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No Safe Place: Violence Against Women
Interview: Ron Sanchez, Ph.D.

Supervising Psychologist, Utah State Prison
Sanchez works with convicted rapists.

Transcript of Interview

Q: You've said that rapists generally have a more mixed criminal history and a tendency toward anti-social behavior. Can you tell us about rapists -- personality traits, background, criminal history, etc.

We have a wide variety of sex offenders that we work with. The rapists tend to have a generally, a different type of personality structure than say the pedophiles or child molesters.

We have a wide variety of sex offenders that we work with. The rapists tend to have a little different personality structure than say the child molesters or the pedophiles. Rapists generally tend to be more assertive, aggresive, have trouble with anger, perhaps come from a disordered family, violence, a lot of fights at school, oppositional defiant kind of a problem. Almost to a man they have difficulty expressing feelings. Putting an image of perhaps being invincible, not asking for help, the typical what you would call macho kind of an image. But there again with any group of people there's always exceptions to that personality structure. We see our share of what we could call antisocial individuals but also we see a wider variety thatn that, those that don't fit that profile that come from professional backgrounds and stable employment.

Q: Do rapists admit their crimes? Do they tell the truth?

Many of the rapists have what we call thinking errors, or criminal thinking patterns where they have a tendency to distort reality. In other words, they might interpret interactions with individuals differently than the rest of us. For example, as they interact with a female , they might interpret the way she responds to them in a very friendly manner by saying, "hi," they might interpret that as that they are interested in them as having sex with him to be blunt. They might see them dressed in a certain outfit and interpret that, there again, in a very different way than the rest of the population.

I think that more often in the group, in this group of people and rapists that you do see what we call antisocial personality, we see more of them in this group of people.

Q: Why do you think men rape? Is it an act of power and control?

I wish I could give you one good answer. I think that certainly the act is an act of aggression, of power and control. There are a wide variety of explanations I guess. But one is to strike out an act of revenge. Even though they may not know the victim, even though the rapist might want to project an image of being invulnerable or being, you know, having a very tough exterior that many of them are very sensitive to rejection. They are very insecure about themselves and their own masculinity and what it means to be a man. They have distortions about , you know, when faced with a difficult problem about how to solve that problem and have a difficulty dealing with their feelings and emotions in a healthy way, they want to strike out or use aggression or force,you know, whether it be speaking loudly, a physical force, those kind of things. Just really difficulties in solving problems in a healthy way. wanting to force their solution on someone else.

Q: Is sex a motivation?

I think sex is part of it. It hink it's just a vehicle for their aggression. There again, it's not just about sex. Many of these individuals at least on the surface have a relationship with women and are having sex on a regular basis. But for some reason, they have chosen to go out and victimize people in this fashion. So it's other things besides sex.

Q: How many of the inmates at the Utah State Prison are sex offenders?

In our facility, approximately 25 percent or 26 percent of the inmate population are sex offenders. And that includes child molesters and rapists.

Q: We hear a lot of rapists say they were abused as children. Is that true?

When we work with sex offenders, one of the things that we do is try to help them figure out why they did what they did. There's a lot of information in the literature and even public opinion about sex offenders must have been sexually abused themselves. Many of them are. The thing that we have to keep in mind as we work with sex offenders is that many people are sexually abused but never become sexual predators themselves. So there, as an adult I think the individuals need to begin to deal with those experiences that happened in childhood. One of the things recently there has been a study of sex offenders that initially that the percent of sex offenders that reported being sexually abused was quite high, in the range of 70 percent. And then they took the same group of individuals and used a polygraph and the numbers declined. In other words, it reached something in the range of 30 percent, which would indicate that the sex offenders for whatever reason, whether it was to gain sympathy ro make excuses or whatever, said that they were sexually abused when they really weren't. It's not to minimize the impact of sexual abuse in a person's life. It's a very serious thing, but it was very interesting that many of them apparently made it up.

Q: Is getting a rapist to admit to a crime part of treatment?

