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The Rehabilitation of a Serial Sexual Abuser

Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are both undergoing sex-addiction treatment at the same place in Arizona — Gentle Path at The Meadows, which counts Tiger Woods among its alumni.

A 45-day saunter along the Gentle Path includes journaling, meditation, horseback riding, yoga and “expressive arts” and costs $58,000.

Given the seriousness and sheer quantity of their indiscretions/crimes — 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault, and more than a dozen men allege sexual misconduct by Spacey (so far) — their time on the Gentle Path has mostly been ridiculed. These men are, by all accounts, serial predators who are taking the easiest, cushiest course of action to “fix” themselves. Or worse: They’re simply doing whatever is necessary from a PR standpoint to rehabilitate their careers rather than themselves.

And yet, the statistics would seem to indicate that if these men truly wanted to change — as opposed to just lying low in the desert until shit cools down — they could. “If you consider all types of offenders (property, drug, assault), sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rates,” says Tom Roscoe, a retired chief probation officer for the State of Connecticut and professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University. An expert on recidivism, Roscoe spent 20 years overseeing adult probation and has taught a class called “Sanctioning Sexual Offenders” for the past 10. To back up his claim, he points to a 2006 study of 10,000 sex offenders that found the re-arrest rate of child molesters to be only 3.5 percent.

Based on such data, Roscoe says Weinstein, Spacey and their ilk would be good candidates for rehabilitation — provided they wanted to be rehabilitated, of course, which means actively engaging in sex-offender treatment and relapse-prevention training.

These are the sorts of things that Gavin Sharpe, a sex-addiction therapist and Associate at The Hudson Centre in London, Europe’s version of the Gentle Path, provides. “Very often people end up in my group because their wife has found illicit messages on their phone or a police car has pulled up in the driveway,” he says.

If Weinstein or Spacey were seated in front of him, the first thing he would do, Sharpe explains, is carry out a “full assessment”:

  • Is there remorse?
  • Is there shame?
  • How likely is this person going to respond to treatment?
  • Does he have the cognitive ability to empathize?
  • Does he know what it’s like to be the recipient of his offensive act?

“It can take a while for someone to realize that it’s not okay,” Sharpe says. “But when you begin to reconstruct their reality and their perspective changes, there’s something to work with.” (If a man is more sociopathic and doesn’t grasp that he’s done anything wrong, he’ll be harder to work with, Sharpe says; for such men, he recommends treatment in a pure sex-offenders rehabilitation center.)

Sharpe helps “pierce the narcissistic bubble” by getting the men he works with to understand what effect the behavior has had on their lives — the equivalent of hitting “rock bottom” for an alcoholic, he says — and helping them identify the underlying reasons for their behavior, which, in most cases, is childhood trauma.

The problem with this course of treatment, critics argue, is that it’s couched in the idea that there is such a thing as sex addiction, which is a controversial diagnosis, since every psychological body and significant piece of literature — e.g., the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the American Association of Sexuality Educators — has rejected the concept.

“People like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Tiger Woods use the term ‘sex addict’ to get themselves off the hook,” says Dr. Chris Donaghue, a certified sex therapist, international lecturer and co-host of the Loveline podcast. “They’re saying, ‘I have an illness. Give me some empathy. I can’t be held accountable.’ But that’s not the case. They both repeatedly chose to not have any boundaries or impulse control and assault people sexually. That isn’t a disorder. That’s pathological narcissism.”

All of which is why Dr. Donaghue says he rarely treats guys like Weinstein and Spacey. On the off-chance that he does, the work is predominantly about building empathy. It’s helping them understand that they’re harming people, that they’re not above the law and that their misuse of power is traumatizing to others. “It’s a difficult clinical question,” Donaghue admits. “How do you get someone to have care, empathy and compassion when they never did before?”

The process is threefold, he explains — education on healthy boundaries; getting them to take accountability for their behavior; and establishing targeted empathy.

The central goal is for them to learn what victimization feels like because, as Donaghue notes, “These are wealthy, white, cisgender men who are rarely, if ever, in a place of victimization.”

Hopefully, they’re already feeling shame or guilt, Donaghue says. If not, the goal is to get them there before slowly removing the shame by letting them know this doesn’t have to define them. Next, he works with them to think ahead and become aware of problematic triggers. After all of that, Donaghue thinks most guys can be rehabilitated — as long as they’re open to engaging in his process. He does clarify, however, this doesn’t apply to guys like Weinstein and Spacey, who choose to see themselves as sex addicts, thereby, in Donaghue’s opinion at least, sidestepping ownership of their behavior.

There is one surefire gamechanger, Roscoe says.

“All of the trimmings of stardom come crashing down when you’re facing the possibility of prison.

“It’s hard for me to measure Weinstein in the same context of people I dealt with on probation because at this point he’s not a criminal offender. His attitude would likely change if he were arrested and facing prison time — or getting out of prison.

“That’s when I’ve seen sex offenders make real changes. Because it’s a whole new ballgame.”