Recovery under the Marshall Plan

By Ian Munro
The Age [Australia]
July 26, 2004

An Australian-born Canadian is leading the way in dealing with deviant sexual behaviour.

While it took years of victims' protests to force churches to acknowledge sexual abuse by their clergy, the appointment last year of Professor Bill Marshall as a consultant to the Vatican was a significant marker of change.

Over the past 36 years Marshall has become one of the world's most prominent authorities on sexual deviance and treatment of offenders. So what is distinctive about clerical child molesters? Not much, he says. "A child molester is a child molester is a child molester."

Except that sexually abusive priests are notably more narcissistic, more self-obsessed. "They have a very strong need to have people treat them with awe and respect. That inevitably comes with being a priest, I assume, but these guys are different from other priests. That really is cranked up in volume.

"That's kind of handy. It's one of the things we suggested to the Vatican . . . as a policy recommendation for selection to the seminary. They might want to select out those guys."

Something similar may be occurring with elite sportspeople, Marshall suggests. In the context of the Australian Football League encouraging women to come forward if they have been sexually abused by players, consider the adulation with which top level footballers are greeted, and the extra licence that can accompany it.

That can create a sense of entitlement in which players think they can push an issue where others would not. This is not just an issue in Australia, Marshall says, but is common around the world, including North America with gridiron, basketball and hockey.

"Clearly the number of football players who behave in sensible, appropriate ways far, far outnumbers those who misstep," he says. "I just think if you set up those conditions you are setting up a risk for all sorts of misbehaviours.

"Football clubs might consider sensitisation of those guys; explain to them they are in a privileged position, and people will let them get away with a lot more things, but it's not really in their long-term interests to do that.

It would be wise to give some training to alert people in those positions. That's one of the things we recommended to the Vatican - those issues about power and entitlement should be part and parcel of their training."

Marshall, an Australian by birth and Canadian by citizenship, graduated in psychology from the University of Western Australia in 1967, before completing an MA at the University of London and a doctorate in Ontario, where he is now based. He is in Melbourne to train Corrections Victoria staff on the latest developments in treating offenders.

A recent assessment of 42 treatment programs developed by Marshall and his associates showed a 50 per cent drop in the rate of re-offending; 18 per cent of men who had not undergone treatment re-offended, compared to 9 per cent of those who had been treated, although in some programs Marshall says the re-offending is down to 3 or 4 per cent. Comparable figures for Victoria will be available in about two years, 10 years after the programs were introduced here.

"We're quite impressed with the quality of the people and the way the program is structured here, but you have to be in business a lot of years to have enough people on the street to evaluate," he says.

A diminutive 68-year-old with generous wisps of pure white hair crowning his head, Marshall neatly fits the otherwise over-used tag of "spritely". And, as the author of 16 books and hundreds of journal articles on sexual behaviour, deviance and treatment, he can also be described as prolific.

They include the mysteriously titled The Clinical Value of Boredom. Its full title is only slightly more informative: A procedure for reducing inappropriate sexual interests.

The procedure, pioneered by Marshall in the 1970s and now used widely around the world, deals with people consumed with deviant thoughts, such as being sexually attracted to children.

"A lot of these fellows are fairly obsessed . . . and they masturbate to fantasies," Marshall says. "When a man ejaculates he goes into a refractory state where he is unresponsive to the kinds of things that would be sexually stimulating, and that state persists . . . for at least 10 minutes.

"So what we do in that 10-minute period is get them to rehearse their deviant fantasies over and over again. They don't want to do it; they get bored with it because they are thinking about their fantasies under conditions where they are not being rewarded. I call that procedure satiation, and it's used in every program around the world because it works."

The programs also focus on teaching the offenders to recognise when they are creating the circumstances for their own offending. "We ask them to give us a disclosure on what they did - how they got themselves into that position. Opportunities don't happen miraculously - these guys create them in all kinds of ways, ways that they pretend to themselves they are not doing.

"We all deceive ourselves and these guys are very good at that. We help them get out of that self-deception strategy. We make them see 'this is when you decided it; it might not have been at your full awareness, but that's how you got into that car with that little child'."

Most offenders come from "unfortunate backgrounds", and with that comes the inability to form effective relationships and attachments. Crucial in re-ordering their lives, however, is recognising, and taking responsiblity for the harm they have caused.

About 5 per cent of offenders are so out of control with deviant thoughts and urges that they are treated with anti-androgens - so-called chemical castration - in order to become amenable to treatment.

"Lupron is probably the best of them. The way we use it is not actually chemical castration. Our aim is to get testosterone levels down to the bottom end of the normative range. We want them to have some sex drive. We want them to be able to control it.

"Particularly sadists. Those fellows we get on anti-androgens and keep them on them for the forseeable future."

Marshall says the aim of the program is to offer sex offenders a life free of the costs of offending, of lying to others, of manipulating people, of the danger of being caught and humiliated.

"We offer them a life that's much more promising and supported by relationships that will meet a proper range of needs," he says. "You can't meet your intimacy needs with a child or in forcing someone to have sex with you. You meet your intimacy needs with an equal."


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