Being face-to-face with a paedophile is not a comfortable situation. Most of us harbour a catalogue of beliefs and emotions about such people, which structures our perceptions of what to say, think and do. Rarely are our feelings built entirely on factual knowledge. The are as likely to be based on newspaper headlines, the attitudes of professional colleagues an
notions picked up from books and articles on sexual abuse. Images such as satanic abuse, paedophile rings, bogus social workers,
dirty old men in raincoats and sadomasochistic or perverted child sex killers may dominate.
While these may not be typical of offenders, this is probably less important than the extent to which such images structure our understanding. Doing research on paedophiles causes hardened research colleagues to shudder, "how could you?" or to question the point of doing so. But understanding paedophilia involves far more than why some people grope children.
It strays into questions about the nature of childhood, the nature of sexuality, the social
construction of moral issues and the knowledge base on which
professionals build their therapeutic and assessment work.
No list of research findings about paedophiles encapsulates knowledge fixed for all time. Researchers create theories and research to serve a purpose, to meet a social demand. This is not
to imply some sort of gigantic fraud in which researchers, in the name of science, provide deliberate distortions.
Nevertheless, it does mean that knowledge is created in a context that is is
inevitably morally loaded. Furthermore, researchers are constrained by circumstances
to adopt a particular style of research to take place in a narrow range of contexts. There is no concerted, worldwide programme to study sexual abusers, only piecemeal contributions by individuals and groups, especially in North America, including Canada. A great deal of the research comes from a small number of researchers at a small number of treatment
Consequently, not only are there substantial gaps in our knowledge but also relatively few perspectives dominate.
Unlike much psychological research, most of the research on sex offenders is
done by practising clinicians alongside their day-to-day therapeutic work. This encourages the focus of research onto treatment and assessment
issues. We need to explore more widely.
It is important to get close to our subject matter. A case study can illustrate much of the complexity of the paedophile lifestyle. Graham's account of his long history of offending and his strong erotic orientation to boys is disturbing.
In some respects, we should feel no sympathy towards him. His extensive involvement in sexual and other crimes should be inexcusable. But, much like his own victims, he suffered harsh experiences of childhood abuse.
Elements in his story are surprising. In particular, note the way in which
his adult offending retains features of his childhood abuse, despite new elements entering his offending pattern. Graham, when interviewed, was attending the former Gracewell Clinic in Birmingham, UK.
"I'm 36 years old. M whole life has been revolving around sexual
abuse from the age of four. I was abused from the age of 8 by multiple abusers through until 16. I started abusing children myself when I was 14. I've lived in a
fantasy world since I was four, I suppose really, ..,
predominantly sexual fantasy
... I've offended and been caught three times. Once was against my 10-year-old cousin, for which I got a six months' prison sentence suspended for two years. At the time I wasn't really bothered and worried about what I'd done because I didn't see anything wrong with it. [1 was 19 then.]
"So I carried the relationship on with m cousin and met him outside the court after I
got sentenced. Then got caught again ... still didn't see anything wrong with what I was doing. Then I got caught again [five years later] and I got a seven-year prison sentence this time. But my fantasies had become so bizarre by then that I'd started to live the fantasies out by subjecting children to multiple abuse, videoing it for my own gratification at a later date.
Fantasy was definitely taking control of my life ... I wanted to live the
fantasy in reality.
"I'd actually been sexually abused before
... the concept of sexual abuse didn't mean anything to me. I didn't really understand what was going on. It was my
father -- although my perception of that was I was abusing him, because he never actually touched
me. It was me who was touching my father ...
My interpretation of it was that I was abusing him
... It was me and my father used to have a bath together. I ... masturbated him off. I mean, I didn't know what I was doing at the time, obviously. I just knew he was enjoying it. It was bringing smiles to his face and making him happy. So all that was going for me, as far as I can remember, was that he makes me happy by looking after me and taking me out, spending all his time with me. So that was my way of
paying hum back. I can't really remember clearly ... all I can remember was that I didn't mind doing it. This didn't happen every time we had a bath.
"That stopped after I told my mother about it
... I didn't know what I was saying really. I didn't understand what was happening.
