“All the forms of sexual perversion…have one thing in common: their roots reach down into the matrix of natural and normal sex life; there they are somehow closely connected with the feelings and expressions of our physiological erotism. They are…hyperbolic intensifications, distortions, monstrous fruits of certain partial and secondary expressions of this eroticism which is considered ‘normal’ or at least within the limits of healthy sex feeling.”
(Eulenburg (1914). Ueber sexualle Perversionen. Ztschr. f. Sexualwissenschaft, Vol. I, No. 8. translated in Stekel, Wilhelm. (1940). Sexual aberrations: The phenomena of fetishism in relation to sex. New York: Liveright, p. 4.)
During 40 days of my ten-month stay in prison, I spent nearly 20 to 48 hours at a time with a pedophile who had sexually abused his 20-month old daughter. Having spent some time before prison practicing non-standard psychoanalysis, I engaged him in analysis. Closeness of space, a small cell, shared toilet, shared meals made us friends. Non-communicative at first, distrustful and distraught, suicidal and feeling a great deal of intra-personal guilt and disgust, it took some days before he began to open up to me. We discussed the event, I kept it confidential from the other prisoners in the vulnerable prisoners wing (F-wing at HMP Bedford). Even though this wing houses known sex offenders, pedophiles are at the lowest level of the prison hierarchy. UK prison rule 45 separates vulnerable prisoners from the general population; these prisoners may be there because of high-profile cases, for instance Hardeep Hunjan and Ian Stewart, neither convicted of sexual offenses. I met both of them, worked with them in the ‘shop,’ played chess with them, and Hunjan was the first person I had a conversation with in prison. His body, marked in ink, and his presence demonstrated a serial frustration and an intriguing beauty. I told him he must write a book about his life. Being in prison changes the narratives behind the media’s headlines. Monsters abound in contemporary discourse, usually those who commit specific, inter-personal acts of violence; almost no one engaged in systematic, economic and military violence is imprisoned. However, addressing the signifying chains that lead some people to prison for killing an individual while allowing those who kill millions to live in luxury is only an ancillary part of this article.
Bringing my own personal discomfort, at times anger and frustration, to the ‘sessions’ I had with my pedophile cell-mate, coupled with the fact I was in prison for something I didn’t do, and as a result of being sexually misused myself, provided both a distortion and clarity in our work together. Yet, I knew that to understand this unique individual, to understand what is so often hidden and demonized in Western society, I needed to remain non-judgemental and open. This is not to say I wasn’t confrontational. During a session in the first week I had him rethink whether or not, in retrospect, his desires should have precluded him from having children. “Tony that session, so painful, was like medicine that hurts terribly, but I think it’s working, you are right, I thought about it and I should have never had children.” Eventually, throughout the forty days with him, we unraveled the complexities of existence; he had been protecting his girlfriend, who also abused their daughter; he refused to give information to the police that would bring a criminal case against her. I suggested: where does your responsibility lie? You are existentially responsible for your child, you are partly the reason she exists at all; you have no such connection to your girlfriend. After being transferred I received a letter from him, that because the work we had done, and after seeing that his girlfriend would never admit to the abuse in family court, he instructed his counsel to inform the court. The girlfriend was immediately banned from contact with the child, and the case progressed; last I heard she had only supervised visitation. While she may not be criminally prosecuted, an outcome that my cell-mate and I did not want (he became a prison abolitionist during this time), it is almost certain that she will not have parental rights over her child. By being open the experiences, feelings and bonding with a pedophile further damage against a child was prevented. Paradoxically demonizing pedophiles does nothing to end their desires, and often places them in such social isolation that they cannot seek help. “If I went to my GP (doctor) and asked for help preventing myself from acting on my desire, they would call the police, I would be prosecuted even for asking for help,” he said to me. I realized that something needed to change. We both came to the conclusion that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, and desire cannot be changed, but as with any sexual orientation there are responsibilities. Non-consensual sex between adults are acts of severe violence, and there can be no consensual sexual relations between an adult and a 20-month old child.
