pm |

    Frankly, the power vs. sex debate seems to be beside the point, given Millar’s research. Allen’s conception of rape is that of violent rape driven by immediate and uncontrollable urges (whether about sex or power or whatever); that is what Millar’s evidence discredits.

  12. Jadey
    Jadey November 1, 2011 at 6:24 pm |

    machina: I would say that hunger is as close as we can get to an uncontrollable urge

    Except it’s not, because we control it all the time by delaying our need to eat until an appropriate time. I think there’s some confusion about what’s meant by “uncontrollable” – it’s not that people are controlling whether or not they experience hunger or sexual desire, but controlling how they gratify that desire. An uncontrollable urge is one we are helpless to avoid satisfying immediately. An actual example would be if you lost the ability to regulate your bowel movements.

  13. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers November 1, 2011 at 6:34 pm |

    I would say that hunger is as close as we can get to an uncontrollable urge

    No, it’s not.

    The need to sleep is an uncontrollable urge. As hard as you fight it, unless someone is doing something to you or you are taking drugs, you will fall asleep.

    The need to pee is uncontrollable. You can hold it and hold it and hold it but eventually that pee is coming out.

    People can go on hunger strikes until they are dead. Hunger isn’t uncontrollable in the slightest. But generally speaking, no one can actually hold their breath until they die, because when they pass out, the urge to breathe will overwhelm their consciousness and they will draw a breath.

    “Controllable” does not mean “I can avoid having the urge at all”; it means “I cannot control my actions when the urge seizes me” or “I can fight off the urge but eventually I will be forced to satisfy it, whether I desire to or not.” If you can go the rest of your life without satisfying an urge, it’s controllable (even if the reason you can go the rest of your life is that not satisfying it will kill you.)

    There is a difference between “a strong desire to” and “an uncontrollable urge to”. And there’s a reason rape apologists like Allen use the second. Uncontrollable urges force us to satisfy them; we are understanding of people who pee in inappropriate places if they couldn’t get to an appropriate place in time (unless we’re lawmakers, but that’s a different story.) We don’t consider it someone’s fault that they fell asleep after being up for 22 hours. You can’t criminalize an uncontrollable urge.

    You can, however, criminalize a strong desire. No matter how strong my desire to kill my clients for not paying me, it is illegal, immoral and wrong to kill. No matter how badly I want donuts on a day when I forgot my wallet, it is illegal for me to just take the donuts without paying. Strong desires are criminalized all the time, and no one ever forgives a lawbreaker on the grounds that “he had a strong desire to commit the crime.”

    So the urge to rape is by definition not uncontrollable, because rapists can choose not to rape, and they can choose to rape selectively, and they can choose the time and place of their attack. That’s completely controllable. They may not be able to avoid *having* the urge to rape, but they can avoid fulfilling it… and when they don’t avoid fulfilling it, that is a criminal act.

  14. Alexandra
    Alexandra November 1, 2011 at 11:37 pm |

    I just don’t buy that it’s a small percent of the population committing rapes. I figure – and maybe this is me being paranoid – that most men would rape given the chance, and since society is structured to forgive rapists and blame victims, a lot of them get the chance. That doesn’t mean I believe most men are rapists, but I think over the course of a man’s life the odds that he’ll harm a woman sexually are going to increase.

    Maybe it’s because I know so many women who were victimized. Maybe it’s because the man who raped me was also someone I loved, and who I’ve forgiven, after much work. But rapists don’t strike me as being much different from the average guy on the street. Some just have more opportunity than others.

  15. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig November 2, 2011 at 1:00 am |

    Alexandra : I just don’t buy that it’s a small percent of the population committing rapes. I figure – and maybe this is me being paranoid – that most men would rape given the chance, and since society is structured to forgive rapists and blame victims, a lot of them get the chance. That doesn’t mean I believe most men are rapists, but I think over the course of a man’s life the odds that he’ll harm a woman sexually are going to increase.

    My few cents: I distrust Thomas’s stats too. No way the percentage of rapists is that low.
    I agree with Alexandra that most men would rape given the chance, but I think over the course of their lives, the chances of any given man harming a woman would decrease. A few men manage to outgrow the assholery and aggressiveness of their teens and twenties, or find ways to channel that aggressiveness into healthy outlets. Some marry, and realize women are people too. Some fear losing everything, including their families.

