Sex Abuse in Rehab? How Predators Can Take Advantage of Addicts Seeking Help
Continued from previous page
Consider what happened in just several days in the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment. There, ordinary young adults (prescreened to exclude psychiatric disorders) were asked to play the roles of guards and prisoners, in a mock jail in a university basement. Within days, the guards were humiliating the prisoners by making them urinate in buckets and forcing them to do meaningless tasks. The experiment got so far out of hand so fast that the researchers had to shut it down long before they’d intended.
A program with an unaccountable leader and a belief that “breaking people” will help them is a similar if inadvertent setup. With no checks and balances, counselors may easily come to believe they can do no wrong and that even sleeping with patients will help heal them. A race to the bottom typically ensures, as in the Abu Ghraib dynamic.
That may sound far-fetched, but it has happened literally thousands of times in “tough love” rehabs in the U.S. and around the world. Straight Inc. gagged teens with Kotex and put them through a “spanking machine” and restrained children until they urinated or soiled themselves repeatedly before it was finally shut down for intensive abuse in all seven states in which it operated during the ’80s and ’90s. Its offspring, KIDS, produced virtually identical abuse in three states. Both programs kidnapped teens and even some adults who tried to escape. Tens of thousands of teens (and their families) were harmed.
And as recently as 2009, the state of Oregon shut a tough-love boarding school, the ironically named Mount Bachelor Academy, which had been forcing girls to do lap dances as part of its humiliation-based treatment. The staff was so sure it was doing the right thing that they initially did not even outright deny some of its extreme tactics when state investigators paid a call.
How can parents avoid being taken in by these harmful programs? I have four recommendations that I am confident will help:
1. Do not rush into making a decision. Stay calm, no matter how nerve-wrung you may feel at the knowledge that your child needs detox and recovery. With rare exceptions, run from any program making threats your kid is at imminent risk of harm or death if treatment decisions aren’t made immediately. If someone is injecting drugs or actively suicidal, immediate hospitalization for safety may be necessary—but even then, there’s no reason to make instant decisions about long-term care.
2. Do ask people you trust about the situation—and read the scientific literature, not the popular stuff. If addiction is a disease, why would you leave its care to amateurs, rather than doctors? If an MD recommended treating your child’s cancer by having someone abduct them from their bedroom at 3 a.m. and put them in the woods for a month, would you even entertain the idea? Why should treatment for mental disorders be different?
3. Be aware that in the vast majority of cases—particularly for youth—treatment at home is at least as effective as (and far less risky than) residential rehab. The essence of the research on addictions and mental illness is that compassion, connection and kindness are what heals, not toughness. The entire mental health field has been moving away from inpatient treatment and toward “care in the community,” not because inpatient is more expensive (though it is) but because people are typically happier and healthier when treated at home, surrounded by loved ones. Compassion, connection and kindness are what heal, not toughness, according to the lion’s share of research on addictions and mental illness.