No.

by Belle Waring on July 22, 2019

So this article (Autistic Sex Offenders Often Don’t Realize They’ve Broken The Law. Should That Matter?) was on the front page of Slate yesterday, and I thought, “this is so Slatepitchy that I should blog about it! Tomorrow though, because the Investigation and Discovery channel has it’s 4,000th show in a row about some brutal murder in Indiana, which I must watch, and also my mania requires me to clean the side of the stove that’s 1/2” away from the kitchen counter, by forcing paper towel soaked in bleach spray down there with a boning knife and really leaning into it, and also I’m fundamentally a failure as a human being and can’t accomplish the most trivial of tasks.” (To be scrupulously fair, when I was nearing the end of the stove thing I said to myself, “self? Self old buddy old pal old frienderoo? Maybe just put the knife down and back away, because by the pricking of my thumbs, you’re going to be going at something with Q-tips any time now, and it’s already midnight.” (Ironically, this would have been good advice for the murderer as well.) “Also, if you’re so obsessive about these things, why isn’t the house cleaner generally? Could it be that you’re a failure as a human being?” And then I went to sleep lmao I had insomnia.

However, comma, I’m blogging about it now, better late than never, my life is a long series tasks before which I quail in needless fear as if they were copperheads looking at me with their glittering eyes, etc. This article has passed beyond #slatepitch to genuinely disturbing. And this is the reason that they took it off the front page altogether, and it can now only be found using google. [Update: I clicked on an article and this appeared in the sidebar. It was definitely not on the front page this morning.] The premise is that autistic people should get preferential treatment when they commit sex offenses such as stalking or possessing child pornography, because they don’t really know what they are doing. It’s as insulting to autistic people, really, as it is to common sense and basic morality.

An autistic man named Nick Durbin had his therapist advise him to look at pornography to get a better understanding of sexuality, something of which he had no experience. At first he looked at paper pornography (?) but then discovered that there was porn online (?!). Um…discovered? This guy is like 33 and has been using the internet as a solace for his whole life which has been sadly friendless. This is total bullshit. Then pop-up ads started serving him up more disturbing material. Which he saved to his computer because that’s rational and not obviously immoral!

At the time, Dubin was 33 and had built an impressive career as an autism advocate. He had a doctorate in psychology and was working as a consultant in a nearby school for autistic students. By all appearances, he was someone who should have known that child pornography is wrong. “This is what’s often confusing to people who have not dealt with autism spectrum [disorder] before,” Lynda Geller, a New York City–based psychologist and autism specialist, said at a conference on the topic in Rochester, Michigan, in May. “They see before them someone that they’re talking with who seems quite bright, and yet whose social intelligence is quite different than their intellectual intelligence.”

That disconnect seemed to hold true for Dubin. When he took a test called the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, which estimates a person’s social age, it revealed that in social situations, he functions as a 7- to 11-year-old child. Although Dubin says he has never had sexual feelings about children, children and teenagers feel more like peers to him than adults do, he says. Because of this, psychologists say, the ages of the children in the photographs may not have immediately set off alarm bells for him as they would have for a typical adult. Dubin says it had never occurred to him that looking at naked pictures of minors is against the law: “I had no concept of how something I was doing in the privacy of my home without interacting with anyone could be breaking the law,” he says [because he never read online even once a discussion of how this is bad, or the use of such a person as a slur, or anything but r/knitting]….

Dubin says his own problems with theory of mind meant he never considered how the children in the pornographic images he viewed got there or whether they might have been abused. (None of the photos he viewed showed abuse, he says.) At the Rochester conference in May, Mahoney explained that when most people see child pornography, “they’re seeing it with this wealth of social understanding that’s developed over their entire life, of thousands of social interactions, thousands of cues as to what’s acceptable or not to society.” But autistic people may not share this socialized perspective; they might zero in on body parts and literally “not see the social context of a photograph.” Once his therapist explained to Dubin the violence inherent in the production of child pornography, Dubin says he was mortified. “I truly was blind to the harm I was causing,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t causing harm, and I sincerely wish I could turn back time and do better with the information I have now.”

Right, ok, no. NO THO. This is the most patently fallacious thing I have seen in a long time. Per the definitions above, realizing that child pornography is wrong does not require emotional intelligence. It requires intellectual intelligence. You consider logically how such images could be created, and then you recoil in horror, and then you go lie down for a while with a cold, damp washcloth on your forehead as you wonder whether a nuclear exchange with Russia might not be for the best. You don’t need a theory of mind, exactly, or if you do, what you need is something well within reach of a seven year old. In fact I am dead certain I could explain this to a four-year-old. “Would it be good if someone hurt you a lot? What if they took a picture while they were hurting you, and gave it to someone else, because he liked to look at pictures of children getting hurt, would that be good or bad?” OK WE’RE DONE HERE. “Life on the sex-offender registry is never easy, but it can be especially difficult for someone on the spectrum. “’It destroys these kids’ lives,’ Kelmar says.” (He’s the father of a young man convicted of sexual assault on a minor, somewhat unfairly by their account, but one could easily imagine it otherwise). Yeah well the restrictions of the sex offender registry are at a certain point unreasonable, I agree, and it’s also the case that minors get put on there for the creation of pornographic images of themselves, which is absurd. Having said which, why should we give a shit about autistic offenders per se? It’s bad for everyone.

The actions of autistic people can be interpreted as sexual even when they are not intended that way—a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “counterfeit deviance.” Psychologist Gary Mesibov recalls one striking case from decades ago in which a woman in North Carolina accused a young autistic man of stalking her; he said his intention had instead been to protect her. He had read about sexual assaults in the local newspaper and had become worried for her safety. “He decided that he needed to watch over her,” says Mesibov, former director of the TEACCH Autism Program at the University of North Carolina, who consulted on the case. The man began following the woman on her walks home from work in the evenings and waiting outside her home in the mornings.

I’ve been stalked before. He started out as someone I would talk to and he seemed reasonable. Had an obvious crush on me I guess, but that’s not always a reason not to talk to someone. I’m very polite and this means I can be stuck in a conversation easily, which makes a person like this difficult. Eventually this guy would wait for me to leave my classes or, particularly, the library at Berkeley and then follow me either around to my classes or to the BART station. Look, the BART is sketch enough, it doesn’t need any help. I had to get my boyfriend or other male friends to walk me home every time I needed to use the stacks in the evening if I wanted to feel safe! And it went on for months! And I will say that he seemed socially off somehow, and in a way that I do in retrospect associate with people being on the spectrum. But do you know what? I don’t give a shit! Think of the woman in this story, and how she felt when she opened the door of her home and saw him standing there. If you stalk someone but secretly were motivated by a malformed desire to protect them rather than some sexual attraction, then you just plain and simple stalked them. I guess there are questions about mens rea in prosecuting cases, which is what the defenders of the autistic sex offenders want to dispute, but I just can’t motivate myself to care.

(And here I will digress to tell of one of the great triumphs of my life. A few years later I saw my by then ex-boyfriend in a long line for coffee at a cafe on the edge of campus and went to cut in line and talk to him. As we got to the front the man ahead of us turned around to say hello. I couldn’t think who he was and did something I rarely do, which is braver than pretending to know someone, and said “I know we’ve met before but I just can’t remember your name, I’m so sorry.” You could see the blood leave his face as his spirit was crushed visibly before me, and he slightly bent over as in actual pain and said with agonized plaintiveness, “you don’t remember me?!” I sent him off with a bland smile and asked my ex who he was and he was like you idiot that was your stalker. And it was true! I had blotted him out into a figure in the dark, a paper cut-out, and didn’t remember him at all because I didn’t want to remember him. I could see that he had sat down on a bench nearby, and he was on the verge of tears, and he had his fist to his chest, and was utterly shattered. Beautiful. It was so beautiful. Nothing I ever could have planned would have hurt him more.) Carrying on:

…a man named Tom, who asked to be referred to by his first name only, choked up when describing the day he’d had to drive his autistic son to prison after a child pornography conviction. “It’s way too painful for me to tell you what I was feeling inside,” he said. “After dropping off my son at the gates of prison, I drove a few miles away, pulled off the road, and cried like I’ve never cried before in my life.”

Right, and if I had to drive my child to prison it would be agonizing, and I can only imagine that I would be sobbing. But do you know for whom I feel the most agonized sympathy in this article? Sexually abused children.

UPDATE: My sister reminded me of another instructional story. She knew someone with Asperger’s Syndrome as a very distant acquaintance from doing WWII reenactment. He was the friend of a friend. He had given her his number at some point, and, unable to reach the friend, she called this man to try and get him. So, acquaintance guy had her number now and, like you do, reverse searched it and showed up at our house at 3 in the morning to call for her, pound on the door, and yell up to her lighted bedroom window. Although she was alone in the house, she didn’t call the cops for reasons too complex to relate here, also, nobody likes a narc. She told him to go away and eventually when the dawn was first paling the sky, he left. Now, here is an example of how much women are socialized to do emotional labor for others. She met with him for coffee a few days later to explain that what he did was wrong and bad, frightening and almost monstrous, and a great way to get arrested or shot. I’m not saying I wish that guy had gotten a few warning shots from a shotgun, but you know, it might have helped everyone learn an important lesson about how the real stalking was inside him all along. Here, again, do I really care about his state of mind? My sister charitably did, but I feel angry when I imagine her confronting this man again just to educate him about how being terrifying is bad. How did she have to steel herself to go into the Starbuck’s when it was not unlikely to be armed? Why was that her job? He only stalked her once later, so, yay him I guess. Screw him, though.

{ 94 comments }

1

Lynne 07.22.19 at 6:24 pm

Sing it, Belle! I could not agree more.

2

steven t johnson 07.22.19 at 8:39 pm

Being a minor does not exempt one from intellectual understanding, so no, if mental illness or defect does not exempt one from criminal charges, neither does being a minor. If the one is obviously absurd, so is the other. This does remind me of those parent who object to mentally impaired boys who’ve gotten older from being in classes with their daughters. And of course it’s the same argument for executing the mentally ill, who should be locked up in prisons instead of nonsense about treatment, much less rehabilitation. Always good to see the left’s moral values expressed so clearly.

I wish child pornography was actually motivated by profit, then criminal charges for sale or purchase would actually do some good. I also wish that sexual abuse weren’t largely a home-based crime so that policing the general population would solve it.

3

MisterMr 07.22.19 at 9:18 pm

Disclosure : I think I am an asperger, although I never consulted a specialist (I did various online tests where I scored a bit high, plus other stuff typical of aspergers like learning to speak before learning to walk).

Some years ago I acted exactly as your stalker. In fact I realized what I was doing very, very late, and when I realized I was shocked that I didn’t realize it before, so that I read some book on emotive intelligence to understand how could I behave that way without realizing.
I came to the conclusion that I have a very low emotive intelligence, and years later when I by chance learned about asperger this made me think that I am one.

I empathize with your stalker more than a bit and, while you have and had all the rights to prevent said guy to stalk you, I think it doesn’t make sense to frame the situation in moral terms (with said guy being bad), rather I think it’s better to frame the situation in practical terms (you have the right of not being stalked, even if the guy doesn’t have mens rea).

