Saturday, October 10, 2015

What are Young People Hearing? Getting the Message Right By Jon Brandt, MSW, LICSW

What are Young People Hearing? Getting the Message Right October 10, 2015

Social rules and laws around interpersonal sexual conduct are culturally defined but locally enforced.  It is up to adults to help young people know the expectations, navigate the hazards of interpersonal sex, and understand that there are a lot things that can go wrong.  When sexual violations occur, it is also the responsibility of adults to help young people make sense of what happened, and whether they might be a victim or an offender, help guide them through recovery. 

Sometimes sexual violence is so horrific, that culpability is clear.  But other times sexual violations occur under ambiguous or mitigating circumstances.  When this is the case, too often adults ignore the social complexity of interpersonal sexual behavior, overreach with interventions, and send distorted, polarizing messages to young people.  When kids are involved in sexual violations, as a victim or an offender, what are the messages that they are getting from adults?   Do these messages help young people understand what happened, or do they just leave them more confused, full of anger or shame, or feeling hopeless?  Three cases to illustrate…

SVP Civil Commitment in Virginia a Interview of a VCBR “Resident”: “It’s Worse Than Prison” By Leon Neyfakh

“It’s Worse Than Prison” October 9, 2015
Reginald Artis served 27 years behind bars. But just because her sentence was up didn’t mean she got to go free.
By Leon Neyfakh

Reginald Artis is a transgender woman from Chesapeake, Virginia, who was sent to prison in 1987 for a sex crime she committed at age 23, when she still identified as a man, against a 17-year-old. The sentence Artis was given meant that as long as she stayed out of trouble while doing her time, she’d be released from prison in 2012. Artis, who is now 52, counted down the days as she waited to go home to her family. 

Then something unexpected happened: A few months before she was supposed to be released, Artis was told by a prison counselor that she was a candidate for something called civil commitment. A doctor would be coming to the prison to evaluate her, the counselor said, to determine whether she was at risk for committing another sex crime. If the doctor decided she was, that testimony would be presented to a judge, and Artis would likely be sent to a facility to receive treatment. She would be held indefinitely at that facility until the state decided it was safe to let her out. 

Artis could not believe it. She had never heard of civil commitment, and she didn’t understand how it could be possible that after serving her prison sentence without incident, she would not be allowed to go home. After a judge heard the case—and reviewed the results of a risk assessment questionnaire Artis had taken at the behest of the doctor who visited her in prison—that was exactly what happened. On Jan. 13, 2013, after 27 years of being locked up in one institution, Artis found herself locked up in another one. 

The Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation is not, strictly speaking, a prison: The more than 300 people who are housed there do not live in locked cells, and they are able to use the phone to communicate with the outside world. But they are not allowed to leave. Like Artis, they have been designated sexually violent predators by the state after completing questionnaires designed to identify urges or mental conditions that make them likely to commit further sexual crimes. While living at VCBR, people undergo treatment for these urges, in the form of group therapy and classes, that can last for many years; unlike in prison, they do not have release dates to look forward to and are only freed when judges decide they are no longer a threat to society.   

The Virginia law that allows for the indefinite, postprison detention of people who are considered likely to commit sex crimes in the future mirrors similar laws in 19 other states and at the federal level. Recently, such laws have come under attack, with federal judges in Missouri and Minnesota declaring them unconstitutional. In the meantime, according to the New York Times, there are approximately 5,000 people being detained in this way across the country.