(Illustration: Animesh Debnath)
(Illustration: Animesh Debnath)

Let’s Talk About Child Rape: No one can vouch for rapists even after therapy, says Samir Parikh

In the last and final part of our series, Let’s Talk About Child Rape, Dr Samir Parikh writes that child rapists, like many other deviants, learn to mask their sexual urges, which often make it impossible to identify them in a social setting.
By Samir Parikh
UPDATED ON JUN 01, 2018 01:14 PM IST

Anyone capable of abducting, drugging, serially raping and brutally killing a young child is a perverted, egotistical, sociopathic sadist with no sense of empathy or guilt. There are no other terms to describe a person who brutally rapes and kills little children just because he wants to and can.

It’s not natural for an adult to get aroused or receive sexual gratification from the molestation or assault of pre-pubertal children who have neither biologically developed nor have an understanding of sexual behaviour. All the child feels is terror and extreme pain. Afflicting that level of terror and pain on any living being is going against everything that makes us human.

There are many layers to sexual crimes against children; it is not just about sexual gratification. Paedophiles get a high from the helplessness and powerlessness of the child who cannot resist and is more easy to control than an adult.

A child often does not understand the nature of the assault and does not have the words to describe it, which gives the rapist a sense of control and provides a higher level of gratification.

Child rapes are often premeditated crimes in which the rapist gets aroused by planning the crime and stalking the victim. Occasionally, a child rapet can be impulsive act – the perpetrator grabs an opportunity to commit the crime, sometimes under the influence of alcohol or banned substances. Watching child pornography is sometimes a trigger for such behaviour.

Rapists are people who get a high from crossing social and legal boundaries. They want self-gratification at all costs, and if it they get it by inflicting pain on and torturing others, they do it without remorse.

The more the pain their victim experiences, the more satisfied they are, which also explains why physical torture is often an element of child rape.

Brutal gratification

The often brutal killing of a victim after rape works at two levels. The more obvious reason is that it lowers the risk of the rapist being identified and arrested. At a deeper level, the final act of violence against the sexually mauled and helpless victim turns into a sexual climax. The rapist is in a mental state where he cannot and often doesn’t want to stop. It is the brutality that is gratifying.

Child rapists, like many other deviants, learn to mask their sexual urges, which often make it impossible to identify them in a social setting. Though there are no characteristics that typify a child rapist, they often tend to lack a sense of empathy or remorse and have a cruel streak in them; yet, it is almost impossible to predict with certainty whether people with these traits will end up raping children. It is not possible, or for that matter ethical, to typecast or profile everyone with sociopathic traits as potential child rapists because more often than not, they are not rapists.

Though child rapists feel no guilt, they hide their thoughts, fantasies and behaviour from those around them because they realise that it is socially unacceptable and can get them into trouble with the law. There is no set profile of a child rapist – he can be a loner or a very sociable person.

Treating deviant minds

Treating child rapists clinically is extremely challenging -- they may not accept treatment, and if they do so, then may resist any attempt to help them change . They lack guilt and don’t see their behaviour as problematic. They don’t feel to the need to change because they are egosyntonic; in their own minds, they can justify their acts of self gratification with a complete absence of empathy towards a child’s pain.

Child abusers who are forced to visit a mental health expert, by a legal directive or family, often do not cooperate with the treatment. They do not open up to counseling and are not receptive to what is said to them.

The small percentage of abusers that are willing to seek medical help are treated through psychotherapy, which includes long-term counselling and in some cases, drug therapy. Medicines are prescribed for issues such as poor impulse control and thought impairment.

Even after therapy, it cannot be assumed that they will not repeat the offence. Recidivism (a trait that leads a person to repeat a crime for which he been treated or punished) can be high, especially in the absence of clues to the rapists’ insight development (perception of right and wrong in terms of thought and action) and ability to recognize and take responsibility for the pain and trauma they inflict.

Some perpetuators respond to therapy but as a mental health expert, I do not think it is easy to take a decision to let paedophiles back into society without surveillance. Believing they are cured would be too big a risk. No one can take full responsibility for their behaviour even after completion of therapy.

Fast-tracking justice

India has powerful laws, but they need to be implemented more effectively so that fear of the death penalty or imprisonment becomes a deterrent to child rape. Quick sentencing and a high conviction rate will at least deter planned rapes.

The society, too, has a role to play. There needs to be zero tolerance towards aggression of all kinds, be it physical or sexual or both. It may not help in completely wiping out crime, but fear of the consequence may rein in many potential perpetrators of child rape.

At the individual level, parents and families have to explain to their children what “good touch, bad touch” is and encourage them to seek help whenever they are uncomfortable with an adult’s behaviour.

The society needs to introspect, each of us needs to. When we look around, there is verbal and physical aggression in various forms at all levels, including societal, legal and moral. When we become bystanders to a crime and do not react to it, the message we are sending out is that it is all right. It creates the perception that that the justice system is unresponsive, that the society we live in cannot stand up for what’s right, that outrage is seldom accompanied by action. We need zero tolerance towards crime and aggression to provide a safe environment for children, not just for their physical safety but also for their mental wellbeing.

Dr Samir Parikh is the director of the department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare

This is the fifth and final part of our series, Let’s Talk About Child Rape, which focuses sharply on the rising incidents of sexual violence against minors. You can read part one, two, three and four here.

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