Saturday, February 2, 2013

Psychology of a Pedophile

We have seen over the years various responses to the Church's pedophila abuse scandal, which largely broke in the media in 2002. These have included greater scrutiny and openness among bishops and clergy with regards to reporting, stricter sanctions, the implementation of various third party investigations, and even calls from dissenting Church affiliates for married priests or women priests or a shakeup of Church sexual teaching. There are valid responses to these issues, whether they be implementation, rebuttal, or explanation of the truth of Church doctrine on faith and morals (see for example 10 Myths About Priestly Pedophilia from Crisis Magazine or anything by Philip Lawler on the matter (see CatholicCulture or his book The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture).

For the purposes of this post, I'd like to draw attention to a dimension of the matter perhaps forgotten, unknown, or ignored.

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned Professor Charol Shakeshaft, on staff with Hofstra University and Virginia Commonwealth University, conducted a study revealing widespread child sexual abuse statistics among the nation's educators and school staff.  Citing several different researchers, the study states:
As a group, these studies present a wide range of estimates of the percentage of U.S. students subject to sexual misconduct by school staff and vary from 3.7 to 50.3 percent.   Because of its carefully drawn sample and survey methodology, the AAUW [American Association of University Women] report that nearly 9.6 percent of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career presents the most accurate data available at this time.
Last year, the high profile case of Jerry Sandusky, arrested for sexual molestation, centered around the non-profit he founded––The Second Mile, a charity ministering to at-risk youth.

Also last year, the Boy Scouts of America released 20 years of data regarding sexual abuse occurring within its boundaries. Studies regarding the Girl Scouts are hard to find, although it is, unfortunately, easy to find cases of abuse occurring by Girl Scout leaders in only a few minutes of searching.

A characteristic common to persons in these professions––priests, educators, youth volunteers, scout leaders, or related professions––is their proximity to children in the very line of work.

Not long after the 2002 Church scandal broke, I came across the August 2003 issue of Psychology Today. In that issue is an article called The Mind of a Child Molester (PDF here).

The first-person confession is adapted from the book Conversations With a Pedophile by Amy Hammel-Zabin. The perpetrator, referenced only as the imprisoned "Alan X," describes the temptation toward molesting other boys even when he was very young himself. In his teen years, he eyed a 10 year old neighbor. In order to gain access to the boy, he volunteered to mow the neighbor's lawn and worked his way to baby-sitting. Aware of the disorder, Alan admits:
After high school I joined the military for a couple of years in the hopes I could alter my path away from pedophilia.
Notice when Alan desired to act out his disorder, he worked his way toward the place where he could find a victim. When he tried to avoid his disorder, he went toward a place where he could not access his preferred victims. Soon after, he returned to his deviance and returned from the military. He writes:
One of the first things I did in my efforts to get established was to associate myself with a local church, one that, of course, sponsored a small Boy Scouts troop. Two months after I joined...[t]he elders asked me to take over [as scoutmaster], and I declined. I desperately wanted to once again be in a position where I was surrounded by young boys but I did not want to take that step until I had the entire congregation convinced that I was doing this with extreme reluctance.
Alan proceeded to build trust among victims and subsequently abused them.

One thing pertinent in this account is the perpetrator's deviance was not borne of his association with the church or the Boy Scouts. Rather, his disorder existed prior to joining those organizations. He brought the disorder to the venue in which he could live out his disorder. And he faked various attitudes to give the impression of his sincerity. He pretended to be a legitimate scout master, when in fact, his motive was ill-rooted.

The ministerial priesthood, education, youth volunteer groups, scouts, and other related groups fit the desired profile for such a disordered pedophile. Thus, those whom criticize such organizations as themselves the cause for the disorder may be well off the mark, such as in the case of Alan X.

This seems to be an extension of the psychological condition of a wish fulfillment, medically defined thusly: "In psychoanalytic theory, the satisfaction of a desire, need, or impulse through a dream or other exercise of the imagination." However, in the case of some deviants, the satisfaction of the disorder goes beyond the imagination, and into reality, as in the above case study.

Several years ago, the Church moved to implement psychological screening for pedophilia in seminaries. The Church, and the other organizations, should at least be aware of how they might be viewed by a potential pedophile, how they might be viewed as utilitarian for a perpetrator's disorder. Being alert to this phenomenon, and working with psychological professionals, could prove beneficial in preventing abuse and helping those with the disorder.

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