By : Dick Swabb
The shocking scale of child abuse within the Catholic Church has come to light in recent years. The first cases emerged in the United States, then in the Ireland, where, within the bishopric of Dublin alone, hundreds of children were abused between 1976 and 20014. Cases in Germany were subsequently exposed, after which hundred of victims came foward in the Netherlands. These revelations show that, as a result of the taboo surrounding pedophilia, we have no idea how frequently such abuse actually occurs–not just in the church but in general.
Pedophilia can have different causes. If an adult suddenly experiences pedophilic urges, they may have a brain tumor in the prefrontal cortex, temporal cortex or hypothalamus. Sometimes it is a symptom of dementia. A sudden switch in sexual inclination to pedophilia has also been caused by operations to cure epilepsy by removing part of the anterior temporal lobe. Such patients can go on to develop Kluver-Bucy syndrome, which involves the loss of sexual inhibition. In the United States, a man who started to download child pornography after an operation of this kind was recently sentenced to ninteen months of imprisonment! Pedophilia can also be caused by infection of the brain, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and brain trauma.
But a neurological cause for pedophilia is rare. Most pedophiles have always been attracted to children, and the cause can be traced to fetal brain development and early development after birth. Just as gender identity and sexual orientation are determined by genetic background and the interaction between a fetus’s sex hormones and its developing brain, so too pedophilia can apparently be explained by genetic and other factors causing the brain to develop abnormally at an early stage, leading to structural differences. I was once shown a family tree that included three generations of pedophile men. Deviant sexual behavior (like pedophilia) is displayed by a high percentage (18 percent) of first-degree relatives of pedophiles, pointing to genetic factor. In addition, pedophiles are more likely to have been sexually abused by adults as young children. At the end of 2009, the leader of the Northern Irish party Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, went public with the painful family secret that his father had abused his own children, while his brother was in turn suspected of having sexually abused his daughter. Whether abuse as a children causal factor in the development of pedophilia in adulthood or whether there’s a genetic factor in such families, still needs to be investigated.
Daniel Gajdusek (1923-2008), a man of remarkable talent who studied physics, biology, mathematics and medicine in the United States, thought that abuse as a child could cause pedophilia. He had himself been abused by an uncle as a child. I once had the dubious honor of chairing a lecture by the hypomanic Gajdusek; my colleagues were amused by my vain attempts to keep him in check. Gajdusek had been researching the cause of mass deaths of young women and children from the disease kuru in the villages in the interior of New Guinea in 1957. At the time, it was still a Dutch colony, and he was able to find his way there by using Dutch ordnance survey maps that he’d stolen from the Leiden endocrinology department headed by Dries Querido. Gajdusek discovered that the deaths were indirectly caused by cannibalism. Long after they had eaten the brain of conquered enemies, the victims were struck down by a slow-acting virus, one of whose symptoms was dementia. The disease turned out to be caused by prions (infectious agents mad of protein) just like mad cow disease. In 1996 Gajdusek was awarded the Novel Prize for Medicine. However, when he returned from New Guinea and other remote locations it wasn’t just with brain tissue for further research; he also brought back fifty-six children, mostly little boys. We always thought that this was very odd. He took them into his home and gave them an education, but as an accusation made by a man who had lived with him as a child later revealed, also molested them. He was imprisoned for a year and died in 2009.
There are all kinds of factors in early development that could influence the risk of developing pedophilia. It would seem logical to study them, but the taboo on this condition stands in the way. Who in our society would dare openly admit to being pedophile and take part in research into the causes of this disorder?
In recent years, the first structural differences have been reported between the brains of pedophiles and those of remote control groups. A study involving magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed that the former have less gray matter (neurons) in the various area of the brain, like the hypothalamus, the bend nucleus of the stria terminalis (whose size also differs in the transsexuals), and the amygdala, which play a role in sex, fear and aggressive behavior. It moreover emerged that the smaller the amygdala, the more like an individual was to commit pedophilic crimes. Exposure to emotional and erotic images of adult sparks less activity in the hypothalamus and prefrontal cortex of pedophile men than in control men, which ties in with the fact that pedophiles are less sexually interested in adults. Convicted pedophiles display greater amygdala activity than control men in response to image of children. Functional scans of the brain of homosexual, heterosexual and pedophile men shown pictures of men, women, girls and boys moreover show a clear difference between these group in terms of brain activity. However, we must bear in mind that research into pedophilia focuses solely on a small, selected group of pedophiles. The majority are able to control their urges, don’t commit crimes, and therefore aren’t studied.
