On the Prevention of Rape in Correctional Facilities

In the media and entertainment industries, the subject of prison rape has received a fair amount of attention. It stands as a real threat to many inmates and has been memorably portrayed in various movies, such as The Shawshank Redemption. For many people who have a stake in decisions made at corrections facilities, it is an important topic that deserves serious attention.

In 2003, Congress enacted The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). PREA was enacted by Congress to address concerns about the sexual victimization and abuse of persons in U.S. correctional facilities. In 2004, the National Prison Rape Elimination Committee was formed to take the lead in this area. According to this report, this spring they published new provisions of PREA.

According to the National Institute of Corrections, PREA has many provisions, including the following:

  • Adherence to a zero-tolerance standard for the incidence of inmate sexual assault and rape;
  • Development of standards for detection, prevention, reduction, and punishment of prison rape;
  • Collection and dissemination of information on the incidence of prison rape; and
  • Award of grant funds to help state and local governments implement the purposes of the Act.

In my area of research, which is primarily sexual and gender identity concerns, I am particularly interested in how this affects sexual minorities. This refers (in PREA) specifically to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersexed persons, as well as gender nonconforming persons. Here is what is written in PREA:

The standards account in various ways for the particular vulnerabilities of inmates who are LGBTI or whose appearance or manner does not conform to traditional gender expectations. The standards require training in effective and professional communication with LGBTI and gender nonconforming inmates and require the screening process to consider whether the inmate is, or is perceived to be, LGBTI or gender nonconforming. The standards also require that post-incident reviews consider whether the incident was motivated by LGBTI identification, status, or perceived status.

In addition, in a change from the proposed rule, the final standards do not allow placement of LGBTI inmates in dedicated facilities, units, or wings in adult prisons, jails, or community confinement facilities solely on the basis of such identification or status, unless such placement is in a dedicated facility, unit, or wing established in connection with a consent decree, legal settlement, or legal judgment for the purpose of protecting such inmates. As in the proposed standards, such placement is not allowed at all in juvenile facilities.

The standards impose a complete ban on searching or physically examining a transgender or intersex inmate for the sole purpose of determining the inmate’s genital status. Agencies must train security staff in conducting professional and respectful cross-gender pat-down searches and searches of transgender and intersex inmates.

In deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, and in making other housing and programming assignments, an agency may not simply assign the inmate to a facility based on genital status. Rather, the agency must consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems, giving serious consideration to the inmate’s own views regarding his or her own safety. In addition, transgender and intersex inmates must be given the opportunity to shower separately from other inmates.

As I have reviewed a number of articles related to PREA and blogs dedicated to discussions and comments on it, opposition seems to be framed around the following concerns: (1) it reflects political correctness to attend to the concerns of sexual minorities; (2) actions have consequences, so any inmate who is concerned about safety should have thought about before offending; and (3) there are limited resources for attending to the inmates who have special needs or considerations.

I am particularly concerned that Christians not stand behind the first two objections. Let’s look at the fist one. Although I suppose PREA could be implemented in a spirit of PC culture, it most certainly could be implemented simply out of regard for emerging sexual minority visibility. In this context, read “sexual minority” to mean individuals who experience sexual or gender identity in ways that do not reflect the experience of the majority (most individuals). How a person responds to those differences around sexual and gender identity may be up for grabs, and the prevailing script is clearly supporting an LGBTI identity, as I have discussed elsewhere. In certain settings and contexts, these experiences of sexual and gender identity appear to put some people at greater risk than others. While large segments of the population in different regions of the country (and globally) may disagree with the morality of same-sex behavior, that does not mean that safeguarding sexual minority persons should not be a concern shared by all.

As for the second objection, let me say first off that not all those who are in prison deserve to be in prison, and some groups are overrepresented in the prison population and that can reflect other injustices beyond the scope of this reflection. However, even in cases in which the person ought to be in prison, no one in prison deserves to be sexually assaulted. Being in prison was their sentence–not being raped.

The third concern is an issue of funding and resourcing, and that is always a concern. So implementing relevant regulations will be important in light of funding challenges, issues with space and other resources, as well as the safety and regard for all other inmates and the corrections staff as well. So this issue ought to be given careful consideration.

Why should Christians care about what happens to sexual minorities in prison? It concerns me that I even have to ask this question, but I know there are Christians who would be thinking this, even if they do not admit it. There are many reasons, but issues of justice are one–what was the sentence and how was it carried out (as contrasted with victimizing people in a corrections facility).

