Tag Archives: molester

An Inconvenient Truth About Pedophilia: It’s a Curse, Not a Choice

6028playground_swingA friend sent me this link to a New York Times op-ed on pedophilia, the technical term for the DSM-Vparaphilic mental health diagnosis that describes a person (usually a male), sexually interested only in pre-pubescent children.

Apparently, the DSM itself (the “bible” of mental health professionals) will not describe pedophilia as a sexual orientation, but rather a paraphilic disorder. This is basically a sexual predilection detrimental to the object of the interest, and which causes the sufferer significant distress or difficulty dealing with it. Since pedophiles are solely, sexually focused on prepubescent children, any manifestation of the disorder will be- in essence- harmful and unacceptable. Rightfully, we punish such manifestations, including consumption of child pornography as well as “hands-on” offending.

Regardless, I know of no reputable mental health expert who would call pedophilia a “choice.” When it comes to the persistent, chronic sexual attraction to prepubescent children, what we’re dealing with is more of a burden.

Or more bluntly, a curse.

What’s chosen is behavior.  Sexual behavior involving prepubescent children should remain 1) anathema to what is societally acceptable, and 2) severely punished. I’ve spent a career seeking to do these things.

But the author of the op-ed makes valid points when she discusses the need to understand pedophilia instead of just aiming vitriol and anger toward those saddled with this miserable circumstance. There are, as she notes, people with pedophilia who do not act out in response to deep-seated urges. They understand the concrete wrongness of sexually acting out against children, so they painfully but dutifully deny themselves a sexual life.

In my opinion, with a career of seeking to protect children from child molesters behind me, I believe these successfully restrained people should be commended for this, particularly when their concern is more for the children they might harm as it is for the legal or societal consequences they might face. Certainly, they should not be further marginalized, ostracized, or hated. But regardless of how balanced any appeal to common sense or baseline compassion might be, hatred and viciousness are usually what pedophiles encounter.

And so they remain in the shadows, untreated and more deeply misunderstood.

We still have almost no idea what causes pedophilia; correlations between childhood experiences (abusive or non-abusive) have been at best inconclusive. If it’s genetic, we’ve yet to discover a traceable etiology. We know that the vast majority of victims of childhood sexual abuse do not turn around themselves and abuse later in life or “become” pedophiles. Rather, it seems more ingrained, but we don’t know why or how.  We also know that, while most confirmed abusers will claim past sexual abuse, even the threat of a polygraph exam during treatment will bring those claims far down.

So we’re dealing with a very dangerous mystery. But largely as a society, we’re interested in nothing but punishing pedophiles, regardless of their actual status as offenders. If they have this desire, too many of us seem to believe that they’re worthy of the worst we can legally (or otherwise) dish out to them.

The comments to Dr. Margo Kaplan’s piece in the NYT are enlightening in this regard. While some applaud her for her courage in being a voice of reason, many more seem to fall into a couple of categories that, while understandable to some degree, are irrelevant. First, there are commenters who simply make legally and psychologically incorrect assertions, and lump pedophiles into the far larger subset of child molesters, most of whom are not pedophiles. Second, there are woefully unfocused comments that address the harm done to the victims of pedophiles (or people they assume are pedophiles) with no further thought.

Focusing on victims and prevention of harm is more than understandable; it’s completely appropriate and it needs to continue to be our highest priority. But we must also understand what drives offending- particularly when the drive is so despised that passion chokes that understanding.

Again- most predatory, sexual offenders are not pedophiles. The word is grossly overused and misused. Regardless, there are harmful pedophiles in our midst. We need to stop them, but in order to do so, we need to understand them.

Blind hatred won’t help. Blind hatred never helps anything.




Worth Knowing in the Dylan Farrow Case: The Actual Risk of Suggestibility With Children

Tom Lyon, A law professor at the University of Southern California, has a remarkably valuable dual background when it comes to legal child protection: He’s both an attorney and a psychologist. Among the most influential contributions he’s made is this article, plainly titled “Let’s Not Exaggerate the Suggestibility of Children.”

In a child sexual abuse case, suggesting the complainant was either coached to adopt fantasy as reality, or simply did so out of confusion between the two, is a popular defense tactic. It’s particularly attractive because it doesn’t involve judging the victim or accusing her of lying.  She can be viewed as, in a sense, as much a victim as the state is claiming, but in an entirely different way.

This has, not surprisingly, been suggested over and over again regarding the allegations made by Dylan Farrow, adopted daughter of Woody Allen. Countless observers, and indeed Allen himself, have suggested that Dylan is not a devious liar, but instead a sad pawn, indoctrinated to believe a false memory in the context of a vicious divorce and custody battle.

For this reason, it’s important to understand what respected research has to say on the subject of- in fact- how suggestible children are. I’d encourage you to read the article itself if you’re interested; it’s written for a general audience and not dense or jargon-filled. But in a nutshell, here’s what the research reveals:

1. Very young children (3 and 4, which is about as young as a child can be forensically interviewed except in exceptional circumstances) can be led to adopt false memories or incorrect versions of events. But this only occurs after extreme efforts such as a very long passage of time between the actual event and the interviews, and repeated interviews over time with constant introduction of false memories. And even with these efforts, a majority of these same, very young children will maintain the actual version of events and resist efforts to conflate fantasy and reality.

2. The danger of children conflating fantasy and reality drops off sharply at around 5 or 6 years of age.

3. By the age of 10, children meeting normal developmental milestones are no more susceptible to adopting false memories than adults.

