LivingHow is a sexual offender rehabilitated?

How is a sexual offender rehabilitated?

William Lamont Marshall was born on an Australian farm. This psychiatrist, urologist and psychologist is the world’s leading scholar in the treatment of sex offenders, a task that, according to him, he chose because “it is a way of doing something good and important, of feeling useful.”

With what you know on the subject, hasn’t it occurred to you to write a novel about sex crimes?
-I know that if I did, I would earn money and make me famous, but it is not what I want to do with my life. I have dedicated myself to writing popular books, very accessible and helpful informative essays. That really attracts me.
Marshall has more than 200 publications and has served on the editorial boards of 15 international scientific journals. But his career stands out above all for working with those convicted of sexual abuse. Thus, he has contributed to the establishment of treatment programs for them in prisons in six countries, and today he directs these programs in two Canadian prisons.

How are these offenders rehabilitated?
-The differences that exist between them are many and must be adjusted to individual needs. Usually we try to get them to take responsibility and understand the damage caused first. We all often fool ourselves. To continue carrying out their attacks, the aggressors convince themselves that they do no harm and some come to believe that their victims have enjoyed it. This is justified. Therefore, it is very important that they realize the damage they cause. Later, we must teach them that their attacks are also harmful to them, because they end up in jail, they have to hide things, they lead a life full of traps … –Finally, we change their vision of the world, we give them social skills so that they improve the relationship with people and can satisfy their needs in an adequate way. We make them aware of the situations that put them at risk of attacking a child or a woman, and the personal states of risk, such as being drunk, intoxicated or angry. We also teach them to express anger or to seek help in their environment.

Is castration for rapists a feasible solution?
-There are two types of castration. On the one hand, there is the physical, irreversible castration that countries do not allow except to save someone’s life. On the other hand, chemical castration, reversible, which suppresses and calms the urge of sexual offenders. In Canada we sometimes use it with bullies who are so obsessed with sex that they are unable to pay attention to treatment. With chemical castration we suppress that urge, and once they enter treatment and collaborate, we phase out the medication. But chemical castration is not a solution either. There is no evidence that it is an effective way to treat them; quite the contrary. The only thing that works is psychological treatment. Drugs cannot teach a person behavior.

Are all men potential rapists?
-We are all potential murderers, rapists and thieves. But it is obvious that not all of us develop that component. Sexual and personal experiences lead some men to learn to be rapists.

He has said that they learn to rape. Does that mean that the rapist is not born, is made and that there is no genetic component?
-There may be a certain predisposition in some, but we have no evidence that this inclination is very different in all men. It is the first affective experiences with the parents and the first sexual relationships that establish the pattern of action of the individual and make one become a rapist or something else. Childhood prepares the way and then, according to one’s own experiences, goes one way or another.

To what extent is the media guilty of certain cases of violence?
-They are just one of the many experiences that young people are exposed to. If a person is not vulnerable beforehand, if he has self-esteem, violent media images will not hurt him. But if she is in need of affection and cannot find another way to satisfy that need, she will look for images that empower her and make her feel strong. And those images will appeal to you enormously. The most obvious and exaggerated form is pornography. It only tells lies about sexuality and offers an image that is not real. But that’s just one of the factors that can affect it.

And what are the others?
-Every person is a world. It may be fortuitous experiences that cause it. For example, a 12-year-old has sex with his sister or neighbor simply because they were together at the time. This act can cause the idea of having sex in this way to persist in your head. That will be your reference of something pleasant and you will try to repeat it whenever you can.

How can victims of attacks be helped?
– It must be recognized that today a good job is not being done with the victims and their treatment. It is true that there are counseling programs in Canada and elsewhere that are very helpful. The crucial thing is to be able to help the victims so that they do not feel guilty and to work so that they face the emotional consequences of these attacks. We are not doing enough.

Can child abuse be put on the same level as abuse?
-To some extent, but it is not an exact rule. Among those who sexually abuse minors there are aggressors who seek a romantic, almost courtship, relationship with minors. And on the other hand there are those who only want sex with the child. In the latter, there are more possibilities that they are violent, and therefore they can be compared with those who abuse minors.

Now that you have mentioned “romantic” relationships between adults and minors, in classical Greece adult-adolescent relationships were not frowned upon. Could we judge that behavior as immoral?
-The meaning of human behaviors has a lot to do with what is accepted, with what the rules dictate. They must be analyzed in context. If in this context this kind of relationship is forbidden, and everyone knows it, then it does cause damage, because the child is aware that it is wrong and the adult forces him to shut it up. On the other hand, as in the case of ancient Greece, if it was commonly accepted by all, regardless of our opinion, no one can object to anything. Different cultures have different rules, and those rules are what should determine our valuation.

Rapes by women are anecdotal.
-If women had more power, the rate of sexual assaults would be reduced, without this meaning that assaults by women would increase. I highly doubt that female attacks on men will increase in the near future.
One of Marshall’s great contributions was to discover the relationship between the problems of loneliness suffered by sexual offenders and the lack of empathy and low self-esteem that these offenders develop. As Canadian and Australian studies have subsequently found, sex offenders cannot satisfy their affective needs in the context of correct relationships. Marshall points out that these deficiencies and the loneliness in which they live would encourage them to satisfy their needs through sexual assault.

Can the type of society we live in cause an increase in rapists?
-The problem to determine if there is really an increase in these attacks is that we will never be clear if what is really increasing is not the number of complaints. Studies have estimated that the actual number of rapes is four to ten times higher than the official figures. In any case, we have found that loneliness is a key factor in promoting violence, and therefore sexual assault. That suggests that our society, the bigger, faster and more alienating it gets, the more sexual abuse it will have.

Do you know of a community throughout history where sexual assault does not exist?
-Not actually. But there were societies in which they were rare, while in others it was quite common. The interesting thing is that in societies in which abuse was frequent, men treated children and women like property, and they were quite aggressive societies in which the solution to many problems was violence. In contrast, societies with little sexual abuse tended to be more egalitarian; men and women had in practice the same rights, while children were worshiped, and reason and dialect discussion were the solution to many problems. Without a doubt, this is a master lesson to learn.
Carlos Aimeur


This interview was published in July 1999, in number 218 of VERY Interesting.

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