Also important, I think, is the commitment to honor the image of God in all persons, including those who are in prison. So much of our legal system is based on broad Judeo-Christian considerations that safeguard the process, and we ought not to lose site of both the foundations of the legal system and the implementation in these instances.

Third, we do well to recognize that it is not helpful to think “us” versus “them” with either the prison population or the LGBTI population. Christians are imprisoned. NonChristian people in prison become Christians. Christians experience same-sex sexuality and may or may not identify was LGBTI. There is no “us” and “them” in discussions of rape prevention in correctional settings, although there may be groups that are at greater risk than others, and how policies are written and enforced to respond to those needs is an important next step for everyone who has a stake in these discussions.

I will be involved in some consultations in this area over the next several months. These consultations will consider how religion may be explicitly or implicitly cited to justify turning a blind eye toward behaviors that place some people at risk in correctional facilities. Let’s hope for consensus as multiple stakeholders work to move forward with recommendations that serve the needs of everyone involved.

Wheaton College Adds Name to Lawsuit: An Issue Related to Integration

Wheaton College is widely considered a flagship evangelical academic institution. It is significant that Wheaton has joined other Christian organizations and institutions in a lawsuit against the contraception mandate in President Obama’s healthcare plan. Christianity Today has a report on the breaking news.

The key sentence is as follows:

The issue at stake for many evangelicals related to the health care mandate, however, has less to do with providing contraception than how religious institutions are defined by the government. While churches are exempt from the mandate, insurers of parachurch organizations still will be required to provide contraception, raising questions about religious exemptions.

So you might assume that evangelicals are primarily concerned with the contraception mandate as such. Not so.

Private Christian colleges and universities have a stake in how broadly the government defines religious institutions. Is Christianity simply relegated to the local church, or are various parachurch institutions and organizations recognized as viable groups that warrant exemption status?

This discussion extends far into a number of realms, including education, which is why so many Christian academic institutions appear ready to sign on to the lawsuit. This will be an important one — something to keep an eye on.

“…Football Runs this University”

Those were the haunting words of a janitor at Penn State University who reportedly told coworkers he had seen Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in 2000. The report that was released yesterday suggests that some of the most influential leaders at Penn State knew about the allegations of sexual abuse and kept that information from authorities. It is painful to think about the abuse to kids (and the number of victims) during that span of time insofar as what might have been prevented with the appropriate intervention and report to authorities. It is a sobering reminder that it is possible to elevate people and programs to a point where they are treated as untouchable, if that is what happened.

Of course, I don’t know for certain what happened. We are all just reading the same reports. But in the interim we can look for good resources on the issue of child sexual abuse, which is what is at the center of this whole scandal. Real lives have been affected; kids who should have been kept safe were sexually abused.

I mentioned in a previous post that a book that was published recently is dedicated to the topic of sexual abuse, so I wanted to highlight it again. It is titled, The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused. It is an explicitly Christian integrative resource in that it brings together the state of our knowledge about sexual abuse to equip ministers, educators, counselors and other in how to provide care and ministry to those who have been victims of sexual abuse.

Here are a couple of endorsements:

I highly recommend this book to any person who seeks to help sexual abuse survivors on their journeys toward healing. I especially recommend this book to church leaders and spiritual directors, as people in these professions are often on the front lines of the battle involved in helping sexual abuse survivors heal. Psychotherapists and other helping professionals interested in integrating Christian theological perspectives into their work would also greatly benefit fro this book, as it provides a comprehensive, interdisciplinary discussion of sexual abuse within a Christina framework.
— Christine Gomes, as reviewed in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care

The Long Journey Home is an impressive gathering of over twenty-six specialists who band together to bring clinical experience, academic depth, theological competence, compassionate hearts, and spiritual maturity to bear on the painful plague of sexual abuse. The expertise compiled in these chapters was summoned to speak boldly to those who minister to the broken in the healing power of the Gospel of Christ. The result is a significant compilation of definitions, insight, story, wisdom, and pathways to recovery. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts for this journey; so this is no naïve portrayal of a complex issue. The One who created human beings male and female is ever faithful, always available, and sufficient to provide an escort home. Pastors, counselors, and people helpers who love others for Jesus’ sake are indebted to those who share their journey and counsel in these pages.
-Stephen P. Greggo
Professor of Counseling
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

As a disclaimer, I should point out that I contributed a chapter (with Dr. Elisabeth Suarez), titled “The impact of sexual abuse on sexual identity.” We examined how childhood sexual abuse complicates sexual development and can lead to questions about sexual identity.