Sexual abuse damages children and is punished, not only for reasons of atonement but also to prevent further abuse. The latter objective poses a problem, though because how do you change behavior that has been programmed in the brain at an early stage of development? In the past, every conceivable effort has been made to change homosexual men into heterosexuals, without any success whatsoever. The same applies to pedophiles. Not so long ago, a court in Utrecht heard the case of sixty-year-old heterosexual church minister charged with pedosexuality. The prosecution called for a sentence of ten months in prison, but after a great deal deliberation he was eventually given a community sentence. How things have changed.
There was a time when an obscure mix of arguments bearing on eugenics, punishment, the protection of society, and the repression of homosexuality led to the castration of pedosexuals in Netherlands. Between 1938 to 1968, at least four hundred sex offenders were “voluntarily” castrated. This practice wasn’t laid down by law. These were offenders detained under a hospital order who were given the choice of his life imprisonment or castration. They had to submit a standard letter to minister of justice, the text of which ran, “May i humbly crave Your Excellency’s permission to be castrated?”. Up to 1950, 80 percent of the castrated men were pedosexual, a situation complicated by the high legal age of sexual consent (sixteen). In Germany, the hypothalami of pedophiles were surgically lesioned in the hope that this would change their sexual orientation. These brain operations were never scientifically documented.
The incidence of chemical castrations among offenders detained under a hospital order is currently increasing. This involves suppressing the libido with a substance that diminishes the effect of testosterone. It can provide relief at being freed from sexual obsession. However, it’s worrying that some of the individuals are being chemically castrated because the authorities would otherwise deny that applications for leave. These substance certainly aren’t suitable for every sex offender, and the side effects, including the development of breasts, obesity and osteoporosis are serious.
The pedosexual minister from Utrecht can thank his lucky stars that things have changed since the days of formal castration requests. The judge who presided over his case was worried about reoffending, and rightly so. Nevertheless, he thought that the six-week pretiral detention would have a deterrent effect and that the combination of a long conditional sentence and a community order would be more effective than lenghty imprisonment. Whether he was right we’ll never know, because the judicial system has no tradition of researching the effectiveness of its punishments. And the medical world, alas, has no tradition of researching the factors in early development that cause pedophilia. Doing away with the taboo on such research could shed light on these factors and on the best methods of checking pedophile impulses and stopping people from reoffending. This would prevent a great deal of misery for all concerned.
The same applies to female pedophiles. The idea that women can’t be guilty of pedosexuality has been found to be a myth. Sexual abuse of children by women is usually perpetrated by mothers on their own offspring. For the most part, the victims are girls with and average age of around six. The mothers tend to be poor and uneducated and often have mental health problem like cognitive impairment, psychoses, or addictions.
An initiative in Canada has shown that it’s possible to tackle this issue by quite simple means. There, pedosexuals are helped by group of volunteers after their detention. The resulting social network has been shown to cut reoffending rates quite considerably. This is much better than the situation in the Netherlands, where in late 2009, a pedophile was first banned from the city of Eindhoven by its mayor, then prohibited from entering a national park in the province of Utrecht. The man now lives in his car and travels from parking lot to parking lot. That’s asking for trouble. But the Netherlands is trying out the Canadian initiative. Another way of preventing child abuse might to be issue smart form of fake child pornography that don’t involve the abuse of real children. Milton Diamond, a renowned sexologist in Hawaii, has found considerable evidence to suggest that his works. However, it will no doubt prove difficult to convince the authorities to consider such an innovative idea.
Origin : We Are Our Brains, Dick Swaab, m/s 72-77, terbitan Penguin Group, 2014.