TESTIMONY OF DR. HARRIS PECK, DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, CHILDREN'S COURT, NEW YORK CITY COURT OF DOMESTIC RELATIONS,
NEW YORK, N. Y.
The CHAIRMAN. Doctor, did you have a prepared statement?
Dr. PECK. No, I do not.
The CHAIRMAN. Will you proceed to give your testimony in your own manner
Mr. BEASER. I think it might be easier for the Doctor if we had questions.
The CHAIRMAN. Proceed, then.
Mr. BEASER. Will you state for the record your full name, address, present occupation, and title?
Dr. PECK. I am Dr. Harris Peck, and I am the director of the Bureau of Mental Health Services for the New York City Court of Domestic Relations.
Mr. BEASER. At the children's court?
Dr. PECK. That is, the court of domestic relations is comprised of two courts, the family court and the children's court.
Mr. BEASER. Could you give us a little bit of your background? You are a psychiatrist, are you?
Dr. PECK. Yes, I have been associated with the court for almost 8 years, first, as senior psychiatrist in charge of the treatment services, and for the past several years I was director of the mental health services.
Prior to that I was director of a child-guidance clinic at the General Hospital in the city, and was a research and teaching fellow at the Bellevue Hospital, New York University Medical Center.
Mr. BEASER. Were you here this morning when Mr. Clendenen testified?
Dr. PECK. Yes.
Mr. BEASER. Would you care to give us your opinion on his testimony, the exhibits he used in relation to the effect of crime and horror comics upon children and juvenile delinquency?
Dr. PECK. I think I should precede my remarks by saying that I really cannot pose as an expert in the field of comic books. When I was asked to come down I tried to make that clear.
Perhaps my contribution can be only a very limited one.
I have worked extensively in the psychiatric treatment of juvenile delinquents and in the course of that have had some contact with the comic-book situation, but I have made no systematic study of it and cannot testify as an expert in that sense.
I think that my own general view from my experiences with children as seen in a court clinic would lead to the feeling that certainly we cannot look to comic books as being a primary causative source for juvenile delinquency.
In that sense I would certainly support Mr. Clendenen's view that normal children are not led to crime as we have seen it in the court clinic because of reading comic books.
On the other hand, I certainly do feel that in areas of our city where there are many deteriorating influences at work on children which do end them up in our court, certainly the comic books may be an aiding and abetting influence and may well precipitate some of the
concerns which have already been set into motion by other forces.
Also I think I can confirm the fact that many of the children received in our court clinic are quite preoccupied with the materials of the kinds of comic books that were shown here this morning.
Mr. BEASER. Doctor, I have heard, or read, the statement that a child who is emotionally maladjusted, if that is the correct term, is exactly the kind of child who would shun reading a crime or horror comic. Is that true from your experience, or are they attracted to it?
Dr. PECK. I can say that almost without exception most of the children that we do see at the psychiatric services of the court are reading comic books and most of them are comics of this description.
As I said earlier, I have not conducted any systematic study on that matter and this is an impression only.
The CHAIRMAN. The children that you refer to, Doctor, are all children who are in trouble, are they not?
Dr. PECK. That is right. The children we see at our clinic are children who have already been judged delinquent by the children's court.
Mr. BEASER. Doctor, there were two particular stories I wanted to call your attention to that which Mr. Clendenen told this morning.
One I ask him about specifically, the other I did not. One related to the child about to be placed in a foster home whose foster parents turn out to be vampires or something and the child himself turned out to be a werewolf and the other related to the child whose mother was running around and her father was a drunkard and who had killed in one way or another the parents and the boy friend.
Would you be able to tell a little bit about the reaction of a normal or well-adjusted child to those two kinds of stories assuming these stories are typical of the kind the child is reading?
Dr. PECK. A fair number of the children whom we see come from homes in which there is already a certain amount of disruption. Sometimes this is of a superficial character in that both parents may be working and the child is simply left alone a good deal of the time.
In other instances, the family has been broken up by divorce or desertion or there may be one or several parents who are either physically or emotionally disturbed.
I would say from my experience that for such a child, material which painted parent figures in a horrendous light that such a child would be unusually susceptible to this kind of material because it would play into its own phantasies.
I think it is conceivable that this kind of material, presented in the fashion that we see in the comic books, could give an additional thrust to other forces already operating on the child.
Senator HENNINGS. May I ask Dr. Peck a question at that point?
