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Thursday, January 17, 2013
In light of the recent rape incident that shook the country, I was asked to write an article trying to better understand Pedophilia as one of the sexual deviancies/ sexual disorders. I wanted to share it in the forum in case it was useful to anyone.
Write back if you have any queries :).
is a psychiatric disorder that is used to describe an individual 16 years or
older who has a primary sexual interest in prepubescent children, 11 years or
to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), in order to make a
diagnosis of pedophilia, the person initiating the sexual relationship must be
at least five years older than the prepubescent child. The ICD- 10 describes it
as a ‘disorder of adult personality and behavior’.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
(DSM-IV TR) describes it as a paraphilia- a sexual attraction to something out
of the norm.
as a practice is a punishable offense in most parts of the world. In the light
of the current story that’s making the news- the story of Nirbhaya- the girl in
Delhi that lost her life recently; we pause this New Year to ask ourselves- how
much do we know about sexual offenses and sexual disorders. Further, how
prepared are we to handle something like this?
In order to better understand a
concept like pedophilia, that seems so bizarre and unacceptable to all of us, a
metanalysis conducted by Finkelhor and Araji proposed a four factor model to
explain why adults get attracted sexually to young children. The first
explanation they propose is called Emotional Congruence Theory developing from
the psychoanalytical school of thought. This model proposes that people with
pedophilia have arrested psychological development. Thus Pedophiles experience
themselves as children with child like needs and thus wish to relate to other
theory of symbolic mastery suggests that a relationship with a child helps the
pedophile have a sense of mastery of shame, humiliation and guilt encountered
as a child at the hands of an adult. Thus one of the ways in which the
pedophile combats the childhood sense of powerlessness is by reversing the
roles in adulthood and overpowering another child.
A second model called sexual arousal to children comes from
the point of view that the act is not sexual in nature at all. Like rape is a
crime of violence, pedophilia is a crime of power and dominance.
A third group of theories called the blockage theories try
to understand why pedophiles cannot get the same amount of sexual stimulation
or satisfaction from heterosexual adults. Individual psychology theories claim
that the individuals have an extremely high sense of castration anxiety that
makes it impossible for them to function normally with adult women and have
sexual relations with them. A more practical explanation from the same
theoretical orientation claims that pedophilia is a reaction or an outcome to
earlier experiences with failed sexual attempts- like impotency, abandonment by
the first lover etc.
A final explanation of this disorder is a group of theories
called disinhibition theories. A number of studies conducted along these lines
discovered that pedophiles generally have lower impulse control, neurological
deficits, alcohol abuse or senility contributing to this behavior. Similar
studies have also found pedophiles to have lower intelligence levels than
they may have situational factors like unemployment, losses etc that are major
stressors for them. This leads to another related factor that in the diathesis
stress model, pedophiles have a lower threshold of stress tolerance making even
small triggers very difficult to handle. A study also showed that early
incidence of child molestation led to a cycle reaction inducing pedophilic
behavior later on.
A study conducted in 2008 identified a neural imbalance or
a deficient mechanism in the amygdala of the brain which is responsible for
arousal and emotional valuation. The normal regulating mechanism is absent in pedophiles
thus reversing the mechanism and resulting in deviant sexual behavior.
Clinical psychologists and researchers primarily use three
methods to diagnose pedophilia- sexual behavior (history), self reports and
psycho physiological behavior responses. Some of the tests used to measure
psycho physiological behavior responses include polygraph tests and viewing
time. In crime related questions, polygraph tests show an elevated rate of
heartbeat, skin conductance, respiration etc. Further in viewing tests,
pedophiles ‘linger’ on images of children longer than normal people.
One of the surer predictors of pedophilic behavior include
possession of child pornography. Further, a phallometric measure of sexual
arousal to children is positively correlated to later sexual offense. Similarly,
there is also a positive correlation between antisocial personality disorder
and later sexually deviant behavior.
With the above studies, we can see how pedophilia is a
disorder and needs treatment and help. In terms of research conducted on how
best to work with such a problem, studies show that there may be a few ways to
develop insight in such individuals as they are often in denial.
One way is to treat pedophile as an addiction and assign
individuals to a de- addiction group. Another method suggests using insight
oriented therapy to discuss in depth emotional and childhood concepts. Another
way to work with this issue could be aversion therapy by associating the
pedophilic urge/fantasy to something repulsive like an electric shock/nausea
etc. Covert sensitization in which the person imagines the consequences of
engaging in the activity like imprisonment may also prove to be beneficial in
management of the tendencies.
Finally, victim empathy training in which the individual is
exposed to materials like audio and print material in which victims describe
the horror and their experiences may help the perpetrator empathize with his
victims better and check his impulses.
With respect to medication, anti androgen medicines that
reduce the sexual urges and desire are the only effectively researched drugs.
It is important as parents and others working with such
individuals that we work with the trauma of the victims first in a sensitive
way. It is best to work with it like a post traumatic disorder in order to
prevent uninhibited sexual promiscuity in later years or the extreme guilt and
isolation (the other extreme).
When working with such individuals, it’s important to
always put the safety of the child first even if it means shifting the child
away from its primary home if that is best for them at that time. The counselor
or social worker is advised to work with caution and kindness but firmness to
help the child understand that it is not their fault in any way.
do we do as citizens, as social workers and counselors, as parents and people
sensitizing the community? How would we ‘prevent rather than cure’ and protect
our children from this evil?
practical tips include,
disclose personal information, such as your address, to strangers online.
meet privately in person with anyone you have met online.
get close to a car if a stranger stops and asks for directions.
accept a ride from, or go anywhere alone with, an adult you don’t know.
adult should touch you or ask you to touch him in any way that is confusing or
frightening. If this happens, refuse and tell your parent immediately.
adult should ever ask you to keep a touch or a kiss secret. If this happens, tell
your parent immediately.
any of these things happens, you will not be punished even if you have broken a
children the difference between good and bad touch, having frank discussions
about sex when appropriate and value based classes that constantly ingrain good
values in children may help them to be better prepared for unforeseen events.
They may be better equipped to say no if the situation is fishy or inappropriate.
Finally, self defense must be incorporated in the school curriculum so that
children are prepared to protect themselves at least early on by calling for
help, stalling or buying more time. Basic things like keeping to a group,
sticking to a curfew, avoiding peer pressure and substance abuse may also
reduce the risk of being in a vulnerable position.
healthy bond of trust should exist between parent and child so that in the
event of any regrettable incident, the child feels comfortable sharing it with
their parents without the fear of being blamed, condemned or worse yet,
Finkelhor, D. (1986).
Explanations of Pedophilia: A Four Factor Model. Journal Of Sex Research,
Sartorius, A. (2008).
Abnormal amygdala activation profile in pedophilia. European Archives Of
Psychiatry & Clinical Neuroscience, 258(5), 271-277.
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