“Hey, aren’t you the psychologist who works with paedophiles?” a lady sitting next to me on a flight asked me. “I saw you on television the other day,” she said with a frown. When I replied in the affirmative, she said in a voice full of indignation and righteousness, “I wonder how someone can even sit next to them and hear them out?” After sometime, she asked the hostess to change her seat. When I was walking out of the airport, she came to me once again and said, “I am sorry for being so rude. It was just the thought that someone tries to make their life easier seems unpalatable to me. It’s one group that I don’t even want to know anything about.” I nodded saying I understood and walked on.
This was not the first time someone had reacted to me like that. The mere mention of the word paedophile evokes violent reactions from most people that I have not seen with even words such as serial killers. Are they really the vile creatures that they are made out to be? Having testified in courts in a large number of cases and having interrogated a few hundred, I share some stories that can help us to understand their personality.
They are unusually confident of themselves when it comes to children. Many years ago, I had been called for a case in which a paedophile entered a home and a bedroom and picked up a child of five years sleeping between her parents and took her out of the house. He ran away when a police jeep’s lights fell on him. On studying the case, I suggested we look at all the men working at a local crèche, at a hospital and a kindergarten school. One man was missing from the school and when we interrogated him, he confessed.
What kind of a man would have the confidence to pick up a sleeping child in a dark room from between her parents and the child would not even make a sound? The principal of the school where he worked gave the answer. After initially denying that her best staff could do it, she replied, “When a kid is sick or needs to be taken to the loo, I have always relied on this attendant and to know that he is like that?”
They camouflage, hide their actions and mask their crime so cleverly that people often miss catching them by a hair’s breadth. A child once complained about a man molesting him. The man denied any involvement and instead accused the child and his family, saying they owed him money. The SHO told me he suspected something was wrong but had to let the person go for lack of evidence. They searched his room but found nothing. With his permission when I searched the room again, I found many magazines stacked in one corner. As I started turning the pages, he told me that his team had checked them. They were not pornographic magazines. My eyes caught something strange in one of the lower stacks. Next to photos of children something was written in Tamil, his native language. When we asked a Tamil-speaking person to read them out, her face became red. He wanted to have sex with them, the person read. The man confessed that the handwriting was his and that he had molested the child.
In their belief system, children are like adults and their bodies are missing the pleasures of sex. They feel it is their rightful task to make children aware of this depravation. They don’t see their act as crime and never feel remorse.
Do men or rapists assault children in the absence of women? While a formal clear answer is not possible for me, personal experience of those who work in this field shows this may not be the case. A pimp had once told me that when kothas or brothels become fully occupied, he asks his clients, “bacchha chalega kya” and most of them agree.
I have come across a large number of paedophiles among priests, clergymen and those who manage homes for orphans. The profession invites unconditional trust and is a perfect cover for their feelings. Sometime ago, I had interviewed a priest after receiving complaints about him. A check revealed a sordid history of him abusing children in several countries and he was not prosecuted in any of the cases due to lax laws.
Can counselling or therapy ever reform them? The answer is a bleak no. Most of them think having sex with children is the only way in which they can feel a high in their daily lives. They don’t feel the other normal joys of life from relationships that govern our daily lives have any significance.
I wanted to tell that lady I mentioned about in the beginning of this article something. As a psychologist, I have worked with many groups that committed heinous crimes. With each group I have been able to empathise to different degrees, the most powerful tool in the arsenal of a psychologist to build a bond. Yet to the best of my abilities and reaching out to hundreds of paedophiles in jail during interrogation, I have not felt empathy for them. A top professional in the field told me it is normal and he himself hasn’t been able to ever feel that way towards any paedophile. The best one can do is to keep them under surveillance.
Today with the rise of internet and digitization, paedophiles never had it so good. They operate under a mask of greater anonymity and have become more cunning. The recent cases in India and ones from different countries are a pointer that if we don’t teach our children how to protect themselves, many a childhood will be destroyed. It is important that we take our learning sooner than later to nurture and protect our children to keep their bodies safe from predators.
The writer is a criminal psychologist.