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Illegal Sex

Sex Offenders: An Analysis of Types

by Paul H. Gebhard, by John H. Gagnon, by Wardell B. Pomeroy, by Cornelia V. Christenson, by Paul B. Hoeber
Harper & Row, 923 pp., $12.50

How Many More Victims

by Gladys Denny Shultz
Lippincott, 363 pp., $6.95

In Sex Offenders, The Institute for Sex Research continues the work begun with the publication, in 1948, of the first Kinsey Report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Of the original research team, only Mr. Pomeroy remains. The work, too, has changed, and for the better. Sex Offenders is a more sophisticated book than its predecessors, especially in its explicit analysis of its own methodological problems.

In one of the most interesting and amusing essays in The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling criticized the first Kinsey Report very sharply for its naively normative view of sexual behavior; as if the erotic component of human relationships could be summarized by classifying and counting the various movements made by the male member as he approached his target. Even Leporello, cataloguing Don Giovanni’s conquests, enumerates them by nationality, though he also states that Don Giovanni took no interest in the physical, much less the personal, characteristics of his victims. But the first Kinsey report was even less personal in its approach to sexuality, treating sexual behavior as if it were a series of mechanical acts which could be interpreted and understood without reference to feeling or to the qualities of the sexual partner.

Sex Offenders is far less vulnerable to such criticism. Its topic of course is more concrete and specific—though of much less fundamental importance—than sexual behavior in the human male or female. Sex offenders are categorized by law, which makes a quantitative and categorical approach not only defensible but, to a degree, inevitable. But the authors, in any case, make a consistent, if largely unsuccessful, effort to relate the fantasy life and feelings of sex offenders to their offenses. Their failure to do so is partly the result of limitations inherent in their methodology; but not altogether so. Their most important finding is negative; their work strongly suggests that there probably is no reliable relationship between particular kinds of sex offenses and the character and personality of the offender. The types they propose in their subtitle to analyze never clearly emerge; and if sex offenders are not distinctive types of people, much of our policy toward them is both cruel and stupid, while Mrs. Shultz’s proposals, which we shall later consider, are very sinister indeed.

The value of Sex Offenders as a work derives from two quite different qualities that it consistently displays. The first of these is its methodological self-consciousness. This book will, indeed, be more useful to beginning students of research technique in the social sciences than to persons interested in sex, who, for $12.50, ought to be able to find a book with pictures. I do not mean by this that Sex Offenders reports a model piece of research—it has many defects—but its authors show a commendable awareness of the limitations their techniques impose on their data; and discuss these problems explicitly and in context, explaining just why they chose to proceed as they did.

But the way they finally went about their task seems to me to have seriously compromised their purpose. What they were trying to do, essentially, was to learn enough about various kinds of sex offenders to permit them to classify them as different types of people. But they ask the wrong kinds of questions. They begin by dividing their sample up according to the age and sex of its victims. This gives them, as categories, Heterosexual, Incest, and Homosexual Offenders vs. Children, Minors, and Adults; with Peepers and Exhibitionists added to complete the taxonomy. Each of these is systematically examined as to Early Life, Masturbation, Sex Dreams, Heterosexual Petting, Premarital Coitus, Marriage, Extramarital Coitus, Age of Coital Partner, Homosexual Activity, Animal Contacts, Criminality, and Other Factors. This certainly seems to cover all reasonable possibilities.

