November 6, 2009

Scientist razes proposed "Paraphilic Coercive Disorder"

Pedohebephilia. Hypersexuality. Coercive Paraphilic Disorder. How many new sexual disorders can fit into the DSM-V, the American Psychiatric Association diagnostic manual scheduled for publication in 2012?

Government evaluators in Sexually Violent Predator cases must be thrilled with the possibilities being generated by the prolific paraphilias subworkgroup of the DSM-V Sexual Disorders Workgroup. If these proposed diagnoses make it into the psychiatric bible, the task of establishing that sex offenders have bona fide mental disorders meriting hospitalization will suddenly get a whole lot easier.

But this will only happen if good science is not allowed to interfere with pragmatism and pretextuality. After all, the empirical support for some of these pseudoscientific categories is weak at best.

Now issuing a strong call of alarm is perhaps the premiere scientific researcher into the etiology of rape, Raymond Knight, the Mortimer Gryzmish Professor of Human Relations at Brandeis University.

In a forthcoming article in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the respected scholar cautions against adoption of Coercive Paraphilic Disorder, which he says is not supported by empirical data and has a vast potential for misuse by the civil commitment industry.

Currently, the propensity to rape is not considered a mental illness. Proponents of adding a rapist diagnosis to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) claim it was only excluded the last time around due to pesky feminists' objections that it would excuse rapists from criminal consequences. However, that turns out to be something of a myth. The main reason it was excluded, says psychologist and lawyer Thomas Zander, who conducted primary research into the history, was because it was not scientifically supportable. And, according to Knight's article, it is even less supportable now than it was back then.

The fact that rape propensity is not a bona fide mental illness has proved a hurdle for the civil commitment industry. To be hospitalized on the basis of possible future dangerousness, sex offenders must be found to suffer from a mental disorder that reduces their volitional control. To get around this legal barrier against unconstitutional preventive detention, government evaluators have taken to assigning a de facto label of "Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified - Nonconsent."

As Knight points out, if Coercive Paraphilic Disorder is introduced into the DSM-V, it will provide tacit support for the legitimacy of the bogus "NOS" diagnosis. This, he says, would be a travesty:
"The inclusion of PCD [Paraphilic Coercive Disorder] would inappropriately legitimize this 'disorder' and grant it the imprimatur of the DSM, which is almost universally cited by expert witnesses in civil commitment proceedings…. The diagnosis has little empirical support, and it would be a travesty to grant it a status that would perpetuate its misuse."
In his article, Knight discusses the evidence from a long line of research that suggests there is not a separate category of men with a propensity to rape. Rather than being a distinct "taxon," rape propensity exists along a continuum.

He also challenges the contention of a Canadian research group that rapists are sexually aroused by the coercive aspects of sexual assault. A more likely scientific explanation for why some men rape is that the coercive elements of the situation fail to inhibit their sexual arousal, he writes.

This dimensional model coincides with a large body of sociological and anthropological research, which suggests that men in certain environments -- most notably wars -- are much more likely to commit rape. Indeed, research has found that even on the same college campus, some fraternity environments promote a "rape culture" among men, whereas others do not. (I discuss this environmental aspect of rape in an article I wrote a few years back on the theatrical elements of group rape.)

Knight's scientifically grounded critique is a refreshing change from the pseudoscientific tenor of many of the DSM diagnostic proposals. More scientific rebuttals to some of the shaky studies in the sex offender field are currently in press, and I will try to stay attuned and alert you readers as soon as they become publicly available.

Further resources:

Knight, Raymond. (2009). Is a diagnostic category for Paraphilic Coercive Disorder defensible? Archives of Sexual Behavior. This article is online, but requires a subscription. The abstract is visible HERE, along with the email address of the author (from whom copies may be requested).

Zander, T. K.
(2008). Commentary: Inventing Diagnosis for Civil Commitment of Rapists. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry & the Law , 36, 459-469.

Zander, T.K. (2005). Civil Commitment Without Psychosis: The Law’s Reliance on the Weakest Links in Psychodiagnosis. Journal of Sexual Offender Civil Commitment: Science and the Law, 1, pp.17-82.

Franklin, Karen. (2004). Enacting Masculinity: Antigay Violence and Group Rape as Participatory Theater. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 1 (2), pp. 25–40.


Tom said...

Kudos to Dr. Knight, and Tom Zander! Hopefully this paper will help defeat (again) the ill-conceived attempt to get this psuedo-diagnosis into the DSM to further America'a 21st Century Sex Offender Witch Hunt. Ray Knight hits the proverbial nail on the head by clearly saying the motive is to "create" a false diagnostic category to assist "experts" like Dennis Doren to commit sex offenders who do not remotely meet the mental disorder/volitional impairment requirements the Supreme Court has established.

James said...

I agree with Drs. Knight and Zander. Paraphila NOS is a poor choice. If the individual does not meet diagnositc criteria for a more robust diagnosis, perhaps they are simply criminals.

Andy W. Harris said...

I thought the paper about enacting masculinity is a far more satisfying/compelling explanation than the creation of a new disorder.

Karen Franklin, Ph.D. said...

Andy, Thanks very much for your kind words.

Dandelion said...

If being on a continuum meant that something shouldn't be in DSM, then you'd have to chuck out most of the Axis I and II disorders.

None of the arguments you present here (failure of arousal inhibition, environmental factors, disorders NOS etc) are actually grounds for rejection from DSM, and all feature in existing DSM categories.

This post is misleading and disingenuous at best. As for bigging up Knight for his 'scientific' approach, it looks at first sight as if his logic and his methodology leave a lot to be desired. I shall read the full article with interest.

I'm also a little unclear as to why imprisoning these people is preferable to having them "committed"? If they're deprived of their liberty, and if the public are protected, what exactly is to be gained from brutalising them in the prison system, other than satisfying one's own sadistic urges?

Anonymous said...

why is so much focus on sexual psychology. surely offenders are offenders because of their social psychology and impulsiveness, not what sexually excites them. a person who masturbates to rape fantasies and is kind ot his wife is neither ill nor a criminal as far as i can see. the same applies to a man sexually attracted to children. mental illness may play a role in disinhibition, lack of awareness and so forth, but medical diagnoses of paedophilia, let alone hebephilia and rapism are simply political self interest and ideology disguised as science.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the psychiatrists just stick to the classical mental disorders, like major depression and psychosis? Why do they intentionally turn their own profession into a charade?

Anonymous said...


I realize these sources are not reputable as far as medical advancements go, but I just read the news today on Yahoo! and I thought I would share:

FBI to Change the Definition of 'Rape'

'Forcible Rape' Definition Changed

What I am curious to know is: How is the definition of 'Forcible Rape' to be change? Which criteria comprises/will comprise the new definition? The articles, as I expected, did not go into too much detail regarding this.

I plan to continue my own research on this, but I just thought I would post it for you and other readers. What is your position on this?

Is this apropos as far as science is concerned, or is it merely another tactic by law enforcement to impose civil commitment on those who do not clinically qualify (such as in the case of statutory rapists)?

By the way, I am in accord with the definition working both ways. Men are susceptible to victimization just as women are.