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Just hating pedophiles won't keep children safe

Torches and pitchforks will not drive the monsters from our realm.

McKeen, S, The Edmonton Journal (Canada), October 10, 2008

Neither prosecution nor protest will protect our children from pedophiles. Our common sense and humanity might. But on this issue, both are in short supply.

Pedophiles live among us, as we were so starkly reminded last weekend when two young girls were abducted and assaulted. And they will continue to live among us. Not just known offenders, who complete jail sentences and return to the community, like Danial Todd Gratton, the accused in last weekend's abductions.

New pedophiles are being created as we speak. Today's victim of sexual abuse can become tomorrow's abuser.

The gene pool, it seems, is also spawning new pedophiles. Research now indicates pedophilia, in some cases, behaves like its own sexual orientation, as vulgar as that might seem to the natural order of things.

Whatever the cause, experts say pedophiles don't choose their sexual desires any more than we do. Nor can we pick pedophiles out of a crowd. Yes, some are anti-social, slovenly and odd.

But I once knew a kindly St. Albert family man -- a former Citizen of the Year -- who was a success in his profession and pegged for a career in politics. Until he was charged with sexually abusing the family babysitters.

I was appalled at the time. Just as we all were by last weekend's abductions. Seducing or forcing children into sexual activity is a gross violation of the trust they place in adults, as their guardians.

But I've come to believe we fail that trust by blinkering ourselves with disgust and hatred. The time has come to dial down emotion and look to the community for pragmatic answers.

That's not to say the justice system has no role to play in a common-sense response. One answer is for the courts to use dangerous offender legislation more often against repeat, cold-hearted sex offenders. Yes, in some cases you throw away the key.

But what of the first-time offender? 
Or the teenager who recognizes his urges, is horrified by them, but has no place to turn? 
Or the man caught with child pornography, who may be just starting to explore his deviant sexuality?

The experts say there is no cure for pedophilia. But that is not to say it can't be treated.

The Phoenix Program at Alberta Hospital Edmonton has demonstrated success in reducing recidivism of sex offenders to below four per cent, compared to 25 per cent for those who receive no treatment.

But no system is perfect -- even old-school castration failed to prevent recidivism. Such is the baffling nature of the human sex drive.

The big problem with treatment is its availability, or lack thereof. Governments aren't exactly throwing money at research or treatment centres for sexual deviants. Sympathy for the devil wins you no votes.

Dr. Fred Berlin, one of the world's leading experts on pedophilia, believes demonizing pedophiles has made the world less safe. In a climate of hate, it's almost impossible to get pedophiles into early treatment, though the evidence is that many begin molesting at age 13.

Mental-health professionals in the U.S. and Canada are now legally required to report a client who has offended or is at risk to offend. Berlin says he once got regular calls from men who truly wanted be treated for their pedophilic urges. Once the law changed, and he was required to report possible predators, the phone stopped ringing.

Yes, our hate forces pedophiles underground, where they are hard to track. If driven from one community, they will slip quietly into another.

And a pedophile unable to connect even loosely with community -- get a job, a place to live -- is much more of a threat.

Pedophilia is likened to alcohol and called a craving disorder.

Like an alcoholic, an anxious, depressed or despondent pedophile is much more likely to act out on his cravings. Knowing that, the answer seems obvious. Why not create a support and accountability network like Alcoholics Anonymous for pedophiles?

Circles Of Support and Accountability

Good idea. So good, in fact, that it's been around for years. A mostly unheralded and underfunded program known as COSA, or Circles Of Support and Accountability, began in Ontario in the mid-1990s.

Volunteers from the Mennonites and other faith communities were asked by a pioneering corrections official to serve on a committee, or circle, that offered not only a watchful eye over the pedophile, but a sense of connection to community.

Volunteers helped the offender find places to work and live. Daily contact and weekly meetings allowed for monitoring and for a place where the ex-convict could share his thoughts and feelings.

COSA not only spread across Canada, but to eight other countries that enthusiastically supported a program that reduced recidivism in hard-core offenders by at least 80 per cent. COSA now exists in every major city in Canada -- except Edmonton.

The Mustard Seed church in Edmonton's inner city used to operate circles for released pedophiles. But Kris Knutson, the church's corrections chaplain, says the church was simply unable to continue.

"It was just so resource-intensive, we had to make a call," he said. 

The call was to shut down the demanding circles and focus on other offender programs.

Knutson isn't happy with the situation. Edmonton, with its surrounding jails, becomes home for many released pedophiles.

"When these men are pushed underground and isolated from the community, they are at a much greater risk to re-offend," he says. "They hide and there's no one to keep them accountable."

Knutson said the biggest roadblock to maintaining COSA in Edmonton was finding volunteers. Stigma kept many from participating. And those who agreed to volunteer suffered from the stigma, too.

Many were denounced by friends and family as pedophile sympathizers. Some felt their jobs were at risk if they continued. Ultimately, COSA folded in Edmonton because of this community's climate of hatred.

It is a bitter irony. Pedophiles continue to live among us -- unseen and unsupervised, at greater risk of re-offending -- because we couldn't drive the monster out of ourselves.

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