One of the criteria that we have when a sex offender has entered thearpy, enters therapy, is that they have to admit the crime. We won't accept them into therapy if they are not willing to at least admit the crime that they've committed. What we find as someone enters therapy, what we require of them is complete honesty. That's the ultimategoa. And we have them go to their childhood and begin identifying instances where they have victimized other people and as they work in therapy and become more committed to change, they become more honest and disclose other crimes that they've committed,both as a child, a teenager, and as an adult.

Q: You've also said that once you begin treatment, rapists admit to other crimes. How many victims have most had?

The number of crimes that a rapist has committed in our program, the people that we work with varies from one to 50 or 60. Like I said, the longer an individual remains in therapy, the more likely they are to start diclosing other crimes that they've committed and we believe that this is very important in their therapy. That we don't think they can progress through treatment unless they're honest. If they're trying to fool us and lie about it, you know, I just don't see how that treatment can be effective.

Q: Do their crimes tend to escalate?

Many times we do see an escalation in the severity of the crimes. Many of the rapists engaged in like I said earlier, fights at school, difficulties with authority figures, teachers, parents, running away from home, those kind of things. Many of them began voyeuring in homes, then eventually escalated to burglaries, even breaking into houses at night while peole were sleeping, because of the thrill and excitement of that experience. Then escalating to the point of fantasy, fantasies about rape, and eventually planning to rape and committing rape.

Q: Is treatment effective?

I believe treatment does work. It works very well with an individual who is motivated and wants to change his lifestyle. I think that intitially when an offender begins treatment they have to admit that they are a sex offender. And the treatment is very difficult. If they could avoid treatment, they would at all costs, whether they would work voluntarily to do anything but to particupate in treatment because it's very uncomfortable.

Ultimately, what the goal of treatment is is to teach, to allow the sex offender to use the information he learns in therapy to not reoffend, to not commit another sex crime or victimize anybody in any way. And that's a tall order. I think you know, that we need to be realistic in what thearpy can do. When we talk about treatment, we're not talking about a disease or an illness that we can cure with an antibiotic or something like that. It basically boils down to a personal choice and when we're talking about a personal choice in somebody's life, that you know we cannot guarantee complete success as you can with treating an illness.

Q: You've noted that you work with a biased sample, since it is men who have volunteered for treatment. Still, what have you found to be the problems common to these men?

The population that we work with hear are voluntary. It's not forced therapy. So, by the nature of being a voluntary program we might get a different group of rapists or sex offenders that enter therapy. The individuals that have perhaps a more antisocial attitude that are more, have trouble with authority and so on and so forth, probably won't enter therapy. They wouldn't seek it out unless it was forced upon them. And even the individuals that are very resistance to treatment, in other words, continue to have a very rebellious and antisocial kind of an attitude, don't do very well and will eventually flunk out of treatment. And I think that's one thing that therapy does as well as helping those individuals that are open to treatment to change is the other thing it does is to identify those individuals who are not interested in changing, that are not interested in modifying their lifestyle and attitudes towards people.

From my experience, the sex offenders who are younger (early 20s) tend to be a little more difficult to treat, for whatever reason, whether it be image what have you. There's a lot of reasons but generally the older sex offender seems to do a little better in general. There's also a lot of pressure I think within the general population of sex offenders, first if all being identified, by being a sex offender, by going to therapy, and putting up with all the social pressure, you might say, within the prison population and dealing with that.

Q: The literature says rapists recidivate at a higher rate. Do you have any statistics on that?

We haven't had the resources or the funding to do a lot of research regarding recidivism. The sex offender program, even though it's been in existence for over 15 years has never received any funding and just until recently, there are enough publicity now where there's a little bit of momentum to bedin funding the program. Recently the department did put together an outcome study where they looked at sex offenders that had been released on parole for at least three years and those figures looked very good compared nationally. Actually the results the recidivism rates were about two-thirds lower than the national average.