Although institutionalized evil may not be a focal point of the book, there are chapters that address a theology of sexual abuse and the nature of evil. These can be considered fairly unique contributions to the scholarship and practical resources available to people who minister to victims (and their families) of sexual abuse. Overall, I see this as the kind of resource you would want on your bookshelf.

If any good can come out of the scandal at Penn State, I hope it is toward shining a light in areas that have been darkened by attempts to coverup abuse, the failure to prevent abuse, and bringing helpful resources to the victims and their families.

What is Integration?

A reader of the blog asked me the following question:

I don’t understand why we need an integration of psychology and Christianity. Can’t a Christian psychologist help non-Christians? Can’t a non-Christian psychologist help Christians? Are you talking about the necessity of a psychologist to be Christian to understand Christians? Then are you advocating that psychologist should only work with patients that match his/her religious background? What about other background characteristics, like wealth, race, gender, etc?

Here was my reply:

I agree with you that a Christian psychologist can help a nonChristian. I hope I’ve done that several times over the years. And, yes, nonChristian psychologists can help Christians. In fact, I recommend competence (in providing mental health services) over religious identification every time. But I do think that Christians in the field of psychology (beyond clinical psychology, but also including clinical/applied) ask different questions than do nonChristians. In other words, they have concerns that come out of being a part of the Christian community that might not be the same concerns that nonChristians have. So a benefit to having Christians in the field of psychology is that they might conduct research on topics that are important to that community. A good example might be research on forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of those key Christian concepts. It is central to Christianity, although nonChristians can certainly appreciate it, research it, and benefit from it in their own lives. But even if no one else was interested in forgiveness (or grace or humility or patience), the Christian psychologist might be interested in it anyway, by virtue of how central it is to Christianity, and how potentially helpful it could be in clinical practice.

Let me elaborate on the question about integration. Part of my reply was to clarify why we benefit from having Christians in psychology. I reached this conclusion over many years but was personally deeply influenced by the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantiga, who had written about Christian philosophy in the following manner:

Christian philosophers … are the philosophers of the Christian community; and it is part of their task as Christian philosophers to serve the Christian community. But the Christian community has its own questions, its own concerns, its own topics for investigation, its own agenda and its own research programs. (p. 6)

What I did in my page on integration is substitute “psychologist” for “philosopher” and we have the following:

Christian [psychologists] … are the [psychologists] of the Christian community; and it is part of their task as Christian [psychologists] to serve the Christian community. But the Christian community has its own questions, its own concerns, its own topics for investigation, its own agenda and its own research programs. (p. 6)

By substituting psychologist for philosopher, I want to make the point that Christians in the field of psychology often have our own research interests that may not be shared by the broader field, just as other groups may have their own research agendas. You can think about this by nearly any other demographic characteristic: age, gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, and so on.

Those who are disabled, for instance, will think about research questions (and design, methods, interpretation of data, etc.) in ways that are not identical to the way those who are not disabled will think about these things. We benefit from having psychologists with disabilities insofar as they help the field think about ability/disability in ways we would not if we did not glean from their experience. I think the same is true for race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.

So… I am a Christian. What I read in the quote from Plantinga is that Christians will have their own questions to ask. Of course, most Christians in the field of psychology are interested in a lot of the same issues nonChristians are interested in. They research cognitive science, motivation, affect, parenting, and so on. But there will be other areas that might be of particular interest to the Christian but not that interesting to nonChristians. I gave the example of the construct of forgiveness. That might be of interest to both Christians and nonChristians, sure, but it is especially relevant to the Christian community as it is a central construct within the Christian religion. Other key constructs included grace, love, joy, peace, faithfulness, humility, and so on.

Of course, a psychologist can have more than one relevant demographic variable as a central part of their identity. An African-American Christian psychologist, for example, or a gay Jewish psychologist. A biblical feminist psychologist; an older adult psychologist with a disability. The multiple aspects of diversity are sometimes referred to as intersectionality, a concept that might be interesting to blog about at some point in the future.

For now, let me write more about being a Christian in psychology. Not only are their key constructs, such as forgiveness or grace to consider. But there are also key topics. For example, my primary research area has been sexual identity. I tend to study how sexual identity develops and synthesizes over time, particularly in the lives of Christians who experience same-sex attractions. In a cultural setting in which the primary script for making meaning out of same-sex sexuality is to form an identity around attractions (e.g., “I am gay”), I am interested in studying the process by which some people form a gay identity while others do not.