[M]y mother wanted me in the bath ...[but I was] waiting for my dad coming back and she was angry about that
... I said I wanted to play with his willy ... She gave me a good slapping, gave me a bath and sent me to bed. Then I can remember when he came in there were a lot of arguments
"My father rejected me for a few years
... I used to sit with him all the time. On his lap, watching TV. I spent loads of time with him. After that he just kept on pushing me away. I couldn't understand why it stopped me and m father having baths together
or him having any contact with me at all ...
"Then I met another guy called Andy, who was a friend of my father, and he started abusing me
... I decided ... there's no way I was going to tell on this guy because I don't want to destroy this relationship
... I used to pick men up, that was part of my fantasy. It was me that was in control and I used to go and pick men up from public toilets and places like that, at 9 or 10 years old. So, I've always looked on myself as the abuser-all the way through.
"The fantasy, it was a different type of fantasy then. You see, I'd lost my father through what was my fault. I didn't really understand at the time, I didn't understand what was going on and what I'd said was wrong. My fantasy then was to win my dad back and for him to
acknowledge and be my father, you know, be close to me. But after I said about it he never had anything to do with me at all, he kept on pushing me away. So my
fantasy predominantly then was father -- I want my father back ... I was
fascinated by the excitement that men had when they were with me. They were interested in
me sexually. I was really aroused by other people's excitement ... It gave me a sort of feeling of
...power I suppose. I wasn't mixing with other children, I wasn't interested in other children. My pure fantasy was to be
... with a man who was my father. And all I wanted was my dad back ...
"I was very choosy about the type of men that I selected. Stupid when you think about it but I was. It had [to be] a certain type in a certain way, was like my father's age group. ...[It was men who looked like him.] I didn't like hairy men
... hairy chests ... exceptionally hairy bodies, or fat men or anything like that. But what was so special about me that excited these men, especially when they ejaculated and that, the looks on their faces
... I used to enjoy looking at all that and used to wonder what they were actually seeing and doing, what was going on for them from me, you know
"I met an eight-year-old boy called Colin who kept at me and at me to masturbate me and kept on touching me ... I wasn't interested at all, because all I was interested in was men and then one day he touched me and I felt really good and stopped him
... a few days later I met him downstairs where you had your bikes and all that, the lock-ups
... I said well you can watch and after a few seconds he just put his hand there and took over. And after about two or three seconds I just come everywhere and it was the most fantastic thrill that I'd ever had. And it was then that I realized what men were getting out of doing things like that to me
... I'm 14.
"And from that point on it was every single day abusing the boy for 18 months. I was superimposing myself on him, you see, my fantasy was that I was
... I didn't exist any more. The boy was me ... my fantasy was that I wanted
to be the boy ... It went from that to oral sex, to me between his legs in between his legs. Never buggery
... I was projecting myself on him and taking on his excitement ... I think there'd be a feeling that I'd lost something because I was getting older
... I saw him as a way of holding onto what I'd lost.
"I mean, I've done this with older children that I've abused throughout my whole life. They've never really existed.
I've become the child in the fantasy ... I just have to look at the child and I'm the child
who's being abused ... I'm the child, so I'm abusing the adult.
"As time went on [my plan] would be to share the victim with other people, so that would heighten the feeling and the strength of the fantasy because the fantasy is multiple abuse, like for the child to be abused by three, four, ten, fifteen, twenty adults, that type of thing, you know. It's really bizarre.
"There was a boy at a later stage called Raj who actually videoed sexual acts with me and another guy
... as well. There were times when there was three of us abusing at once and I don't know whether that was my corrupting influence because he was only 9 years old and coming on for 10
... But I don't know how much that was me ...
corrupting him into thinking that way, because I convinced him that it was good for him and he agreed with me, you see, so I suppose in a way you could say it was fulfilling his fantasy to be abused by as many men
as -- you see he was like me, he would choose the men.
"There's times when I'd take a guy there and
[Raj was] not interested in him. And that is why Raj turned me on so much because it reminded me so much of myself, although he was an Indian
boy. That was the way that I operated, so I really get into Raj.