  16. Annie D
    Annie D November 2, 2011 at 3:00 am |

    @Alexandra

    Considering the number of rapes which go unreported, you could be right to say that estimates of the rapist population are too small. But one thing I noticed is that the article uses the phrase “most rapes”, not all rapes. Especially considering that each of those serial rapists offends an average of six times, that leaves a great deal of room for one off rapists to exist forgotten in the margins of the statistics.

    I suppose the real reason I have difficulty accepting your point, is that if you are right, rape can only be prevented by inhibiting a “natural”* desire (although an increased social stigma associated with rape could still help). I would prefer to think that the urge to rape is a symptom of a diseased sexuality which finds pleasure in exerting power over the rapist’s victim. I’m an optimist like that.

    *I hate the way the word “natural” also means good. It may be natural for my dog to be undiscerning about his droppings, but that does not mean that training him to be a good indoor dog is bad. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s an unscientific way of asserting that a quality is a result of nature rather than nurture, and therefore immutable, if not good. Can you tell that this is a pet issue of mine?

  17. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 2, 2011 at 6:40 am |

    Alexandra, the source of the estimate of the number of rapists isn’t from reported rapes. The source is the rapists themselves. Turns out, if the survey doesn’t call it “rape”, the men who are the serial rapists will admit what they do. If you only have time to read one of the linked posts, I recommend Meet The Predators, which goes through Lisak & Miller’s and McWhorter’s papers in detail.

  18. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 2, 2011 at 6:43 am |

    That raises the whole nature/nurture question and whether morality is an instinct. I’m firmly on the nurture side; I believe that the rapists in Lisak’s and McWhorter’s studies were raised to devalue women and to value taking what they want by whatever means. I believe we can raise people to be better than that. What to do with them after they’re grown is a bigger problem; my conclusion in Meet The Predators is that we can’s educate them out of being rapists but that we can remove the elements of the culture that allow them to get away with it.

  19. Li
    Li November 2, 2011 at 7:09 am |

    My reading of this research around rapists isn’t that there are a number of people who are essentially rapists but rather that rapists tend to not only need to be socialised to view female consent as irrelevant but that they need to go through a number of self-justificatory stages that eliminate or overrule their moral boundaries. Once those boundaries have been taken down it becomes very difficult to reestablish them, especially within a rape culture, and it is this which leads to the seriality and subjecthood of the rapist. (I apologise for the clunky language here, part of this is trying to recall research I no longer have on hand.)

    A lot of the consent work I’ve done has been informed by Thomas’s work, and I’ve defs never taken it to mean that it’s impossible to prevent people becoming rapists. I am however aware that when I’ve run consent stuff (and one of those occasions has been with a group of 150 or so student queers) that have possibly (and in some cases absolutely) been rapists or perpetrators of sexual violence within those cohorts. And my or other people telling them that the behaviour is wrong and in fact training them in consent stuff hasn’t necessarily prevented that behaviour reoccurring.

  20. John
    John November 2, 2011 at 8:15 am |

    Thanks for this article. I hope it gives food for thought to those who say rapists are simply the average guy with an opportunity. I’ve worked with men accused of rape (I used to be a criminal barrister in England) and I can say that the majority of men convicted are most certainly not Mr. Average. Most men do not, for instance, rape women who have passed out from too much alcohol, rape their wives and partners and most of us would be shocked to be accused of being capable of such a thing.

  21. megara
    megara November 2, 2011 at 8:46 am |

    Alexandra,

    It’s entirely possible that those statistics are low. Although yes, it is the rapists themselves admitting to raping (b/c the researchers asked about behaviors that qualify as rape rather than asking have you ever raped someone), it’s entirely plausible that many of the people in their study did engage in those behaviors but knew it wasn’t socially acceptable to admit to having done so.

  22. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 2, 2011 at 9:28 am |

    The numbers Lisaka and McWhorter produced actually make a lot of sense to me. Let me use a really oversimplified model here: 1000 men (round number for easy math), 1000 women and 50 people who can’t be described using binary gender. Let’s assume that none of the women and none of the non-binary folks are rapists (oversimplified) and let’s assume that Lisak’s statistics (from a college sample) and McWhorter’s (from the Navy) are roughly correct. McWhorter’s numbers for single-offense and serial rapists are both higher. For round midpoints I’ll say 3% one-victim rapists and 6% serial rapists.

