Saturday, September 17, 2011

On Amber Alerts, Randall Hopley, and "the system"

With the safe return of Kienan H├ębert and the subsequent arrest of Randall Hopley, a lot of questions remain, many of which are directed at authorities for not issuing the Amber Alert sooner. I have a few of my own questions, mostly pertaining to the shortfalls of the way we deal with mental health and sexual deviancy.

As a society, we're pretty merciless against those that would perform sex crimes against children, and justifiably so. Among other things, children represent innocence and hope for a brighter future. For someone to intentionally violate that is reprehensible and shameful, and if the crime is done against someone you know and care about (eg: your own), it's that much more personal. Hence, it's one of the many things that explains the outpouring of support for Kienan's safe return and the utter revulsion that we tend to feel towards the likes of Randall Hopley.

We view pedophilia as such a social taboo that the mere accusation is sufficient to cause irreparable harm to one's reputation, regardless if it is unfounded. There has even been one instance where a pediatrician was moving to a new town, but an unfortunately misworded announcement, caused a lot of undue embarrassment. The sentiment, "Pedophiles are pure evil" has been mentioned by people I know on more than a few occasions as well.

I feel that phrases like that grossly oversimplify the problem. I'm of the school of thought that it's our actions that define us, rather than things like brain chemistry and genetic makeup. But more to the point, simply dismissing anyone with tendencies towards pedophilia as "evil" doesn't attempt to understand the full nature of the problem or do anything to protect our children.

My late father was a mental health professional working at Riverview Hospital. As a psychiatric nurse and a member of a labor union, seeing my dad at home while the nursing staff went on job action was a recurring memory from my childhood. I was too young to understand it back then, but I do remember my father saying things about how they were looking to shutter institutions like Riverview in favour of more "community based" mental health care resources.

For better or for worse, that seems to be the case now, and we're paying the price for it. Police have replaced mental health professionals, as the mentally ill are being released from institutions and into the community...and onto the streets, homeless shelters, and inside prison cells.  In the search of more cost effective solutions, the approach seems to be to assign a band-aid solution when a tourniquet is needed.

I think that it's safe to say that sexual deviancy, especially that of which would involve harming minors, is a mental disorder [citation needed]. However, given that the prospect of harming minors is such a societal taboo, we're too uncomfortable to proactively tackle the issue head-on.

Getting back to the whole, "Pedophiles are pure evil" bit. Indeed, infamous child killer Clifford Olsen is clearly "evil" in the classic sense - he's displayed no remorse for his crimes, has not shown any interest in rehabilitation, and puts the families of the victims through the emotional ringer again and again with parole hearing, which he receives every two years under Canadian law. And personally speaking, I think the world would be a much safer place without the likes of him around.

The reality is that there are people out there who do have levels of sexual deviancy and either haven't acted on them, or have acted on them but haven't been caught.  As for those who haven't acted on it, there are several possible reasons as to why, such as the consequences of being caught, the absolute guilt and horror of what they are capable of, and utter and public shame that would result.

If the shame and fear of being caught is keeping potential pedophiles in check, that's probably the only good thing about it, as it's largely a band-aid solution. Given the way we tend to react against those that would harm children, no one would admit to ever having this problem, which allows the problem to go unchecked. Those who admitted that they have a problem have no resources or means to treat it. There was at least one instance in which a convicted sex offender repeatedly asked for help to deal with his compulsions from various mental health professionals, but after given useless advice, ended up crossing the line [citation needed].

There have been discussions as to possible solutions, although a lot of people are just way too uncomfortable to entertain the idea. In general, most sexual health professionals do not view pornography as gateway towards sexual deviancy and sexual predation, and some would argue that there is a negative correlation between availability of pornography and sex crimes. There have been arguments towards the production of pornography that does NOT involve the use of minors at all (eg: hand-drawn and/or computer generated images) as a possible therapeutic tool, but given that some of the more uptight communities are known for perceiving hentai (Japanese pornographic comics) as "obscene", limits its availability.

While the act of preying against children is certainly morally reprehensible, assigning moral responsibility for the act is something I'm not comfortable doing ("Only God Can Judge Me"), especially since it could very well be due to mental disorders, or our level of discomfort with treating them.  But, in terms of scale, one thing I do find worse is the use of society's perception of sexual crimes and deviancy as a blunt weapon.

As someone who has does group activities that involve people of all ages (specifically, Rubik's Cube speed solving and martial arts), it's likely that I'm going to be regularly spending time with minors. Competitive Rubik's Cube speed solving proportionally involves a lot more minors than martial arts, although people I regularly have conversations with in my speed solving are adults, especially when it comes to planning upcoming events.

I found myself in a Facebook group chat session which involved one or two of my regular (adult) contacts and the rest of them being minors. After a few comments were exchanged, I made an off-hand joke about me being the oldest one there, at which point one of the newer group members (with whom I'm unfamiliar) made some snide remark about hanging out with a bunch of kids, calling me a "creep" for doing so.

Operating under that logic, that would probably mean that any adult male who works exclusively with children, from primary school educators, daycare workers, pediatricians, to children's entertainers, would automatically be a "creep" or "pervert" for doing so.

It's safe enough to assume that she didn't know that I was with the local competitor scene from the beginning (was the primary organizer behind two competitions), and given the tendency for the anonymity of the Internet to allow people to turn into complete jerks, I could've let that one slide, but given the implications, the comment made me angry enough to react (although not immediately).

We live in a society in which a teenage girl will get an "F" in class, and in retribution, will make a frivolous accusation of sexual misconduct from her teacher, causing him to lose his job, his friends, and his reputation, even if the allegations are founded to be untrue. I find actions like this to be even worse than those of actual pedophiles for several reasons.

For starters, untrue allegations of sex crimes will cause doubt to be cast on actual instances of sex crimes. Additionally, the reputation of being a liar is infinitely more benign than the unjustified reputation of being a pederast. But most of all, if it turns out that sexual deviancy towards harming minors is a mental illness for which actual sexual deviants can't get the appropriate treatment, to those that would throw around false accusations, I ask: what's your excuse?

I've since permanently banned her from the group.

Indeed, children do need our protection and anyone who would perpetrate sex offenses against children must never go unpunished. With that in mind, the way in which we protect our children must be a lot more proactive if we want our children to be safe. And treatment towards potential sexual deviants needs to be a lot more effective and available, and people should be able to seek it out if it is necessary.

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