"So I was using him to fulfill
my fantasies really ... because I mean, eight years old, nine years old that's,
fantasies like that ... they've got to be put there by other people, you don't just create a fantasy like that yourself.
"... All my fantasies were put there by other people, a corruptive influence of Andy, because that's what he was into, you know, he was into dressing me
up in cop's shirt uniforms ... And he was into underwear, doing things with underwear and children's underwear and all that sort of carry-on, and that always rubbed off on me as well. So you take on other people's kinks, I suppose. Because at that age you can be corrupted easy, see, and lose total control of everything that's going on for you because other people control you.
"I'd actually had orgasms before that [at about
11½ to 12 years of age]. But not semen or anything coming out, it was just a good
feeling as, the feeling as if you are ejaculating but nothing's coming out ...
[I masturbated] all the time. Fantasizing about men. There was a lot of it happening in reality
... fantasizing about what had been done to me, and getting sexual pleasure
out of it. As I say, although there was no orgasm, as you would interpret an
orgasm, semen, fluid and things like that coming out, thee was still intense
sexual pleasure and feelings there from the masturbation that I was doing ...
"Thinking, even as a nine year old,
... what I can do with men. Not what men can do
with me, but what I can do, what I do with men. I don't know whether it was a way of me getting back at my father or not. There's a lot of confusion there like
tryng to find something I've lost.
"... There's only two points in my whole life where my mother actually comes in
... there was once when I told her about my dad and the second time when I was about
six or seven when I had my father because after that there was nothing but
arguments in the family, my father started drinking heavy and totally changed
the whole family life, the atmosphere in the house. My mother had had enough
one day, I' ve never got on with my mother anyway, I've never really spoken
with her, not that I can remember anyway or set down and spent time with
"I've got two sisters as well, you see,
so [I] suppose most of her time was devoted to them ... She was gonna leave us with dad. Now that for me would have been my dream come true. That was what I would have wanted. I can remember I'd put my arms around her legs and grabbed them and said, 'Don't go, don't go', and went hysterical,
crying, really upset ... that she was leaving us alone with my dad, so I can't understand where that's come from, other than that there's no other memories at
all ... relating to my mother, or my sisters ...
"Most of my life was spent outside the house from eight years old. And all I can
remember before that was trying to get my father's attention back, win that back. You know, the fantasy
of having a proper father ... It stopped once I met Abd y, but I can remember when I was about
11 playing for the school football team in the cup final and my father said he'd come and watch and I was really over the moon about that
... he never turned up for the game, but Andy did -- the main bloke that was
abusing -- and that really upset me, that did, when he didn't turn up. I played terrible in the game, because I'd really cheered myself up for him to be there and that shattered me totally relating to my father.
"The other time was when I was about seven and he took me out with him
and he just left me sitting outside a pub for about three hours and then come out. But
during all that time it was a continuous thing trying to win him back. I would have done anything, anything at all.
"The important thing for me is fulfilling the fantasy whether it was adults abusing me even as an adult, or me abusing children
projecting myself onto them. I was always a helpless little boy who had power
over everybody, who made everybody happy, and everybody excited, and everybody
"So when I was 18/19ish I used to go to places and public toilets which I'd been doing since I was nine and met men ... three, four, five men at a time and I would always become the little boy, see my fantasy was to be the 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year-old boy who's making everybody happy. And at the same time I'm happy because I've become 8, 9 or 10.
"But when I'm abusing an
actual child the fantasy is that I don't exist any more as the abuser. I'm the child who's being
abused and I'm giving everybody else happiness and pleasure, Everybody's enjoying themselves, everybody's happy, including me as a child, because I'm getting enjoyment out of it as well.
"When I'm with adults I've got to imagine, I've got to become the child, but
when there's an actual child there it's a lot easier to project yourself onto
the child, because you, you actually become the child. Because there's a victim there, see. There's no real difference in the content whatsoever
... the feelings are the same and the orgasm's basically the same, as well.