So it was encouraging in the fact that we can't say that thearpy is the result of all of this perhaps lowered recidivism, but you know as we look at the big picutre there is a number of factors to tkae into account, but Utah and Board of Pardons is certainly taking the issue of sex offenders very seriously by giving them very long prison sentences and now with the interest in funding the sex offender therapy program. But the result look very encouraging. We need resources to be able to do some studies and we want to have the most effective program that we can.

Q: What about recividism rates nationally?

Nationally, the recidivism mong rapists is higher than among other groups. Incest offenders and pedophiles. Ii'm not sure of the reasons for that, but rapists tend to be more impulsive in their behavior. Pedophiles usually take a considerable amount of time, sometimes years to groom their victims. So those are some of the explanations.

Q: How hard is it to treat sex offenders? What about those who are impulsive and more deviant?

It's very difficult to treat the sex offender that has a wide variety of deviancies and has been abusing people for a number of years. The more deviancies they have the harder they are to treat. The individual is very impulsive, that acts very quickly without thinking, is very difficult to treat. Because those individulas, it's almost like rolling dice, you know, if it comes us a one, they might act this way; it is comes up a six, they may act another way or if comes up an eleven, they would commit a rape. So the more impulsive their behavior, the harder it is to treat them. The individual that plans their activities gives you more information to teach them ways to intervene in their cycle of deviancy before they reach the point where they want to hurt somebody.

Q: Is treatment effective then? It seems it doesn't work for all rapists.

Not all rapists. Therapy does not guarantee that somebody will not rape again. I think we have to be selective inn providing the therapy to those that are motivated and desire to change. I think we run into an ethical question, particularly in the prison institution where we have such a high population of sex offenders where there is an outcry that something be done. That, you know, we probably have an ethical obligation to provide treatment to all sex offenders who desire treatment. But there again, I think that by doing that we also have to be realistic in what we can guarantee that therapy is going to do, there are no guarantees.

Certainly I think that the situation is so serious and such a destructive kind of behavior that I think that we have an ethical and moral obligation to provide whatever treatment we can and whatever that takes. That we have to make that effort. I think that what's at stake is too high not to do that.

Q: What should society do? Lock them up? What about prevention?

Well, I think certainly when sexual abuse of any kind occurs, particularly rape that it needs to be reported. It needs to be prosecuted. that sex offenders, rapists do no voluntarily seek out treatment. That the society needs to say, "This is wrong." It needs to go to court, and there needs to be, whether every individual goes to prison, it just depends on the danger to the community, but certainly they need to be adjudicated. And the prison sentence needs to fit the crime. If there is a long pattern of abuse, and a total disregard for society, then certainly there are a number of individuals that are not safe to be on the street until they have received adequate evaluation and therapy to determine their danger to society.

Q: So, therapy should be required for all offenders?

I think that we have ethical obligation to provide whatever we have to to treat an individual to see if they're amiable to treatment and to change. I think after repeated attempts to treat an individual and for whatever reason, maybe they continue to violate institutional rules, victimize other people, commit assaults, or even those individuals that maybe have fooled the system, that have been released and have committed another crime, another rape. Certianly there comes a point where you can, nothing else can be done, if you've given a full course of treatment to the best of your professional knowledge and expertise that you believe that they have the information and go out and revicitmize somebody else, then I'm not sure what else can be done other than incarceration.

Q: How do rapists choose their victims?

From my experience there's a wide variety of reasons that sex offenders choose vicitms. I mean, they can range in age from very young to old, perhaps a focus on a particular eye color or hair color or body build, you know, or the type of clothing that they might wear. But certainly, there is no one female profile that they would go after. The variety is not related necessarily to dress or those kind of things.

One of the dynamics that we see operating is that as a rapist stalks their victim and eventually starts committing a rape, that one of the thins that they do is treat the victim as not a human being. As avaoiding any eye contact. Avoiding any emotional reaction to where they might begin to care for that individual about what they are doing. As you can imagine, committing that type of an offense against another human being, you know there's a tremendous amount of detachment, of dehumanizing that individual. They sometimes might put a pillowcase over the victim's head to avoid seeing them, to avoid seeing any facial expression, and by doing that they would avoid feeling.

