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Ethical Treatment for All Youth
Email: etay@ethicaltreatment.org

About the author

by Sylvere Lotringer, New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.

Chapter 8 is a personal account by a teenager who was convicted of a sex offense. At age 17 he was arrested for having sex with a 15 year old. Also included here are parts of chapter 9 which contains an interview with a clinic staff member on the use of verbal satiation with 13 to 18 year olds. Note: The book uses very frank language as it describes the therapy and how the teenager coped with it.

A teenage sex offender

They gave me a five-year probation and I had to promise that I would go back and forth from Dayton to this clinic in Chicago...They make it look like it’s voluntary, but half the people go to the clinic only because they sign a piece of paper. Have you been to the clinic? There’s this guard at the door. You’re not allowed to go in by yourself. You’ve got to wait downstairs so you don’t get to the other floors and rape the personnel-that’s why. You go every two weeks, and every time then probation officer knows you’ve been there. If you don’t go, you’re in trouble. They’d put you back in jail.

At the clinic they give you all these tests to fill out about what was wrong with you and how you feel about your problems. Of course I had to go along with it, all the quizzes and things to screen you, like, “I’m feeling a little girl’s underpants,” and how it arouses you, from 1 to 10. It didn’t arouse me, but I did it anyway. How are you going to be truthful if they’re going to lock you back up?

…After that they give you this test where they connect this thing called a “penile transducer” and they let you watch this slide show. If you get an erection, it’ll come out on the computer. They let you see these slides of adults, children, and a whole bunch of other things…it’s frustrating because it gets you horny and it stays in your mind. They’ll have you do stuff like counting backwards from a hundred in threes to get whatever it is off your mind. It can take ten minutes sometimes. So it’s very aggravating to sit there in the dark doing this counting over and over again dealing with getting erections…

A year later they put me on Depo-Provera. According to the tests, I needed it. This drug would stop you from getting an erection to anything…They said, “you can stop whenever you want.” So I stopped, and they threatened to stop seeing me because I hadn’t asked ahead of time. And if they had stopped seeing me, then the court would have said, “well, we gave him a chance and now he can go back to jail.” So in order for me to pass the test, I would have to not be aroused at all. Then they gave me the test to make sure I was taking it. So I had to cheat the test…The only thing they work with is your penis…Now if you close your eyes or pinch yourself when you peak, to stop an erection from coming, they wouldn’t know. They figure I’m on the drug and that’s why I don’t have an erection…

The doctor wouldn’t let me quit. I was taking 100 milligrams a day for about two weeks. I had less sex drive, but I was getting sick. So I just stopped. I went over to the clinic and told the doctor what I did, and he had a heart attack. He told me that I was the doctor, then, so I shouldn’t even come and see him because I didn’t listen to him. He said that if I did it one more time, he’d take me off the course…And you know what taking me off would mean once the judge found out. So I stopped taking the drug, but I kept filling out these forms asking, “how many times did you get an erection today?” I just wrote, “low.” I’d lie along to make it look like I was taking the drug…

After the social-skill group, they start you out with what is called “masturbatory satiation” sessions. They give you an hour-long cassette and you’re supposed to masturbate out loud for an hour, in your own home, in private. The doctor talks it over with you first. I did it. I took the tape home. It gets boring, like they say…

So I did it, but I felt exactly the same. I didn’t see any change at all. A lot of people came in and said it changed their ways, but they were all liars. They even told me on the side just to stop doing them.

I started with the masturbation, but after a few sessions I just talked into the tape recorder for an hour. Because it didn’t do me any good…I still got off on the same stuff. I knew inside my head what turned me on. Everybody was telling me to cheat. Talk into the tape recorder and don’t masturbate. So that’s what I did…Everyone does it.

After ten weeks, they give you the test again. That’s when people cheated. It’s like a fight with the computer. Every little movement and it goes on and off. Some people close their eyes or stick a tack in their shoes and press on it to pinch their toes and stop the erection from coming...You see, once I’m through going there, I’ll be another “success” for them…

Most people say they’ve been treated just to get out of here, but others will be honest. They get put in a group with this other doctor. That’s when the drug comes into the picture…He’ll talk you into the drug, into increasing the dosage more and more, like he did to me. The way he put it, you couldn’t say no. There’s no research data to support whether the drug does damage or not…

Then the drug started. The side effects were cold spells, sweating. They gave me two more drugs to stop those. I felt worse than before, so I threw them all out. I could never reach him. I just kept getting the message machine. Anyway I started pretending I was taking the drug. They would try to catch me off guard by making me take the test. I’d cheat and fake it and pass it.

There are a lot of people who aren’t open at the clinic. The ones who aren’t open are the worst, because they get depressed. They think there’s something wrong with them. So they would go through the whole thing, thinking they could get help from it...I had the same thing happen to me. You feel so bad, you start thinking of suicide…I tried to kill myself in jail. The pants I used to hang myself ripped.

(pp. 134-141)

Verbal satiation

“How do you talk to children when they first come to see you?” I asked the lab technician.

“Well, I say, 'We're going to talk to you about private things, things that are sexual. They may embarrass you. You may feel a little bit nervous or anxious.' We kind of prepare them for it. They might get upset when they listen to some of the homosexual tapes, so I tell them, 'You may like some of the tapes and some you may not.' At the end I tell them that everything they've been exposed to is against the law.”

“Did they have any idea what you were going to do with them?”

“They'd been told twice. In the interview, they were shown the device that measures the penis. In the lab, I explain it to them again: 'When you strain the gauge, it records an erection on the machine.'”

