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» Sex Crimes » Sex, Lies, and Experts' Reports

Sex, Lies, and Experts' Reports

Representing people charged with sex crimes quickly introduces a lawyer to a new world of tests and a fascinating subculture of experts. Over time, I think I’ve figured out a good bit of how it works.

Every doctor who’s ever studied sex offenders has had a test named after him. If he had a partner, the test is identified by both of their names separated by an ampersand. It continues on like that as you add doctors. The tests are published in periodicals that are carefully read by every other doctor in the field, each himself hoping to one day have his doctor-friends talking about and performing his test. Occasionally, doctors don’t like seeing their names in lights, so their tests just get an official-sounding acronym or, at the very least, lots of smart-sounding words in the title. They may be called a “cognitive distortion” scale or a “multiphasic inventory.”

A person’s answers on these tests can apparently be used to calculate everything from the severity of the person’s sexual dysfunction to the person’s likelihood of recidivism. Dozens of quick responses to preselected questions spit out a precise number that’s supposed to tell an expert all about the person responding. For plea bargaining, a good risk assessment filled with plenty of such tests can shave years off a sentence. For someone trying to terminate lifetime probation, positive results on a few tests can work wonders getting people out from under the overwhelming weight of the system.

I doubt I could overstate how much weight these sometimes receive. When someone with a doctorate tells a couple of scientifically-handicapped attorneys that the SSD scale of the MSI-II, when coupled with the results of the Abel & Becker Cognitions scale and the Wilson SFQ, suggests a high likelihood of future violent sexual offenses, what are they to do? Continue lifetime probation? Lock him up and throw away the key? Done, and done.

I’m skeptical when state “experts” testify about gas chromatographs and DNA, so you can imagine how upset I get about sex offender “tests.” With traditional chemical or biological testing, it isn’t usually that I don’t trust the principles behind the tests; it’s that don’t trust the people behind the tests. The human element, whether it’s pipetting the sample or even labeling the box, isn’t reliable. I’ve interviewed plenty of criminalists, and my confidence in the results rarely increases as the interview progresses.

With sex offender tests, it’s as if they’ve simply distilled that human element I don’t trust in other tests, applied it to a person I don’t trust to be truthful in the situation, and called it science. I even doubt the principles. It reminds me of a silly personality and vocational test I had to take in middle school. It told me I should be fighting fires in oil fields in the Persian Gulf. The test was idiotic, and my goal was to answer each question in a way that would influence the result to come up with a career my twelve-year-old brain would think was cool. Mission accomplished!

The tests typically involve responses about how the subject feels about certain statements. Here’s one, for example:

Sometimes children don’t say no to sexual activity because they are curious about sex.

Do you agree or not? Personally, I’d probably be inclined to agree with that statement simply because it doesn’t specify that the sexual activity involves an adult. Kids play doctor. Kids are naturally curious. As terrified as everyone in this country is about sex, I still doubt authorities have stamped out the dreaded childhood practice of “doctor” altogether. From a true or false standpoint, the statement is probably true. My answer would raise a bright red flag.

If you’re a normal person, you probably have no idea why child sex abuse victims do or don’t say no to sexual activity. That’s because you probably aren’t an expert in child psychology. You probably aren’t a criminal justice statistician either. Agreeing or disagreeing with such a question requires specialized knowledge any person taking the test almost certainly does not have, and if they had it, it might actually hurt them. I’m sure plenty of people will think I’m horrible for even suggesting this, but isn’t it possible that sometimes, just sometimes, children are curious? Can’t someone agree with the statement and not be a soulless, serial child molester who thinks every victim ever wanted it?

I’ve cross-examined a fair number of forensic interviewers who focus on sex crimes, and the only absolute I’ve found is that they all agree that every victim is different. They’re all unique individuals. People may respond very differently to the exact same thing, and everyone matures at different rates. The natural extension is that some children may be curious. Do the experts really mean what they say, or are they just saying it in case the victim presents other-than-expected to the jury? It’s hypocritical to punish a defendant for following the very line of logic the state’s own experts espouse day in and day out.

Terminology may be the biggest problem. When the term “child” might mean 17, 14, or 4 years of age to different people, the mindset of the subject has an enormous bearing on the answer. A high school senior charged with felony sexual conduct with a minor for having sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend on his 18th birthday is going to view that question in a different light from a lot of other people taking the same test. After being grilled by officers who told him “she’s just a child” for hours on end, he’s probably going to think he agrees with the statement above if she did in fact say yes because she was curious. The answer will show his thinking is consistent with that of a dangerous sex offender.

The statements speak in absolutes that experts tell me are not only not absolute, but actually never the same for two individuals. This statement from the tests misses that fact too:

Sometimes victims initiate sexual activity.

It’s too broad. Go back to my 18th birthday example above. The girlfriend is a victim, but is it that implausible to think a younger high school girl might initiate sex with an older high school boy? Almost every teen comedy film shows it, so why is it inconceivable in real life? In this society, where we seem to live in constant fear of sex, it’s as if we all pretend no minor has ever in the history of the world initiated sexual activity. It’s absurd. Switch around some things and imagine it’s an 18-year-old high school senior girl having sex with her 14-year-old high school freshman boyfriend. Isn’t it plausible that the boyfriend was probably curious and may have started it? Probably even more so, given that modern thinking seems to always assume the male is the instigator. I suspect my hypothetical girl would agree, and the tests would probably reveal she’s a dangerous predator largely because of the perspective from which she’d be taking them.

Our communal fear of sex results in some idiotic lines of thinking. They’re put on display in the various tests. Take this statement, for instance:

If women did not sleep around so much, they would be less likely to get raped.

Agree or not? Of course it’s true! Women would never get raped if they stayed in their homes all day every day with the doors locked and no visitors. They’d probably also be less likely to get raped if they didn’t date at all, wore burqas or chastity belts, or carried a .357 magnum in their purse. You can agree with that statement and not believe women rape victims brought it on themselves by sleeping around too much. I’m only assuming that’s the thought process they’re trying to identify.

The tests serve as indoctrination into the insanity that the government wishes we’d all adopt when it comes to human sexuality. They even seem to endorse the view that the people taking the tests should just shut up and take their lumps, whether they deserve them or not. Take this statement:

I think child molesters often get longer sentences than they really should.

Think about the response you’re likely to get asking that question of the 18-year-old girl in my last hypothetical above. Her crime would be a class 2 felony, a “dangerous crime against children,” and punishable by 13 to 27 years with a presumptive sentence of 20 years. Her conduct would also almost certainly constitute the offense of molestation of a child under Arizona law. In my mind, and I believe in the mind of every reasonably decent human being on earth, she’d be looking at a longer sentence than she deserves. Our laws are so out of control that even people who’ve done something very, very wrong get longer sentences than they really should.

The world of George Orwell’s 1984 is here when it comes to sex. We re-educate people to believe the lies that no victim can be curious or initiate contact, along with countless others. After they finally accept that they deserve the worst, whether they do or not, we put them in a prison where they’re treated like the lowest of the low before releasing them into a world where they’re publicly humiliated and forced to live a life separate from polite society. I can at least complain and speak my mind with little chance of repercussion. For those in the system, knowing the lies they must say are true, and actually believing them, may be the only key to freedom.

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One Response to "Sex, Lies, and Experts' Reports"

  1. Andrew says:

    I just polled the audience in my office, and apparently we’re all soulless child molesters. I guess there really is an epidemic!

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