4

Belle Waring 07.22.19 at 9:42 pm

[groans audibly] I dOn’T WAnT tO seND ChiLREn To jAIl

1. In the article the discussion was not severely mentally disabled people but people who were quite intelligent but emotionally impaired in some way. The premise was specifically that a lack of emotional intelligence made it impossible to use ordinary logic to infer that the production of child pornography relies on the vilest coercion.

2. The main subject of the article was a 33 year old man who worked with children and was unusually intelligent but was a) so driven pure innocent that he didn’t know that there was pornography on the internet, which is so insulting to the intelligence that I don’t believe anything anyone says about his crime for the rest of the article and b) unable to utilize boring old logic to realize the above point. The works with children point is never mentioned again but for some reason I find it dubious so hard to put my finger on it hmmwat could be.

3. Do you genuinely think it’s the case that the man who so terrifyingly stalked that woman should be let off the hook because, due to his autism, he thought he was guarding her? I think it most likely that even this alleged para-crime was motivated by ordinary sexual attraction, since a recursion from “needs guarding from assault” is still “this is a person in whom I have a special and affectionate/romantic interest.” In addition to which, once you get to the stalking part, even the ordinary stalker is no longer truly motivated by romantic attraction but rather control, and constant unwanted accompaniment is a form of control, such that again the autistic man’s alleged innocence on this front is well and truly irrelevant to the crime.

4. Additionally, I would like you to say to my metaphorical face that if my stalker were autistic, which, as I say, isn’t unlikely, I should have felt…safe? Sorry for him? Reassured since other creeps might not assault me on the way to the BART? Assuming his inability to understand he was harming me, did I owe him a gentle explanation? I say fuck every one of things heartily.

5. Nothing in this implies you should keep developmentally disabled male students out of your daughter’s class–unless you are strongly asserting they are totally incapable of determining when they’re committing sexual assault, and for this reason should be get a pass on their first offense and allowed to remain in class. I might balk a little there.

6. Finally, the general population is home-based in some important sense, because how could it not be. This is what CPF is for. On the other side, this is what the guys smashing down your door and seizing your computers are for. Thems the breaks.

5

J-D 07.22.19 at 10:04 pm

… had his therapist advise him to look at pornography to get a better understanding of sexuality …

!!
!!!!!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What did the therapist’s therapist have to say? ‘Have you considered a different career path?’? ‘Just put your practising licence down on the floor and back away from it slowly’? What do you mean, the therapist didn’t have a therapist?

Had the therapist looked at pornography and found it full of insight into sexuality?!? What was the therapist’s excuse??

I know that’s not the main point here, but I got that far and then I read everything else with the klaxons blaring.

6

Kiwanda 07.22.19 at 10:18 pm

I guess there are questions about mens rea in prosecuting cases…but I just can’t motivate myself to care.

Beyond number of victims, there is a difference between a soldier and a serial killer, between Lennie Small and Hannibal Lecter, between Sethe and The Others’ Grace Stewart, between a distracted driver and James Alex Fields Jr.. It matters to many that Eliot Rodger threatened to kill women, even if he killed four men and two women. The distinctions can be difficult, mens rea matters.

7

JCM 07.22.19 at 10:19 pm

I love your writing so much and cherish every one of your posts. Thanks!

8

Dr. Hilarius 07.22.19 at 10:34 pm

I can imagine that somewhere out there is an autistic man with an impaired understanding that child porn is bad and illegal. But not when the man in question has a PhD in psychology and works in a school with children.

This sounds like an attempt to extend the notion of an undeveloped juvenile brain mitigating criminal conduct. I can agree that a kid hitting a parked car might panic and flee the scene rather than leave a note. But when a kid carefully plans a home invasion robbery with a gun it is not due to youthful impulse or a cognitive inability to see armed robbery as wrong.

Your mention of copperheads with glittering eyes brings up a prior topic, one in which I was possibly too flippant. If you have dogs in an area with venomous snakes, it is possible to train (most) dogs to avoid snakes. When I lived in New Mexico there was a dog trainer who used non-venomous bull snakes for aversion training. Several dog owners told me that it was very effective. From my own experience I can attest that being bitten on the nose by a baby python resulted in my Siamese cat forever avoiding snakes (as well as peering around corners with caution for a long time).

9

Belle Waring 07.22.19 at 10:38 pm

Unfortunately our dogs–well one in particular–has trained herself to attack copperheads and has indeed been bitten on the nose, which has not deterred her, because she is not the world’s smartest dog.

Kiwanda, I am aware of, and care about, the concept in general, just not in that case, sorry for the unclarity.

10

Demigourd 07.23.19 at 1:20 am

CT’s Wonkette tribute band provides a banal stream of consciousness account of something she knows nothing about, episode five bazillion.

Bravo. Top content.

11

Belle Waring 07.23.19 at 1:39 am

Ironically, I have been blogging in the same fashion since before there was a Wonkette so it’s not quite as cutting as it might be otherwise. Nonetheless, ten points to Hufflepuff for “Wonkette tribute band.”

12

Alan White 07.23.19 at 2:19 am

About mens rea: ever since John Hinckley the US legal system has backed away from exoneration due to reasonable-doubt support of its lacking in a given case, both in terms of law and the attitude of juries. As for law, 4 states have abandoned insanity as a legal defense, and challenges to that thus far have held up in federal court as constitutional. As for jury attitudes, any number of juries have snubbed insanity defenses that were prima facie as strong as Hinckley’s, such as James Holmes’ “Dark Knight” infamous theater murders. I’d say Belle’s stance here is in keeping with that trend, like it or not. For my own part I think putting the onus of guilt just on some kind of idealized rational intent is a bit unrealistic given the complexity of the collective of how human action unfolds.

13

Belle Waring 07.23.19 at 4:30 am

I think everyone needs to reread the article and get back to me again. It specifically contends that a man with a PhD who works with children is unable to realize that child pornography relies on terrible abuse and coercion, despite this being available to a nanosecond’s thought, because of a lack of emotional intelligence–but not a lack of empathy! No, apparently emotional intelligence means logic. Sure. I go on to dispute this claim about this particular man, supra. Yes, someone could suffer from autism in such a way or so severely as not to be able to reason about child pornography, but this person would have the intellectual intelligence of a 7-11 year old. Serious developmental disability should be considered relevant in such a case.

Separately, the article tells us of an unusually informative case in which a man with autism stalked a woman in a terrifying way, not because he had sexual thoughts about her, but because he was obsessed with her not being sexually assaulted. Which two things are manifestly distinct and in no way entangled. My response was, sure, Jan. Further on, I think expressing the idea about one’s own stalker that one doesn’t give a single flying fuck why he’s doing it is totally reasonable and again, I challenge someone to show me why I should care in the hypothetical case in which he were autistic.

I’m not saying mens rea never matters, or that children should be tried as adults, or that people who suffer from autism are sexual super-predators. I’m saying this Slate-contrarian article is insulting, vaguely amoral bullshit, and that having been the victim of stalking I am filled with a void where caring about why precisely a man was stalking me should be. Additionally, I think victims of sexual assault maybe feel more strongly about the topic of sexual violence, separating out questions about the peculiarly unsympathetic men introduced here (seriously). What if the person who raped you thought you were consenting, even though he had to put his hand over your mouth for some weird consensual sex reason you never discussed? Who the fuck cares, is the answer. Great, I solved rape culture.

14

Chaz 07.23.19 at 5:53 am

If this is purely a question of nude photos (I didn’t read the article, but you quote that they’re alleging “None of the photos he viewed showed abuse,”), then I actually think it’s probably correct that most people–not just autistic people but also regular people–haven’t thought it through enough to logically deduce that a child appearing nude in a photo was probably emotionally abused or forced to pose.

I think by far the dominant reason that people oppose child pornography is simply that they know it is illegal and because they know it is socially taboo to be attracted to children. I would bet money that most people are immediately averse to nude child photos* but only because they have been socialized to see it as taboo, not because they have thought through the complexities of abuse in the porn industry. In fundamentalist Christian circles they firmly oppose adult pornography as well, but that’s not generally out of concern that studios have abusive recruiting practices, it’s simply because for them it is taboo to depict sex at all. Or look at cities which throw prostitutes in prison–they want to punish the prostitutes for deviating from social norms, not help them escape exploitation.

And I would further bet that in most people’s minds their immediate reaction is focused on the feeling that it’s bad to want to see child porn in the first place–it means you’re a no good pedophile–and not on thinking about the indirect harm paying for such material does by promoting further exploitation. I bet that indirect logic goes right over a lot of folks heads even if you point it out.

But to close this up, I think that child porn should indeed be super taboo, because abuse is bad, and in the end it doesn’t really matter why people see it as taboo as long as they do. Also I would expect most autistic people are indeed aware of the taboo or of the law, although I don’t know much about autism.

15

Chetan Murthy 07.23.19 at 6:27 am

Ms. Waring,

Setting aside the [ugh!] child porno case, the stalking case seems really straightforward. Why should it even fucking matter whether the stalker is a {child,adult,autistic,etc} ? Their rights stop where the victim’s begin, *period*. Now, in the case of a child, one can argue that they can be taught, b/c they’re not finished maturing. But if we know that an adult is incapable of change [and somewhat, the defense of an autistic stalker might rest on the fact that he’s unaware of the gravity of his behaviour and hence, can’t change it] then it just doesn’t -matter- why they do what they do.

The victim has rights, too.

16

SusanC 07.23.19 at 8:37 am

Belle, i’m broadly in agreement with you here. (In that, I’m not buying autism as an excuse in this case).

But, if I recall correctly, most 7 year olds have basic “theory of mind” abilities. What you will often encounter in a person with high functionng autism is that they are intellectually competent, but in terms of reasoning about people, they have not even reached the level of a seven year old. So that part of your argument doesn’t work.

(I work for a group doing autism research …)

17

J-D 07.23.19 at 8:39 am

Belle Waring

What if the person who raped you thought you were consenting, even though he had to put his hand over your mouth for some weird consensual sex reason you never discussed? Who the fuck cares, is the answer.

There’s a new play about that, which I saw last month.
https://duckduckgo.com/?q=%22Prima+Facie%22%22Suzie+Miller%22&t=h_&ia=web

18

Saurs 07.23.19 at 9:33 am

I empathize with your stalker more than a bit and, while you have and had all the rights to prevent said guy to stalk you, I think it doesn’t make sense to frame the situation in moral terms (with said guy being bad), rather I think it’s better to frame the situation in practical terms (you have the right of not being stalked, even if the guy doesn’t have mens rea).

So refreshing to hear a guy get emotional, give himself permission to emote all over your lived experience, as he tells a woman to be more practical next time she talks about a scary thing another guy, a guy First Guy has never met, did to her. This is all very cool. Big mood.

19

Saurs 07.23.19 at 9:43 am

Also, weird how intent doesn’t make anybody less stalked and no prizes for all the commenters careful not to acknowledge that Belle’s stalker got less stalk-y when there was another man around. Almost like dude understands the dynamic he’s created just fine and knows when not to push it. Like a domestic abuser who minds their Ps and Qs around bigger people down at the bar, but shows no such restraint when there’s a potential victim to be had and in private.