Even more interesting: The first research done on children and susceptibility (often called the “first wave”) was done by respected psychologists, but also child protection advocates and researchers who believed children were not nearly as susceptible as popular culture largely accepted. The so-called “second wave” research was conducted by equally respected psychologists who thought the first-wave researchers were being too rosy in their assessments and set out to demonstrate that children can be made to adopt incorrect or even wholly false versions of events if efforts are strong enough. They succeeded, but generally with extremely young children and through efforts that are virtually unheard of in child abuse cases. 

The bottom line is that yes, mostly toddler-aged children can be led to adopt false memories with repeated, methodical, and highly suggestive attempts to confuse them after a considerable amount of time has passed between the event and the repeated interviews. But even with these tactics, a majority of children will still maintain a a correct version of events.

Dylan Farrow was seven when she allegedly endured what she clearly describes now, at 28, as sexual abuse at the hands of Woody Allen. Describing her as a liar and a willful tool of her embittered mother even after 21 years is arguable, as it always will be. Anyone can lie, and some can lie very convincingly.

But claiming that she was simply, easily and permanently led to create a false memory- at the level of detail she now relates- is a claim utterly unsupported by the very best research on the subject, about half of it conducted by skeptical researchers suspicious of children’s abilities.

Those who believe Allen is innocent may be right; I will never know and neither will they. But neither they nor Allen himself have a right to claim that Dylan was easily confused and now sadly tied to that confusion. To believe Allen is innocent is, in all likelihood, to reject the detailed account Dylan has given, and to reject her as a liar; the worst kind.




Serial Child Predator Jonathan Adleta: Portrait of a Common Occurance

In addition to the horror accompanying the details, it might seem unrealistic that a predator like Jonathan Adleta could find more than one woman willing to provide him a child to rape. And yet Adleta managed to find at least two that authorities know of. This is far more common, sadly, than many realize. Not only are men like Adleta driven to abuse again and again, they are also demonically skilled in attracting people who will give them access to victims again and again.

The “Re-homing” of Children Issue: A Response

Last week, I was contacted privately by an individual who was familiar with “re-homing,” also through an Internet group that included the participation of adoptive parents, some of whom were seeking to get rid of their children, and prospective “parents” looking to procure them.

The person who contacted me is also an adoptive parent, appears to be a dedicated one, and largely regrets any cooperation she might have given to the “re-homing” process. But while she acknowledges the failures and the risks, she still believes there is justification for the attempts some make at abandoning children to others with power of attorney, largely from the perspective of a desperate parent with a dangerous or unmanageable adoptive child. Since she contacted me privately I will not identify her and will do my best to avoid referring to facts that might also do so. But I believe a portion of my response to her is relevant to a further examination of the issue of “re-homing” and how dangerous and utterly thoughtless it can be. So here it is:

I understand your position that not enough resources exist for adoptive parents who find themselves with children who have theretofore unknown problems (or ones hidden from them) that make them not only unmanageable, but also perhaps a danger to themselves and their families. Still, I have little sympathy for adoptive parents in this situation who resolve it by dumping their children (I will not use the phrase “re-homing” without mocking quotes) with strangers and in the most dangerous of potential circumstances.

Adoption is among the most profoundly sobering decisions a prospective parent can make. I’m sure you understand this better than I as you have actually taken this step and appear to be doing so with love and decency. In my view, no prospective parent should ever consider adoption without also having the resources to address every possible type of problem, foreseeable and unforeseeable. If an adopted child becomes a danger to themselves, the parents or other siblings, and must be removed from the parents’ home, then the parents need to be financially prepared to seek institutional care for them, if necessary, but not while disowning them. If the best interests of the child and the family both appear to be in dissolving the adoptive relationship, then it should be attempted only through a formal, legally recognized process. 

You may not know well the tactics of predators who seek out children to exploit, harm or kill, but I can assure you that a “re-homing” platform is among the most powerful and gratifying vectors to what they would consider perfect victims. I say “perfect” because a predator could scarcely imagine a better scenario than parents desperate to pawn off an unwanted child- most likely a child who is emotionally and/or physically compromised to the point where they are virtually powerless to seek help or redress from any type of abuse.  It is a fact that child predators, like all things that hunt, seek the path of least resistance and greatest security. The legal ability to abandon a vulnerable (indeed, perhaps even objectively unlikable) child to a complete stranger with a pro-forma legal document is the clearest imaginable example of those two favored circumstances.

This fact alone makes “rehoming” reckless, cruel, and thoroughly abhorrent, even without considering the less sensational risks of simply unprepared and hopeful parents accepting a “re-homed” child and being even less able to properly care for her or him. Within the “re-homing” universe, what is the incentive for the abandoning parent to be honest about the true extent of the child’s problems (or potential dangers to others) to begin with? The system is about dumping human beings on others, plain and simple. No one should get near it. You shouldn’t have either. 

In a letter you shared with me, you rhetorically asked this question to the author of the original Reuters story: “Why are parents resorting to informal networking groups to help them with adoptions that are failing? Because there are no resources.  Because of societies preconceived notions that these kids just need love, a good family, etc. and all will be well.  Tell that to the mother who finds her daughter raping a sibling with a pencil, tell that to the father who finds out his daughter is giving blow jobs to his 4 year old.  Tell that to the family who has to sleep with their bedroom doors locked because they fear for their lives.”

What I would tell a family in a situation like the ones you describe above is that they are still parents, not renters of human beings. They may have to lock doors. They may have to maintain distance between individuals within the house for the safety of everyone. They may have to very carefully seek out institutional care for their wounded child. They may have to seriously curtail or refine their own goals, dreams and priorities. I don’t claim to know the difficulty of parenting, either my own child or an adoptive one. But I know quite well to not make such a monumental decision without being ready to accept and deal with everything that might befall me- and the rest of my family- if I choose to do so.