"It wouldn't work [without the fantasy]. Even when I'm having sex with women, I've had two women in my life who I've
lived with. I've got my wife and I've got kids of my own. Even when I'm having sex with
her, she's nothing to do with it -- the whole thing's projecting back to the
fantasy -- me being a little boy and being abused. So it doesn't matter what I'm in, whether it's a
group with men or one man on his own or a child on their own or a woman, ... it's
revolving round the same fantasy.
"I wouldn't think about
women, wouldn't turn me on at all. This is why here I'm frightened to let go, you see, because I don't know what
I'm going to replace it with, because I've never had other fantasies. There's never been any real other strong fantasy in my life.
"There's all different moods [which encourage the fantasy] depression, stress I know does come in here. I don't know whether I use [fantasy] to escape from reality or as a comfort to make me feel good or whatever.
"A classic example was when I was in Dartmoor
jail ... I had
to spend the whole time looking behind my back just in case somebody would attack with a knife or something like that. So I was under stress,
pressure, I was depressed ... and I noticed at that particular stage that I was masturbating 10, 12 times a day over my fantasy whether I because it was to do with the fact that I was under pressure and everybody was noticing me and I was becoming like a victim I suppose. And that was giving me feelings of being good
... I was going back to my cell and masturbating 10 times a day over the same fantasy of me being abused and projecting myself back to my childhood and that carried on
... until I left the place.
"If ever I saw a child with two or three men that would trigger it off because my major thing would be 'oh, they're taking the body of a child to abuse him'
... That would link me into my fantasy just seeing that out in the outside world
... All sorts of things kept my fantasy going ...
"Once I was at Victoria Station and there was a man come down with a small child to take it into the toilet. It was probably just an ordinary thing that a father would do, but to me that took me straight into fantasy, you know, because with me being abused in a toilet on quite a regular basis as a child.
"My view of all children [was that they're quite precocious and worldly wise]. But what particularly pleased me were children [who] just needed somebody to talk to. A classic example was my cousin. I met him at
a ... wedding. He reminded me of myself a hell of a lot and we struck it off straight away
... They all were basically similar to myself in looks, build, except with the exception of Raj who was an Asian.
"I was watching a programme the other day called
Age Seven in the USSR where there was clips of children in their underwear, as soon as I saw that [it] threw me into a fantasy straight ways. It's just ordinary things like that get me going. I mean when I was in
jail I had a pile of magazine cuttings, a really thick pile, collecting them all of children
and just children that attracted used for fantasy ... Newspapers and
magazines. In fact, you can pick up more pornographics, or what you could term as pornographic stuff, from ordinary newspapers and magazines.
"Child porn any type of
porn, child porn, adult porn, it doesn't matter what you look at, you can always
pick out something that suits our fantasy. I've even used adult pornography to satisfy my child's sex
actions. I've taken letters from soft porn magazines where it's been an adult that's been abused by four or five men and changed the women, only being a little girl or a little boy or myself being abused by all these men, you know, so it doesn't matter where you go. In fact I find it more of a turn-on to have a magazine where there's a boy sitting just in a position that would be perfectly natural, where you can see up his shorts and see his underwear. That would turn me on and send me in a fantasy just as quick as watching, or if not quicker, than watching a pornographic film.
"I did have [my own video camera]. It was away of feeding my fantasies. I would take a child, corrupt a child, convince a child that that was a good thing to do, although I only actually done it with one
boy and there was three of us abusing him. There was only two on the video actually doing it. The heads and that were cut off, there was two adult males and a young boy, it was
Raj, and I would watch that after it was
done and imagine that I was Raj being abused by the men ... But what I wanted to do was get another tree or our men in there with a boy, so although at that point it was purely fantasy, it was something that I was bringing into reality. Because if I hadn't have been caught it would definitely have, the fantasy would have been realized, but using Raj to do it.
"I had a relationship with another boy called Mark
... he lived with me for two years, we lived together for two years as father and son. I left my wife and kids and I brought him to live with me from when he was 12 to when he was 14 and his fantasy [was being] multiply abused. And he'd been getting abused since he was 6 and I carried that abuse on until 12 and there was times when he actually asked me to get my mates round and set [it] up. I videoed him as well, just him and myself together and videoed him.
