Repetition Compulsion

What is Repetition Compulsion and its Uses in Mitigating Sentences in Child Pornography Cases?

Does history repeat itself?   The simple, as well as sad answer, in the case of many individuals who have been charged with criminal offenses, is YES!!   Many individuals who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system, whether they are juveniles or adults, have sometimes endured chaotic and tortuous developmental histories replete with emotional, physical and/or sexual mistreatment and abuse.  The impact of these experiences can, and in many cases does, produce lasting and often poorly understood symptoms and behaviors which can lead to allegations of criminal behavior resulting in charges, possible incarceration, and fallout that can negatively affect future employment, standing in the community, relationships with others, as well as the individual’s self-perception.  An important aspect of criminal defense and forensic psychology is to untangle these historical intrusions into normal development and bring these to light in the context of criminal allegations.  It is important for the courts to know the accused as more than a litany of charges and what he/she has been accused of.  

An aspect of the above is the concept of “repetition compulsion”.  The impact of traumatic events has been identified since the late 1800’s, i.e., well over the past 125 years.  Our understanding of repetition phenomena has been developed, revised and expanded so that we now have a much greater understanding of how trauma can have an impact on an individual’s behavior, emotions, and also their physiological and neuroendocrinological make-up. Compulsive behavioral repetition can take place without conscious knowledge or connection made by the individual.  And, very importantly, in a behavioral re-enactment of trauma, the individual may assume a role in which they may again be the victim, or conversely, the victimizer.  Behavioral re-enactment can lead to, or cause, harm to others/violence, self-destructive acts, and also re-victimization or placing oneself in harm’s way.  Often people who have been traumatized return to that which is familiar, i.e., familiar patterns of behavior, even if what they do is painful. A part of what can motivate a re-enactment or repetition of the same or similar behavior is an attempt to remember, integrate and heal from a traumatic experience.  Re-enactments as noted above can stem from, and be evidenced in, a variety of different ways.  It is the maladaptive ways that often come to the attention of others, including the legal authorities.  Our goal as criminal defense lawyers is to bring this out to the court and prosecutors in the proper cases. If possible, use forensic psychologists to examine and elucidate any such occurrences of trauma in our clients so we can educate the legal system to connect our client’s actions to past trauma to their seemingly unfathomable criminal behaviors. 

This is a key concept for lawyers who represent citizens in child pornography cases to understand. Studies have shown that there is a large percentage of people who consume child porn who were victims of sexual abuse themselves. The consumption of child pornography can be a way for victims of sexual abuse to relieve their past victimization and try to overcome it. So, when people are arrested for this for child pornography they should have a thorough workup done and if past abuse is found this should be brought to the attention of the court and prosecutors as a way of mitigating punishment.      

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