Pedophiles remain very much a mystery, research says

By Heather Ibbotson

Lasting solutions to the problem of sexual abuse of children may be a long way off, experts say. Diagnosis and treatment of pedophiles is a young science, backed by barely 20 years of documented studies, said Dr.Howard Barbaree of the Clarke Institute ofPsychiatry in Toronto, who has spent 18 years assessing and treating sex offenders at Warkworth Penitentiary near Kingston and at the Clarke.

There is still much "we just don't know" about these offenders, he said. What is known is that they usually fall into one of three categories: The true pedophile; the opportunistic child molester; or the incest offender. Neither the incest offender nor the opportunistic child molester are true pedophiles, Dr. Barbaree said, in that they are also sexually attracted to adults of one or both sexes. Crimes committed by these offenders are crimes of convenience; if a potential victim is near and the opportunity presents itself, the offender seizes the opportunity. On the other hand, true pedophiles are those whose sexual interest focuses solely on children -- often children of a certain sex and specific age range. These offenders actively seek situations which put them in close proximity to children, Dr. Barbaree said. They obtain positions' as teachers, choir masters, clergy and volunteers in organizations catering to children's needs or hobbies, he said.

Between 30 and Dr. Howard Barbarea 40 per cent of child molesters were abused as youngsters -- and a significant! minority of male offenders were molested by women, Dr. Barbaree said.

Research appears to have refuted on common myth about sex offenders, he said. No evidence exists that homosexuals are more likely to be molesters than are heterosexuals.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Colorado found that a child's risk o! being molested by a heterosexual may be more than 100 times greater than the risk of being abused by a homosexual. The finding was based on a U.S. study of 269 child abuse cases, in which only two involved gay or bisexual offenders. Homosexual pedophiles, however, are far more likely to reoffend than heterosexual pedophiles, according to Canadian studies. In any event, Canadian prisons are growing more crowded with sex offenders. The number of sex offenders in federal institutions rose to 2,067 in 1993 from 871 in 1984, according to the Correctional Service of Canada.

THE PERCENTAGE of prison admissions involving sex offenses nearly doubled between 1978 and 1988, from 6.5 per cent to 12.9 per cent. But these figures underestimate the actual number of sex offenders in our prisons. Inmates are classffied by their most serious offence, and so many sex offenders with multiple convictions -- those whose longest sentence was for a non-sex offense -- are not included in the above numbers. These figures may be startling but they don't reflect a sudden explosion of abuse, Dr. Barbaree said. Numbers are on the rise because there is greater awareness and an increased reporting of abuse, he said. Attitudes towards treatment of pedophiles vary from the no-solution school to the surefire-cure school. And on this issue, Dr. Barbaree says he's planted firmly on the fence.