20

CA 07.23.19 at 10:17 am

As a parent of an autistic boy, I find this post incredibly heartless. One of the challenges of parenting an autistic child is that you often have to teach your child many things which simply are not obvious or intuitive to them at all, and which they can find incredibly hard to grasp. Often this ends up being a case of ‘okay, I accept that you can’t understand why you shouldn’t do x. But I’m asking you, please don’t do x. People get very upset, and I don’t want that to happen.’ Issues to do with personal space, and intimate areas, and consent, very often present real difficulties. The reason we persevere with teaching those issues is that other people have rights. But the reason it’s so hard to teach those issues is that it often just *isn’t* blindly obvious to an autistic person that some kinds of behaviour are inappropriate or hurtful or terrifying to others. I’m not going to argue about these cases of stalking, and pornography, which I don’t know the details of. But to claim, as you do, in so many words, that we shouldn’t care about what goes on in the mind of an autistic person when such a case arises strikes me as incredibly unforgiving. Even if it isn’t relevant to whether something counts as a crime, to claim that it isn’t relevant to how we respond to that crime, or to how we treat the offender within the criminal justice system, is remarkable. If my son ever finds himself in trouble, I really hope the authorities would not take the same attitude as you.

21

SusanC 07.23.19 at 10:18 am

A while ago, a person who has high functioning autism was telling me that these kind of legal defenses are bullshit, because they are just wrong about the nature of the condition. So, in support of Belle’s overall point: people who have been diagnosed as autistic don’t believe these legal defences, either.

22

Zora 07.23.19 at 10:26 am

I’m probably Aspie. On the border between Aspie and eccentric said the shrink I saw. I don’t read social cues all that well and have stumbled clumsily through social interactions most of my life. I’ve been doing better since I was diagnosed. I monitor my behavior, try to correct myself, and often ask other people for feedback.

I found Belle’s essay, and the reactions to it, hurtful. I think it may well be the case that the 33-year-old convicted of child porn was exaggerating his cluelessness. But that doesn’t mean that every Aspie, or person on the spectrum, who does something stupid was willfully misbehaving.

23

engels 07.23.19 at 11:00 am

Why should it even fucking matter whether the stalker is a {child,adult,autistic,etc} ? Their rights stop where the victim’s begin, *period*.

Noone’s claiming anyone has a right to stalk people: the issue is about criminal punishment.

Btw not a lawyer but I’m fairly many people here are badly confused about the concept of mens rea (it definitely does not require awareness of the law—traditionally, lack of such awareness is never a defence).

24

arcseconds 07.23.19 at 11:48 am

It’s a very dangerous kind of argument, one that causes a lot of misunderstanding and harm, for someone without a certain condition to be quite sure on the basis of armchair reasoning about how things must be for people with that condition.

I also think it’s incredibly simplistic to think that cognition breaks down simply to ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘intellectual intelligence’ and suppose that people who are competent at some things in one of those groups are competent at everything in that group. This isn’t even true of neurotypical people, let alone people with complex syndromes.

Also second Chaz’z remarks. I don’t think most people spend ‘a nanosecond’ thinking about the moral implications of the conditions of production of anything they consume, whether it be porn, food, petroleum, consumer electronics, etc. They’re socialized into horror at sexualizing children, that is all.

(And is it really a simple intellectual task? It doesn’t strike me like that at all.)

I barely know the first thing about autism, but failure to pick up on socialization cues is kind of a hallmark of the condition.

I spend a few minutes trying to educate myself a little (I shouldn’t reason from my armchair about how it must be for people with conditions I don’t have either) and I find a paper which tells me that it’s not unheard of for people with ASD to do sexual things that neurotypical people would find obscene and avoid like the plague, like masturbating in public. It also mentions one account of an ASD man in a sexual relationship with a minor who mentioned the fact to police when said minor stole his stereo. That doesn’t sound like he understands either that he is doing something wrong, or that he understands that it’s illegal.

(It doesn’t discuss the exact nature of his impairment, but this is discussed in relationship to lack of understanding of social norms)

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11195-013-9286-8

unfortunately not open access.

25

hix 07.23.19 at 2:55 pm

There seems to be an asumption that not being convicted as sane means one goes free. The alternative would be that one has to spend possibly much longer than with a regular conviction at a forensic hospital, no? At least that would be the German situation.

26

Belle Waring 07.23.19 at 4:08 pm

Chaz: “I didn’t read the article, but…”
Yeah maybe you should fucking get to that before you tell me how wrong I am, because this is a terrible article that is tendentious and obviously false in almost every particular?

“I think by far the dominant reason that people oppose child pornography is simply that they know it is illegal and because they know it is socially taboo to be attracted to children. I would bet money that most people are immediately averse to nude child photos* but only because they have been socialized to see it as taboo, not because they have thought through the complexities of abuse in the porn industry.”

There are no complexities!!! There are children being sexually abused! If it is only a social taboo preventing you from enjoying child porn you are a bad and dangerous person!

arcsecond: “I also think it’s incredibly simplistic to think that cognition breaks down simply to ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘intellectual intelligence’ and suppose that people who are competent at some things in one of those groups are competent at everything in that group. This isn’t even true of neurotypical people, let alone people with complex syndromes.”

I think that too, which is why I’m criticizing a stupid article that relies very extensively on this dumb distinction and then fails on its own terms. Has anyone bothered to read the article? Also, child pornography is not like food production or the climate changing evils of petroleum. Its violence is immediately present to the eye, and if it’s not, it’s immediately present to the mind. I literally don’t understand how anyone is disputing this and you are all scaring me.

CA: I did consider that this is excessively harsh, and I apologize for disturbing you in this way, but I really think you need to consider the main case in the article, a man who, as I have mentioned, has ordinary intelligence allowing him to earn a PhD, showing that he is extremely high-functioning, and has the emotional intelligence of a 7-11 year old. The PhD level intelligence should have enabled him to understand that children do not voluntarily perform in a vile sex industry (which realization should, as I say, take a nano-second to arrive at.) His emotional level is also such as should have allowed him to use his imagination to think of what is happening to another person, because even younger children could do this, if with more difficulty. I am not going to lecture you about something on which you are a thousand times more knowledgeable that I am, but parents of autistic people whom I have met are always at pains to make clear that their child is very much not an unfeeling robot incapable of imagining or caring about the interior lives of others, just someone for whom such imaginings and understandings can require difficult work and repeated consideration.

“I’m not going to argue about these cases of stalking, and pornography, which I don’t know the details of. ” OK, but these are precisely the cases presented in the article! Along with one incident of sexual assault! I recommend reading the article! It is genuinely insulting to people with autism in its repeated contention that autistic people are particularly likely to commit accidental sex crimes. I don’t think this is true!

“I empathize with your stalker more than a bit and, while you have and had all the rights to prevent said guy to stalk you, I think it doesn’t make sense to frame the situation in moral terms (with said guy being bad), rather I think it’s better to frame the situation in practical terms (you have the right of not being stalked, even if the guy doesn’t have mens rea).”

This is the only response to my stalking problem and I must say I find it irritating. Why should I not think of this person as bad? He terrified me over a period of many months, transforming slowly from an acquaintance to a disturbing monopolizer of my time to a threatening figure I began to see more and more outside everywhere I went. I just don’t see why I’m supposed to care about whatever reasons he had for doing this. I really can’t express how much I don’t care.

This article wouldn’t have pissed me off so much if a) it hadn’t been deep-cut contrarian clickbait in which serious sexual misconduct was excused more than explained b) I weren’t the victim of repeated sexual assaults. This makes people twitchy and angry and perhaps even irrational.

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Chetan Murthy 07.23.19 at 4:46 pm

CA:

But to claim, as you do, in so many words, that we shouldn’t care about what goes on in the mind of an autistic person when such a case arises strikes me as incredibly unforgiving. Even if it isn’t relevant to whether something counts as a crime, to claim that it isn’t relevant to how we respond to that crime, or to how we treat the offender within the criminal justice system, is remarkable.

It’s has never been clear to me why this (first sentence) should matter so much. If I am a victim of a crime, the *most* compassion I can manage for the perpetrator, is to want that that perpetrator never commit the crime (or related crimes) again, against me or other victims. [Again, *most* compassion I can manage:] If [a stern talking-to, or] education can accomplish this end, that’s great! If not, and if incarceration can do it, so be it.

But what matters to me, is that I and other victims are not aggressed-against.

ISTM this “mens rea” standard is all about efficiently (that is, with minimum harm to all) and justly achieving the above end. It recognizes that treating someone who negligently kills a person, the same as someone who plots to do it, doesn’t efficiently achieve the end of deterring people from killing others. If a perp’s state of mind does not affect whether they commit the offending act, then I don’t see why it should be considered as in any way mitigating that act.

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engels 07.23.19 at 5:06 pm

Why should I not think of this person as bad? He terrified me

I don’t mean to sound glib or unsympathetic about what happened, which sounds awful, but by that logic it seems you could pass moral judgment on animals, storms, falling rocks, … I know Kant has his detractors but by 2019 it’s hard to get outside the idea that people’s intentions are at least somewhat relevant to the moral evaluation of their behaviour. That doesn’t mean you can’t condemn him but I think it means that in order to do so you have to tell some sort of negative story about his assumptions, desires, decisions (or lack of them) rather than just pointing to the impact on you. (Apologies if that isn’t really the argument you’re making but it does sound like that from the last comment.)

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Philip 07.23.19 at 5:48 pm

I’m a support worker for autistic adults and it now turns out that I am autistic too. Yes, the article is bullshit – ignoring the victims and making wrong generalisations about autistic people. Dubin appears to be using his autism to excuse his behaviour and that is a disservice to autistic people. I see no reason why victims should care if the perpetrators are autistic or not or that they should empathise or try and empathise with the perpetrator. I have thought before about the social model of disability and autism. How far can society be changed to accommodate people with a social development condition? Asking victims of sexual crime to understand/excuse the perpetrators is not right in my opinion.

However, that does not mean that the fact a perpetrator is autistic is irrelevant and that they should not be empathised with at all. One truism about autism is that if you have met one autistic person then you have met one autistic person, i.e. every autistic person is an individual and there autism effects them in an individual way it is impossible to make assumptions from the general to the individual level. For that reason I strongly disagree with the lawyer in the article who is quoted as saying “There should be an escape from sex-offender registration for those with autism spectrum disorder who are first offenders with no history of inappropriate contact with children”. It might be appropriate for some autistic people but not all.

More and better education for autistic people around sex, sexuality, and relationships would help prevent sexual crimes as well as helping autistic people form intimate relationships. Understanding a perpetrator’s autism should help to figure out what to do after the fact. Is the person capable of understanding why their actions were wrong and of responding differently in similar future circumstances? Is criminal justice the best route to go down and if so will being on a register help? Etc. In each case the answers to these questions will differ.

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Belle Waring 07.23.19 at 6:10 pm

engels: suggesting that my argument requires that I attribute malice to particularly loud thunderclaps is, indeed, glib and dismissive! As I mentioned above, stalking someone is likely to begin from some kind of sexual interest, but once you get to the point of stalking someone, I think it is a form of control and I guess continuous threat of violence, particularly sexual violence. I realize that I sound unreasonable on this point, and in the abstract I do recognize that intent matters, but in the particular case I don’t care and can’t really imagine what would bring me to care. Would it be reasonable to conclude from a putative lack of understanding on his part, coupled with some inability ever to gain such understanding, that I should extend him the courtesy of continuing to stalk me? Why not? Isn’t it precisely because we care more about harm to me than about his right to go on performing an action he believes just? In which case, aren’t we discarding his right in favor of my right to remain unharmed, which is just what I’m saying above?

