Photographer:Fotograaf: Still from the Dunkelfeld commercial
Paedophile shares life story with psychology students
MAASTRICHT. “Imagine having your sexual preference always portrayed as criminal.” It’s Thursday evening, Gabriel overlooks the Maastrichtzaal where four hundred students have gathered for the lecture on paedophilia, organised by UM students. Gabriel – a pseudonym – is a non-active paedophile. He just told his life story to the audience, who showed their appreciation by applauding long and loud. “The real issue for most paedophiles is not being aroused by children, it’s living with a secret.”
Before Gabriel took the floor, forensic psychologist and UM alumna Sarah Wefers explained briefly what paedophilia is. She works at the Dunkelfeld Prevention Project in Düsseldorf. This project offers paedophiles free and confidential therapy so as to prevent them from turning into offenders. “We try to help them accept their sexual preference, recognise risk factors, get out of their social isolation – the format is group therapy so they get a chance to talk to others – and deal with cognitive distortions such as ‘the child is asking for sex’ or ‘I’m not harming this child, I’m just looking at pictures’.”
A major misconception among the general public is that being a child molester and being a paedophile are one and the same thing. In reality, 80 per cent of child molesters aren’t paedophilic. “They often have a mental disability or a personality disorder that makes it difficult to maintain a normal equal relationship,” says Wefers. “A child is an easy victim. Vulnerable and easy to control and dominate.” Furthermore, there are many paedophiles, like Gabriel, who don’t act on their preferences.
This stigma in society makes it very hard for paedophiles to come out, says Gabriel. “Every paedophile in a TV series is a calculated child molester. Not a great opening to say to your friends next to you on the couch: by the way…” And it’s not just television entertainment; also the news and even law enforcement mix the two up. Gabriel refers to the Scotland Yard department that specialises in combating manufacturers of indecent images of children and child abusers; they’ve named it the Paedophile Unit.
Molesting a child or looking at child pornography is not what most paedophiles want, says Gabriel. “They dream about a child being a willing and equal partner, even though they know it’s not realistic. They don’t want to look at sick pictures or cause the child pain.”
Gabriel (from the Netherlands) first noticed that he was different in secondary school. “I had a happy childhood. I was never molested or traumatised in any way. I hit puberty when I was eleven. I was interested in girls of my own age. When I grew older, I wondered when I would start to like these more woman-like girls my friends fancied. My fantasies were about girls with a childlike face, narrow hips and small breasts; pre-pubertal girls.”
He remembers his first crush. “It was at a canoe camp. Phoebe was 12, I was 17. She was smart, funny and stunning. But clearly still a child. This was what being in love must feel like. I decided to become friends with her. We liked the same music and could talk for hours. Sometimes we even held hands. At the end of camp she kissed me on the mouth. I didn’t stop her, but I anxiously kept my mouth closed. I realised that this would be the last time something like this could ever happen. Years later, when she was of age, we dated for a while.”
Gabriel first tried to deal with his issues himself, but realised he needed help and came out to his GP. “The doctor was very understanding. He told me there were three other paedophiles in his practice. I wanted to meet them, but I didn’t dare to ask.” It would take several years before he came in contact with other paedophiles. “I found an Internet support forum. People there talked about self-acceptance. They were not dumb or aggressive and respected children as being children. I e-mailed with some of them and my mental well-being improved. There were also people who took the line of Vereniging Martijn (a now banned association that advocated the societal acceptance of paedophilia and legalization of sexual relationships between adults and children, ed.). They believe in children’s right to sex. I stayed away from them.”
Over the years, Gabriel came out to his mother and a close friend. “It went pretty well, but it took years to gain their trust. The real issue for most paedophiles is not being aroused by children, it’s living with a secret.”
Does he trust himself around children, asks a student from the audience. “Yes, I never avoid situations with them,” says Gabriel. “I agree with the reasons why it’s forbidden to have a relationship with a child. It’s not just that it’s illegal, I also have moral objections.” Does he see himself having children of his own, asks another student. “I’m not afraid that I would molest my own children, but I am nervous about telling the woman I’d have a relationship with, about my preference. And I think I should tell her. So far, none of my relationships have lasted long enough to come to that point.”
How does he deal with the frustration of never being able to act on his arousals, is another question. “I think many single people don’t have sex while they would like to, I don’t feel more frustrated than they do. Sometimes I see a girl in the street that I find attractive, but I don’t feel the need to grab her. I fantasize instead and I create drawings of young girls – I ‘m quite artistic, so that helps.”
What would he like a psychologist to do? Earlier Gabriel shared a bad experience with a psychologist who was very suspicious instead of understanding. “Offer a perspective. There is a way to deal and live with this. Try to find that way with your client.”
What is paedophilia?
Between 1 and 5 per cent (the numbers vary per study) of the population is paedophilic – they are sexually attracted to children or young adolescents (hebephilia). Most of them are men; for every hundred male paedophiles, there is one female. Some are exclusive – they are only attracted to children – while others are non-exclusive – they are also attracted to adults. Much about paedophilia is unknown. There is no obvious reason as to why it occurs.
The lecture was organised by the students of SPS-NIP, the Maastricht student platform of the Dutch society for psychologists.