    1000*.06= 60 serial rapists * 6 victims = 360
    1000*.03= 30 single-victim rapists * 1 victim = 30

    390 total victims. If we assume that the vast majority (though not all) of those victims are the women, we have rapist self-reports of 390 rapes of which maybe 370 or so will have been of the 1000 women in the population, or more than a third. Even with underreporting, that’s more than enough to account for the proportion of women in the population that have been raped. (That also gives us a slightly higher figure for folks off the binary, which I suspect but don’t know because cis- and trans- are rarely broken out, I’ve literally never seen a figure that treats non-binary gendered people separately)

    In fact, there may be both under- and over-reporting by the self-reports. Perhaps some rapists answered the questions in the negative, and perhaps some serial rapists inflated their victim count or even nonrapists who claimed to be rapists. So those numbers should be treated as rough. But there’s no facial reason to doubt the proportions, because the self-reports give us numbers that broadly agree with the kinds of population statistics we see from survivor reporting.

  23. AndrewJenny
    AndrewJenny November 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |

    From the original article:

    “The other reality that feminists tend to deny is that rape and sexual desire are linked. Rape, in that view, is a purely political act of male dominance. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of rape victims are under age 30 — that is, when women are at their peak of desirability.”

    1. Older women are raped all the time, we just don’t hear about it much because in our culture old (over 30!) = non-sexual.

    2. If this wasn’t true and only younger women were raped, this somehow proves rape has nothing to do with power.

    3. If (1) and (2) are not true, it is somehow okay for men to rape women who are “visually stimulating” and desirable. The rapist’s desire to have sex with a “stimulating” women is more important than the woman’s control over her own body. Or perhaps:

    4. The desire to rape is uncontrollable. Generally, people who really cannot keep from assaulting others are kept in controlled custody. So the rapist’s personal autonomy (which by definition will lead him to rape women, since his desire is uncontrollable) is more important than women’s control of their bodies and freedom from being raped.

  24. speedbudget
    speedbudget November 2, 2011 at 10:37 am |

    The problem is our rape culture teaches everyone that women who dress or look a certain way are asking for it, and our rape culture ALSO assumes consent on the part of women UNLESS AND UNTIL it is revoked.

    We need to change the dynamic so that women, like men, reside in a state of non-consent.

  25. EG
    EG November 2, 2011 at 10:37 am |

    the vast majority of rape victims are under age 30 — that is, when women are at their peak of desirability.

    Actually, this bit just jumped out of me. How, precisely, are we calculating “peak of desirability”? Surveys? Surveys of whom?

  26. Bacopa
    Bacopa November 2, 2011 at 1:54 pm |

    That elevator pitch summary is just about the wisest thing I ever read.

    Also, I saw this little quote somewhere:

    “they don’t rape because they’re not getting the sex they want. They rape because rape is the kind of sex they want.”

  27. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm |

    EG, that’s from Allen’s article, and of course she isn’t. She’s not arguing it or backing it up, she’s just asserting it.

  28. EG
    EG November 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm |

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: EG, that’s from Allen’s article, and of course she isn’t. She’s not arguing it or backing it up, she’s just asserting it.

    Oh yeah, I got that. Just pointing it out.

  29. John
    John November 3, 2011 at 5:27 am |

    Experience from the US and UK shows that specialist sexual offending treatment in prison can work well. However, it does not tend to work with repeat offenders nor with paedophiles.

    See: http://www.drugslibrary.stir.ac.uk/documents/rawlings.pdf

  30. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 3, 2011 at 9:09 am |

    Neither Lisak’s nor McWhorter’s work discuss whether these rapists can change. Nobody’s tried to change them; they’re undetected. But as John says, the literature with repeat abusers, whether rapists of adults or children, is completely grim. Nothing works. So I conclude that once they’re serial rapists, if there’s a way to make them stop we have not discovered it and have no immediate prospects of doing so. I therefore conclude that the only effective solution to the problem is to create a culture where their behavior is aberrant and they can be easily caught, instead of one that supplies ready excuses so that they can easily hide in the population at large.

    But now I’m confused about your original point. I thought your question was whether we can prevent the serial rapist from being formed, not whether we can reform them. That’s the nature/nurture question, and there are rarely clear answers to those. I know Lisak has other work as a psychologist that locates the serial rapist as a product of family dynamics — IIRC as men who both loathe and emulate emotionally unavailable fathers and disrespect their mothers, that sort of thing. I’ve read only bits of that side of his work and I can’t be relied on to relate the conclusions of those papers faithfully. I’m generally on the social construction side of these things and that’s how I come down; I believe we can raise children to respect autonomy and not rape. I can’t prove that, but it’s my operating hypothesis.

