April 6 2016 10:07 AM

Treatment for Dunnings also a crafty legal strategy

There are two ways to look at Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III’s departure to an unspecified residential treatment center in Tennessee.

The first is that he clearly needs help with obviously destructive behavior. If the charges hold — and very likely they will — Dunnings has engaged in hundreds of illicit sexual encounters, an incredible lapse for such a public figure. If this isn't what he's seeking treatment for, it ought to be.

Frankly, it's amazing that he wasn't caught sooner.

The second is that Dunnings remains a crafty lawyer already planning for what will likely be a plea bargain on multiple prostitution and pandering charges. For those with resources — money or insurance — the “seeking treatment” tactic is widely practiced as a way to lessen fines or jail time. It's particularly prevalent with celebrities. Robert Downey Jr. is arrested for drugs and heads to a clinic. Golfer John Daly faces alcohol assault charges and soon turns up at a rehab center. Think Lindsey Lohan.

For Dunnings, establishing an “I'm in treatment defense” is no less calculating than his very public get-tough on prostitution proclamations. Who knew he was such an expert? One of the oddities in this case — and, of course, there are many — is the ease with which Dunnings has managed to delay court proceedings so that he can seek out treatment. Prosecutors usually aren't so willing to let abusers enroll in programs to buttress their defense. Call it professional courtesy. The Dunnings case is unfolding in Jackson County because of the obvious conflicts with the Ingham County legal system.

His treatment program notwithstanding, Dunnings will have difficulty shedding his past as he deals with his arrest and the immediate and longer-term consequences.

The very notion of sex-addiction treatment has a hollow ring. Unlike drug, alcohol and even gambling, sex addiction seems more a punch line than a serious condition.

Dunnings, who resigned as Ingham County prosecutor last week, effective July 2, has not identified the facility in Tennessee where he enrolled in a 35- day treatment program. But there is a prominent rehabilitation center about 45 miles west of Nashville called The Ranch that offers a 35-day men's sexual addiction program.

Its program for sexual addiction reflects current thinking about treatment options and offers insight into a problem that is largely unknown to most people.

According to Robert Weiss, a clinical psychotherapist and educator affiliated with The Ranch, treating sexual addiction differs from treatments for other substance abuse.

In an essay titled “Sex Addiction Treatment: Addressing Hypersexual Behavior in a Rehab Setting,” he noted the challenge treating an addiction.

“Whereas abstinence from all mood altering chemicals is the goal in nearly all forms of drug and alcohol treatment, sexual sobriety involves an ongoing commitment to behavior change but not long-term sexual abstinence.

“Much like an eating disorder — where the person with an eating problem still needs to eat, just in a manner that is healthy for that individual—recovering sex addicts work in treatment to co-define (with their treatment team, in written contracts) which of their sexual behaviors are healthy and which of those behaviors work against their individual life, career, family, and relationship priorities.”

Weiss adds that it is a common misconception that addicts in treatment will be fully cured, never again to struggle with problematic sexual behavior. The more likely outcome is an understanding of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior, acknowledgment of the consequences, reduction of denial and the development of strategies to prevent relapse and aid lifelong recovery.

Sex addicts entering treatment programs undergo a series of psychiatric, physical and bio-psycho-social-sexual assessments. Next comes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and group therapy to teach addicts ways to deal with compulsive sexual thoughts and behaviors using sponsors, meetings, exercise or other diversions, Weiss writes.

Based on the types of charges leveled against Dunnings, he seems to fit the abuser profile.

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, a nonprofit multidisciplinary organization dedicated to scholarship, training, and resources for promoting sexual health and overcoming problematic sexual behaviors, lists seven warnings signs of sexual addiction.

The listing includes:

– Multiple sexual partners.

– Cybersex.

– Unsafe sex.

– Frequent one-night stands.

– The use of prostitutes.

– Feelings of shame and guilt.

– Unable to resist impulses to engage in extreme sexual acts.

Many of these turned up in the charges and police reports.

The year-long investigation that snared Dunnings included charges that he used websites like Backpage and Escort Value to solicit prostitutes, paying for sex, often three or four times a week. He is accused of coercing one of his victims into a for-pay sexual relationship after she approached him for help with a child custody issue. During a post-arrest news conference staged by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wigglesworth, there were allegations of a video of one of Dunnings' encounters, that he told one prostitute to call him at his office and other charges of willful neglect of duty for failing to report crimes.

Reckless and destructive. It's the behavior of someone who needs help, but also needs to pay for his crimes.

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