|Jean Broc: The Death of Hyacinthos|
The proposed label of "pedohebephilia” has been quietly discarded. Instead, hebephilia – defined as sexual attraction to young pubescents – has been buried in the text of revamped criteria for pedophilia. Presumably hoping it will go unnoticed, the web page authors do not mention the change.
The questionable diagnosis is the brainchild of a Canadian sex offender clinic with inordinate influence on the Sexual Disorders Workgroup of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 revision committee.
It is the last of three quacky sexual paraphilia proposals still standing. Overwhelming opposition derailed paraphilic coercive disorder (which would have turned rape into a mental disorder) and hypersexuality.
These victories notwithstanding, the developers of the DSM-5, due out in 2013, have been remarkably deaf to an ever-increasing roar of concern from allied professions in the United States and internationally. The revision process steamrollers on despite a mushrooming petition by a coalition of psychology organizations, a scathing critique by the British Psychological Society and, most recently, public statements of concern by the 154,000-member American Psychological Association and the 120,000-strong American Counseling Association.
More costly and ineffective civil detentions
Following on the heels of my historical review of hebephilia in Behavioral Sciences and the Law, the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law has just published two new critiques.
In an article focusing on the legal ramifications, forensic psychologist and attorney John Fabian warns that the primary result of adding this scientifically unproven diagnosis to the DSM-5 will be an increase in civil commitments of sex offenders.
Fabian outlines the inconsistent federal case interpretations of hebephilia, including the only federal court of appeals ruling, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First District in the case of Todd Carta (the case I led off with in my review):
The court in Carta focused on the offender's behavior as causing him distress, impairment, and dysfunction in his life. However, the question of whether hebephilia is a type of paraphilia NOS, depends on whether it is considered deviant and abnormal to have a sexual attraction and to engage in subsequent sexual behaviors toward pubescent adolescents and postpubescent minors. To this date, neither the case law nor clinical research on sex offenders has clearly supported classifying hebephilia as an abnormal pathology.
As we can see through this psycholegal analysis, both clinicians and the courts disagree as to whether hebephilia is a pathological sexual deviance disorder. Given the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court recently denied certiorari in hearing McGee, Michael L. v. Bartow, Dir., WI Resource Center, addressing whether a rape paraphilia NOS, nonconsent, meets the constitutional threshold for legal mental abnormality for civil commitment, it is unlikely that the Court will hear such a case addressing hebephilia. More likely, the DSM-5 will provide guidance for clinicians, attorneys, and judges who evaluate and litigate this issue in civil commitment proceedings.
Focus on clinical impairment
In a commentary on Fabian's article, sex offender researchers Robert Prentky and Howard Barbaree try to take a middle road in the contentious debate. At the outset, they acknowledge the questionable nature of diagnosing a condition that is hard-wired in heterosexual men:
But, they continue, men with an "exclusive sexual preference for young teenagers" (if such men can be found) may indeed be sufficiently impaired so as to meet the mental disorder requirement of "clinically significant deficits in social and interpersonal skills."
This was the approach taken by the appellate court in upholding the civil commitment of Todd Carta, and it is a tactic being used by government experts in sexually violent predator civil commitment proceedings. In a circular rationale, once the pseudo-diagnosis of “Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified-Hebephilia” is assigned, clinically significant impairment can be inferred from the mere fact of an arrest and criminal prosecution.
To their credit, Prentky and Barbaree do admit that the research base for hebephilia is insufficient at the present time:
Let's just hope the DSM-5 gods tune in to the controversy in time to pull the plug on yet another half-baked idea that will only bring further embarrassment to the profession.The bright line in the sand should be the clinical and empirical integrity of the proposed diagnosis…. Examined in isolation, there does not appear to be adequate empirical evidence that sexual arousal in response to young adolescents constitutes a paraphilia…. Clearly, this is an area that warrants further research.
Both articles are freely available online:
- John Fabian: Diagnosing and Litigating Hebephilia in Sexually Violent Predator Civil Commitment Proceedings
- Robert Prentky and Howard Barbaree: Commentary: Hebephilia—A Would-be Paraphilia Caught in the Twilight Zone Between Prepubescence and Adulthood