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Mythbusting Monday: If it’s done in the name of science, it’s not abuse

Several news outlets have recently reported on a program in BC which performed tests on young sex offenders in provincial youth facilities to determine the probability of repeating their sexual crimes after receiving treatment.

The testing involved attaching sensors to the genitals of convicted offenders as young as 13 to determine their level of arousal while being exposed to explicit sexual imagery including content of a violent nature.

In any other circumstance this activity would easily be identifiable as child sexual abuse. However, since this particular situation takes place under a clinical setting, the abusive aspect takes the backseat to learning and understanding. The minds and bodies of these children are being exploited for knowledge, under the guise that these studies will benefit the good of humanity. Aren’t these children a part of that humanity as well, convicted offenders or not?

These youths are not clinical and unemotional, nor are they adults who have consented to this procedure. This kind of forced exposure to aggressive activity is quite likely a familiar theme in their lives. Several studies suggest that sexual aggression at a young age may result from cumulative trauma: multiple instances of witnessing and/or experiencing a variety of violence.

The reality is we don’t know enough about youth sexual offenders to undertake this kind of potentially harmful testing. This is a seriously underfunded area of study, and it is unclear if this kind of intervention is actually of any benefit to our long-term understanding. Additionally, this testing sexualizes the issue. Sexual violence is violence where sex is used as a weapon, so the underlying causes of the majority of these crimes are not based in sexuality, but in the expression of aggression. To make it clear, these crimes are about what makes them want to hurt someone, not about how someone turns them on.

Sadly, these provincial facilities in B.C are not the only ones who have participated in activities that disregard an individual’s rights under the guise that it is good for society. Forced sterilization and the Residential school system are two Canadian examples of this kind of thinking. These “treatments” are always used on people that are characterized as being abnormal and, in some way, a threat to society.

In 2007 a New York Pediatric Urologist conducted a study on young girls who had received surgery to reduce their clitoris, under the theory that their genitalia was “abnormally” large. This doctor regularly tested them for post-surgical sexual sensation using a vibrator-like device. The type of psychological damage being inflicted on these children seems to be completely disregarded by the doctor who has pushed his personal agenda.

Professionals working in fields that require high levels of specialization and training – like doctors or psychologists – can easily remove public doubt about questionable treatments. We rely on their authority of the subject to understand what is considered appropriate action. The infamous Milgram Obedience to Authority Experiment shows just how far people are willing to go when someone in a white coat tells them that an experiment is more important than potential harm to an individual.

The people conducting the testing on these young offenders are abusing their power and control over these children and their parents who consented.

CCASA doesn’t condone the types of crimes these young offenders have been convicted of, but the further victimization of these children, in the name of knowledge, is despicable.

Read the CBC article BC ends young sex offender tests
Read the Hastings Centre critique of genital surgery and sensitivity testing in young girls
More about the Milgram Experiment
More about the residential school system in Canada
More about compulsory sterilization in Canada

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