Can Sex Abusers Be Rehabilitated? Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein Claim to Be Seeking 'Treatment'

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The star of actor Kevin Spacey is pictured on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

As allegations of sexual assault and harassment against actor Kevin Spacey have emerged shortly in the aftermath of the deluge of accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein, the two men’s responses have featured a common theme: “treatment.”

A statement issued to multiple media outlets read that “Kevin Spacey is taking the time necessary to seek evaluation and treatment. No other information is available at this time.”

Weinstein publicly announced that he too, would be seeking “treatment,” and it has been reported that he is doing so either at a facility in Switzerland or in Arizona.

Several writers have met Weinstein’s claims with clear, deserved skepticism.

RTS16MJA Several men have come forwards with claims that Spacey sexually harassed or abused them. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Sex addiction itself is a contested diagnosis. While it is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders—the guide of psychiatric diagnoses that influences clinicians, insurance companies and the legal system—some mental health professionals do consider it a diagnosable condition. And while the plural of anecdote is not data, there are accounts of people who have truly found such treatments helpful, and who did not seek treatment only once allegations of misconduct reached the public light.

But as The Atlantic ’s James Hamblin puts it, the acts that have come to public light are only “tangentially sexual.” Rather, they are problems of power. Many women have written that Weinstein’s power to destroy their careers and take away their livelihoods influenced their decision to stay silent.  

As one production assistant for House of Cards, who told CNN that Spacey put his hand down the assistant's pants when the two were left alone, put it: “I was in a state of shock...He was a man in a very powerful position on the show and I was someone very low on the totem pole and on the food chain there." (Spacey's team did not specify what he is seeking treatment for). 

“Hiding behind pseudoscience merely distracts us from addressing the real social and personal issues that are contributing to these damaging and, frankly, inappropriate behaviors,” clinical psychologist David Ley, the author of a book called The Myth of Sex Addiction, told Vogue.“Claiming that these behaviors result from this pseudoscientific disorder ... is a privilege in and of itself.”

The cost of treatment at the Arizona facility Weinstein may be entering is $37,000 per month.

In Spacey’s case, it’s worth noting that the accounts of abuse and harassment include sexual misconduct with young boys. The first published accusation was made by actor Anthony Rapp, who was 14 at the time he says Spacey carried him to his bedroom and lay on top of him. Spacey issued a much criticized statement that was seen as deflecting the issue by attempting to direct attention to his sexual orientation, rather than the allegations of sexual misconduct with children.

There is no doubt a place for psychological treatment and introspection in cases such as these (the issue of how to respond to those seeking help for sexual feelings towards children is particularly fraught). But the invocation of medicine, of seeking treatment, as an adequate response to acts that both men knowingly committed and responded to only after exposure suggest that, at least in this case, the language of treatment may be nothing more than rhetoric.

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