The Trauma Myth, Revisited

The Trauma Myth may be one of the most misunderstood books of the past decade. Based on its regrettable title, pedophiles erroneously believe it minimizes the harm of child sexual abuse; in the opposite corner, some misguided anti-abuse crusaders have demonized the Harvard-trained author as a pedophile apologist. As guest blogger Jon Brandt explains in this review — first published in the Summer 2016 issue of The Forum, the newsletter of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) — both fans and detractors of Susan Clancy have gotten the courageous researcher all wrong. The Trauma Myth by Susan…

Continue reading

Non-testifying consultants: Does attorney-client privilege apply?

Is the work product of an expert who is retained only as a consultant — not as a testifying witness — confidential under the doctrine of attorney-client privilege? With courts around the United States divided, that was the question before the Georgia Supreme Court in the case of Henry Neuman of Georgia, which I reported on back in 2012. During Neuman’s high-profile murder trial, the trial judge had allowed prosecutors to introduce the notes of two confidential defense consultants, whom they had identified by snooping through jail visiting logs. The notes contradicted the testimony of the defense’s testifying experts, and…

Continue reading

The Psychology of Arson

Each year, about 60,000 bushfires rage across Australia, wreaking environmental devastation and costing lives and economic losses. An estimated half or more are deliberately set. Considering arson’s devastating toll, surprisingly little is known about who sets fires, and why. Intensive efforts to catch and prosecute firesetters have also done little to douse the flames. It is no surprise that Australia is the epicenter of efforts to fill that gap, with several ongoing research and intervention programs. Now, two forensic psychologists and a mental health nurse have published a book that brings together cutting-edge theory and practical advice grounded in empirical…

Continue reading

What’s Wrong With “Making A Murderer”?

Making A Murderer is generating huge buzz on social media; dual petitions calling for Steven Avery’s exoneration have garnered more than 600,000 signatures to date. But after slogging through the 10-hour Netflix “documentary,” I was left feeling disturbed by the drama’s narrative and premises. Here’s why: 1. The narrative is grossly misleading. The hook to this story is protagonist Steven Avery’s prior exoneration: He served 18 years in prison for a rape of which he was ultimately exonerated by DNA evidence; just three years after his release, he was arrested for the unrelated murder and mutilation of another young woman…

Continue reading

“Help! I am being held hostage in a reality show!”

The Suspicion System: How the social world shapes delusions Not so long ago, any decent-sized psychiatric hospital had at least two or three Jesus Christs in residence, and plenty of other patients serving as conduits for the CIA or the KGB. Nowadays, Jesus Christ is harder to find. You are far more likely to encounter reality TV stars: patients whose every move is choreographed by hidden directors, videotaped by hidden camera crews, and broadcast without consent to an audience of millions. “We see many, many young people who have had the sensation of being filmed,” a psychiatrist at a public…

Continue reading

Sex addiction: Science or pop fad?

Thirty-one years ago, when Patrick Carnes walked onto the Phil Donahue television show to promote his new book on sexual compulsivity as an addiction, his notion was – in his own words – “widely perceived as a joke.”  But Carnes got the last laugh. With the mainstreaming of the addiction industry (eating, gambling, exercising and working are all potential addictions now), Carnes has risen to become guru of a lucrative empire with dozens of rehab centers staffed by thousands of paraprofessionals. Media outlets including Newsweek have uncritically jumped aboard, warning of a grim, pornography-fueled plague afflicting up to 5 percent…

Continue reading

The mysterious nature of the “juvenile sex offender”

New research casts doubt on practical meaningfulness of emergent category If you ask John Q. Public about the public safety risk posed by a juvenile who has been arrested for a sex offense, chances are he will estimate too high. The public is woefully uninformed when it comes to risk of sexual reoffense in general, and nowhere is the gap between reality and media-driven anxiety wider than in the case of juvenile sex offenders. Michael Caldwell, a prominent expert on juvenile delinquency at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, has decided to take the bull by the horns and nail…

Continue reading

As courts censure civil detention practices, is it time for professionals to speak up?

Guest commentary by David S. Prescott, LICSW* David S. Prescott. Photo by J. Lloyd. Last week, a federal judge ruled that Missouri’s civil commitment program is unconstitutional, the second such court decision in three months. For readers unfamiliar with the US civil commitment laws (AKA “SVP” laws), the short version is that 20 states and the federal government have laws that allow states to indefinitely confine sex offenders who are assessed as having a mental diagnosis that predisposes them to commit future sexual violence. There are controversies at every possible turn in these laws, their processes, and subsequent programs, and…

Continue reading

Adversarial allegiance: Frontier of forensic psychology research

A colleague recently commented on how favorably impressed he was about the open-mindedness of two other forensic examiners, who had had the courage to change their opinions in the face of new evidence. The two had initially recommended that a man be civilly committed as a sexually violent predator, but changed their minds three years later . My colleague’s admiration was short-lived. It evaporated when he realized that the experts’ change of heart had come only after they switched teams: Initially retained by the government, they were now in the employ of the defense. “Adversarial allegiance” is the name of…

Continue reading

Recommended summer reading

Among a bumper crop of engaging new books, here are a few that stand out as especially relevant to forensic psychologists interested in popular culture:  Murder as public spectacle If you want to understand the nature of murder and its resolution in U.S. inner cities, look no further than L.A. Times reporter Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America. Leovy embedded herself with detectives in one South Los Angeles precinct to discover the gloomy truth: When the government does not provide strong, centralized justice, people will take the law into their own hands … with tragic results….

Continue reading