I don’t think many of my peers in the mainstream LGBT community of psychologists are particularly interested in studying those who do not form a gay identity. I could be wrong about that, but that is my impression so far. Most are interested in protecting and advancing the interests of the LGBT community.

I can understand that. I feel similarly when I think about the Christian community. But in the overlap between the LGBT community and the religious community, we see the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication, particularly if you study something of interest to the religious community, such as whether a person can ever experience change in his or her sexual orientation, that might be experienced as threatening to the LGBT community. This, too, is a good topic for a future blog post. Remind me to get back to it.

In the meantime, I hope this elaboration on the question about integration provides some insight into what integration means and has meant to me as a Christian (in general), and as a Christian who conducts research on sexual identity (in particular).

You Think It’s Hot Where You Live?

UPDATE: Alan Chambers was interviewed recently on msnbc’s Hardball.

In previous posts here and here I mentioned the changes that have been underway at Exodus International, the largest umbrella organization of ministries that serve people who are conflicted about their same-sex attractions. Alan Chambers is the president of Exodus, and he has shared some of his thoughts recently and been quoted in interviews about these changes over the past few weeks.

As I mentioned here, there remain plenty of organizations that will be opposed to Exodus independent of these kinds of changes, simply on the grounds that their doctrinal positions (read that as formed judgments about sexual morality) are not in keeping with their own moral judgments.

Interestingly, Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin attended this year’s Exodus conference, and he is planning a series on his reflections on the event. Stay tuned.

At the same time, several ministries have reportedly left Exodus, and some may be joining up with Andrew Comiskey and Desert Stream Ministries.

On top of that, Robert Gagnon has posted a 35-page theological analysis of Alan’s position on grace as applied to repeated, unrepentant sin. (Critics may be tempted to roll their eyes at the length of the paper, but Gagnon’s critique is worth the read, as careful theological reflection and the development of any meaningful argument takes time, and whether you agree with Gagnon or not, you have to wade through it – not popular in the age of Twitter, but that’s a reflection of our culture and not of the important role of critique and attempted correction.)

You think it’s hot where you live?

In all seriousness, I don’t know how much heat leaders of Christian ministries feel under these circumstances. Based on my own experience, I can empathize with the challenge of balancing the interests of the various people and groups who have a stake in what you say and write.

I would say that this is a time for reflection on how Christians minister in this area. I would expect that different ministries will have different points of emphasis, and that the diversity will be the result of denominational differences, pastoral care practices, expectations (and meaning) regarding change, emphasis on sanctification rather than orientation change (or vice versa), political interests held by some, and other considerations.

But underneath all of that diversity, which I think is to be expected, there are real issues where doctrinal positions are important and need to be clarified.

Wordsmithing the Bill in CA

In a recent post I discussed the problems with CA Bill 1172, a bill that targets reorientation therapy with minors and adds language to informed consent for adults. I noted that several mental health organizations actually oppose the bill in its present form. Since that time, the senator who drafted the bill has been open to working with consultants on rewording aspects of the bill. The key challenge appears to be finding a definition of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE). There is interest in targeting SOCE while allowing mental health professionals to work with adolescents who seek assistance navigating sexual identity questions and concerns.

Stakeholders include the senator, the sponsors of the bill (Gaylesta and Equality CA), mental health professionals, parents of adolescents, and teens themselves.

I’ve learned that there has been some agreement on language. The mental health coalition is apparently willing to be neutral rather than opposed to the bill given the new language, which is as follows:

Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (S.O.C.E) means any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions and/or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (S.O.C.E.) does not include psychotherapies that: (a) provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and (b) does not seek to change sexual orientation.

I still see problems with the language, as well as the overall precedent of attempting to legislate around the complexities of clinical practice. I would reiterate my concerns about improper venue, lack of adequate scientific research on SOCE with adolescents, lack of adequate scientific research on SOCE with adults, issues with the expansive definition that includes behavior, movement away from trends that make services more available to teens (particularly in the area of sexuality and reproduction), and so on.

At the same time, I share the concern that some teens may feel tremendous pressure to participate in mental health services that they might not choose for themselves. What I would like to see are mental health organizations assist with how those issues and concerns are addressed in a professional, ethical manner.