What drives someone to become a pedophile? Is it some trauma that happened in their childhood? Is it in their genes? Or is it a learned
Dr. James Cantor thinks science is getting closer to an answer. Cantor has spent years studying pedophiles at the Kurt Freund Laboratory of the
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. And what he's come up
with could help change decades of thinking about pedophilia and perhaps
lead to a way to eradicate it.
It's long been thought that pedophiles have been damaged by some psycho-social factor, such as abuse during their childhood or a
tramautic early sexual history.
"But there's never been good evidence to support that theory," Cantor
told CTV.ca in a telephone interview.
He has an altogether different theory. Cantor believes the roots of pedophilia lie in the wiring of the brain. To back his theory, he has
studied the neurological characteristics of hundreds of pedophiles and has helped make some interesting discoveries. For example, he's found
Most recently, he helped study the files of more than 1,100 men assessed
for pedophilia or other sexual disorders in Toronto between 1995 and 2006. His team found that pedophilic males were, on average, two
centimeters shorter than males not sexually attracted to children -- a statistically significant difference. The study was published this week
in Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment.
So what does all of this tell us about shorter, left-handed men with low
IQs? Nothing, replies Cantor.
"But it gives us an important clue that pedophilia is linked specifically to the brain," he says. "The only thing that affects a
person's handedness is the organization of their brain, so the only way
there can be a relationship between pedophilia and handedness, for example, is if both are related to how the brain is organized."
Cantor theorizes that genes have nothing to do with it. He believes something wrong must happen during the formation of the pedophile's
brain in the womb that causes a whole constellation of changes. But what
that something is remains a mystery.
"There could be some toxin in the environment, poor maternal nutrition
-- it's too early to rule anything out," Cantor says. "But it seems that
it could be some general toxic effect that causes all these problems, one of which is subnormal amounts of growth which makes these people
more likely to be shorter, and some re-wiring of the brain that causes
Cantor has also noted some similarities about the psychological profile
of pedophiles. For one thing, almost every one he encounters at the Kurt
Freund Laboratory denies that they're pedophilic at all. And yet the great majority of those referred to the lab are there on a court order
for treatment about being convicted of a child molestation offence.
"Those who will admit to it say they were aware of being different most
of their lives. They rarely point to any specific event that turned them
pedophilic," Cantor says. "And most, in general, want to be rid of it."
Even though most self-aware pedophiles feel their sexual attraction is
"natural," they are also keenly aware that society is repulsed by their sexual desires.
For that reason, there is no good way to assess what percentage of the population is pedophilic, since the only ones who can be counted are the
ones who actually become child molesters and are reported to
authorities. Those who haven't committed offences are unlikely to report
their sexual proclivities to scientists to allow them to be counted.
It's also important to note that not every person convicted of a child sexual offence is a pedophile. Many offenders against children are
simply motivated by violence and anger, but don't have the strong, exclusive sexual interest in children that marks a true pedophile.
Clinically, the most accurate method of assessment of pedophilia is a phallometric test, which compares how much the subject reacts to
depictions of nude children vs. how they react to nude adults by
measuring blood flow to their penises.
Cantor reports that many pedophiles often hate their own sexual urges and want to be rid of them. But, at least for now, there appears to be
no "cure" for pedophilia.
"There is no way to turn a pedophile into a non-pedophile," asserts
Cantor. "No one has demonstrated that that's possible, just as there's
no way to take a person who is gay and turn them someone who is straight. That does just not, at this point, appear to be possible."
There are treatments that involve medications to dial down the sex drive. And there is a counseling technique called relapse prevention,
which teaches pedophiles how to manage their sexual interest, such as ensuring they stay far away from
playgrounds, schools and other areas where children congregate.
That is why Cantor is so eager to find a neurological explanation for pedophilia, so that the cause can be identified and eliminated.
He has recently completed research with an interdisciplinary team of scientists from CAMH and other Toronto-based hospitals using brain
imaging techniques to provide insight into the role of the brain in pedophilia.
"My greatest hope is that this research will lead to prevention methods," he says. "The better we understand what went wrong in the brain during development, the better we will be able to eliminate
whatever factor it is that started this chain of events that led to the
development of pedophilia."