The intent, of course, is to make comparisons among various kinds of offenders so as to reveal factors in life-history that might have predisposed them to commit the offense. Given the dominance of multivariate analysis in social research today, this is a reasonable approach. The authors discuss its limitations very thoroughly, but they feel constrained to use it for reasons that seem to me sound. They must indeed use a definition of each sex offense, which sounds ludicrously mechanistic, because there is so little uniformity among the legal definitions used in various jurisdictions, and even less in the processes by which the members of their sample were apprehended and convicted. Moreover, because of what prison inmates, whether sex offenders or not, tend to be like, the authors had less to gain by a more personal and less statistical approach than they would have in research with a more articulate sample. Prison populations tend to be drawn from poorly educated and often distracted or dullwitted people, while the more verbal and intellectually competent, who are also usually richer, find alternatives to crime—or, failing these, to conviction and imprisonment—more easily. Prisoners cannot usually express themselves either in abstract or in highly imaginative terms; and it is not very likely that the authors would have gotten much more than they did by relying more heavily on depth interviewing, with less emphasis on extensive, but uniform and superficial questioning.

Being good social scientists, the Kinsey team recognized that they needed a control group of persons, who were not sex offenders, to which to compare their prison sample; and that this control group must resemble the sex offenders as closely as possible in every other way. Lower-status individuals who are at large resist interviewers more intensively than middle-class people, who are familiar with the prevalence of various kinds of investigators in the Free World; but the authors with great ingenuity found some who were willing, if not especially able, to talk. Many of these were hospital inmates, especially accident victims whose misfortunes, the authors believed, would have less relationship to sexual attitudes or prowess than a disease would. But this scientific rigor still left the Kinsey team with the task of categorizing a dozen kinds of people with virtually no intelligible data about how the people themselves feel, no full or complex account of their fantasy life, and few trustworthy or coherent statements about how they came to be the way they are.

They fail, and are perceptive and honest enough to know it. Their book does not attempt to characterize the various “ideal types” of sex offenders they hoped to define, but contents itself with detailed and usually inconclusive comparisons among the people studied. Not much comes out of this that was not built into the data by definition or circumstances. Incest-offenders tend, for example, to be older and to have been married longer than other types of offenders—but they are defined as adult males who have had sexual contact with daughters or stepdaughters. Homosexual offenders tend to be brighter and are about the only individuals in the sample with much education, but, as the authors point out, homosexuals cannot express their inclinations legally no matter how bright they are. What the authors call “patterned offenders”—individuals who repeatedly commit the same kind of sexual offense even though caught and punished—show signs of more severe emotional disorganization than persons who change their behavior after they have been convicted. The book seldom becomes more revealing than this.

The Kinsey staff perspicaciously examines the obvious factors that are believed to have a strong influence on personality development: relationships to parents, childhood sex experience, broken homes. Some of these appear to have been pathogenic, but not in ways that seem peculiar to sex offenders. No patterns are clearly established; at the end, no clear picture of “sex offenders,” in contrast to other men, develops. This is what one would have expected all along. But, as we shall see when we consider Mrs. Shultz’s book, the question is important, not only to those who might become the victims of sexual aggression but to the general state of civil liberty. The authors’ unimaginative handling of their data leaves us with a nagging doubt. We cannot be sure that “sex offenders” are categorically indistinguishable from the rest of mankind in its general wretchedness, because of our conviction that the more profound implications of sexuality have in any case escaped the meshes of their elaborate procedure.

These subtler questions become the more tantalizing because, when they do occasionally cut loose from their statistical analysis to speculate more freely about what their data may mean, the authors sometimes see far enough beyond their categories to raise some of the more interesting issues:

One wonders whether sexual acts of any sort before puberty may not weaken age and sex distinctions in adult life. The man who somewhere in his mind harbors the recollection of the pleasures he had as a child with other children, female or male, may be more prone to repeat those acts. At any rate, he is more aware than is the male without prepubertal sexual activity that children can experience sexual pleasure.

At this point the authors seem on the verge of presenting some hard, factual verification of Norman O. Brown’s fascinating central thesis in Life Against Death, which sharply questions the common assumption that adult genital heterosexuality is the only kind of erotic expression that can be regarded as “natural” or “mature.” Brown holds that human beings unlike other mammals bear young whose helplessness requires that they be protected from the naked demands of reality long enough to permit them to learn to enjoy their diffuse, infantile sexuality. But society then systematically destroys this “polymorphous perverse” capacity for erotic enjoyment by anxiety and repression, in the interests of being “realistic”; and from this repression and nostalgia for a lost paradise comes the death-wish and man’s obsessive destructiveness toward himself and others.