"There's another part of my
fantasies -- cub scout stuff, the boy dressing as a cub scout. I'm dressing as a cub scout, getting him into various poses, that type of carry-on. So I actually put that on video with Mark, but he actually wanted to live the fantasy with me and there was the perfect opportunity to do it. But I just
couldn't do it ...
"I don't know what stopped me, but something
overpowered my sexual urge to fulfill the fantasy because it was Mark. But with Raj it was a completely different
thing, I was just using and abusing him, there it was just pure sexual gratification. There was something different with Mark, you see,
when the actual opportunity was presented I turned it down flat ... jealous really about other people being with him. Because I was madly in love with him. That's what I felt at the time. It was a very close relationship. A very close relationship with Mark
... he was the spitting image of me. He reminded me so much of myself.
"Mark knew my fantasy as well as his own. He used to talk about things that had happened to another boy that he knew with seven, eight men abusing all at one time while I was having sex with him. You see, so he would be talking about multiple abuse while I was abusing him. And for me that was a fantastic turn-on. That really heightened my fantasy that was going
on -- because he's talking about something that really happened to another boy that he knows
... [The other men were friends that I met through public toilets and places like that ...]
"[When asked if Andy was a paedophile.] There was a definitely a group of them, a group of men involved with Andy who after I got known to a few men started introducing all the others then. We'd go away for weekends. I'd spend weekends with them. Well I'd be telling my mother and father that I'd be down my mate's house, camping in the back garden. So I'd become very devious at an early age.
"It wasn't actually marriage, it was common law. I was in sort of my 20s. [This was the first woman I'd had a relationship with.] There was another woman
... who I met through her son who I was planning to
abuse. It was just part of the
process, the grooming process ... getting to know the mother and ended up having a relationship
with the mother.
"[I fathered] a son and a daughter. [Why did you choose to live with your common law wife?] I don't know, to be honest with you. It totally confuses me. She was more male orientated than female orientated. I met her and went back to her place and had a good time and had sex with her. I really, really enjoyed it,
but then again, it wasn't sex because she was a woman, it was my fantasy. You see I'd never been in a
woman's vagina before and I knew what I was doing like, and got in there, and it just felt really, really great
... It was a fantastic feeling, it really boosted the fantasy, and I thought to myself then 'you've really been missing out for years, all this, this is lovely, a woman's vagina.'
"[On fantasy about female children] That's only been over the last few years. That's been a new thing for me over the past six
years -- changing a woman into a little girl, it's something that I never would have done before and to actually abuse my own stepdaughter. I've never been interested in girls at all
"There'd been fantasies there before I abused by stepdaughter, that basically started, because I'd never been interested in girls at all. I'd been back home, Anthea had reached the age of six/seven, seven and she started sitting round like little girls do, showing her knickers and things like that and that really turned me on, I don't know why
"It was as if I was [taking] her to say 'Look, I want you to have sex with me'. She was making herself available for me, which is a totally ridiculous thing, I know, but that was what was going on in my head. So, for me, it was a beautiful thing because when I was little I used to wear shorts all the time and I used to do that with men deliberately. To suss out the type of man they were. Sit with my legs open and let them see up there and see my pants and everything like, because I knew that my father liked that when I was little.
"Andy loved that, some of the men that Andy was involved with loved it, because he took photographs of me in those positions as well
... Because it was something I'd done as a child, so the fantasy got really strong and I started changing myself into a little girl. Not just a little boy, because I saw that as being more powerful. The fact that as a little boy you can only show part of your underwear because you've shorts on but as a little girl you can show the whole lot, and for me that was something that was really personal. So I found myself
... projecting myself into a little girl. So I'd become a little girl instead of a little boy.
"I actually used my wife to dress up as a little girl on her own, because then [I] started going from an interest in little girls
... to the power that little girls have as opposed to little boys you see. I thought the effect was more
powerful ... because ... it was easy for a girl to show what she had, if you understand what I'm saying, it's not so easy for a boy. And for a period ...I was totally preoccupied by being a little girl.