    But if your question is whether we can change the rapists we’ve already got, I think there’s good reason to believe we cannot. That’s where I part company with opponents of the prison-state who want to move entirely to some sort of a community accountability model: for some sorts of offenders it just won’t work. Since I’m not a fan of state-sponsored execution and vigilante killing doesn’t seem like a recipe for accuracy, the only alternative is to separate the predators from the population by incarceration. I want a culture where they can be effectively prosecuted and jailed the first time they rape, even if they had some prior relationship with the victim, even if alcohol was involved and overt force was not. I want them in jail the first time, and right now they end up in jail never.

  31. littlepitcher
    littlepitcher November 3, 2011 at 9:13 am |

    Allen is on the side of the abusers, simple as that. She’ll eventually be found to be one of the doublebinders who will state that attractive women are asking for rape, while they verbally and socially harass women who have deprioritized fashion or who are defined as unattractive. Methinks the author has been caught at her game, and has written an elaborate defense structure to excuse her actions.

  32. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 3, 2011 at 9:34 am |

    littlepitcher, she’s already done that. In Marcotte’s piece she notes that Allen openly longed for the days when flight attendants were required to be young and conventionally attractive.

  33. Jadey
    Jadey November 3, 2011 at 9:55 am |

    Experience from the US and UK shows that specialist sexual offending treatment in prison can work well. However, it does not tend to work with repeat offenders nor with paedophiles.

    See: http://www.drugslibrary.stir.ac.uk/documents/rawlings.pdf

    Here’s a more recent report that is a meta-analysis of multiple outcome studies. A Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Treatment for Sexual Offenders: Risk, Need, and Responsivity [PDF]

    Its abstract is as follows for anyone having trouble with the PDF:

    “The effectiveness of treatment for sexual offenders remains controversial, even though it is widely agreed that certain forms of human service interventions reduce the recidivism rates of general offenders. The current review examined whether the principles associated with effective treatments for general offenders (Risk–Need–Responsivity: RNR) also apply to sexual offender treatment. Based on a meta-analysis of 23 recidivism outcome studies meeting basic criteria for study quality, the unweighted sexual and general recidivism rates for the treated sexual offenders were lower than the rates observed for the comparison groups (10.9% [n = 3,121] versus 19.2% [n = 3,625] for sexual recidivism; 31.8% [n = 1,979] versus 48.3% [n = 2,822] for any recidivism). Programs that adhered to the RNR principles showed the largest reductions in sexual and general recidivism. Given the consistency of the current findings with the general offender rehabilitation literature, we believe that the RNR principles should be a major consideration in the design and implementation of treatment programs for sexual offenders.”

    Newer programs were also more effective than older programs, indicating that our methods are getting better. Caveats are that the quality of outcome studies needs improvement and that detected recidivism is not the ideal outcome measure, although it’s the best we have.

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: But as John says, the literature with repeat abusers, whether rapists of adults or children, is completely grim. Nothing works.

    This is not the case. The above meta-analysis only focuses on treatment structure, not offender characteristics (likely because of the way the summarized research was conducted, although it should be noted that the “risk principle” refers to giving the offenders at the greatest risk to re-offend the most treatment, and interventions which adhere to this principle tend to have greater recidivism reductions), but there are individual outcome studies which have shown specifically that even serious repeat offenders can successfully desist from offending. One example is the Circles of Support and Accountability, which is a community reintegration program specifically designed for high risk, high profile repeat sex offenders who have served the entire length of their prison sentence incarcerated until warrant expiry without any step-down treatment; this article provides some detailed background on how it got started and the original offenders who participated [PDF]. There’s a recent statistical report on its outcomes here [PDF] and apparently there’s another large-scale national evaluation underway in Canada. There’s no magic bullet and there’s a long way to go yet, but it’s not accurate to say that “nothing works” – that’s the same language Martinson used in 1974 to refer to all offender treatment, and researchers and practitioners have spent the last thirty years proving him wrong.

  34. Jadey
    Jadey November 3, 2011 at 9:56 am |

    WHOA. Borked my code, big time. I’m going to re-do that last comment with good html, so please don’t let the first one past moderation!

  35. Jadey
    Jadey November 3, 2011 at 10:00 am |

    Here’s the same comment but with actual html competence:

    Experience from the US and UK shows that specialist sexual offending treatment in prison can work well. However, it does not tend to work with repeat offenders nor with paedophiles.