I have read Kant before, in a move that no doubt shocks all. I also care in principle about what people are thinking about when they commit crimes. In the cases discussed in these article, the intent seems very dubious and far from exculpatory. Additionally, I am bringing actual experience to the discussion by explaining how I felt as the actual victim of a crime. It is my personal experience that, in this case, I only care about how I felt, and that if it were explained to me that I was wronging an innocent who actually intended only to persuade me to vote Democratic, then I would say, “fuck you I don’t care.” That this is a case in which I am seriously biased, and one that I might evaluate differently if someone else were the victim may be true, but then maybe I would be being a dick to her and discounting her feelings in the interests of deontological ethics. I just basically hate sex offenders due to terrible life experiences, which makes me searingly not care what they think, is the thing. I would generally say that I consider people suffering from autism are less likely overall to commit serious crimes of this sort, because rape or sexual assault often require planning and the willingness to suddenly touch someone in strange way, and to commit violence. I was raped by someone more plausibly described as a sociopath: an excellent judge of personality and the interior self of others, so that he was able to plan well, combined with a chilling lack of sympathy for the person that would lead you to rape a crying 16-year-old. However, if, hypothetically, due to some mental lack he was actually incapable of understanding that I didn’t consent to the act, and after this were explained to him he felt horror and remorse, I would still like to THROW HIM INTO A CAULDRON OF BOILING MERCURY.

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J-D 07.23.19 at 10:05 pm

I know it’s not the main point of this discussion (I have nothing to contribute to that discussion that adds to what’s already there), but I am still gobsmacked by the idea of a therapist recommending a patient/client (autistic or otherwise) look at pornography to get a better understanding of sexuality. What kind of therapist is that? A therapist who knows nothing about pornography shouldn’t be making that kind of recommendation; and a therapist who knows something about pornography shouldn’t be making that kind of recommendation.

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Saurs 07.23.19 at 10:23 pm

I don’t mean to sound glib or unsympathetic about what happened, which sounds awful, but by that logic it seems you could pass moral judgment on animals, storms, falling rocks

Somebody spending weeks or months ramping up a stalking campaign, figuring out where their victim will be and timing it so they meet them, forcing interactions and conversations in the face of obvious cues that this behavior is unwanted by the victim and is not getting the perpetrator what he actually wants (so he chooses to do more each time) is not a force of nature but a series of conscious, self-interested decisions requiring enough intellect to decide more is better and the effort is worth it to him.

The idea that you can’t judge a person for his choices because we can’t know his intentions* is so childish, it doesn’t really merit much comment, beyond acknowledging the presence of some very special pleading that only happens when we’re discussing things like women’s autonomy, where “telling a negative story” means “for once, privileging a woman’s point of view when hearing about something you didn’t witness and have no stake in evaluating.” It really dumbfounds some people, the idea that you might simply trust a woman when she says this is what happened and what I felt matters because I did nothing wrong and didn’t ask for this and this shithead didn’t care what I wanted.

*we do: he wanted to pull. It may come as a surprise to engels and company, but a man wanting to fuck a specific woman isn’t actually a value-neutral desire. We’re free to judge him as a delusional egotist, an asshole, a lech, or someone very much likely to do any number of terrible things to secure that fuck and therefore judge that intention as threatening, as insulting, as anything we fucking want to. His intention wasn’t benevolent. You know how I know? Because Belle wasn’t fucking interested and he picked up on that, which is why he escalated his encounters, hoping to wear her down or create an opportunity to intimidate or assault her. Stop playing dumb so unconvincingly.

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bob mcmanus 07.24.19 at 1:49 am

Anecdote is not argument, except when it is. The attempt to derive generalizations from radical particulars can either be done via semantics, logical, rule-based/authoritarian, and masculinist; or by pragmatics: contextual, empathetic, co-operative and largely feminist. The greater the defense of the particularity of the anecdote the more radical and social the pragmatics. Listen and co-operate, don’t compete, except on Belle’s terms, with support or escalating/de-escalating anecdotes of your own. Or whatever, I don’t care. This hegemonic dance was boring years ago.

Saurs is fun.

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Belle Waring 07.24.19 at 1:51 am

Saurs: FUCKING thank you.
Hey MisterMr.: I have recovered from my spasm of anger and and I am now deeply curious. “Some years ago I acted exactly as your stalker. In fact I realized what I was doing very, very late, and when I realized I was shocked that I didn’t realize it before, so that I read some book on emotive intelligence to understand how could I behave that way without realizing.
I came to the conclusion that I have a very low emotive intelligence, and years later when I by chance learned about asperger this made me think that I am one.
I empathize with your stalker more than a bit…”

OK, what did you think you were doing while you did this? What did you think she thought about what you were doing? What made you realize you were terribly in the wrong? Didi you apologize or just leave her alone, the latter being preferable IME. I would very much appreciate finding out, so I hope you are still lurking.

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Belle Waring 07.24.19 at 1:59 am

Also, you say you empathize with my stalker ‘quite a bit’; doesn’t that suggest an ability to empathize with…for example…people whom you are stalking? Or is it just that you’ve made strides in this area and have more empathy now?

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MisterMr 07.24.19 at 6:02 am

There was this coworker, I had a strong crush on her, we dated a few days but then she dumped me.

After this I continuously, for more than a year, attempted to stay with her in all occasions, at lunch break, bumping in her conversations etc., even when it was evident that she didn’t appreciate it. Obviously as we were coworkers she couldn’t get rid of me.
I don’t think I ever got to the point of being menacing, although I can’t know it for sure (I certainly didn’t plan anything menacing).

I did realize that she disliked my behavior but, essentially, I didn’t want to see it.
But in hindsight I think that I could lie to myself for such a long time because to a certain degree I perceive cues on personal interactions less strongly than the norm (this is my opinion, as I said I was never diagnosed by anything).

In the end I just refrained from acting that way, although being coworkers this was difficult (we are not coworkers anymore, in case you are wondering).

When I say that I empathize with your stalker I mean that since I’ve been in a similar situation I see myself in him.

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Saurs 07.24.19 at 6:20 am

Pretty sure, almost by definition, this PhD has a documented history of thinking things through logically and (see: his degree, his career) for his own gain. Pretending we accept as honest and complete his explanation, deciding that looking at naked children is fun enough not to question too rigorously the availability and origin of his photographs or think too deeply about the children depicted was, yes, an active decision. Choosing not to think critically or examine something too closely lest you find fault with it and ruin your fun does not mean you lack the capacity to do so or, indeed, the willingness, when the spirit moves you. Failing to think things through is not a legal defense, nor is it a habit for which people on the spectrum hold patent. All of us are as myopic and stupid as we can get away with. Dubin’s angle now, a decade later, is that he was punished for his autism, not for being willfully uninterested in sussing out the ethics of his porn consumption, an ethical obligation adults the world over have been grappling with for years.

He’s a few years older than me. By his early 30s, as Belle says, he had heard of the concepts of slave labor and exploitative labor practices. He had heard of child pornography before. His profession more or less guarantees that he knows what child abuse is, and that autistic children are especially vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse by the adults in their lives, their parents, their parents’s acquaintances, their doctors, their teachers, their care-givers, the religious authorities of their community. He was a well-known figure in the autistic community when he was arrested. Apathy and incuriosity about where his pornography of choice comes from and at the expense of who are not aberrations and are shared by many, “intentional” consumers of child pornography included. If he wanted to elude punishment, he had to offer some kind of defense. This is what he chose. If he were guilty of actively seeking out that pornography rather than stumbling upon it, the defense for charges of doing so would be nearly indistinguible from the one did offer, which is why some skepticism is warranted. When there is no meaningful difference, it’s hard to conclude that his account absolves him.

Still, it’s ludicrous to pretend Dubin never added two to two and discovered four and then just kept that inconvenient sum to himself. Some Great Man of History once advised us not to automatically attempt to make a rational conclusion more complex than it need to be. In this case, here is a person caught with child pornography and his explanation (“who is it really hurting, me sitting here?”) is exactly the same as everyone else’s, PhD or nowt, autism or no. Makes you think, or, really, perhaps not.

If you want the big thoughts, here is a guy who definitely knows he isn’t 11 or 7 years old and knew as much when he was arrested, only a few years after being formally diagnosed as autistic. He spent his entire adolescence, adulthood, and post-graduate career amongst his fellow teenagers and then adults, wondering if he was gay or not, struggling to date women. He knows what his degree is in; he recognizes the distinction between a child’s mind and his own, otherwise, what the hell did he study? His career, post-conviction, appears to focus on young autistic people and their legal rights. So, forgetting all that, if we can; sure, children are known to have a sexual interest in their fellow children. They also—because they are not islands unto themselves and are, in fact, just as highly socialized as our hero—feel the effects of our culture’s sexualization of adults and adult bodies. It’s normal, regular, unremarkable for kids to get a pash for their elders. Dubin never says he was confusing children for adults; he just didn’t see the naked children he was looking at as human and real, and that the act of the photography was, itself, abuse. That’s a perspective not specific to neuroatypical people at all.

Part of what’s going on here, I reckon, is that Dubin has leveraged this experience for professional gain. The bright spot here is that the overall lesson he’s helping to spread in this regard appears to be sound, informed, healthy, and helpful. I’m glad he and his father are choosing to advocate the right position, even though the explanation for his own offense is implausible. And it’s good he agrees that the goal should be prevention/diversion, which protects everybody, rather than automatic exoneration. Pace everyone else in that article, though, there will be crimes autistic people commit that necessitate a prison sentence. Pretending otherwise is not helpful for the people they are trying to protect (mostly from themselves.)

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Belle Waring 07.24.19 at 11:45 am

welp, that was thoughtful and well-reasoned. Thanks!
MisterMr: also thanks! You weren’t in the same situation as my stalker in that you didn’t follow her around outside in the dark, which is really truly frightening. I do think if that were happening to me at work I would be very unhappy, to the point of possibly not wanting to work there anymore. I’m glad you stopped, and thanks for your honesty in acknowledging that you did know she was suffering, but just didn’t want to think about it too hard, and were able to avoid thinking about it by pushing down an already somewhat attenuated sense of her feelings.

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arcseconds 07.24.19 at 12:14 pm

I did read the article, I just don’t agree that it’s obvious that an autistic person would realise ‘in a nanosecond’ it’s wrong. You say it’s “immediately present to the mind” but on what basis do you think that it’s immediately present to the autistic mind? I don’t know very much about autism but I do know that things that are “immediately present” and obvious to the neurotypical mind are frequently not so present and obvious to the autistic mind, which neurotypical people often find immensely frustrating, baffling, unbelievable, disturbing, etc. I don’t find myself in a position to assert things about what must be obvious to people with a serious and complex mental condition on the basis of what is obvious to me, and I don’t find myself able to agree with these kind of assertions from someone else, either.

To take a condition I do know a little bit more about, people with Cotard’s syndrome think they are dead (or something similar). The fact that they are not is, to people without the syndrome, the most obvious thing in the world, so it’s easy to be totally baffled and incredulous about the whole thing (“how could they possibly think that?” – how could there even be a question about this). They are often extremely resistant to reason on this point, but they can reason fine about other matters. We might be tempted to suppose that as their reasoning isn’t massively impaired across the board (including about what counts as being alive, or who apart from them is alive and dead), they must also be able to apply this to their own status (and therefore perhaps be tempted to think it must be an act) but such is not the case.

