June 5, 2009

Hebephilia struck by third blow

Down but not out?

It may be too soon to call it the death knell, but this week's ruling by a federal judge in Massachusetts certainly dealt a reeling blow to the highly contested pseudo-diagnosis of hebephilia and its ever-more-marginalized adherents.

In the third of three back-to-back decisions in federal court, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro said hebephilia just doesn't pass muster as a basis for civilly committing someone as a "sexually dangerous offender."

Hebephilia -- sexual attraction to adolescents -- certainly exists in nature, but the Government failed to meet is burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence that it amounted to "a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder" as required for civil commitment, wrote the judge. Simply put, "hebephilia is not generally recognized as a serious mental illness by the psychological and psychiatric communities."

The case involved Todd Carta, who was due to be released from federal prison after serving time for computer-based child pornography. Carta has a lengthy history of sex with underage males, ages 13 on up, and has acknowledged an attraction to adolescent boys.

The Government's expert, psychologist Amy Phenix, diagnosed Carta with "Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified: Hebephilia," which she defined as a sexual preference for "young teens . . . 'till about age seventeen."

Phenix's position was countered by psychologist Leonard Bard, who testified that Carta had no diagnosable mental disorder. Bard identified numerous problems with the diagnosis of hebephilia, including its absence from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the prevalence of sexual attraction to adolescents among normal men.

The judge got it. In a thorough and well reasoned decision, he deconstructed the legal use of this nebulous diagnosis brick by brick. Perhaps most impressive was his clearly articulated understanding of the importance of adequate empirical research to support a diagnosis:
"Most importantly, the Government has failed to demonstrate that a diagnosis of hebephilia or paraphilia NOS: hebephilia is supported by research in the field of psychology…. Most of the articles put forward by the Government were published by coauthors Dr. Blanchard and Dr. Cantor. Dr. Bard criticized the work of Dr. Blanchard and Dr. Cantor, testifying that they are both on the editorial board of the journal that publishes their findings, which has at least the potential to damage the integrity of the peer-review process. Dr. Bard also criticized the research underlying their conclusions for failing to include a control group and for eliminating a large portion of the samples, among other problems. The five replies criticizing Dr. Blanchard's recent article proposing inclusion of hebephilia in the DSM-V suggest that Dr. Blanchard's work is not widely accepted. Dr. Bard testified that 'it’s the same group that is published over and over again trying to justify [a diagnosis of hebephilia], and they have failed.' "
The judge acknowledged that by ordering Carta's release he was not suggesting the convicted sex offender is a model citizen, but just drawing a line in the sand between criminality and mental disorder: Absent a widely recognized mental disorder it is Unconstitutional to "order indefinite commitment on the basis of the offensiveness of Respondent's conduct alone."

This is the third federal ruling in a row against hebephilia. The only other federal courts to address its use both rejected it as a basis for civil commitment. Those cases were U.S. v. Shields and U.S. v. Abregana, both decided last year.

Normally, this might be a "Three Strikes and You're Out" situation. Put the tired old construct to bed.

But fans are frantically trying to rehabilitate and rejuvenate hebephilia by getting it added to the next edition of the DSM (DSM-V). This would get around at least one of the many concerns expressed by Judge Tauro and others, over "the lack of any clear criteria" for making the diagnosis. Spearheading the DSM-V effort is Raymond Blanchard of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada, who not only sits on the editorial board of the journal that published his research (as Judge Tauro pointed out in his opinion), but also serves on the DSM-V Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group. From that influential position, he is lobbying for the addition of hebephilia or a newly minted term – pedohebephilic disorder (what a mouthful!) to the diagnostic bible.

With the DSM-V work groups stacked (see my related posts HERE), we may just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, All Hail to Massachusetts, for landing a solid blow against pseudoscience in the forensic arena.

Judge Tauro's decision is HERE. A list of articles on "Hebephilia and the DSM-V Controversy" is HERE; for more on hebephilia see my essay, "Invasion of the hebephile hunters: Or, the story of how an archaic word got a new lease on life."

Photo credit: Noel Kerns' "Closed," Creative Commons license (entrance to the defunct Mission Four Outdoor Theatre in San Antonio, Texas)


Anonymous said...

Is there any jurisdiction that still recognizes hebephilia anymore? I can't even remember the last time I ever saw a sex offender with that diagnosis up here in Ontario (which is pretty sad considering that it's Ray Blanchard's province).

Karen Franklin, Ph.D. said...

Good question. The cases discussed in this essay are all in U.S. federal courts, where the judges seem more sophisticated. I understand that at the local level in many U.S. jurisdictions, hebephilia is still being successfully invoked to obtain civil commitments. The quality of legal representation varies tremendously from place to place and even case to case. SVP cases are very complex, and some attorneys do not have sufficient knowledge to do an adequate job, and they may not consult with more expert attorneys or psychologists. I would be interested in what others have observed, as I am currently writing an article on this topic for publication.

WM said...

"hebephilia is not generally recognized as a serious mental illness by the psychological and psychiatric communities."

Neither is Paedophilia and it is only 'recognised' as a 'disorder', for purely socio-political reasons and legal shenanigans.

This is, however, a good start.


Anonymous said...

Hebephilia is quite normal. Sex with adolescents was the norm until about a hundred years ago. If you weren't married by age 18, you were socially stigmatized, thought to be defunct in one way or another. It's natural in all forms of life. Besides, the best sperm and egg are produced first. The build up of mutations to our dna is progessive over our lifetime. If the human race wanted to evolve most efficiently, we'd all be phuking like wild rabbits at age 13. I'm quite attracted to adolescents, and proud to say it. It's only idiotic social norms that are getting in the way, people. If two people want to get it on, what's the deal? As to manipulating or harming ANYONE regardless of age, that's horriblly amoral, yet happens all the time. I'd gladly lay a teenager, if it was mutually consentual. Sadly, the penalty of incarceration is just too much a factor for me to consider this under most circumstances. Hopefully, the right moment will happen one day. I can dream now, can't I!

Unknown said...

100 years ago? Try 40-50! My dad was 25 & my mom was 16 when they married in 1958. They were still married 47 years later when Dad died. Go back to the 50's and 60s, and you'll find a LOT of "hebephiliacs". Go back even farther and the age gap widens. Back in New Testament times, the common marrying age of men was ~30, girls ~13-15. Go back to Old Testament times and legal marriage at BIRTH was a common practice for the girls (contracted by the parents) since it afforded their daughter certain legal and financial protections than leaving her unwed or unengaged. In the Muslim Middle East today, it's not unusual to find 60+ yr old men marrying (and consummating) girls as young as 9 years old as a 3rd or 4th wife.

ACSial said...

Interesting debate. I just read an article about this in a copy of Scientific American, from a few years back. A couple of interesting cans of worms stand out here.

First of all, if one considers a 'paraphilia' to be something that violates socio-biological functionality (e.g., incest as a paraphilia, or disorder), the DSM-IV is seriously flawed. Same-sex attraction is, obviously, biologically dysfunctional (i.e., it does not lead to reproduction--the sole function of sex), yet is not considered a 'disorder'...yet the proposals for the DSM-V include hebephilia, which IS socio-biologically functional. Obviously, the 'science' of psychology is directed by current social norms, rather than empirical data.

Secondly, what about the hebephiles, ephebephiles and outright paedophiles of history? An example is Mohammed, who consummated his marriage to Aisha when she was NINE. It will be interesting to see how THAT plays out.