    See: http://www.drugslibrary.stir.ac.uk/documents/rawlings.pdf

    Here’s a more recent report that is a meta-analysis of multiple outcome studies. A Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Treatment for Sexual Offenders: Risk, Need, and Responsivity [PDF]

    Its abstract is as follows for anyone having trouble with the PDF:

    “The effectiveness of treatment for sexual offenders remains controversial, even though it is widely agreed that certain forms of human service interventions reduce the recidivism rates of general offenders. The current review examined whether the principles associated with effective treatments for general offenders (Risk–Need–Responsivity: RNR) also apply to sexual offender treatment. Based on a meta-analysis of 23 recidivism outcome studies meeting basic criteria for study quality, the unweighted sexual and general recidivism rates for the treated sexual offenders were lower than the rates observed for the comparison groups (10.9% [n = 3,121] versus 19.2% [n = 3,625] for sexual recidivism; 31.8% [n = 1,979] versus 48.3% [n = 2,822] for any recidivism). Programs that adhered to the RNR principles showed the largest reductions in sexual and general recidivism. Given the consistency of the current findings with the general offender rehabilitation literature, we believe that the RNR principles should be a major consideration in the design and implementation of treatment programs for sexual offenders.”

    Newer programs were also more effective than older programs, indicating that our methods are getting better. Caveats are that the quality of outcome studies needs improvement and that detected recidivism is not the ideal outcome measure, although it’s the best we have.

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: But as John says, the literature with repeat abusers, whether rapists of adults or children, is completely grim. Nothing works.

    This is not the case. The above meta-analysis only focuses on treatment structure, not offender characteristics (likely because of the way the summarized research was conducted, although it should be noted that the “risk principle” refers to giving the offenders at the greatest risk to re-offend the most treatment, and interventions which adhere to this principle tend to have greater recidivism reductions), but there are individual outcome studies which have shown specifically that even serious repeat offenders can successfully desist from offending.

    One example is the Circles of Support and Accountability, which is a community reintegration program specifically designed for high risk, high profile repeat sex offenders who have served the entire length of their prison sentence incarcerated until warrant expiry without any step-down treatment; this article provides some detailed background on how it got started and the original offenders who participated [PDF]. There’s a recent statistical report on its outcomes here [PDF] and apparently there’s another large-scale national evaluation underway in Canada. There’s no magic bullet and there’s a long way to go yet, but it’s not accurate to say that “nothing works” – that’s the same language Martinson used in 1974 to refer to all offender treatment, and researchers and practitioners have spent the last thirty years proving him wrong.

  36. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 3, 2011 at 10:29 am |

    Well, progress is good news.

  37. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar November 3, 2011 at 11:00 am |

    Well, I read the .odf at Jadey’s link. It is very informative, and my take-away is complex. They’re doing a meta-analysis of studies that, by their admission, are mostly of weak design. And this is a clinical sample, people who have been referred for help, which makes then necessarily unrepresentative in some ways of the undetected rapists McWhorter and Lisak studied. And the best single study they authors talked about, SOTEP, reached the opposite conclusion. Still, their meta-analysis finds that treatment programs give rise to lower rates of recidivism than no treatment, so that’s not what I thought. It’s not true that nothing works, and the recent methods work better than older ones and maybe we are learning to un-make rapists. That’s good.

    The most interesting paragraph, for me, was this:

    Of the three RNR principles, attention to the Need principle would motivate the largest changes in the interventions currently given to sexual offenders. Much remains to be known about the criminogenic needs of sexual offenders; nevertheless, an empirical association with recidivism is a minimum criterion for a factor to be considered a potential dynamic risk factor (criminogenic need) (Kraemer et al., 1997). Many of the factors targeted in contemporary treatment programs do not meet this test. Offence responsibility, social skills training, and victim empathy are targets in more than 80% of sexual offender treatment programs (McGrath et al., 2003), yet none of these have been found to predict sexual recidivism (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2004, 2005).

    So to your point, the authors think that the single biggest shortcoming in current programs is that they have not really figured out and addressed what the serial rapist gets out of raping.

    To the extent there’s specific work on that, I’m not conversant in it.

  38. Schala
    Schala November 4, 2011 at 11:53 am |

    We need to change the dynamic so that women, like men, reside in a state of non-consent.

    I thought only men’s consent to sex with men was in a state of non-consent by default. Certainly, men are assumed to consent to sex with women by default (horny beast always up for it stereotype), even if they’re gay (that’s heterosexism for you).

    It’s assumed so much that we don’t gather statistics for rape of men in many places, and even legal definitions often state outright that only women can be raped. I bet many people (men and women) internalize this, the same as the dressing slutty stereotype – because it’s all part of the rape culture.

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