(My point here isn’t that this is particularly similar to autism; I am pointing out the dangers of neurotypical people making assumptions about the reasoning powers of a neuroatypical person.)

Here’s a rough outline of some things I think one needs to register to be able to work out for oneself that pornographic pictures of naked children is wrong:

– that it’s shameful to be seen naked by strangers in public
– that certain poses are particularly shameful
– that the fact that being naked in a photograph is just as bad or worse, even if you never interact with the strangers
– that children also know this and won’t do this of their own accord, and will feel extremely uncomfortable if someone asks them to do it
– that to get them to do it will require some kind of manipulation – punishment, reward, talking them into it
– that some people find these photos arousing (even if you don’t)
– that having photos distributed of you for the purposes of arousal is a bad thing that people object to
– that some of these people end up terribly emotionally manipulating and physically abusing children, and the presence of photos may contribute to that.
– that the people taking the photos may also be terribly emotionally manipulating and physically abusing the children in those photos.

Here are a bunch of confounding factors:
– naked children in public and naked pictures of children are just fine under other circumstances.
– naked pictures of adults and even occassionally naked adults are just fine under other circumstances
– photos of adults in (some of) those same poses are also fine(ish, or at least not illegal and utterly horrifying to everyone) under a more restrictive set of circumstances
– things that you personally would find shameful or extremely uncomfortable other people (adults and children) do not
– in particular, children sometimes like being naked
– adults reward, punish, and talk children into things they don’t want to do all the time, and this is usally fine.

Also pontentially: you’ve been told that naked pictures of adults is shameful and wrong. But then someone you trust tells you that actually they’re fine.

This doesn’t look like the work of a nanosecond to me, and it looks like it’s riddled with a lot of social, emotional, and contextual understandings and distinctions rather than some IQ-test type puzzle, and if someone has a lot of difficulties in those areas I would not necessarily expect them to be able to work this out at all.

Actually, I doubt many neurotypical people could work it out either: the normal reaction is one of unmediated horror, and I think a lot of people are not going to get past that horror, they’ll just tell you it’s obviously wrong, and become disturbed that you’re continuing to talk about it. I don’t have a high opinion of the average level of moral reasoning, particularly when sex is involved.

(Don’t get me started about consent!)

Maybe you’re right and this guy is a predator with a clever excuse. I don’t know. It’s certainly worth thinking about because if it’s not this guy then someone is bound to use this as an excuse, so we should probably not be too credulous.

One would like to think the doctorate in psychology and the job with young people would mean he’d have to have come across it (but then again one finds astronomy graduates who are unable to explain what causes the seasons, etc.).

Saurs’ point that failure to think things through isn’t a defense is also worth thinking about — but I think the legal standard is normally something like “what a reasonable person would think of” which may not be a fair standard when the mode of reasoning isn’t really available to you.

I just find the argument that “it’s obvious” is totally unconvincing when we’re talking about people for whom many obvious things are in fact not obvious.

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Lynne 07.24.19 at 12:32 pm

From today’s paper:
https://torontosun.com/news/crime/acquittals-of-breast-measuring-violin-teacher-overturned
A man who taught children the violin for many years and routinely touched the girls’ breasts and nipples, purportedly to fit them with violin rests, was originally acquitted of sexual and indecent assault charges because the judge believed he had no sexual motivation.

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Rob 07.24.19 at 1:25 pm

In general, the law takes into consideration both the effects and the intent behind a person’s actions. Evidence from a victim that the effects were severe would tend to increase the likelihood of harsh punishment, and evidence of malicious intent and premeditation would do the same. Mitigating factors such as mental illness or developmental disorders might reduce our use of punishment, not only because it may be unfair but also because it may be less likely to be effective. This is just a normal day at the courtroom.

Personally, I find it easy enough to imagine that Dubin didn’t entirely understand what he was doing. I’m not terribly interested in taking his lawyer’s word for it, or that of his parents or personal therapist, but if experts on autism say that it’s plausible, I don’t see much point in disagreeing with them.

Nor do I find the suggestions of better and more appropriate sex education to be misguided. If our concern is to reduce harm, this seems like the way to do it, and more likely to be effective than harsh punishment of people like Dubin (not that he doesn’t deserve punishment on a personal level, I’m just skeptical of the deterrent effect). If the figure in the article, that autistic people are twice as likely to receive no sex education at all, is accurate, then that would seem like a problem that should be urgently addressed. While we’re at it, we could probably improve the standard of sex and relationship education across the board.

Obviously it’s hurtful to ask the victims to have greater empathy here – they owe nothing to anyone, least of all a person who has caused them suffering. This is why criminal cases are brought by state prosecutors and heard by judges and juries, from whom the full range of emotional and intellectual intelligence can be demanded in order to produce the right outcome, which inevitably involves balancing a set of factors. It’s not unfair to ask them to have empathy in a case where a mitigating factor can be presented (though obviously we have to be wary of false appeals for empathy).

If you don’t believe that autistic people can have these difficulties, then the whole thing does look quite a bit darker – a claim of victim status to protect oneself against the consequences of one’s own actions. And yes, that definitely is a thing that people do. If that’s what Dubin is doing, then he’s doubly bad. I just don’t know who I should trust more than the psychologist on that question.

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MPAVictoria 07.24.19 at 2:12 pm

“my life is a long series tasks before which I quail in needless fear as if they were copperheads looking at me with their glittering eyes”

This sentence is the best thing I will read today and likely all week. I am legit shook by it.

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Ebenezer Scrooge 07.24.19 at 4:12 pm

Most criminals are suffering from some kind of mental malfunction: lack of empathy, grandiosity, poor executive control, outright sociopathy, etc. Does this, then, mean that there is no such thing as crime?
It’s really not an easy question. You have your choice of moral monstrosities. I don’t think we can exist as a society without a fairly strong notion of criminal responsibility. But the notion of criminal responsibility is–uhh–irresponsible.

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oldster 07.24.19 at 6:06 pm

Belle, I sometimes wonder why you even try. The astounding volleys of misunderstanding and bad faith that you get in return would crush a lesser soul.

Well, keep trying, now and then. Some of us hear you.

And presumably writing this and engaging with comments was not significantly less pleasant, or less productive, than cleaning the stove with a boning knife.

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Philip 07.24.19 at 8:44 pm

The more I’ve thought about this article the angrier I have got. Generally it’s the tone of poor autistic sex offenders being unfairly treated while ignoring the harm done to victims. If it had been framed as how to help prevent autistic people from being sex offenders and what is the best way to deal with autistic offenders – then that would have been better. Then all of the anecdotes are of male perpetrators and autistic women are written out. Worst of all in discussing autistic people, sex, and relationships it does not mention that autistic people can be more vulnerable and at risk of abuse and the difficulties they can have in dealing with being abused.

This is a TED talk from Alix Generous where she talks about her abuse and the effect on her.

This is another talk with Alix, Liane Holliday-Willey, and Temple Grandin where Alix and Liane talk about their abuse and have a bit of a wider discussion (from about 44 minutes).

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engels 07.25.19 at 1:37 am

It may come as a surprise to engels and company, but a man wanting to fuck a specific woman isn’t actually a value-neutral desire.

Saurs I’m rather hurt that you think I’ve been reading these threads for over a decade and still have not absorbed the lesson that male heterosexual desire is inherently sinful, dangerous and oppressive.

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faustusnotes 07.25.19 at 2:15 am

To follow up on saur’s comment, this idea that child pornography (or indeed child sexual abuse) is an outrageous thing that all human beings automatically know is wrong – and that only someone with broken or delayed socialization wouldn’t understand is wrong – is a very a modern thing. And when I say modern I mean the last 10 or 20 years. Mandatory reporting of child abuse was only introduce in Australia in the mid-1990s and we were ahead; many nations still don’t have this requirement, so presumably work on the assumption that it’s not universally obvious that child abuse should be reported, or that your decision to report it should be supported by your colleagues. This matters if you work in e.g. a small private school where every parent’s money is important, and have no legal basis for reporting someone who is abusive. You’ll lose your job for that, in many jurisdictions.

When I was young at school and uni there were young women in my social circle who had been abused, and in many cases their parents didn’t believe them or didn’t ostracize the abusers from their social world, and certainly there were no legal ramifications. These were parents who loved their children but they didn’t think much of their sexual agency. This was only 20 years ago, and this general lack of respect for the seriousness of this issue is why people like Savile and Epstein were so successful.

A particularly good example of this is the nudist societies that my parents were part of and forced me to participate in as a child. These people have special secluded parks for being naked in nature, and they insist their children – even adolescents – do so too. They get super defensive of their privacy though and do everything they can (including legal remedies) to stop non-nudists peeking. But at the same time the back pages of their magazines were advertising videos of naked children playing in nudist camps, for anyone to buy. They were selling child pornography, basically, well aware that the children hadn’t consented to these images being sold on and well aware of how they were being used. They just didn’t think it mattered. But it mattered a lot to them if someone stole a glimpse at an adult without their permission!

It’s always a surprise to me that people think it’s natural that a basic human with basic human decency would think child sexual abuse or porn is wrong. Until 20 years ago nobody cared about this issue much at all, especially when it happened to poor or disadvantaged children and especially (as saur observes) children with disabilities or autism. There was a revolution in Australia 20 years ago as the people who did care about it finally forced the rest of society to notice. So the idea that it requires some special form of developmental disability or socialization disorder to have to not realize this is wrong, to me that’s a weird and backward idea. Without an entire social movement – backed up by strong legal sanctions – telling society that child abuse is wrong, perfectly normal, well-socialized people will think it’s fine or at least no big deal and will look the other way while it happens all around them. I mean, there is video evidence of Savile sexually assaulting a child on national tv and nobody at the time thought it mattered. So no, to me, the degree of social skills required to “get it” are irrelevant. It’s entirely about what society tells you is legal and not legal, and if you think otherwise you’re either very young, or constructing a very rosy view of how children were treated in your youth.

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Chetan Murthy 07.25.19 at 2:35 am

Rob @ 41:

If you don’t believe that autistic people can have these difficulties, then the whole thing does look quite a bit darker – a claim of victim status to protect oneself against the consequences of one’s own actions.

But this isn’t accurate at all. Certainly it doesn’t seem to me what Ms. Waring has been saying. NOT AT ALL. She’s been saying [my words here]”sure, maybe for a more profoundly autistic person, the calculus would be a little different”[end my words] but this is a man with a PhD (in psychology) who works with children.

To pretend that somehow he is like (our pop-culture idea of) “typical” autistic people is a slur against autistic people. He is arguably an incredibly high-functioning autistic person.

Or are you saying that everybody on “the spectrum” gets a free pass to look at as much cihld porn as they want, stalk anybody they want, howsoever they want?

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faustusnotes 07.25.19 at 5:05 am

arcsecond your chain of reasoning about what is needed to understand kiddy porn is wrong is 20 years out of date. Yes 20 years ago when people first started taking kiddy porn seriously, the population as a whole needed to be taught these things. But now the required chain of reasoning is:

– is this kiddy porn?
– this is illegal and my entire society tells me it’s illegal, so I shouldn’t do it

That’s it. You need no more than that. If you want to argue that an autistic person of Dubin’s background isn’t capable of understanding either of those steps then fine do so, but don’t try and argue that the dude who accessed the kiddy sex picture on a porn site had to also go through the entire gamut of reasoning you describe. He didn’t. He just needed to recognize that what he downloaded was likely illegal, and stop right there.

