Breaking the habit of sexual abuse

By Jason Scott

For child molesters, their crime is a hard habit to kick.

The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry runs a treatment program aimed at preventing child molesters from reoffending. The program is set up to help pedophiles, men who have a sexual preference for children, and regressed offenders, men who only act out when they are under stress, understand and control their sexual deviancies. The program is made up of a series of 16-week-long counselling groups. The men meet once per week, although some may have individual sessions with counsellors. The goal is to have offenders accept responsibility for their actions. Offenders tend to rationalize their abuse of children.

"They were led on, the child was aggressive, they were teaching the child, all of these kinds of thinking errors," said Jim MacNamee, a social worker in the forensic division of the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry.

The program also tries to increase the men's empathy for their victims by talking about the impact of abuse on children. Once the men accept responsibility for their actions and develop empathy for the victims they are shown how to control their deviant desires when they are in high risk situations.

"If being depressed and lonely increases your risk of a reoffence what are you going to do when you feel depressed and lonely? What skills do you need to manage that differently?" said MacNamee. Recent research shows that an offender's likelihood of reoffending is linked to his level of deviant arousal, his offence history and if he is a psychopath.

The majority of men are referred to the relapse prevention program by parole and probation officers although some are sent by family doctors. For some offenders chemical castration is part of the treatment process. Offenders who decide they need to be chemically castrated to ensure they won't reoffend are given sex drive-reducing drugs to help them deal with their deviant fantasies. This works by reducing their level of testosterone, a hormone that is related to sex drive. "They might still have some thoughts or fantasies but they're not felt as intensely or they're more easy to ignore," said Michael Seto, a research scientist at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. The offender's testosterone and sex drive return to his previous levels when he goes off the drug.

The drugs do have side effects. The most common complaint is that the offender's non-deviant sex drive is also decreased, said Seto. Breast enlargement is also a side effect in a small number of cases.

There are other drugs that seem to have a more selective effect on the deviant part of sexual fantasies and thoughts, said Seto. Less is known about these drugs and Seto calls them an experimental approach.

After the men finish treatment they enter a follow up group that provides the men with emotional support. Some have been coming for nine years.

"We don't feel there is a cure and coming to this group gives them support and helps them focus on what it is they need to do to stay away from committing offences. There are currently about 50 men in the program, ranging from 18 to 70 years old.

This article originally appeared in the Ryerson Ryersonian - a newspaper written and published by students of Ryerson Poly-Tech College. April 9, 1997 (Article edited for ASAR(C) by Don Winfield, Child Abuse Consultant)