Loving or sexing children?
Newspapers and social media have been abuzz recently with the magnanimous offer of a government-funded college to one of their overseas scholars of a second chance to continue his academic pursuits despite being caught for the possession of over 30,000 videos and photos of child pornography.
While it is quite natural for people to develop loving feelings towards little children due to their cuteness and innocence, developing sexual feelings towards them is something society frowns upon and criminalises. Before we cast the first stone to condemn this person, let’s explore what makes a person develop such behaviour. Research indicates that such offenders come from dysfunctional families where there is not much warmth and love. Experiencing a family breakdown or loss during developmental years could result in insecure attachments and vulnerability to develop deviant sexual behaviour later in life.
Closely linked to the above is the victim-to-abuser cycle, where children who are emotionally challenged tend to bond easily with older adults who take advantage of their vulnerability. As the former begin to grow older, they develop these unnatural feelings which could be their unconscious attempts to reverse their powerlessness and compliance during their younger days.
There is also the classic nature versus nurture debate on the reasons for pathological dysfunctions. Nurture would be the reasons mentioned above while nature points to their genetic orientation i.e. that they are born with that trait. While Beier (2014) believes that sexual attraction to children is “fated and not by choice”, he has developed a one-year intervention programme to help such people to reduce their sexual drive towards children.
Traditional treatment plans are based on behavioural modification. In extreme cases, perpetrators are given painful electric shocks when they show signs of an erection in response to slides of naked children. More humane forms of treatment would include arousal reconditioning, which involves having them masturbate to fantasies of children and then switching to something more socially acceptable right before ejaculation. However, some researchers opined that this therapy is outdated, ethically problematic and disrespectful.
Newer treatment plans are cognizant of the fact that many offenders are not perpetrators. In fact, some of the offenders suffer from depression, guilt and even suicidal ideations fearing rejection by friends and family concerning their perversion which may end up in hefty fines and imprisonment. Using cognitive behavioural therapy, the counsellor helps clients to examine their beliefs, myths and attitudes towards paedophiliac thinking and desires. This process of cognitive restructuring will also help to address their self-concept and identity and deal with underlying guilt, insecurity and shame issues.
Apart from individual therapy, researchers also advocate group sessions to improve their ability to communicate with others about the problems created by their deviant lifestyle. This intentional community provides the necessary support and accountability to help those who find great difficulty to control such sexual drives.
Going back to the case at hand, the writer is of the opinion that the offender’s tolerance level has moved from basic to very advanced levels in that he was found to be in possession of category A (abuse involving penetrative sexual activity with children), and thousands of category B and C material. In getting caught and sentenced to five years of imprisonment, it is hoped that this painful shock will help to rewire the neural pathways in his brain. There is definitely a great need for him to undergo both individual and group therapy, along with his imprisonment. Although showing humanitarian efforts is noble, providing him with a second chance may not help in his recovery while posing a risk to the children who come into contact with him.
Meanwhile, we need to educate our fellow citizenry to distinguish between fantasies and behaviour. Contrary to official statistics, there may be many more paedophiles who dare not “come out of the closet” even though they have not acted on their desires. Prejudice on our side would prevent them from coming forward to seek the interventions that they need for their own therapy.
Beier, Klaus (2014). The German Dunkelfeld Project: Proactive Strategies to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and the Use of Child Abusive Images
Gieles, Frans (2001). Helping persons with pedophilic feelings
Glasser, M., Kolvin, I., Campbell, D., Glasser, A., Leitch, I., and Farrerly, S. (2001) Cycle of child sexual abuse: links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator
Howitt, Dennis (1995). Paedophiles and Sexual Offences against Children
Malone, Luke (2014) You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?
About the author
Patrick Cheng is a licensed & registered counsellor and father of two grown-up sons. For more details about the writer, click here.