If Brown is right, then the assumption that certain kinds of sexual behavior are abnormal or unnatural, which serves as the moral justification for the entire structure of code and custom on which the concept of Sex Offenders rests, is simply a central part of society’s infernal machine for generating enough anxiety to insure the requisite degree of repression. Certainly, it seems very strange that society should need to reinforce adult, genital heterosexuality with such a barbarous set of punitive devices if, indeed, it could be assumed to be what everyone would naturally want. Moreover, one cannot fail to be struck by the joylessness with which sexual braggarts boast of their conquests, whether in Mailer’s novels or unwritten folkfiction. So much cocksmanship seems clearly intended to protect men from derision or attack, rather than to express any positive desires, or recount any positive achievements, of the cock. Is it possible that, except for the devotion with which a handful of dedicated Berkeley students occasionally risk their freedom to remind us of our duty, a great many of us would naturally rather do something else? Even after twenty years of research, the Kinsey Institute cannot yet tell us; though in this study they had a good chance to try.

Earlier on, I stated that “the value of Sex Offenders…derives from two quite different qualities”; but I have not yet identified the second. What I find most engaging about the book is its consistent, good-humored decency, which is something more than tolerance or liberalism. The authors seem never to have forgotten that sex offenders are people, though they are never sentimental about them. Their work is quite unimaginative but, despite its grim topic, it is suffused throughout with sanity and sun. These are not, perhaps, the dominant qualities of Mrs. Shultz’s work. Her cri de coeur engages the attention far more swiftly than the Kinsey volume, beginning as it does with a nineteen-page account of an attempt at rape, which she successfully repelled. Mrs. Shultz calls this chapter “A Shocking Story,” and it is; so shocking that even such powerful abreactive devices as publishing it five years ago in both the Ladies Home Journal and the Readers Digest seem scarcely to have relieved her mind. Nevertheless, at the time, Mrs. Shultz responded to the ghastly incident with remarkable compassion:

Actually, it did not seem as strange to me as one might think, to be sitting there, holding a friendly conversation with a young man who had so recently attempted to rape me. I have worked a great deal with young people. Many have brought their problems to me. I know of no gratification greater than now and then to be able to touch a troubled young heart in crisis; now and then to divert a young life into more productive channels. I had never before dealt with a young person as deeply disturbed as this one.

What then ensued parallels the climactic incident in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Like The Misfit, her paranoid assailant, terrified and provoked by her incomprehensible gentleness as he had not been by her resistance, attempted to murder her. How Many More Victims? is a vital document in Mrs. Shultz’s continuing campaign to protect society from the kind of dangers she then faced.

Despite her exceptionally elastic view of what constitutes a suitable occasion for psychotherapy, Mrs. Shultz is by no means psychologically naive. Her treatment of the psychodynamics underlying sexual aggression is clearer and more explicit than that in the Kinsey volume. She is aware, as the Kinsey data verify, that most sexual offenses are either artifacts like “statutory rape” or the acts of confused, timid, and often drunken or senile individuals, who are a serious public nuisance but seldom a menace; and she states clearly that these are not the kinds of people to whom her subsequent proposals are meant to apply. She expresses—at times her work exudes—concern for the assailant as well as for his victim. But then, having made these generous obeisances to social and clinical responsibility she abandons them in her lust for action, and becomes rather aggressive herself.

Mrs. Shultz’s proposals are intended to protect us from attack by what she calls the “sexually sick.” She herself grants that psychiatry does not recognize such a category; and its existence is just what the Kinsey research could not establish. This does not deter her from stating that:

A great problem is the failure of the law, in most of our states, to recognize the special nature of sex sickness. Due process excludes from the courtroom much material essential for understanding the case and for assessing the accused man’s potential for danger.