(This is the gist of my other comment which has gone missing: most of us don’t decide kiddy porn is wrong because we go through these complex moral steps. We decide because 10-20 years ago society decided to stamp it out, and now we play our role in this process).

50

MisterMr 07.25.19 at 6:33 am

@Belle Waring

Actually the idea that she could be suffering didn’t cross my mind.

That I could be annoying or acting in a shameful way, yes, but that I could be causing suffering never.

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Rob 07.25.19 at 7:15 am

Chetan Murthy @48:

Or are you saying that everybody on “the spectrum” gets a free pass to look at as much cihld porn as they want, stalk anybody they want, howsoever they want?

No. First of all, the question isn’t about “free passes”, it’s “should we, given that we already weigh matters of intent when deciding punishment, take developmental disorders like autism into consideration more than we do already?”.

I would argue “yes, if psychologists asses the individual as having less capacity to understand that what they are doing is wrong” is a reasonable position to take. That’s a long way from a free pass.

…but this is a man with a PhD (in psychology) who works with children.

To pretend that somehow he is like (our pop-culture idea of) “typical” autistic people is a slur against autistic people. He is arguably an incredibly high-functioning autistic person.

I get it. I too find it hard to imagine that a person with a PhD and a job and a degree of standing in his community could be so very ignorant of the norms of that community, or so incapable of understanding that he is violating those norms by his actions. But I am not persuaded by “well, he doesn’t look that autistic to me!” as a means of determining whether it’s true or not. We have trained psychologists for this.

If we can agree that there are people with sufficient developmental difficulties that they might have a diminished capacity to understand the effects of their actions, or the moral wrongness of viewing certain content on the internet, then I think that people with those difficulties should be treated differently from those who do not have them. There might even be two victims with equivalent levels of suffering, and we’d still choose to treat the perpetrators differently if we knew that one of them had a severe developmental issue. I feel like I might be disagreeing with Belle here, but I may also be misunderstanding her point.

A real question is whether Dubin had such difficulties. The article doesn’t make a great case either way – I’d expect his lawyer to argue his case, ditto his parents. I don’t imagine that many of us in the thread are experts, so I’d be inclined to go with the psychologist’s opinion. How else are we meant to decide?

Alternatively, Slate is a trash rag and at least parts of the article are in some kind of bad faith. The reporter doesn’t actually directly quote Dubin’s psychologist, but two other psychologists saying that this is the kind of problem that we have to deal with when working out if an autistic person really understood what they were doing and its effects. No hard questions were asked of Dubin’s lawyer, and in fact Dubin is used as an incidental prop for a broader argument; perhaps the facts had to be presented so as to support that argument. Maybe Dubin is a bad example of someone who is being punished for something they were (to some degree) incapable of understanding. This is entirely possible, and we need to ensure that the psychological assessments that the legal system is using in making its decisions are of sufficient quality to make these determinations more accurately than a Slate reporter (or a CT commenter!) would.

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faustusnotes 07.25.19 at 7:54 am

Out of interest, was this guy required to complete any kind of working with children check as part of his qualifications for his job? In Australia I had to go through these for work and for my kickboxing coaching accreditation, simply because of the possibility I might interact with children (I did at kickboxing but never had to at work). If this guy didn’t have to go through such a process, that’s a sign right there of how much society as a whole is telling him what it values and what it doesn’t.

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engels 07.25.19 at 11:32 am

Ok you want anecdotes? When I was about 14 I remember being in a shop with my parents and stretching out my arms and accidentally whacking the breast of a shop
assistant who was just walking in from another room behind my field of vision with the back of my hand. If I’d intended to do that it would have been sexual assault I suppose. But I didn’t so it wasn’t. I think the intentional context of my action affected both the ‘victim’s’ judgment of it and the harm done. She saw it wasn’t intentional so she wasn’t angry with me or ashamed about it (I think she was still slightly embarrassed and annoyed). Had I been able to time my stretching, by looking in an overhead mirror say, things would have been different. I don’t think this requires empathy in any strong sense, just an instinctive ability to interpret the behaviour of other rational agents through assumptions about their mental states which we all have and can’t really switch off, unless we’re cognitively impaired, or perhaps preoccupied with overwhelming emotions (in courtrooms judges and juries may engage in the same processes in a more serious and formalised way).

I don’t think anyone really disagrees with this (and the fact that Saurs responded do my previous comment with a detailed and convincing, albeit speculative, tale of ‘what it is like to be a stalker’ might seem to confirm this) but at times they are claiming to. FIN.

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Belle Waring 07.25.19 at 1:16 pm

Chetan Murphy again points out what I said above. This article is mainly about one man with a PhD, undoubtedly one of the highest functioning autistic people that can be imagined. We are to believe both that he was unaware that porn existed on the internet at 33 and that no one ever told him child porn was wrong. This is beyond implausible. Even mere societal disapproval should have done enough to stop this if ethical chain reasoning did not.

Then we are invited to consider an alleged para-crime in which a stalker is motivated by something adjacent to sexual desire. But very close! And the effect on the victim is identical! And as a victim of stalking I find myself looking back to care what my stalker was thinking exactly (I will say it was sexual desire of some sort.) This is my personal reaction to a crime of which I was a victim and a valid point in a discussion of the crimes. And consider Lynne’s case above. Is it not infuriating? In short, I am motivated by a criticism of a particular, very bad article, and neither by hatred of autistic people or an ignorance of criminal intent nor a desire to prosecute every case based on the effects on the victim and never the intentions of the criminal. If everyone were to calm the fuck down this would be more evident. Finally, I repeat, I have been the victim of what I hope is an unusual number of sex crimes in my life. This makes me alternately ashamed and CONSUMED WITH TOWERING RIGHTEOUS RAGE, and the latter is better. So I hate sex offenders and don’t care about them, in particular.

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bianca steele 07.25.19 at 1:19 pm

“Per the definitions above, realizing that child pornography is wrong does not require emotional intelligence. It requires intellectual intelligence.”

I was thinking about this on and off all day yesterday, and I think it’s an important point, but I also don’t see why what the quote describes (which the OP is disagreeing with) is emotional intelligence at all. It describes a process of induction over social experience, a common *intellectual* understanding shared with a community, an understanding of language and definitions and correct uses of words like “right” and “wrong.” Maybe there’s a psychological reason why emotional reasoning is connected with knowledge of social norms, but I wouldn’t have expected autism to be linked strongly or primarily with something like “exclusion from shared conceptual knowledge.”

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Belle Waring 07.25.19 at 4:26 pm

Let’s reason again, setting obvious societal pressures which someone with a PhD who works with children has surely been educated about at some point aside.
1. Children are in sexualized poses.
2. Children can’t consent to sex.
BOOM. HEADSHOT.
I will say that my psychologist regards towering righteous rage, which in all honesty I have only recently acquired because this is what CBT and trauma work are for, as good. The rage will perhaps be replaced by some more gentle coping mechanism eventually. I have been doing it for three months and trauma work is terrible by the way. Maybe it’s making me twitchy on this subject. No, definitely it is. I mean, I guess it will work eventually but seriously I hate my life. Denial and minimization are way better. 10 out of 10 would repress all feelings again.

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Stephen 07.25.19 at 4:58 pm

Belle: re towering righteous rage. In what circumstances, if any, are other people entitled to use towering righteous rage against you?

Disclaimer: I do not myself think there are any. Still …

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Belle Waring 07.25.19 at 5:08 pm

Maybe if I sexually abused them or some shit? Withheld food from them when they were 11 and 12? Fucked them up with a heated steak knife? Roughed up their toddler real bad? Vivisected and skinned their cat? Set fire to their home? I’m sure you could think of something.

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LFC 07.25.19 at 5:41 pm

Re desire and desires (cf. Saurs @32):
I think it might be well to remember the most memorable line spoken by Freud’s patient Little Hans: “…wanting’s not doing, and doing’s not wanting.” (S. Freud, “Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy” [1909])

That a five-year-old, albeit a rather precocious one, grasped the distinction between desire (“wanting”) and behavior (“doing”) suggests that the distinction is a fairly intuitive one.

One can judge particular desires as antisocial, harmful, and/or illegal *if acted upon*, but as long as desires stay in a person’s head and don’t result in any behavior involving other people, then those desires, no matter how incomprehensible and/or disgusting one might find them, are not harming anyone. If my next-door neighbor, to take a hypothetical example, wants to have sexual intercourse with dogs but does not own a dog and never even so much as touches a dog (or for that matter looks at pictures of dogs on the Internet), it’s really none of my damn business what his or her sexual fantasies and desires are.

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Stephen 07.25.19 at 6:18 pm

Belle: when I said people may not be entitled to use towering righteous rage against you, I did not for one moment suppose you had suffered anything of the sort you describe. I did not realise that all, or any, of these things had happened to you. Of course they are possible, and rage would be entirely understandable as a result. My deep sympathy. Unfortunately, towering righteous rage is not always targeted against people who have in reality acted outrageously (see the current Carl Beech story in the UK for an example).

Still, as a counter-example, I would recommend to you Arlene Foster, the present leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. Her father was shot at their home by the PIRA, her family were forced to leave their farm, she was on a school bus that was blown up by the PIRA. You might regard that as a reason, even if not as serious as what you have endured, for towering righteous rage. Instead of which, she went into government in NI together with Sinn Fein (the political arm of the PIRA).

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Belle Waring 07.25.19 at 6:24 pm

Well they didn’t all happen to me obviously. They are just hypothetical examples of the sort of things one can do to a person and elicit towering righteous rage.

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Belle Waring 07.25.19 at 6:26 pm

Naturally it’s impressive when people become productive and forgiving after suffering terribly; they do sometimes become fundamentally broken and there is no point in trying to fix them. Wait, that sounds terrible. I mean, it’s not reasonable to expect that everyone will overcome adversity in such a competent, forgiving way.

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Belle Waring 07.25.19 at 6:31 pm

LFC: obviously. People with deviant sexual desires, say, who never remotely act on them, are morally blameless…weirdos, maybe? Sure, whatever.

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Chetan Murthy 07.25.19 at 6:36 pm

Stephen @ 60:

If you adduce the example of Arlene Foster, then it seems relevant that this (overcoming “towering rage”) happens regularly throughout human history when adversaries in wars make peace. I mean, that’s what your example is about, right? Adversaries in a war, making peace.

Which is different from victims of crime overcoming their rage at their assailants.

Crime is different from war.

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Faustusnotes 07.26.19 at 12:33 am

Stephen that example might be a bit more instructive if foster didn’t have a history of palling around with UDA murderers (including meeting one within 48 hours of murdering a man in front of his child), and wasn’t in a party stacked to the gunnels with gun runners and people very closely connected to loyalist terrorists. She and her mates spent a long time acting on their towering rage before they finally agreed to power sharing. Maybe like most people their rage just burnt out, or they made a tactical rather than a moral decision? Perhaps Nelson Mandela is a better example…

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Dr Steve Cruel 07.26.19 at 2:07 am

Hi Belle,

Thanks for this post. It’s beautifully written, and entirely justified.

