September 25, 2012

Mysterious mental illness epidemics hit sexual predators in Arizona, Illinois

European sex offenders largely spared pejorative conditions

First responders racing to scene of a pedophilia outbreak
A survey of Sexually Violent Predator cases in eight U.S. states has revealed striking disparities in psychiatric disorders.

Almost two-thirds of the worst-of-the-worst sex offenders in Arizona suffer from pedophilia, and more than half have bad cases of a strange-sounding new disease called "paraphilia not otherwise specified." That is almost double the rate of pedophilia cases in Minnesota (with 35 percent) and, similarly, much higher than the rate of paraphilia not otherwise specified in Wisconsin (37 percent).

Meanwhile, a whopping 94 percent of sex offenders in Illinois suffer from personality disorders, most commonly antisocial personality disorder and an oddball affliction called "personality disorder not otherwise specified." That’s more than double the rate of personality disorders in Wisconsin, where only 41 percent of sex offenders have any personality disorder, mostly antisocial personality disorder.

The cause of the strange outbreaks remains shrouded in mystery. Could the dry climate in the U.S. Southwest produce more pedophiles? Perhaps the Chicago winds lend themselves to an infiltration of antisocial characters? Or, there is always the possibility of circumscribed contagions within the containment facilities for sex offenders in these two geographically discreet states (as in Legionella pneumophila).

Quarantining suspected antisocial virus carriers returning from court
The researchers who discovered the pattern attribute some of the variation to sampling differences. The Florida and Texas samples may have lower rates of mental illness, they write, because those samples included men who were referred for civil commitment but found not to meet criteria. In contrast, the samples from the other states consisted of men who were either civilly committed or on their way to being committed, having lost probable cause hearings in court.

The researchers are Shan Jumper, clinical director of a detention facility in the personality disorder-ridden state of Illinois and a leader of a national consortium of SVP facility administrators, and colleagues Mark Babula of Ohio and Todd Casbon of Indiana.

The three surveyed the SVP population in Illinois and compared their results with previously collected data from Arizona, California, Florida, Minnesota, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. The study appears in the current issue of the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology.

On average, pedophilia was the most common diagnosis among SVPs, assigned in 49% of cases nationwide. This was followed by paraphilia not otherwise specified (47%), antisocial personality disorder (43%), and personality disorder not otherwise specified (36%). Other sexual paraphilias, or abnormal sexual predilections, such as voyeurism, exhibitionism and sexual sadism, were assigned far less frequently.

Illusory differences?

All kidding aside, I would be willing to bet that there’s not a whole lot of genuine difference among the detained sex offenders in one state as compared with another. If that is so, then the dramatically different rates of diagnosis among the eight states is further evidence that these diagnoses – invoked as a legal basis for involuntary detention – are being applied arbitrarily, even whimsically, and lack sufficient reliability or validity.

Further support for evaluator differences as accounting for the large discrepancies is the fact that rates of these mental disorders are far lower in European countries that do not require mental illness as a basis for preventive detention of dangerous sex offenders. In one German survey, for example, about one-third of men who were civilly detained had molested children yet only 7 percent were diagnosed with pedophilia, suggesting the diagnosis is reserved for those with a demonstrable sexual orientation toward children.

The intriguing question of why forensic evaluators in certain of the 20 U.S. states with Sexually Violent Predator statutes are more likely to assign a given diagnosis than are their counterparts in other states remains a mystery.

The irony of the "NOS" label

With the advent of SVP laws, "NOS" categories of paraphilia (sexual deviance) and personality disorder have steadily gained popularity among sex offender evaluators in the United States.

The irony of assigning the label of "not otherwise specified" as if it is a bona fide mental disorder meriting involuntary detention largely escapes notice. But what an evaluator is actually conceding in assigning that descriptor is that the individual does NOT meet the minimal criteria for any established mental disorder, as catalogued in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-IV-TR.

If you flip through the personality disorders section of the DSM, you will notice all manner of symptoms. Stop any random stranger on the street, and he or she is likely to manifest at least a few. For example, consider these:
  • Angry reactions to perceived attacks on character or reputation (paranoid personality)
  • Use of physical appearance to draw attention to oneself (histrionic personality)
  • Envy of others (narcissistic personality)
  • Feelings of inadequacy (avoidant personality)
  • Difficulty disagreeing with others for fear of losing their support (dependent personality)
  • Reluctance to delegate unless others conform to one's standards (obsessive compulsive personality)
The label of "personality disorder not otherwise specified" is given to individuals who are thought to have some smattering of symptoms of one or more personality disorders, but do not meet the full criteria for any. Most often, this label carries the specifier, "antisocial traits." What this actually means is that the individual does not meet even the minimal criteria for a diagnosis shared by a large proportion -- anywhere from 40 to 60 percent -- of garden-variety criminals in prison. (Of course, to qualify for a personality disorder, the person must suffer distress or impairment in functioning as a result of his symptoms. But, in a tautology, evaluators often say that this condition is met by the mere fact of arrest and incarceration.)

Harkening back to the original justification for SVP laws, the US Supreme Court stressed, in the landmark cases of Hendricks (1996) and Crane (2002), that the goal of civil commitment was to isolate a handful of mentally disordered predators who were qualitatively different from the run-of-the-mill criminal. How a diagnosis that essentially admits that the individual does not even qualify for an established disorder can meet that threshold is beyond me.



I believe the difference in the diagnosis of the sexual offenders (state by state) reflects the providers and their beliefs.

Karen Franklin, Ph.D. said...

A guest named PHUNTER asked me to post the following comment on her behalf:

"We have had a particularly virulent and highly contagious outbreak of the diagnosis/disorder PNOS( non consenting) among the African American population in California. At Coalinga State Hospital (SVP treatment facility) 46 percent of the men diagnosed with this disorder are African American. Given that African Americans are approximately 12 percent of the population as a whole this is clearly a raging epidemic specific to African American men---or not."