"[What about a woman having sex with her daughter?] I wouldn't say anything about that at all, as long as both people were consenting, then there's no problem. I always believed that a child can give consent, but at the same time, I've always believed
... if a child doesn't want to have
sex with you, then a child will say no
... you can't pressurize children. This has happened to me on two or three occasions, the child has turned round and said, 'No, I don't want to get involved in this',
so I just stopped and accepted what he said.
"What had actually happened was, this Mark
... was living with me for two years. I went back to live with my wife and kids and he was coming weekends. I was still
abusing him when I was back with my wife. I let him stay in the house, he used to share a room with Matthew, my son, now because of my thinking and me
projecting myself into Mark, I couldn't perceive any other thoughts in his head that
he would like children -- all I was thinking about was he was interested in me and other men.
"The last thing that come into my mind was that he would be abusing my son and for that matter he was abusing my two stepdaughters as
well ... I didn't know anything about it until I got arrested. They questioned Matthew with dolls, although he was only five years old, and he'd shown them what's been happening to him and they've asked him who's been doing this and it turned out to be Mark. Mark had told him that if he ever told anybody he'd be taken away, the bogey man would get him
"When I found out about it, I was raging, I really wanted to kill him because he'd abused my son
... he was only 14 when he abused my son ... I realized what I'd done ...
shattered my fantasies, for over a month I didn't fantasize at all. I was so guilty about what I'd done to my son because that's exactly what happened to me, what I was trying to avoid happening to my son, because I wanted to give him a proper life, so that he could get what I never had and instead of doing that I'd actually set him up to be abused like I had been abused as a child and when that struck home it really hurt me bad
... it was from that I realized that I've got some serious problems ...
"I was involved in criminal activities or
long periods. In the West End of London I was involved in drug dealing. I was involved in illegal pirate videos, all the latest films coming out, collecting money off prostitutes. I was working for a guy called Bill Alderton in the 70s, he was running the West End, all the gangsters and that. I used to go round with some of his guys collecting the money from prostitutes. He had lots of different houses that he owned, and they'd have a room for a hundred pounds a night and you'd go in and collect the money the following day. I was involved in sex shops and, when I was younger, I was involved in making pornographic videos in Denmark, being in them, and magazines. I've been in different, various different magazines. I've never seen anything wrong with doing what I was doing.
"I was at one time doing a bit of stealing, the first time I stole was when I was 10 years old. Andy had gone on holiday for two or three weeks and I broke into the house next door and the meter and things like that, and got caught. Since then I've never ever been caught again. I've done a hell of a lot
of break-ins, robberies, all the way through.
"I've got myself a boyfriend now. From the jail. He's 25 years old and I've realized now that relationships are not purely sexual. For
me, everything's been sexual ... what I work on now is to build
relationships. Barry's the man for me now, although he dresses up as a little boy for me. Whereas before I abused male adults and
families, they don't actually know what's going on for me. But with this relationship I know it's still wrong and it's bad because it's still fuelling the fantasy, but Barry shares the fantasy with me, he knows what's going on for me, he knows what I want, he doesn't mind doing it because he enjoys it himself and that's not abuse any more as far as I'm concerned
... if it was real that he was a little boy [it] would be illegal,"
Graham, by virtually any definition is a paedophile. His biography includes many themes that are common in the debate on paedophilia: intergenerational abuse, paedophile rings, pornography, early sexualization experiences, fantasy, a need for mastery and control, poor relationship with mother and distorted family background.
His story also introduces rarer ideas uncommonly found in discussions of paedophilia. For example, he describes graphically his sexual activities with women and girls, neither of which were erotically arousing in themselves and departed markedly from his early
exclusive sexual orientation to boys and men.
But Graham is not a typical
paedophile: there is no such person. Nor should one imagine that conversations with offenders will always produce such a flurry of insight. Graham had undergone intensive therapy at a specialist residential unit for sex offenders; his frankness was partly a result of this. During the normal course of events, according to Graham, little would have been revealed. In prison, for example, to reveal so explicitly the nature and extent of his fantasy life, he believes, would have left him languishing there longer than he did.