Sunday, January 22, 2012

Perps, Pedophiles and Rapists

I spent some of Friday morning reading about pedophiles.  Yeah, I know.  Disgusting, the very word, and most people wouldn't voluntarily delve into the details.  However, my studies, no matter how disturbing to some, were attempts to understand the criminal mind better--also a dark endeavor most would not attempt.  I've got my reasons, though, one of which is that I teach criminals, many of whom are sex offenders.  Though I am not a counselor, do not discuss students' crimes with them and stay far away from their personal issues, I do wonder what brought these otherwise normal, respectful people to the horrible place where they are now, emotionally and physically. 

Here's my disclaimer: I am far from insensitive to victims' and their loved ones' tragedies.  I've been on the receiving end of a violent, sexual crime, so I know what this can do to a person.  It has been about seven years since that happened to me, and I marvel at my own progress, including the found ability to be in a classroom with multiple sex offenders and other types of criminals.  I'm pretty awesome, aren't I?  I have had a lot of angels helping me along the way, though, and too many victims don't get what I have. 

One of the first things I tried to do after my horrific experience, and after going through the denial, freaking-out, anger etc. stages, was try to comprehend what would lead a person to do such a reprehensible thing to another human being.  The answers came fairly easily in my case.  The perp had a history of alcohol and drug use so long, his brain was fried.  He had years of anger built up against women and, I am sure, was abused as a child.  I am also quite sure other factors figured in, but knowing the ones I do is enough for me to say, "Okay. I get it."

I used the oft-dreaded Wikipedia to begin my research.  I read the entry.  I looked at the links provided.  I utilized the bibliography.  I searched other websites.  I will not provide links here, other than to the site where I began.  If you want proof of what I say, I challenge you to explore in the same way I did.  And if you find anything I and the public should know, post a comment with a link to the source.  I'm not a pro, a criminal justice major or a psychologist.

Here's what I have learned about those who prey on children.  First, perps may or may not have been sexually abused themselves.  Second, perps have been exposed to serious violence as children, often directly, but often environmentally.  Third, their minds have been physically and psychologically altered in a way that most of us cannot even comprehend.  Fourth, they have anger and control issues way outside of what we'd consider "normal."  And, like other criminals, sex offenders have made significant psychological, physical and spiritual moves away from other human beings, so much so that they take their illness out on the most vulnerable.

Maybe all of this is a "no duh," but for me, putting the research together helped me synthesize and come to the conclusion that on some level, these people are brain damaged.  They may or may not qualify as mentally ill, but there is mental illness of some kind affecting them.  Some of these folks can be treated with medication and therapy.  Some can be treated but have things like personality disorders, a psychological sickness so serious, medication has not yet proven successful.  Some of these people have biological things going on that we can't figure out.  Science, unfortunately, hasn't advanced that far, and as long as we concentrate on developing things like technology instead of cures, our society is likely to suffer at the hands of a too-common, human illness.

My readings also reminded me that, even though we call all sex offenders against kids "pedophiles," there's a difference between someone who rapes a child and someone who is attracted to children.  Rapists usually have otherwise normal sexual drives.  They like adults.  And their rapes are similar to other rapes in which the victim is someone vulnerable, someone easily manipulated.  Child-centric crimes have little or even nothing to do with sexual desire. Just like other rapists, a criminal who rapes children has a goal or need to experience power, exercise control, express anger and/or get off on all of the above.  The victim isn't a sexual object, per se.  The victim is an outlet.

True pedophiles, on the other hand, sexually desire children.  Some pedophiles admit to having always lusted after children. Others discover it later.  Hormonal, chemical and environmental theories abound about the sources of these desires, but one thing is consistently believed true: pedophiles, like alcoholics, have their disease for life, even if they are not acting out, which is one reason why recidivism is so high among this population.

Does it bother me to work with sex offenders?  Not really, I guess because when I am teaching, I am there for the purpose of instructing, providing an academic skill that hopefully will lead them to better critical thinking skills, healthier interactions with other human beings and a means of non-violent self expression.  My job is mission-centric and important.

An officer asked me, one day, whether or not I thought I was making a difference. I responded with examples of academic success, but also, "At the very least, I am keeping them out of trouble for a few hours."  But it's more than that.  I can exercise real agape and real unconditional love in a safe setting.  And I can experience real forgiveness again and again.  It doesn't get any more fulfilling than that. 
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