“What's their reaction to the machines?”

“They don't react. They're very quiet. Once in a while they might just shake their head...Very few are so scared that they look scared. They may be scared inside, but they don't show anything.”

“How long have you been treating juvenile sex offenders?”

“We started two years ago. Programs are springing up all over the United States...”

“Do they recognize that they did something wrong?”

“No. They won't admit that they've engaged in deviant behavior.”

“How do you know that they have, then?”

“All our boys have been arrested. They've been reported by an adult, usually the mother of the victim. Some of them are incest kids, engaging in sex with their sister; their own mothers reported them...If you're white and if you have the money, you go the mental-health route. You get a good attorney who pleads your case and you get some kind of therapy. When you're poor, black, or hispanic, you wind up in the criminal-justice route, like kids in this program...”

“And do they agree to the treatment?”

“We read them a detailed consent form which explains that we will be asking them questions about their sexual behavior.”

“Do they understand the terms?”

“Oh yes.”

“And they cooperate?”

“They're not really trusting us too much. We find that after they're a few months into treatment they're a little more willing to admit that they actually did the behavior, which may have been fondling a little girl, or touching her, or having sex with her.”

“How young is the little girl?”

“The typical range is from six to twelve.”

“And fondling younger children, that's criminal?”

“Oh yes. The law says that it is criminal if you touch the private parts of a minor--a minor is described as five years younger than the adolescent. Yes, you cannot touch them, genitals, that sort of thing. It's against the law, and it's considered an assault.”

“Do they engage in anything more violent than fondling?”

“Some of them engage in penetration--anal, vaginal penetration. That's a felony. I'm not sure whether or not fondling is a felony. I don't think it is.”

“Your youth offenders are pretty young themselves.”

“They're thirteen to eighteen...Virtually all of our kids are at puberty."...

"What happens when they get an erection in the lab?”

“By and large, the adolescents will tend to say that they have no erections when they have a lot, especially with the right cue. They won't admit that they get aroused to a little girl...”

“Can you describe the typical child picture you use?”

“It won't be hard-core pornography. The child will just be standing there. There will be frontal nudity. Or she will be lying down. Her legs might be spread over a little bit, but not all the way out...She will not be performing sexual acts with anybody else...one way to get pictures is to look through nudist magazines for pictures of families and just crop for the little girl. We did get a couple of pictures that way...The boys wear the strain gauge while they look at the picture and they repeat the phrase over and over. We want to know if they get an erection while they look at the picture. Normally they don't, because the act of speaking prevents them from it.”

“They always repeat the same sentence?”

“The same sentence, for twenty minutes. The sentence might be, 'I'm feeling this girl's body.' It's something short. I tell them in advance that it's going to be boring for twenty minutes...there's certainly satiation to that particular sentence. Now we don't have any evidence that the phrase that I am giving them is that arousing to begin with. It's just a phrase.”

“Can't you test the phrase in the lab?”

“No, I can't do it. No one can repeat one single phrase and get aroused to it. It has to be part of a larger story. The only way to really do it is have the kids develop verbal fantasies in the lab.”

“Don't you do that with them?”

“No. The one reason we don't want to do that is because they didn't have any fantasy to begin with.”

“What do you mean?”

“None of them admit that they had deviant fantasies, fantasies that they masturbate to at night, or something that they think about. They're pretty much never willing to admit that they actually do that.”

“Are you sure they fantasize at all?”

“We don't know. It's just a guess...A lot of the kids will say that they never, never, never masturbated before. Whether or not that's true is a matter of debate. Some deny it in the initial interview, but when it's discussed later on in treatment--weeks, months later--they will admit that they've done it and will continue to do it. It's not something a boy likes to talk about with an adult, especially the first time they meet him...”

“What about the fantasy, then? You're supposed to treat fantasies; how can you do that if you're not sure they have any?”

“We almost have to guess that they have fantasies.”

“And the fantasy that you ask them to repeat in the lab, where does it come from?”

“We give it to them. We use something very general, so the person can make up his own fantasy as it goes along. Each session involves a different fantasy.”

“Which you set up for them.”

“Yes. I will use their case history to guide me, and for the rest--”

“You leave that to their imagniation, and to chance.”

“Yes...We don't want to develop verbal deviant fantasies in kids, as it is done in private practice with adults. If we could do that with kids, we could say that a certain part of the fantasy provokes a tremendous erection; then we could have them satiate it by saying the thing over and over, and test it later on to make sure there is no more arousal. But it's unethical to develop deviant verbal fantasies in kids.”

“So what you're doing in the lab is just like a shot in the dark. You may be satiating them on something that's not arousing.”

“That is very possible.”

“And this doesn't bother you?”

“No, because it's the best we can do. We can't get inside their heads, so we give them a fantasy which may or may not be deviant for them. The fact of the matter is, if they don't fantasize, then what we're doing is preventing them from fantasizing in the future. It could be seen as a preventive measure, nipping something in the bud, so to speak. There's a strong possibility that we're interrupting a deviant chain of events that might be happening here.”

“Or somewhere else, or not at all.”

“Frankly, how it generalizes to the outside world is unclear. You don't know. Our only measure is recidivism, if they get arrested again. But they could be out there offending and not get arrested. So what you do is try to imitate life as much as possible. Of course, it's a poor imitation. Ideally you would have a deviant target walk into the lab and sit on their lap, but of course you can't do that.”

(pp. 151-163)