Mind of a Predator
As the nation watches what may be one of the worst cases of sexual abuse of children ever, we wonder: What makes a pedophile? The possibilities will frighten you—but not for the reasons you may think.
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The number of people who think about deviant sexual acts is far larger than the number of people who commit related crimes, according to Timothy Foley, a psychologist in the Philadelphia area. “What separates us is that just fantasizing about it is not enough for them,” Foley says. “They have to be willing to act it out.”
Most sex offenders are men, and most of them are acquainted with their victims. About 30 percent of victims are relatives and 60 percent of victims are “friends” of the family. Though the causes of pedophilia, rape and incest are not known with certainty, there is some evidence that these behaviors may be consistent in families from generation to generation. Whether due to genetics or a learned behavior, no one knows. Other factors, such as abnormalities in male sexual hormones or the brain chemical serotonin, have not been proven. One factor does, however, recur consistently.
“Many sex crimes are traced to repetition compulsion, the perpetrator’s need to repeat the very same trauma that was done to them,” said Stephen C. DiJulio, clinical director at Survivors of Abuse in Recovery, Inc. (SOAR), a Wilmington-based center that provides victims with personal and group therapy. “For some, it’s about power. For others, it’s controlled by substance abuse. But the truth, though, is that there are no hard, cold answers to determine why they do what they do. There is no one mind of a pedophile.”
Daphne Carroll has been a licensed mental health counselor at the Plummer Correction Facility for the past seven years. She conducts individual and group therapy with some of the state’s most serious sex offenders. She has seen the results of generation after generation of sexual abuse in families.
“As a child, their method of coping was, ‘It’s not hurting me that much, and sometimes it feels pretty good,’” Carroll says. “When they become older and if they become offenders themselves, this thinking helps to justify what they are doing.”
A history of childhood sexual abuse could also be a factor. National research indicates that 5 percent to 15 percent of men who commit sex crimes were sexually abused when they were children. The percentage is slightly higher for women. Behavioral learning models have suggested that a child who is the victim or observer of inappropriate sexual behaviors learns to imitate the behavior, which is reinforced with repetition. Deprived of normal social sexual contact, they seek gratification through less socially acceptable means.
The man with the oversized eyeglasses was sexually abused as a child by a family member. He speaks about it vaguely, with swallowed words, as if it has vanished into the blurry fog of memory and died.
He grew up on the Kirch Gons military base in Germany. Before he’d reached puberty, his parents’ friends—mostly U.S. servicemen—would take him into nearby massage parlors and strip clubs, where he would watch naked women dance. When he was 12, his family settled in a small town in Iowa, where he was befriended by a woman in her 20s. She lived with her husband in the neighborhood. Up to three afternoons a week for the next 18 months, she took the boy into her bed after school. Though it was a secret, he didn’t look at what she did as a crime.
After high school, he served in the U.S. Army for 14 years in Germany, Korea, Japan and El Salvador. He rose to the rank of sergeant first class. By the mid-90s, he had become a hospital administrator in Delaware and had married for the third time.
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