[Paleopsych] NYT Mag. Letters: The Making of a Child Molester

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The New York Times > Magazine > Letters

    Readers said Daniel Bergner's account of a cybermolester was as
    compelling as it was disturbing. Many shared the writer's reservations
    about the level of responsibility that the offender took for his acts;
    some were skeptical about a penalty -- therapy and probation -- that
    did not seem to fit the crime.

    The Making of a Molester

    Daniel Bergner (Jan. 23) did an outstanding job of presenting the
    inner thoughts of a convicted child molester. I felt ambivalence and
    sadness toward Roy. After a great effort at rehabilitation, he seems
    to have no grasp of the enormity of his actions. Instead, he blames
    not only his victim but also her mother, the Internet, pornography,
    the media and society in general.

    What makes me most sad for Roy, and more important for his victim, is
    that he never owns up to the truth of what he did. He seems shocked
    and surprised to be a sexual predator convicted of his crime.

    Jennifer Liquori

    Your article suggests that pedophiles are "made": ordinary citizens
    transformed into predators by external actions as, with Roy, the
    comments of a spouse about her daughter reaching puberty. This is
    contrary to my 30 years' experience prosecuting child abusers.

    Neither comments nor the Internet "make" pedophiles. They exist among
    us, disguised as ordinary people, until they reveal themselves to be
    the criminals they really are. In other words, Roy wasn't made he was
    simply unmasked.

    Roy is not unlike the defendants arrested in undercover Internet
    stings conducted by my office: defendants with no prior criminal
    record who appeared to lead normal lives. Many admitted abusing
    children previously. And sex-offender probation didn't stop a
    42-year-old teacher from soliciting a minor a second time.

    If we fail to recognize that a pedophile always was and always will be
    a pedophile, we do so at our children's peril.

    Jeanine Pirro
    District Attorney, Westchester County
    White Plains, N.Y.

    I very much respect the therapeutic focus on learning appropriate
    social skills and learning how to stop negative behaviors by
    understanding and responding to triggers, but I see problems. Both Roy
    and his therapist are placed in a very difficult contractual
    situation. The therapist is responsible to the probation department.
    The patient (probationer) is very much aware of this arrangement. How
    can the therapist expect total honesty in treatment if the patient
    knows that the therapist reports to the probation officer and if
    whatever the patient says can be used to take away privileges
    including time on probation? This is a Catch-22.

    Cal Flachner
    New York

    If one of the key factors in these atrocities is the blurring between
    fiction and reality in the molester's mind, as Bergner suggests, then
    what better way to bring reality back, front and center (for both the
    reader and the molester), than to focus on the way real human lives
    are brutalized and permanently scarred?

    I am no therapist, but I believe that Patrick Liddle, the group's
    therapist, ought to spend less time having these men visualize "a
    field of tall grass" and confessing their fantasies and more time
    having them hear from the voices of those they have hurt.

    Eileen O'Brien
    Williamsburg, Va.

    While studies of deviant sexual-arousal patterns are interesting,
    arousal is only a small part of what makes a molester. What defines a
    healthy and mature person is not simply the ability to control what we
    think and feel, but to control what we do with what we think and feel.
    It is possible to have "socially inappropriate" feelings, and all of
    us do. It is the loss of awareness of, or worse, indifference to, the
    impact of our acts on others that makes us monsters.

    Barbara Zevin
    Roslyn, N.Y.

    Bergner establishes that inappropriate erotic thinking can manifest in
    many individuals, and then he asks why some cross "that clear line"
    and act on their thoughts. If you stand back from the content of the
    crime and look at the broader narrative of Roy's life, you see a
    remarkable absence of "clear lines" all around: like the early
    involvement with his victim's mother, who was the wife of his
    childhood friend; his employer's and co-workers' remarkable blindness
    to the character pathology despite adjudication and sentencing; his
    new wife's blindness to the significance of her own dissonance,
    despite saying, "I can't understand how he could write crap like that
    to a little girl." The run for the fence at the end of the story is
    the first evidence of any awareness of a clear line in many aspects of
    Roy's life.

    Denise Legacki Tompkins
    Naperville, Ill.

    I hope the low recidivism rates reported in the article will be
    interpreted cautiously. The recidivism rate will appear reassuringly
    low if the study doesn't take into account the molester's window of
    opportunity to commit another crime. Obviously, if a person is doing
    some serious jail time, he doesn't have the chance to commit more
    crimes, and this can skew the results.

    Mary Kennedy
    Wilmington, Del.

    The magazine is to be commended for publishing Bergner's article.
    Serious public discussion of this topic is virtually nonexistent.
    There was an attempt to treat this subject in the cinema as far back
    as 1961, and, given the era and circumstances, it was way ahead of its
    time. Readers might be interested in this British film, "The Mark,"
    starring Rod Steiger and Stuart Whitman. Steiger plays a psychiatrist
    and Whitman the part of a man released after serving a sentence in
    prison for intent to molest a child. The depiction is unflinching. The
    film offers no easy answer there is none. But it does offer hope.

    Conrad P. Rutkowski
    Spring Valley, N.Y.

[other letters omitted]

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