Offending and non-offending paedophiles
Interview with Dr. Cosimo Schinaia by Giulia Aloisio in occasion of filmed interview (see below) shown at City University, London for the MA in TV Journalism by Daniel Pashley
1) In your book "On Paedophilia"(Karnac Books, London 2010), you explain that many paedophiles respond to psychotherapy with a defensive approach that shows either apathy or boredom; you suggest that they do as they are faced with an "emotional paralysis" regarding their victims. However, this description concerns offenders, people who inflicted sexual violence on a child. Is the reaction different when it comes to non-offending paedophiles?
: The original title of my book, “Pedofilia Pedofilie. La Psicoanalisi e il Mondo del Pedofilo” (Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 2001) [translated in English On Paedophilia (Karnac Books, London), but in French Figures de la Pédophilie, (L’Harmattan, Paris) and in Spanish Pedofilia Pedofilias (Él Duende, Madrid) and in Portuguese Pedofilia Pedofilias (EDUSP, São Paulo) and in Polish Pedofilia Psychoanaliza I świat pedofila (GWP, Gdansk) and in German (Pädophilie. Eine Psychoanalytische Untersuchung (Psychisozial-Verlag, Giessen)] is aimed at indicating the common mistake of using the word “paedophilia” in all-inclusive terms. The profiles of paedophiles differ both in terms of behaviour and from a psychopathological perspective; time-by-time, it is necessary to make distinctions between different cases, identifying the right diagnosis, the prognosis and a possible treatment. If some paedophiles, in a totally narcissistic and destructive way, do not show feelings of compassion towards their victims, who become inanimate objects of their pleasure, some others transform their victims into accomplices, attributing to them attractions, feelings or passions that are not part of their emotional baggage.
The possible condescension, passive or not, is sometimes related with the need of protection or, in other cases, with the need for attention, affection, the need of someone who takes care of them. It is common to say that children would do anything to be loved, sometimes even forgiving the worst mistakes of adults (e.g. their parents).
The psychological mechanisms that underlie the experiences of non-offending paedophiles do not necessarily differ from those of other paedophiles. In some cases, the fear of a social disapproval, interiorized as moral law, prevails; in some other cases, the child is idealized as someone who is ready to receive and enjoy sexual attentions; in other cases, however, the child is seen as a suffering creature with whom the paedophile identify himself and, therefore, someone that he would like to protect, comfort of love through his actions, not realizing that the sexualization of emotional needs leads to an unrealistic perception of the child.
It is specifically with non-offending paedophiles that the prevailing image is that of a suffering child, not loved enough, in need of care, to whom the paedophile think it is necessary to give an affective response, tinged with sensuality. However, if the affective response has characteristics of sexual excitement, there is not a real recognition of the child’s needs, but only a distortion of them.
2) In your book, you also argue that paedophiles often suffered violence from their parents when they were children and that, many times, they were affected by the lack of role models during their youth's years. Can you deepen this point for us? According to the above analysis, do you think that it is possible to assume that paedophilia generally develops as a result of cultural-societal influences and life experiences? Or is there a biological factor?
While it is true that the stories of many paedophiles are characterized by past violence, traumas or micro traumas, both at the physical and the mental level (indeed, today we can also talk about family mental abuse or developmental trauma disorder DTD, because trauma is pervasive in the first ten years of development)), it is not automatic to assume that someone who has been abused as a child will turn into a paedophile. In this respect, it is important to avoid stereotypes that can violate twice the abused child. That said, it is clear that family, as well as the micro-social and socio-cultural environments or negative encounters, can foster the development of the disorder. Many scholars have tried to identify a biological factor (someone identifies as a cause an alteration of the production of serotonin or dopamine, or an alteration of the blood concentration of testosterone or of prolactin), but the gene (or bacterium) of paedophilia was never found. The facts that the interplay between environment and genetic makeup and biological and psychological mechanisms is inextricable and that environment can influence the genetic makeup and vice versa should be the starting point for any multifactorial reflection.
3) In your analysis of paedophilia, you state that the paedophile is "dogmatically convinced of the rightness and lawfulness of his inclinations and desires". However, the two non-offending paedophiles we spoke with were profoundly ashamed of their urges towards children and recognise that adult-child sex is something wrong, which they will never do. How would you comment it?
It is all about defensive modes, somehow specular, depending on how the subject has incorporated ethical models of socio-cultural order. Let me be clear. The dogmatic regarding the building of a paedophilic desire deemed to be legitimate is a powerful defense against the guilt for not recognizing the generational difference. Paedophiles often compensate for the pain (and, sometimes, guilt) towards their inclinations with a sort of biological or pathological explanation for the nature of their urges. If the guilt prevails, the response of paedophiles is to accentuate the characteristic of rightness of their guilt; if the biological explanation prevails, the urgency and unsustainability of the feelings is emphasized, although paedophiles are well aware of the abusive aspect of the matter. One of my patients used to say: “I would want to oppose these insane ideas, but I cannot do it, it is something inherent to my person.”
4) On a similar note, you treated several non-offending paedophiles as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. How reliable do you think that non-offending paedophiles generally are when they say that they will never offend? Have you ever faced cases of paedophiles who defined themselves as "ethical" and then could not resist the impulse of physically approaching a child?
There is no absolute answer, as the psychopathological picture of the paedophile is very important. It is fundamental to establish if the paedophile’s mental framework is neurotic or psychotic, or if aspects of perversion or perversity prevail. Certainly, the non-offending element is a good starting point for the possibility of undertaking a potentially successful treatment. It happened to me to have patients who, despite having expressed abhorrence towards child-abuse, have then succumbed to their urges. But I also had patients who did not manifest tendency towards seductive abuse or child molestation, but who then acted violently towards other people or towards themselves (serious suicide attempts). In these cases we can see the transformation of the paedophile’s aggressiveness. These experiences should make us think twice about treatments such as castration (chemical or physical), as the problems of these people, as I would say in Italian, are “nella testa, non nei testicoli”, which means the problems are in their psyche rather than in their testes.