Mrs. Shultz refers frequently to “due process” in her book; and always pejoratively. For her, the traditional constitutional protections of the individual seem little more than stumbling blocks in her campaign. It is “due process” which prevents the law from being used as a prophylactic, as Mrs. Shultz would prefer, by restricting its application to persons who are at least alleged to have committed a crime. This restriction seems to her dangerous. The kind of law she admires as conducive to public safety does exist in this country. “Iowa and several other states,” she says, have such a law.

This law permits any person to go to the local prosecutor and allege that someone in the community is a sexual psychopath. If the prosecutor, upon investigation, feels there is a basis for the charge the alleged psychopath can be summoned to court and if, after observation and testing, he is deemed to be dangerous, he may be commited for treatment. The Iowa law provides ample safeguards for the rights of the accused person…The Supreme Court has found this law constitutional, while pointing out the necessity to exercise extreme caution in administering it. It offers recourse for persons who are told in most states that they must wait until the psychopath strikes, before the law can step in.

But even the Iowa law does not permit helpful, friendly people to show their concern quite early enough to nip the sexually sick in the bud. Massachusetts, however, comes closer. After having noted sadly five pages earlier that “It would seem that in many localities the constitutional rights of youngsters who have no one to fend for them do not carry much weight,” Mrs. Shultz admiringly observes:

Under the Massachusetts law, children between 7 and 17 who commit offenses, and those labeled “stubborn children” (youngsters who are too much for their parents, and are taken into court by their parents) may be adjudged delinquents by the juvenile courts and, if not placed on probation, may be committed to the Youth Service Board. Truants and school offenders may likewise be commited to the Board, but only until age 16.

The “stubborn children,” I was told, frequently are more severely damaged than out and out delinquents. A complete restructuring of their attitudes is called for in many cases. The “stubborn child” provision makes this possible at an early age, before there has been overt delinquency.

Still, Mrs. Shultz feels that far more remains to be done: “At the present time,” she observes, “we do not begin to have the facilities for searching out and treating all the males—young, middle-aged, and elderly—who harbor smoldering hatreds, like explosives buried in a mine field, waiting to be triggered into violence.” This is a serious problem; though I should have thought the faces we saw on TV during the Goldwater campaign—especially on people whose response to the theme of juvenile delinquency and danger in the streets places them clearly among Mrs. Shultz’s ardent supporters—suggest that such hatred is not peculiar to the “sexually sick”; and that it poses social dangers far graver than the possibility of sexual attack. Nor, I am afraid, does Mrs. Shultz’s book convince me that, once we had disposed of the males as she suggests, hatred would be eliminated as a serious social force. Not all women are as sweet and kind as Mrs. Shultz.

But she should convince every reader that the issue to which Dr. Thomas Szasz has devoted the past ten years—the subversion of legal process by administrative intervention, masked as clinical helpfulness—is crucial. Mrs. Shultz is not unique in her willingness to do away with legal requirements like overt acts and indictments. A great many Americans have come to believe it a foolish indulgence to allow criminals to commit crimes before declaring them to be criminals; when we could so easily detect their innate criminality by testing them, or putting them under observation; and help them before they got themselves and other people into serious trouble. All this would cost them is their freedom—a bearable deprivation, Mrs. Shultz suggests, in the more modern type of institution she favors.

A patient explained that they could wear their own clothing if they wished, and that most of the men liked to dress up for special occasions such as church, entertainments, visiting days…A repainting job of the entire hospital, inside as well as out, was nearing completion. The drab “institution green” of the wards and halls had been replaced by gay, warm tints. The men had been allowed to choose the colors for their bedroom doors, and the halls running off the lounges presented a rainbow effect. Patients were being identified as “the guy with the green door” or the yellow or purple one, and they liked that.

Does it make you feel safer?

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