Lifestyle

Is sexual harassment caused by sex addiction?

AS US police move closer to charge Harvey Weinstein for sex crimes, the Hollywood mogul is holing up in an exclusive rehabilitation centre in Arizona for a 45-day sex addiction treatment programme.

“Guys, I’m not doing OK. I’ve got to get help to conquer my demons,” he had said, pleading for sympathy.

Maybe he can cry on Kevin Spacey’s shoulder, who reportedly checked into the same facility “to seek evaluation and treatment” last week.

It’s a familiar twist – powerful, famous men get caught up in a sex scandal and they blame sex addiction. They claim that this mental disorder, formally known as hypersexual disorder, makes it difficult for them to control their urges.

The science, however, is debatable.

First is the question of whether sex addiction is a mental disorder.

It has been reported that when the American Psychiatric Association recently updated its mental health handbook, the DSM-5, it voted to leave out sex addiction from its list of new mental disorders due to lack of sufficient data.

Then there is the tenuous and very unproven link between sexual harassment and sex addiction.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy defines sex addiction as an intimacy disorder characterised by “persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behaviour despite increasing negative consequences to one’s self or others.”

According to some experts, the news reports of the alleged behaviour of the powerful men caught up in the sexual harassment exposé blitz does not show that they are sexually compulsive.

“It’s not about sex for them,” Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says. “It’s about power, privilege and control.”

Sexual harassment is a predatory behaviour usually by powerful or rich individuals, mostly men, taking advantage of weaker individuals, he says.

“They may try to normalise the behaviour by persuading the victims that it is in return for jobs or favours or opportunities given and making them feel guilty for not reciprocating for favours done for them.

“Sexual harassment is about display of power whereas sexual addiction like other addictions, such as drugs, alcohol or gambling, is all about urge and compulsion.”

The link between sexual harassment and sexual addiction is really very weak, Dr Mohanraj adds.

He explains that most sex addicts start off with addiction to pornography then move on to obsessive dating, multiple partners and soliciting prostitutes. They usually feel guilty about what they do but are unable to overcome their urge for sex. They usually indulge in consensual sex and do not harass anyone for sex.

“Sex addicts are hardly sex offenders. Most of them do not harass people in the workplace. Sex addicts normally lead a very secretive double life.

“Ultimately their addiction can negatively affect their day-to-day functioning, affect their relationship with their spouse and even negatively impact their personal health as a result of risky behaviour involving prostitutes or because of multiple affairs concurrently.”

While sex addiction can be treated like other addictions, there is no treatment for people who indulge in sexual harassment, he says.

“The heavy hand of the law must come down hard on them. Their behaviour has little if nothing to do with sex but an act of violence and display of power.”

Noting that people are quick to use mental disorder as a defence for many offences, Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist Assoc Prof Dr P. Sundramoorthy says the authorities will need to prove if the suspects were or were not in the right state of mind when they committed the crime.

Crucially, even if the individual charged with sexual harassment or sexual offence is found to have received treatment for mental disorder, they authorities should not be deterred from taking action against the suspect.

Dr Sundramoorthy believes that sexual desires and needs should not be equated with mental illness.

“Most of the time those sexual offenders, including sexual harassers, are unable to control their sexual urges or desire towards the victim, but it doesn’t classify them as someone with a mental issue.

“We should not mix up sexual desires and needs with mental illness. Some people have low libidos while others are highly sexed. This has nothing to do with mental disorder.”

Based on his studies, Dr Sundramoorthy says sex offenders are usually not classified as someone who has a mental disorder.

“Although the percentage of sexual offenders with a mental disorder is a little higher compared to offenders in other violent crimes, the number is insignificant.”

There is no comprehensive data to link mental disorder to sexual violence, he says.

“Sexual misconduct has nothing to do with mental disorder of the perpetrator, so he, or she, should be treated like any other offender. He should not be absolved from the responsibility of his actions.”