[Paleopsych] NYT Mag. Letters: The Making of a Child Molester
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Sun Feb 6 16:26:14 UTC 2005
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Denise Legacki Tompkins
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.
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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