Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Exploring the Mind of a Pedophile

There is an article in Aish.com on child molestation and its prevention. It is a worthwhile read. And though it does not tackle some of the hard issues discussed here and elsewhere about what the Torah world is or isn’t doing in this respect - it does tell us in very clear language how to deal with this issue before, during and after an abuse takes place. It is written by David Mandel; and Doctors Susan Schulman and David Pelcovitz.

These three people are professionals who are and have been intimately involved with victims of molestations for many years and in my view are experts in the field.
One of the most striking points made in this article is the following:

Pedophiles need to be pushed to seek professional treatment, pushed out of circumstances where they can be in regular contact with children, pushed into supervised and controlled environments, or pushed into the criminal justice system.

Pedophilia is a treatable disease. While it is not curable, long-term treatment can be administered over several years, and if the perpetrator is compliant, this can allow him to return to a relatively normal life.

This seems to be counter intuitive. Pedophiles are thought by many to be evil people – even monsters – worthy of life sentences in prison - not merely 'pushed into supervised and controlled environments'. Certainly some of the most frequently mentioned pedophiles by newspapers columns and blogs are deserving of long prison terms if not worse!

But the truth of the matter is that morals and ethics apply here too -as does human nature. The sex drive – what Freud called the libido – is one of the most powerful forces in nature. It can be used positively or negatively. It can manifest itself in various different ways in different people -both normal an abnormal. It is not what one’s sexual proclivities that is important but how one deals with them.

One who succumbs to an abnormal personal sexual desire - and involves the unwilling participation of others can very well end up doing what some of the more infamous pedophiles have done. They have of course injured hundreds if not thousands of precious souls. But it doesn’t always have to end up that way for the pedophile. One perhaps has no control over one’s sexual desires. But one does have control over one’s actions. And this is key.

The fact is that a pedophile – no matter how disgusted we are by such people – can be a decent and contributing member of society – if he does not act on his desires. This is true of all of us, even those of us with normal libidos. The difference is that when a normal libido is unleashed it will result in permitted behavior. Or it will at least result in socially acceptable behavior - that may be forbidden. But is behavior that society hardly notices. An affair between a man and a married woman hardly registers a blip on our moral radar screens. But an encounter between a pedophile and a child registers a major earthquake on our moral Richter scales – as it should. Both instances should.

A glimpse into the mind of an ethical and tormented pedophile might offer some revealing insight into such individuals. The brilliant ‘Chana’ has given us such an opportunity. She has written a story that will make your hair stand on edge. But it will also reveal the humanity and thought processes of a pedophile desperately struggling with his own forbidden sexual urges. It is a chilling story and should remind that there are truly good people in the world who do not necessarily have good thoughts. But they can and do subdue those urges – and struggle mightily to do so.

The Gemarah in Kedushin (30A) tells of the Freudian concept of sublimation. This is the process whereby the powerful sex drive is unconsciously channeled into highly productive non sexual behavior. Learning Torah, the Gemarah tells us, is the best way to avoid the sexual sin. It takes the sexual drive and its energy and converts it toward great achievement in Torah.

I think it is worthwhile to reconsider our approach to this and not to have knee jerk reactions. Pedophiles – or anyone with abnormal sexual desires - are sick people. They need help. And if they cannot control their desires even with professional help they require jail. But each case should be judged on an individual basis. Because who knows the mind of even the best Mechanech