I just wanted to chime in with how profoundly…weird a lot of the pushback you’re getting is. In my limited experience, whenever there is a story of someone with a mental, emotional, or developmental disability committing a crime, advocates and defenders of that condition show up to disavow any connection between atypicality and criminality.

(For example: After a mass-shooting, there are always calls for ‘better mental health care’. But then I always hear from professionals in the mental health industry, or just folks living with their own mental health issues that “Yes, more mental health care would be great, BUT being neuro-atypical doesn’t turn someone into a mass shooter. In fact there seem to be some other, glaringly obvious traits that track much more with fits of violent, self-entitled rage…).

And yet, here, you post an article, and a response, that in NO WAY connects autism with committing crimes–indeed, quite the opposite–and up comes a general cry from folks who seem, on the surface, to be trying to defend the rights and freedoms of people on the spectrum. And they all seem to be presenting, though perhaps in some roundabout way, the idea that “Maybe there’s just something fundamental about autism that makes people more likely to be child pornographers and stalkers. By expecting people on the spectrum to not consume child pornography or stalk women (it’s usually women, WEIRD HUH) you are committing some great act of discrimination.”.

And with defenders like that, who needs critics?

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Rob 07.26.19 at 8:19 am

Dr Steve @66:

“By expecting people on the spectrum to not consume child pornography or stalk women (it’s usually women, WEIRD HUH) you are committing some great act of discrimination.”

This is weirdly exactly wrong. It’s non-discriminatory, because it treats autistic people exactly like everyone else! The sole meaningful argument of the Slate article is that maybe we shouldn’t do that, particularly when a psychologist’s assesment suggests that there’s a serious divergence between the autistic person’s understanding of the situation and a typical person’s.

I see the risk in making that kind of argument. There’s a kind of slippery slope here, that if we can agree that autistic men might be innocently harassing women, then we’ve established that harassment isn’t always the perpetrator’s fault, and we can broaden it out from there to excuse other instances of harassment. When the article calls for more sex education, we can spin that into a story which says that the problem here is that men (and not just severely autistic ones!) just haven’t been educated properly – it’s basically society’s fault for letting these men down, and who could blame them if they just can’t understand how to deal with women in those circumstances? I get it, it’s definitely a direction one could take this (and a particularly shitty one). I could imagine some “contrarian” right-wing NYT columnist making this argument (whilst possibly also trying to shill their book on how to cultivate a sense of chivalry, or some shit). It makes sense to be on guard against that kind of argument, which is the spirit I take Belle’s original post in.

But we seem to have ended up in a bad place if it’s not possible to argue for some (not total! Not “free pass”!) leniency or more humane treatment of people with developmental disorders inside the criminal justice system without it being assumed that you’re making some kind of crypto-MRA argument about how, as long as the man only did it because he really likes the woman, it’s bascially not his fault if she found his actions utterly terrifying. The two are not at all the same thing.

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derrida derider 07.26.19 at 9:04 am

Can’t we cut through all this refined moral reasoning about states of mind etc with a bit of crude utilitarianism? Is he or is he not a danger to others because of his actions, regardless of whether he knew what he was doing or whether he didn’t? Will putting him on the sex offenders registry lessen that danger, or (through deterrence) the danger posed by others like him? Or will it simply result in more misery to no socially useful purpose? These questions, unlike those around moral responsibility, can be MEASURED and so are susceptible to social science, at least in prnciple.

I think the biggest problem with our justice system is precisely that it attempts vengeance, not harm reduction. Vengeance is an atavistic urge that was no doubt adaptive on the African plains, but is certainly not so in our overpopulated and deadly armed 21st century. I reckon Belle should take a good long look at her own anger here in calling for “putting him in boiling mercury”; in other contexts she’d be the first to talk about the iniquity of savage and counterproductive punishment of minority groups.

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Dipper 07.26.19 at 9:15 am

Meanwhile in the UK we have the unfolding tragedy of Jared O’Mara MP. O’Mara somewhat unexpectedly replaced Nick Clegg as the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam. It’s all gone wrong, with long periods of absence, and now allegations of sexual harassment of staff, explosive resignations of his staff, and now his ownstatement about his mental health.

This is a mess. The obvious thing that needs to be done is for him to leave and a new MP to stand. No-one is winning at the moment.

If I were to make any observation it would be that in a world where one man may father over a thousand children, then a 1:1 distribution of men and women means men are massively over-represented with regards to reproductive requirements, and for many men there is a struggle to be reproductively relevant which produces a lot of unpleasant behaviour.

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Lynne 07.26.19 at 11:23 am

“I just wanted to chime in with how profoundly…weird a lot of the pushback you’re getting is. “

Whenever one of the women bloggers here posts about sexual harassment or rape there is a lot of pushback. It’s a wonder they keep posting. Glad you do, though, Belle.

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Belle Waring 07.26.19 at 12:36 pm

derrida derider: this is smarmily disingenuous. I currently and always want to put my actual rapist in boiling mercury. This is just the one, too! I offer a hypothetical in which my rapist were in some way congenitally unable to understand issues about consent and then consider, how would I feel at that point? And the answer is, I would want to put him in boiling mercury regardless. I have no obligation to cease wanting this for the sake of hypotheticals or cases about his state of mind or the passage of time or any bullshit about how forgiving would be good for me in the end, really, and everyone just wants me to be happy! NO. Mercury. That this is somehow directed at people who suffer from autism per se such that it might be hostile to them as a minority group is an obvious, tendentious misreading of what I have said, which is simply that: having been raped by this particular man, I would like to fuck him up with a splintered axe handle, and there’s literally nothing you can say that will make me feel otherwise. Nurturing acid hatred in your bosom can be cruel to yourself, and may wear away at your soul, but it’s not a wrong to your attacker.

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Belle Waring 07.26.19 at 1:10 pm

“I reckon Belle should take a good long look at her own anger here in calling for “putting him in boiling mercury”; in other contexts she’d be the first to talk about the iniquity of savage and counterproductive punishment of minority groups.”

OMG I have to write more about how wrong and offensive this is. I can’t believe anyone actually wrote this down and hit publish. Derrida derider, in what sense is it possible to construe what I said as something directed towards autistic people rather than at one particular rapist who, as I may have mentioned, raped me and who, as, again I have touched on, I want to throw into a cauldron of boiling mercury qua individual rapist guy who, being as he rapes people, deserves to be tipped riiiight into the mercury. Are rapists a minority group now? DOES ONE GENUINELY GET THAT IMPRESSION FROM THE THREAD OR ARE THEY A DEFENSIVE SILENT MAJORITY OR SOME SHIT? It’s not as though the comments have been other than mostly truly terrible–which–Beloved Plain People of Crooked Timber–what on earth is wrong with you? However with this you have actually managed to upset me. Is this your intention? Do you say this kind of thing to your friends who have been raped? More likely, you don’t think you have any, because the ones you have never tell you, because they can tell in their hearts this is the sort of thing you would say. In short, though I generally think you are a fine commenter and interesting to read, fuck right the fuck off.

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engels 07.26.19 at 2:42 pm

Whenever one of the women bloggers here posts about sexual harassment or rape there is a lot of pushback.

To be fair, when the male bloggers post on politics it doesn’t always elicit unanimous agreement.

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Belle Waring 07.26.19 at 2:45 pm

Oh god engels are you fucking serious. This is a truly terrible thread.

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bob mcmanus 07.26.19 at 2:45 pm

Well, in spite of my intention to stay silent because of my conviction that women and feminists don’t really need my support or encouragement save my silent assent to the their accelerating expressions of rage and alienation, preferably at max volume, I appear.

Saurs above did a fine job above at refuting any invisible strawpersons of my previous comment showing that, yes, feminists are capable and skilled at logical evidentiary argumentation as if anyone sane could doubt it or as if I claimed such idiocy. I simply preferred Belle’s mode of expression, think Saurs granted in 2nd comment too much to the patriarchy and masculinist modes of communicative oppression.

I simply thought that a thread by a rape victim was not the time or place to show compassion, empathy or fair-mindedness to rapists and child-molesters. I still can’t summon up the competitiveness and contrarianism to troll so obviously.

Nah. I should have left it at above, and just read and listened. The women don’t need me.

(I have made similar mistakes in my times on the Internets. Examples abound, to be found with searches. I cop to them all, with shame. Don’t confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them.)

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Sophie Jane 07.26.19 at 3:03 pm

First of all – Belle, I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with this awful thread and you have every right to be angry with anyone and everyone involved .

Second – Captain Awkward summed up what’s going on here very well a few days ago:

Schrödinger’s Autist, who only ever comes out in internet discussions when men are being shitty to women, as if autism and misogyny are co-morbid (they aren’t), as if women with autism don’t exist (they do), or as if autistic people don’t try EXTRA FUCKING HARD to be polite and avoid accidentally pissing neurotypical off (they do!) and as if they don’t respond better to direct feedback about interpersonal stuff than many allistic people do because they don’t assume they already know how do to do everything (<3!).

https://captainawkward.com/2019/07/23/1219-my-good-friends-boyfriend-keeps-negging-me/

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Rob 07.26.19 at 3:33 pm

dd @ 68:

. I reckon Belle should take a good long look at her own anger here in calling for “putting him in boiling mercury”; in other contexts she’d be the first to talk about the iniquity of savage and counterproductive punishment of minority groups.

Although I’m not entirely in agreement with Belle’s point (or, rather, I think it makes sense as a view for her to hold but not for me or society at large to hold), I can’t see how you get from “I’d like to boil my rapist in mercury” to “I’d like to boil all autistic people who have been accused of sexual harassment in mercury”, and certainly not to “I think the criminal justice system should adopt mandatory minimum sentencing of boiling-in-mercury for any autistic person convicted of sexual harassment” (I presume that the autistic people are the minority group you’re referring to). This isn’t as difficult as you’re making it look.

This thread suffers from the notion that there’s no good outcome here, and we’re just arguing over who gets treated unfairly; uncharitably, Belle is broadly happy with the potential for some (minor, in the cosmic sense of things) potential for less-than-optimal treatment of autistic people in some circumstances (though she’s pretty dubious about whether the guy in the article is so autistic that he merits any special treatment), and I guess some of the other commenters are happy for perpetrators to be under-punished so long as it ensures that nobody who deserved some leniency failed to receive it, with the effect that victims in those cases tolerate excuses being made for the actions of the perpetrators, who are free to walk around, potentially harass them again, and quite probably do the same to other women.

I can end up tending to the latter position myself, because I don’t consider myself responsible for the actions of criminals, but do consider myself responsible (to the extent that my vote has influence over it) for the actions of the criminal justice system. Like, I’m opposed to killing people but don’t really consider it my job to stop people from murdering each other, Batman-style, but I do consider it my job to vote against the death penalty. I’d even subscribe to the view that it’s better for 10 guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to hang.

The problem is that we can’t use this as an excuse to shrug off large-scale criminality and victimisation, which is what sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and harassment are in today’s society. There’s an asymmetry here, where we’re very concerned about the thing we feel we can control (are our judges giving people appropriate sentences?), and relatively (to judge from the thread) unconcerned about the thing we think isn’t our problem (are lots of women and children victims of brutal crimes that nobody is punished for?).