5) Do you think that Western societies are doing enough to provide non-offending paedophiles with the help they need? What do you think of those online forums and communities, created and managed by non-offending paedophiles themselves, aimed at providing each other with support?
Just recently, I read articles regarding how the American legislation does not foster the treatment of non-offending paedophiles, as they risk losing their jobs if they declare their disorder in order to have access to treatments. If a school bus driver admits to be addicted to drugs, he can be cured, while being moved to another job in the meanwhile. On the other hand, if a preschool teacher declares its own paedophilic feelings, it is suspended from his job, than fired and not assisted into being moved to another job. Part of this failure stems from the misconception that paedophilia is the same of child molestation. Without legal protection, a paedophile cannot risk seeking treatment or disclosing his status to anyone for support. In Western societies, the treatment of pedophiles, offending or not, is underestimated, while giving the opportunity to be treated to someone who admits to have certain inclinations would favour an essential secondary prevention. I said secondary, because the primary prevention should be to protect the role of children in our society, in advertising, in the wrong sexualization of the child as an object, in the oscillation between the angelic and the diabolic child that characterizes particularly the Catholic religion, in the underestimation of the effects of violence in the media, etc.…. I know some virtual communities, e. g. the community of Virtuous Paedophiles. I think that it can be a good emotional supporting experience, but also that there is the risk of the first step for a sort of social and cultural recognition of paedophilia, not as a serious mental disorder that has to be treated, but as a natural state that calls for visibility like what historically happened for homosexuality. But the two existential and psychological conditions are completely different; in any case paedophilia is a mental disorder, homosexuality is an existential condition like heterosexuality. What is required, therefore, is a joint effort by many scholars in the various fields involved: together with the psychiatrist and the psychoanalyst, the participants must definitely include the sociologist, the educationalist, but above all the politician and the legislator. In interpreting new social phenomena and proposing new laws, it is the task of the latter two categories to protect the individual and the community, dynamically harmonising individual needs with those of community life.
6) Finally, would you like to illustrate to us one of the case of the non-offending paedophiles patients that you treated, to allow us to better understand the steps of the therapy and the characteristic of a non-offending paedophile who approach a psychiatrist and psychotherapist for the first time?
Mark is a 29-year-old man, the 3rd of three children, coming from a poor economic background. The priest of his hometown worked hard to find him a place in a boarding school, where the patient could study, earn a baccalaureate and learn how to play the organ. Despite his intellectual skills, his success in playing the organ and in his studies, he decided not to enter the seminary; however, his deep tie with religion made him chose to become part of a catholic organization that carries out voluntary activities for socially disadvantaged individuals. It is during one of these activities that he starts to feel attracted towards a little girl, partially handicapped, that he takes care of. He defies the attraction, becoming authoritarian and irascible to create the condition for a refusal from the child, to the point that the activity is suspended and he is assigned to other duties. Subsequently, he becomes part of another religious group and goes living in a convent. With time, he becomes the religious head of the boy-scout group of the church near his convent. His ability is immediately appreciated: he knows how to make the kids play and he plays with them. He makes them sing in chorus, accompanying them with the organ. Soon, he also become a confidant and a confessor for many of them, being a friend and someone who knows how to listen to them, but able to exercise moral authority. He gets really interested into an African child and he works hard to provide him and his family with economic and social support. However, the attentions towards the child become excessive. He becomes overprotective with him, wanting his exclusive attention and neglecting the other kids; he also becomes arrogant towards the child’s parents, regarding them as inadequate to take care of him. However, Mark starts to get worried when he realizes that he feels sexual excitement when thinking about the child, that he would like to travel with him, adopt him and live together. His first defensive response is the transformation of excessive care into exaggerated reproaches and emotional distance; however, he feels guilty and then reacts with equally exaggerated outbursts of attention and generosity towards him. He maintains a balance by drinking. He drinks alcohol to hold off his thoughts, which are becoming more and more lubricious in relation to the child. When he realizes that not even drinking can help him anymore, he speaks to his boss, expressing his difficulties. The boss heard of me, so he invites Mark to contact me and come to my city to talk. Together, we agree that he has to move for a while from his religious community and resign from head of boy-scouts. He accepts it immediately and finds accommodation into a religious house in my city, but he considers the need to be closed to the child (whom he never touched) as intolerable. During our treatments, he has the chance to retrace the most important phases of his life, among which the pain for the separation from his family, the inability to play with the other children on the street, the need to be always up to the expectations of his teachers; all these experiences seem to have fostered an intense identification with the African child, who comes from a poor background and from a family of immigrants. In his perspective, he was the only one able to understand how much that child was suffering and his desperate need of love. Thanks to our therapeutic relationship, he was able to understand that he was projecting his experience as a deprived kid on the African child and he started to distance from the excitatory situation, albeit with great suffering. He wanted to be the perfect father, the one he never had, the one who would given full happiness to his child, but realistically he couldn’t even be a good enough teacher. Currently, the patient is trying to understand the deep meaning of his life choice (or, better, a kind of obligation) and told me that he feels attracted to a woman and he is reflecting upon his stay within the community, thinking to leave it to devote more time to his artistic skills. His reflections on the possible decision to leave the religious order are very difficult and painful, but they are the result of a re-evaluation of choices that he did not fully elaborate and might determine his path towards inadequate modes of relationships.
in Polish newspaper (PDF)