Eschewing mind/body dualism, along with the biology as destiny tropes or it’s all semiotic, empirically analyzing certain traits of sociological groups, in this case pedophiles, Dr James Cantor “has … conducted studies with sex offenders using MRIs. He has found they have less white matter — the connective tissue that carries messages to other parts of the brain — than other types of criminal offenders. The evidence suggests pedophilia results from atypical wiring in the brain. Cantor calls it “cross-wiring”: the stimuli that usually evoke nurturing and protective reactions in adults is instead evoking sexual reactions in pedophiles.” While I am skeptical of this initial phase of data sets, and Cantor himself admits he needs more “competition” (there are only two groups looking at the neurosciences of pedophilia, meta-analysis of pedophiles seems to show a statistically significant predilection for left-handedness, which is developed in the womb (we know this because ante-natal scans show fetuses have a preference for which thumb they suck, and this later becomes their dominant hand); pedophiles score lower on IQ tests, however, while I am highly skeptical of the methodology of the IQ test (especially when it is conducted on people in prison), it may have some correlative properties (pedophiles attracted to very young children statistically have the lowest IQ’s, whereas the aggregated data suggests that the older the object of desire the higher the IQ, therefore are we witnessing a type of psycho-social leveling whereby the pedophile feels/thinks as-if or that they are a child? We know that children sexually experiment among themselves. Are pedophiles identifying as children at some neurological, unconscious and semiotic level?
The Star reports,
“Not all sex offenders who target children are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles are sex offenders,” says Dr. Michael Seto, a pedophilia expert and forensic researcher with the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.
Seto, a former colleague of Cantor’s at CAMH, has found that only 50 to 60 per cent of convicted sex offenders are pedophiles. The rest have sexually abused children for reasons beyond attraction — personality disorders, chaotic households or violent impulses.
His research has focused on psychological traits shared by sex offenders, potentially providing insight into why some pedophiles molest children, while other “virtuous” pedophiles like Edwards are apparently able to control their urges.
Seto has found that sex offenders are much more likely to have a sexual abuse history than other types of criminal offenders. Certain traits, including impulsiveness, risk-taking behaviour, sexual preoccupation and lack of empathy, are also shared by sex offenders.
He has argued forcefully for pedophilia to be thought of as a sexual orientation — an idea he acknowledges is controversial, but hopes will actually help prevent child abuse.
“Right now, it’s really slanted so that the treatment services are for people who have gotten into trouble,” he says. “Obviously, we need that, but I think where there is a big gap is in terms of prevention. How do we reach people who are sexually attracted to children and are aware of it?”
One of the concerns with labelling pedophilia a sexual orientation is the potential for parallels to be drawn with homosexuality. Seto is quick to point out the difference between orientation based on age, and orientation based on gender.
However, if pedophilia was widely viewed as a sexual orientation, effective treatment could focus on self-regulation skills — avoiding acting on one’s urges — rather than trying in vain to change sexual preferences, he wrote in a research paper last year.
“Pedophiles will remain hidden if they continue to be hated and feared, which would impede efforts to better understand this sexual orientation and thereby prevent child sexual exploitation,” he wrote.
Mandatory reporting laws make it incredibly risky for pedophiles to tell therapists about their desires. In Canada, one is only required to report to the police if a specific child is at risk, but the laws can be misunderstood by mental health professionals, says Seto.”
While the neurological research is in its infancy, and even using it in post-modernist discourse oddly leads to denunciations of “biological essentialism” by some queer/critical theorists, I think that inferences can be made from looking at the brain empirically. Of course, the social ‘envelope’ – including the diachronic and synchronic experiential/environmental and discursive realities – must be taken into profound account. Language matters, it shapes empirical research as much as empirical research shapes language. While there may be no biological essence, there is biology. Without scientific research hormone treatment, Sex Reassignment Surgery and other treatments to adjust the gendered body from one category to another would not exist.
“Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician who could easily be considered the father of transgender health care, coined the term “transvestite” in 1918 at his Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Defining transvestism as the desire to express one’s gender in opposition to their defined sex, Hirschfeld and his colleagues used this now antiquated label as a gateway to the provision of sex changing therapies and as a means to protect his patients. Going against the grain, Hirschfeld was one of the first to offer his patients the means to achieve sex change, either through hormone therapy, sex change operations, or both.
In a time when his contemporaries aimed to “cure” transgender patients of their alleged mental affliction, Hirschfeld’s Adaptation Theory supported those who wanted to live according to the gender they felt most aligned with, as opposed to the gender that their sex obligated them to abide by. Much of the history of the institute’s early works were destroyed in the wake of the Nazi book burnings in 1933, but as far as history can prove, Hirschfeld’s institute was the first to offer gender reassignment surgery.”
An iconoclast physician, not a just speculative theorist, Hirschfeld’s work at the bio-chemical and anatomical level has allowed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, to transition medically to the gender they are. Science is riddled with disaster and unethical violations, yet a dialectical analysis shows its benefits too.
If neurology demonstrate clues to pedophilia, or at least “markers” of desire, as Cantor is attempting, then I see this as a positive step in the right direction. A stronger case for the neurological basis pedophilia as a sexual desire comes from Virginia,
“In one case, a 40-year-old teacher in Virginia with no history of sexual deviance suddenly became interested in child pornography and was arrested for molesting his prepubescent stepdaughter.
The night before his sentencing, he showed up at an emergency room with a bad headache. An MRI revealed a tumor compressing his brain’s right frontal lobe.
When the tumor was removed, his obsession faded, according to Dr. Russell Swerdlow, a neurologist on the case. A year later he again became sexually fixated on children. The tumor was growing back.“
Acting as telemeters, grasping these signals of data, language, history and experience, social critics must continue to advance a critique against the discourse that labels the pedophile as evil. Cantor found that there is not a significant issue within the frontal lobe for pedophiles, meaning that they are not (barring some severe brain damage, as with Phineas Gage) socially dis-inhibited. In other words, they have agency over their desires. However, as The Los Angeles Times reports, “Dr. Fred Berlin, a psychiatrist who heads the Johns Hopkins Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit. “[Pedophiles] are tortured souls fighting like heck not to do this. We do virtually nothing in terms of reaching out to these folks. We drive it underground.” In that same article, and to conclude,
“Many experts view it as a sexual orientation as immutable as heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is a deep-rooted predisposition — limited almost entirely to men — that becomes clear during puberty and does not change.
The best estimates are that between 1% and 5% of men are pedophiles, meaning that they have a dominant attraction to prepubescent children.
Not all pedophiles molest children. Nor are all child molesters pedophiles. Studies show that about half of all molesters are not sexually attracted to their victims. They often have personality disorders or violent streaks, and their victims are typically family members.
By contrast, pedophiles tend to think of children as romantic partners and look beyond immediate relatives.”
The time has come to open the discussion around pedophilia. Historical and cultural considerations and careful analysis of why subjectivity and post-subjectivity turn a sexual Event into a trauma need clear analysis. Bio-chemical research over incarceration needs to be funded. Cantor’s entire research costs about the same as it does to put one person in prison for sexually abusing a child. I believe that a welcoming openness around discussing, understanding and empathizing with pedophiles’ desires, not sexual abuse that can arise from it, is the best way to prevent child sexual abuse. I know from experience: I have stopped a child from being further abused sexually because of an open, non-judgemental approach. I would like to ask my detractors, have you? As a queer, prison abolitionist I am ready to welcome this group, treated as abject monsters because of their sexual orientation, which is based on age not gender (an important distinction), into the LGBTQI movement. LGBTQI(P)?