The CHAIRMAN. You may.
Senator HENNINGS. It seems that I recall from reading of Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm's Fairy Tales that there were a number of those stories that related to the vicious, mean,
overbearing stepmother, it seems they emphasized the step-relationship.
Dr. PECK. Yes.
Senator HENNINGS. Now, there was a great deal that was pretty horrible in some of these things, was there not?
Dr. PECK. Yes.
Senator HENNINGS. Going back and relating that sort of thing which has gone on for many generations by way of reading material for the very young and. as I have suggested Poe's stories, and that sort of thing, how do we distinguish, or can we distinguish between that sort of writing which is given to very young children and has been for a long time, and this sort of thing about which we are now talking today?
Dr. PECK. In some regards I think you cannot distinguish. I think some of the most vicious, even the very plots as you suggest, are identical.
It is for that reason that I think some caution must be observed in attributing to the comic books a major impetus for delinquency.
Among the differences, however, is that although characters are drawn rather in black and white lines, there is some development of character, there is, if you like, some humaneness about the stories, most of which are absent in the comic book materials which seem to enlarge on the most perverse aspects of the human conscience, at least in the kind of materials that were presented here.
One might also say, although I think someone observed earlier in the hearings the earlier materials were illustrated, I think the type of illustration that one sees here, especially the highly
sexualized material, was largely absent from some of the more classical fairy tale material.
Now, I might say that a large group of the youngsters that we see in our court would be unable to reach very much of the classical fairy tale material because reading disability is so prevalent in this population.
So I suspect many of them react even more to the illustrative material than to the printed word, although that is kept at a very simple level.
Senator HENNINGS. Thank you, Doctor.
Mr. BEASER. I have just one more question, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Proceed, Mr. Beaser.
Mr. BEASER. Doctor, you have seen the pages of comic books or any illustrated magazine used for teaching children what to do. Teaching them to do good things is what I meant, mental health, hygiene, and so forth.
Is it also possible to utilize the pages of the comics through crime and horror so that children learn to do bad things?
Dr. PECK. Certainly audiovisual aids are enjoying increasing prominence in educational techniques.
I think, as a matter of fact, one of our local correctional institutions, the New York State School, is using a comic-book type of presentation for its new arrivals to help orient them to the place and before they arrive there they give them some real feeling of what the place is about.
So certainly the comic book, I don't believe, should be devised as a form. As to whether or not it can teach bad things, I think very largely that depends on who is being taught and what their situation is.
I think the children, many of whom need expression, many of whom are frustrated, who are in deprived situations, certainly will look to the comic books for release and for expression of the kind of violence which is being stirred up in them.
Children who are suffering disturbances in their own family situations will be especially susceptible to the kind of material in which parent figures engage in all kinds of perverse activities.
So that I think when one says that they may teach bad things, one has to qualify it in that way.
Mr. BEASER. No further questions, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Doctor, you referred to reading deficiencies in respect to the more classical type of fairy tale. Now, these children would not have any trouble reading these things, would they, children to whom you referred?
Dr. PECK. Some would, some would have to look at the pictures. In a study of our court population we found that 75 percent of the population who were brought in for other than school difficulties were at least 2 years retarded in reading and half of those were 5 years retarded in reading, which means that a fair number of them were non readers and would barely be able to make out some of the material even in the comic books.
Senator KEFAUVER. Dr. Peck, do you feel that the stable children who could, without doing any harm to themselves read these horror and crime comics, usually are the ones that are not reading them, but are reading something else and the maladjusted, unstable child who ought to be reading something else is usually the one who is found with horror and crime comics. Is that the situation?
Dr. PECK. I suspect that trend exists. That is not to say that so-called normal children may not find some interest in this kind of material and without it necessarily precipitating them into delinquency. Certainly, I think we might talk about more or less desirable educational materials, and this would certainly be one of the less desirable.
Senator KEFAUVER. Dr. Peck, did you give the subcommittee any estimate of the number of children that you have seen from which you gain your conclusions?
Dr. PECK. We see approximately about 2,000 cases a year at the mental health services of the New York City children's court. So I think it would be fair to say I have seen about - or through my service, we have seen about 15,000 cases over the past 7 or 8 years.
Senator KEFAUVER. Do you find about the same conclusions in other places of the country? What you have said New York is typical of, happens throughout the Nation, I take it?
Dr. PECK. In regard to what point, Senator?
