COVER

TREATING SEX CRIMINALS

July 18 1988
COVER

TREATING SEX CRIMINALS

July 18 1988

TREATING SEX CRIMINALS

COVER

They have committed some of the criminal acts most reviled by Canadian society. Currently, 1,312 sex offenders— including rapists and pedophiles—are in Canadian federal penitentiaries. All will be eligible for full parole after serving one-third of their sentence. But within the federal correctional system there are only four treatment units— with a combined budget of $30 million a year—especially designed to rehabilitate sexual and violent offenders. To visit one of the units last month, Maclean’s Assistant Editor Anne Steacy passed through the forbidding limestone gate of Kingston Penitentiary, 250 km east of Toronto. Three sex offenders agreed to be interviewed only on condition that their names not be used.

The sun shone through thickly barred windows into the grey linoleum corridor and penetrated the 20 brick cells lining Range 5, the Ontario Regional Treatment Centre’s sex-offender unit inside Kingston Penitentiary. Inmates in dark-green uniforms and wearing slippers or running shoes talked and joked in the corridor as they waited for lunch. They included some of Canada’s most-feared criminals: repeaters or first-time offenders who are considered extremely dangerous. Said psychologist Sharon Williams, who played a key role when the sex-offender unit started operating 15 years ago and who is now its director: “They are the most reprehensible types.”

Last year, behavioral analyst Bruce Malcolm, the co-ordinator of assessment services for the unit, administered voluntary tests to 160 sex offenders there to gauge their need for treatment. Of those men—women are rarely imprisoned for sexual offences—98 had committed sexual assaults against adult women, ranging from fondling to sexually motivated murder. Another 27 had assaulted girls between the ages of 12 and 16, 26 were pedophiles who had assaulted children under 12, four had assaulted adult men and five had assaulted boys between the ages of 12 and 16. Malcolm referred two-thirds of the 160 to the voluntary sex-offender program.

With an average treatment time of four months, and only 11 single-man cells allotted to offenders in the program, Williams and her staff of seven

nurses (six of them female) and two female psychologists are struggling to treat 40 men a year. According to JeanGuy Leger, associate warden of the treatment centre, another 16-bed range will be available for sexual offenders in October. There is a backlog of 102 assessed sex offenders awaiting treat-

ment—and little time for research into the effectiveness of the program or development of new techniques.

The 25-year-old prisoner is conventionally handsome, stocky, with brown hair and smooth skin. He is serving three years on two counts of sexual assault— the first against a female hitchhiker whom he attacked in his car, the second against a prostitute. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “7 didn't feel like coming for treatment,” he said. “I didn't think I needed it but I found out otherwise. It changed my view of things, and my way of treating people,

too. Because before I used to be kind of a bully, a one-man gang, like ‘I'm my own guy, and don 't bug me. ' But now I understand people. I can see that my thinking before wasn't right. The staff on the range, they treat you like human beings. Hey, you're a sexual offender, get in your cage.' They don’t treat you like that. If I go out on the street and do another stupid thing like I did, I'll be letting people down. ”

In treating sexual offenders on Range 5, staff members use various forms of aversion therapy. In one type, the prisoners attach strain gauges— silvery rubber bands containing hair-thin columns of mercury that detect minute variances in blood pressure—to their penises. The gauges are electrically wired to instruments that register the arousal effects on the offenders of videotaped scenes in which men sexually attack women and subject them to violence. After an initial Q screening of a video, 5 the therapist reruns g it, instructing the à prisoner to focus on x the victim’s fear, rage g or pain. If that fails R to deter arousal, the therapist instructs the prisoner to sniff a foul-smelling substance, such as ammonia or decomposing cheese or potatoes. In rare cases, the therapist administers mild electric shocks to the back of the prisoner’s legs. According to Williams, the aim of aversion therapy is to create negative associations with the inmates’ deviant impulses.

But those are methods of last resort. The emphasis in Williams’s program is on treating the social inadequacies that, in many cases, were significant contributing factors to the offenders’ criminal behavior. Common characteristics include impulsiveness, low self-esteem and problems relating to women. Frequent-

ly, sexual offenders were themselves abused as children. Added Malcolm: “An overwhelming number deny their guilt.” In group therapy sessions, the prisoners learn social skills—empathy, moral reasoning, the ability to listen to others and to take responsibility for their actions. Williams said that in cases where men have a sexual interest solely in children, “we have to get people to find methods of avoiding contact—and realize that it is going to be a battle.”

The tall, sandy-haired 36-year-old man has a low voice and hypnotic eyes. He was released after serving time in a provincial institution for the rape of a female relative. Then, while working as a clerk in a corner store, he sexually assaulted a teenage female customer. He is currently serving a five-year term. “I was leery about the program, ” he said, “but after a while, I sta?'ted thinking about it and I said to myself: 'Well, you’ve got to help yourself. You 've got serious problems. ' Before, the anger used to be a real deep, intensive anger. I hated women with a passion, because of my past. I had been sexually assaulted by my aunt and battered and abused by my mother. And what happened was I just lumped all women together. I wasn’t looking at them as individuals. Now, I feel confident with myself. Sure, I did some ter-

rible things, but that’s the past. I can’t change the past, but I can work on my future. They’ve taught me that. ”

Williams, who personally keeps in touch with as many as 40 people she has treated, says that “it might seem remarkable, but we do have a large impact on behavior.” Still, most experts, including Williams and Paul Davidson, a psychologist at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston, say that although they can help some offenders, there are no guaranteed cures. Davidson was chief of the sexoffender unit’s research department until a funding cut resulted in its closure in 1982. In 1984, he published a followup study of 202 sex offenders showing that the ones who had undergone the treatment program had recorded 15 per cent fewer charges for violent offences than previous offenders who had not received treatment.

But Davidson said that at least two men charged in recent sex slayings in Ontario had taken the program. Declared Davidson: “Often, you have the sense when you’re working with someone that treatment is not important to them. It’s hard to quantify. Many are not evil. They do not want to do it again. It’s identifying the others that is the problem.” Added Davidson, in a reference to a 1971 movie that envisioned the use of high-tech aversion therapy for

rapists: “We do not have the Clockwork Orange technology to change people against their will.”

The prisoner is hi, a small, stooped man with thinning dark hair. He served time twice in provincial institutions, once for armed robbery and later for assault causing bodily harm to a woman. At that time, he participated in a provincial treatment program. Then he committed another crime. He is now serving a three-year sentence for sexual assault against his stepdaughter. “I knew I needed the treatment,” he said. “But I was afraid of being looked upon with disgust. My problem was I’m a violent man. I was full of hate, mostly for myself. I set my expectations too high. It was my wife's daughter from a former marriage. She was 12 then. I used to drink a lot and take a lot of pills. And, on the Valium and booze, I coerced her into doing it. Now, when I see images of sexual violence, I can relate to what they were going through, where before I wouldn't have cared. Now, I'm always aware how other people are going to judge me. I’m going to make it work—for me this time, not for other people, not to beat the system. If I go out there and screw up one more time, my life is history. I’ll be in for a long time—and it scares the hell out of me. ”□