Q: How long does treatment typically last?

We work very hard. I think that treatment isn't something that the offender does in their spare time, nor do we do it in our spare time. It's something that takes a big commitment. We say 100 percent commitment. Anywhere from three to five years. We've had some individual sin therapy seven years. And even at that point, we can't say that the individual is fixed. Therapy gos on their entire life.

Q: You've said there is a wide variety of men who have been convicted of sex offenses. Can you give some examples?

Sure. I think sometimes we have the idea that we can look in a crowd and pick out the sex offender of rapists. I think that's a misconception that many times most of the time you can't do that. We have a wide variety of individuals that have been convicted to rape. We have a physician, we have other professionals. we have blue collar workers, we have individuals that were married and had children but were out raping.

Q: Are these crimes of opportunity?

Some rapists are like I said very impulsive. They might see a stranded motorist on the side of the road and just seize the opportunity in an impulsive act. Many of them are much more calculated and planning. As I've worked with rapists, I've asked them, "How do you go about gaining access to houses?" And many of them said that they would look for an open window or unlocked door and just go in the house. And I was amazed to find out how many houses that they encountered had doors unlocked. So I think a simple thing of locking your doors and windows is a deterrent. Anything that makes it more difficult that makes your house or you not a target can be a deterrent.

Q: What about date rape?

One of the things I've noticed as we've worked with rapists is that we, I can't remember having treated an individual that would fit the category of what is commonly known as date rape. We do have individuals that knew their victims but they ended up breaking into their house that way. We've had individuals that have raped their wife. One individual that I'm thikning of but he's also raped another individual as well. A lot is not reported, so they don't end up in prison.

Q: What about prevention?

You know, in terms of prevention, I mean certainly you have the physical things that you can do and I don't think it sounds like I mean we can't. I mean that's really important. Not everyone leaves their windows open. But on the other hand. I mean gosh, I don't know how many I encounter, rapists that said they just walked right in. And that was amazing to me. I think people minimize that they think, "Oh, locking my doors and windows, that's nothing."

Q: We hear about individuals who learn to manipulate therapy, who learn just enough to say what they think they should say. What of that?

The therapy we have is very different than what we traditionally think of as therpy. I think most people's concept of therapy is when you sit down with the individual and you listen very attentively and you're guided pretty much by what the client is telling you. In other words, if they're depressed, they're telling you how they feel and to know that you're making progress, they will say, "I'm less depressed, I'm more depressed" -- whatever, to know if you're making some headway. To simplify it. But with the sex offender therapy first of all, you're dealing with an involuntary client.

Even though they're enterting therapy voluntarily, the only reason they're in therapy is that've been caught and now they have to face the problem. So you sometimes don't know if the individual is entering therapy to look good for the Board of Pardons so they can get out of prison sooner, or if they're trying to impress a fmaily members, whatever it might be. And what they're telling you, you have to be very cautious about what's being said. If the motives are to get out of prison and to convince you that they're solved their problem, then you have to proceed in a very different way, you have to use therapy that doesn't necessarily guage its programm on what the individual is telling you.

So we have to use behavioral observation to see what they do when they leave the office. You have to see what they do in recreation, in a work, as they interact with other individuals. How do they treat female staff versus male staff? We sometimes see a very big difference between demanding, almost degrading vicitmizing behaviors among staff. Many of the rapists and sex offenders relate much differently, who have trouble with a female staff member, particularly a therapist who's in authority. By taking therapeutic direction from that individual because of the attitudes towards women that they might have.

