Our Criminal Justice System Needs to Reevaluate How It Handles Child Sex Abuse Cases
The news surrounding the recent child exploitation case against Jared Fogle – the face of the Subway fast-food chain for many years – is spurring debate about the rising trend of individuals who are suddenly popping up in the news (and in courtrooms) as alleged pedophiles.
Children have been exploited since the beginning of time, but in today’s U.S. criminal justice system there seems to be a renewed push toward prosecuting the offenders, whether it is a direct physical act (such as a teacher having sex with her students) or a more indirect crime (the white-collar sales executive who downloads child porn onto his computer for kicks).
Lost in the flurry of finger-pointing, shame and grief is a rational discussion of why these offenders do what they do. But a recent Washington Post article attempted to examine the causes of such behavior, and very deftly pointed out the lack of scientific research into deviant adult sexual acts involving minors.
“It’s nearly impossible to comprehend what would drive Fogle to do what his lawyer acknowledges he did. Human sexuality is already complicated, and the desire to have sex with a child is considered so shocking, so perverse, that we aren’t inclined to try and understand it,” states the Aug. 20 story by Sarah Kaplan.
The science of sexual disorders, the article continues, “is far less developed than other areas of psychiatry, and there are few resources for treating potential abusers. There’s almost no way to identify child abusers before they commit a crime, at which point it’s already too late.”
Meanwhile, penalties for sex crimes against children have gotten “harsher and harsher,” the story says, suggesting that the criminal-justice system is making knee-jerk reactions and taking a highly moralistic response to sex crimes involving children.
A psychiatrist affiliated with John Hopkins University quoted in the story points out that there is a biological basis for the cravings of sexual activity with minors, but that few in today’s society care to delve into it.
“Nobody chooses to be attracted to children,” the psychiatrist, Fred Berlin, said.
The rise in criminal activity involving children and sex has coincided with the advent of the Internet. Put simply, the Internet gave pedophiles a simpler way of searching out victims, and at the same time, made it easier for law enforcement to track down (and in many cases, entrap) offenders.
Contrast that to the days of the Roman Empire, when senators and others in positions of power regularly took up with their boy servants and there were no laws, vice squads or computer trails to stop them.
Some experts and studies suggest that pedophilia is related areas of the brain involved with impulse control and sex. The story mentions one case involving a man who became addicted to child porn after he underwent a temporal lobectomy to treat his epilepsy. Others note that many child sex offenders were themselves abused as youths.
The whole situation is complicated. Not all of the adults who are attracted to children act upon it. A vast majority of those who are accused of child sex abuse involving the downloading of pornographic images consider themselves “fantasizers” and “collectors,” not “contact” sex offenders. Then, of course, there are the actual categories of pedophiles that seek sex with young victims and abuse them to varying degrees.
What’s become clear among the witch-hunts and the actual cases of abuse is that more should be done to understand why some adults feel the need to act upon their impulses and whether humane alternatives (such as therapy, rehabilitation and restitution) will serve society better in the long run than simply locking people up or branding them for life.