Senator KEFAUVER. In regard to the effect of horror and crime comics.
In other words, in your discussion and experience with other psychiatrists, do you find that they generally agree with you in your conclusions?
Dr. PECK. I think as Mr. Clendenen indicated, there is some variance in point of view. The point of view I have given here, I think you might say, is something of a middle-of-the-road point of view. There are those who are very much more concerned about the effect of comic books and there are those who discount a good deal more than I would be willing to.
Senator KEFAUVER. So you think you are in the middle of the road in appraising the matter?
Dr. PECK. I think that would be a fair estimate of my position.
Senator KEFAUVER. I think you have been very fair in your point of view.
Senator HENNINGS. Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. The Senator from Missouri.
Senator HENNINGS. Doctor, I know we all appreciate very much your coming here and giving us the benefit of your thoughtful consideration of these things which are of interest to us and which in many respects are very complex.
For example, we are led to believe, are we not, that crimes of violence are increasing here and perhaps in England?
Dr. PECK. Yes; that is true.
Senator HENNINGS. Although figures and statistics─and figures can be very misleading, can they not?
Dr. PECK. Yes.
Senator HENNINGS. When we talk about homicides, sometimes it is in the course of a robbery, perpetration of a felony; sometimes as the Latin Americans say, a crime of passion, sometimes a sporadic sort of thing that does not seem to be accounted for by anything except we are people with all the ills that flesh is heir to.
We know that one of the prime entertainments in England years ago was a public hanging, until Charles Dickens and a number of reformers of that period abolished public executions and they began to hang people behind the walls of penitentiaries.
We know in this country even today in some communities people clamor to get into the death house, or get into where the gallows is put up so they can see these things, but by and large we do not let the general public view these as spectacles, but they were great sources of amusement. Fathers took the family and promised the children if they were good they would take them to the hanging the next day.
Now, we have stopped that sort of thing for the most part. We do not have these public evidences of brutality.
Has that had any effect, good or bad, except as a question of taste and general public policy?
Dr. PECK. I must confess that in the absence of any adequate study, and I am afraid it is a kind of frustrating answer, I would be unable to answer in any definitive way.
However, I think one must differentiate between certain isolated phenomena and some, if you like, which are facilitated because they fall in with a whole series of other happenings which all go in the same direction.
I think perhaps in part the comic books are a matter of concern, because there are other kinds of things which kind of hit kids in the same way so they become especially significant, I would think.
Senator HENNINGS. I do not have an opinion. Doctor, but to me, it seemed to be a very interesting field for speculation. We have cut out so many of the outward semblances or evidences of brutality, the pillory, the stocks, the ducking stool, and the public executions, and still we do not seem to, by and large, have done very much about ameliorating violence and that character of crime, have we?
Dr. PECK. Yet we must say from our study of very young children who are not ill, we do not find any evidence of what you might call an inherent destructive impulse in youngsters, as such, and given the opportunities for the growth and normal aggression as distinguished from destructiveness and hostility, I think we are almost forced to conclude that there is something in the situations which we provide children that acts in good part.
Senator KEFAUVER. I wonder if this would not have something to do with it, Dr. Peck. We did not condone public hangings and generally they are not legal now, but the number of people who would see them compared with the number who would read 25,000 horror
crime books per month, which are put out, would be many, many times those who would get to the place where the hanging took place.
In other words, there is much wider dissemination and chances to see.
Dr. PECK. That is certainly correct.
Senator HENNINGS. Over 100,000 used to crowd the hill in London outside of the Old Bailey. Families, children, with lunch baskets and the pickpockets were working the crowd while they were hanging one.
The CHAIRMAN. Doctor, do you find that the more serious crime is growing among the younger age groups? Is that your experience here in New York?
Dr. PECK. We have noted in our observations that the court itself does report more serious type of delinquency and, in rough kinds of studies, we think this probably does correspond with an increasing amount of psychosocial disturbance in the youngsters we see.
The CHAIRMAN. That is on the increase?
Dr. PECK. That seems to be.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Doctor.
Does counsel have any further questions
Mr. BEASER. No further questions.
The CHAIRMAN. This subcommittee wishes to thank you very much for your appearance this morning. You have made a real contribution.
Dr. PECK. It has been a privilege to appear.
Mr. BEASER. Mr. Henry Schultz.
The CHAIRMAN. Will you be sworn, please?
Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you will give to this subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate, will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Mr. SCHULTZ. I do.