Therapy is ultimately deisgned to impact the individual, to demand and teach responsibility. To teach them to feel. To help them realize the impact they've had on their victim. And I mean that's not something you do in one time. you know, talking, confronting, having them write letters, write assignments, having them watch video tapes, having them listen to audiotapes. One of the things that we do is have an audiotape of a 911 phone call where an individual was raped and it was recorded. Things like that. Where you know as you present that kind of information you try to break down their defenses to where they might hear what the vicitim is saying.

I attend a lot of the board hearings with the sex offenders who are in treatment, and many times either a victim will attend the hearing or the family members and read a statement and that can be very therapeutic for the offender to hear what the victim is going through and has gone through. Because up to this point, there's been denial. Either denial to make themselves feel better. It's like, "Well, you know, they've probably gotten over it," you know just a real distortion of what is really going on and the contrary is always true, that the victims go through a tremendous amount of trauma that goes on for years.

Trying to help an individual be empathetic and to put themselves in the shoes of other people is a very difficult process. You know we sometimes set up role plays, just a number of things that we try and keep at it and keep at it and at it. Like I said, three years and four years and five years. You know right now in our intensive progrm we have group therapy six times a week. We have classes that we teach. We have them repeat the classes if we think they need to. We have anywhere from 36 to 43 hours of therapy a week. It's not all face-to-face therapy with a staff member at all times, but we have a lot of therapy and there again, it's not guided by, it is in a sense of what they tell us but it's more what we oberve over time.

Another thing we use is a plasythesmygraph evaluation that is an objective assessment of their arousal pattern to see if you know they're aroused to deviant kind of sexual kind of behaviors, a violent sex and those kind of things and to be able to get them to get that under control. One of the things that we don't use in Utah, but that's used in other treatment programs is the polygraph. That's because we are dealing with a population that might have or does have in a lot of cases, ulterior motives for entering therapy. They use a plygraph examintation where everything the individual saysk everything they disclose nd fantasies and all that, goes through a polygraph exam before they count that as like completed assignment. I would think that would be something that I would like to use.

Q: Aren't some of those techniques controversial?

I think that you know even with the plasythmograph evaluations that they become controversial. At one time, they were controversial because of the type of stimulus material that was used. That there were some visual materials used and so on and the question of the sources of that material. Now, only audiotape is used. Also, the question of the intrusive nature of the evaluation. I think one of the things that we lose sight of and I think that I need to keep in mind and I think the rest of people need to keep in mind as they learn about this type of treatment is the purpose behind it. What we are trying to accomplish. I mean I work with this population everyday so I'm fairly desensitized to those kinds of issues. But you know I see the work we do is very objective and important just like you would in any kind of medical treatment or mental health treatment.

If you have an individual with a broken bone, you want to perform an x-ray. If you have an individual that has a deviant arousal pattern and you cna't trust self-report, you have to give a plasythmograph evaluation to see what that arousal pattern is. With the polygraph I'm not sure that we can use it. I don't think the issue has been pushed. I think you know, with the controversy over the plasythmograph at times I'm not sure if we could use it. I think it's used in field op-erations and I think as individuals go out on probation that they have to agree to have random plasythmograph evaluations and also polygraph exams. You know, the expense of buying the equipment, expense of having somebody trained in and certified and maybe performing those evaluations. But I think you know I don't want to rule anything out though I think that you know what we have at stake is so important that I think whatever technology and techniques that we have I think we need to be able to use that to make society safer.

Q: Doesn't it boil down to respect? How do you teach respect?

Boy, I don't know. I wouldn't know how to ansser that. How do you teach respect? I think by showing respect and you know, a lot of individuals, particularly the rapist don't have very much respect, they don't have much respect for people. You know, they don't think anything of taking something and how does that, how does that develop? Does it develop from not being respected yourselves, seeing other males in their life that don't show respect to women? Sometimes, I think that's the case. I think we have plenty of examples of that in our society where people aren't respected. I wish I knew the answer.

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No Safe Place: Violence Against Women is made possible in part by a grant from the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation and the Dr. Ezekiel R. and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation. The documentary is a production of public television station KUED in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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