The Slate article tackles the first question and, in all honesty, I’m totally fine with the argument that, where our best means of psychological assessment tell us to, we ought to accept that some people don’t have the social competence to be fully responsible for offences they commit. But there’s a sub-text, and the sub-text is that “what’s in the mind of the perpetrator matters more than we currently acknowledge”, and the implication is that we should be spending more time understanding the thoughts, feelings and mitigating circumstances of perpetrators. If you’re aware that lots of people are already getting away with these kinds of crimes, you’re going to have a pretty reasonable suspicion that this is just another dodge. “But I’m on the spectrum! But I wasn’t given enough sex education! But I thought she wanted me to do that, and how could I have known otherwise?” are all the kinds of horrible excuses that have been deployed before and will be deployed again, and to allow them to pass unchallenged is to allow a travesty to continue, and maybe to get a little worse than it is already.

Obviously boiling people in mercury is barbaric. Obviously we shouldn’t do it even to people who might deserve the worst punishment we can throw at them, because we don’t do that kind of thing. But chiding women for being angry at the kind of argument that is often (if not always, if not necessarily) used to excuse one more rapist, abuser or harasser being allowed to carry on with their lives free of consequence is not something you get to do. You have to explain what you’d do to tackle the people already getting away with their crimes, and take seriously the fact that the anger isn’t coming from nowhere, it’s coming from a systemic problem in society.

“Lots of guilty people go free, so we should just up the punishments (viz. boiling in mercury) and lower the standards of responsibility (to hell with the psychological assessments!) required to give out the most serious punishments in the hope that we punish more wrong’uns” is a bad argument, and I think people are interpreting Belle as making it. This is disingenuous. It’s picking a fight over the wrong question, because I think most people would accept that there are sometimes mitigating circumstances for all kinds of crime, but our problem right now is that we’re collectively far too accepting of crime that’s already going on, and maybe that’s what we should be focusing on. Of course, we’re then back to the problem that most of us don’t have much of an idea of how to prevent such crimes given that “become Batman” isn’t an option, but at least it’d be the right question to start with.

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engels 07.26.19 at 3:50 pm

Fair enough. I didn’t read it all but I agree the ‘take a look at your anger’ and ‘sympathising with your stalker’ responses weren’t appropriate (I just meant that getting ‘pushback’ seems to hold constant for most posters/topics).

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Belle Waring 07.26.19 at 4:42 pm

Why do you all think I am a moron. WHY. I do not in fact advocate adding ‘tipped into cauldron of boiling mercury’ to the punishments meted out by our criminal justice system. OBVIOUSLY. Additionally I oppose the death penalty. Nor do I wish to become Batman, because he is a psychopath who punches strangers in the face individually to improve Gotham City rather than spending any of his billions on social welfare programs. The mercury is meant to be ALLEGORICAL and refers only to my personal feelings about my rapist, whom I loathe. This can be seen from every statement above, in which I explain that my towering righteous rage is such that I am genuinely unable to care about what he might have had in his mind as motivation for the crime. It just doesn’t matter. I am on the knife-edge of closing this down now because it is terrible and really heartless. Hey, thanks bob mcmanus! That was thoughtful and not trolly a bit.

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Dipper 07.26.19 at 5:44 pm

An autistic man named … this is cropping up quite a bit. A question was asked in UK parliament this week about the use of an Autism diagnosis as a defence, but unfortunately I cannot find the reference.

Obviously Autism is a spectrum with at one end behaviour such as Pathological Demand Avoidance which is severely disabling, but at the mild end of the Aspergers spectrum, it is just someone’s personality. I don’t see how this could be used as a defence or justification for criminal activity. Someone who likes to have a drink and go for a fight isn’t ‘suffering from alcohol-induced rage syndrome’, they are just someone who likes to have a drink and then have a fight. The law is clear, very few people are incapable of understanding it, and surely the onus is on the individual to observe it. It is surely not tolerable that as a society we should pass laws and then give certain citizens a free pass on observing them if they can come up with a convenient excuse.

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Stephen 07.26.19 at 6:02 pm

Chetan Murthy @64: when you say “crime is different from war”, that is rather disputable in the context of the Northern Irish troubles. How many of the actions of the PIRA (shooting Arlene Foster’s father, blowing up her school bus) were crimes, how many were war? And if you say “they were all war” then I must suppose you cannot agree with the prosecution of British soldiers for actions in the troubles.

Over to you. Disempale yourself.

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Stephen 07.26.19 at 6:11 pm

Dipper@69: to add a comment about the current UK MP Jared O’Mara, his current defence for sexual harassment (in rather explicit terms) of his staff appears to be that he was “confronting his inner demons” and “self-medicating with alcohol”.

Best of luck to him for imagination. I can only imagine the response of any woman, finding her man coming home drunk at 2 am, to his slurred explanation about connifrontayshn of me inner demonsh an shelf-meddiacayshn …

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Rob 07.26.19 at 6:29 pm

Sorry, I was attempting to draw that characterisation in order to show that it’s an incorrect reading (“disingenuous”), but I communicated it badly. My apologies. Feel free to delete any of my above posts, as I don’t think anyone is getting anything good out of this.

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Kate Ayers 07.26.19 at 7:00 pm

1)Long time lurking. 2)big wannabe Belle friend–you are so much cooler than me 3)mother of a son on the spectrum 4)had the whole stalker experience and I was way too sympathetic to the stalker 4)keep fighting the good fight. I see my experience in it. I want a better world.

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JBL 07.26.19 at 7:08 pm

“Hey, thanks bob mcmanus! That was thoughtful and not trolly a bit.”

The internet is such a strange place. Anyhow, Belle Waring, thanks for the post, and sorry so many of your readers are real dicks :(.

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engels 07.26.19 at 8:53 pm

Captain Awkward summed up what’s going on here very well a few days ago: Schrödinger’s Autist, who only ever comes out in internet discussions when men are being shitty to women, as if autism and misogyny are co-morbid (they aren’t), as if women with autism don’t exist (they do), or as if autistic people don’t try EXTRA FUCKING HARD to be polite and avoid accidentally pissing neurotypical off (they do!) and as if they don’t respond better to direct feedback about interpersonal stuff than many allistic people do because they don’t assume they already know how do to do everything (<3!).

That post seems to be a polemic against people bringing up autism as a hypothetical case in a general discussion of sexual harassment; this discussion was specifically about whether autism could potentially be a defence against the mental element of sexual harassment and started with a personal experience of a stalker who was suspected of being autistic. So whatever’s going on here, I don’t think it’s that.

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Belle Waring 07.26.19 at 11:33 pm

Duuude, it’s a polemic against a particular article which uses as its centerpiece a super-high-functioning autistic man with a PhD who works with children and claims both not to have known porn existed on the internet nor that child pornography was wrong. Then an example of stalking is given which is stipulatively not bad due to a sort of para-criminal turn of mind in the autistic stalker. Against which I bring up my lived experience of being stalked and explain how it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all were the man autistic or were he motivated by some motive other than a sort of sexualized terrorization. Then lots of people said I sucked and was wrong and that autism is a valid defense against the crimes of viewing child pornography and stalking and that I am a criminal justice madwoman who wishes to prosecute all before me and bring charges of death by boiling mercury, in which assertion I am both literal and serious. Then people were assholes by and large and mansplained how I should feel about being stalked and raped. Then Saurs and Lynne and oldster and my good mcmanus-sensei among others said, Christ, what assholes. And for some reason I left the thread open because someone was wrong on the internet. The Captain Awkward quote is obviously relevant and it pains me to have to explain it so whatever.

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Kiwanda 07.27.19 at 12:13 am

derrida derider:

Can’t we cut through all this refined moral reasoning about states of mind etc with a bit of crude utilitarianism? Is he or is he not a danger to others because of his actions, regardless of whether he knew what he was doing or whether he didn’t?
….
I think the biggest problem with our justice system is precisely that it attempts vengeance, not harm reduction….

Danger to others depends on future actions, which depends on state of mind. There’s some professional belief that stalking occurs for a variety of reasons, some of which imply less danger than others. (The autistic stalker mentioned in the OP sounds like the “incompetent” variety described in the linked article.) This is not to say that adequate assessment of state of mind is always or even commonly possible.

I agree that harm reduction should take priority in over retribution or vengeance, but focusing entirely on harm reduction leads to some strange limiting cases: recidivism for murder is extremely low [1], low enough that maybe from a harm reduction standpoint, there’s no reason to jail anyone for murder, since murder is almost entirely “one and done”. But even if the recidivism rate for murder is zero, surely something should happen to murderers, no?

[1] this is after release from prison, so not really the right number, but even so.

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Belle Waring 07.27.19 at 12:41 am

From the linked article about stalking:

“Don’t make any sudden moves,” says Moore. “Don’t tell them ‘I don’t want anything do with you.’ By rejecting that person, there is a chance of violence. If you reject that person, often times they feel angry, threatened. There is the possibility of violence.”

Oh Jesus it’s my job again to be nice. I have to say I told my stalker this exact thing and it seemed like a good, important idea at the time. I mean, how else do you tell someone firmly but politely to go die in a fire?

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engels 07.27.19 at 1:05 am

I agree that harm reduction should take priority in over retribution or vengeance, but focusing entirely on harm reduction leads to some strange limiting cases: recidivism for murder is extremely low [1], low enough that maybe from a harm reduction standpoint, there’s no reason to jail anyone for murder, since murder is almost entirely “one and done”. But even if the recidivism rate for murder is zero, surely something should happen to murderers, no?

https://lmgtfy.com/?q=deterrence

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engels 07.27.19 at 1:12 am

Fwiw I agree the Slate article wasn’t very convincing, I just think (from other reading) the legal problem may be real. And I’m sorry people were patronising and insensitive.

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Chetan Murthy 07.27.19 at 1:18 am

Disempale yourself.

Quite to the contrary, it’s clear you don’t know shit about the laws of war. In war there are laws. And yet, killing someone in a war is not *automatically* a crime; quite to the contrary, it is usually not-a-crime. Whereas in civilian life, killing someone is *usually* a crime and only under certain extenuating circumstances, is it not-a-crime.

Ms. Waring,

Honestly, given the amount of insanity being presented as decent thought, I don’t understand why you don’t shut this thread down. Honestly.

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Chetan Murthy 07.27.19 at 1:20 am

Ms. Waring,

I feel compelled to note that almost all the folks making excuses for why {viewing child porn, or stalking, or other vile offenses against women and children} is OK, are *men*. Men like me. Maybe -men- ought to think carefully about these things, and about how they’re not in a position to judge. And STFU.

But really, time to cut the cord on this thread, eh?

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engels 07.27.19 at 1:43 am

This seemed like a good overview:
https://www.purdueglobal.edu/blog/criminal-justice/autism-and-the-criminal-justice-system/

Whether a person with ASD has the capacity to form the mens rea to commit a crime is a complex issue and should be afforded the same analysis offered to those suffering from mental illness and psychopathy. “Unlike psychopathy, however, ASD has nosological status and… is associated with significant socio-emotional impairments that may, arguably, affect the ability to form intent” (Woodbury-Smith & Dein, 2014). For example, stalking—a crime in all 50 states that occurs when one harasses another by repetitively following someone often to harm or scare them—requires proof by the state of the defendant’s intent to annoy and possibly harm the individual. However, a person with ASD may unintentionally exhibit stalking conduct without intent to harass or harm, particularly due to repetition, and without being cognizant that others may interpret their behavior as stalking (Post et al., 2014).

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