Sunday, January 15, 2012

Could Pedophilia Be Considered a Disability?

In a recent couple of posts on both the ATSA-list and SEXNET, list members discussed the issue of whether or not Pedophilia could or should be considered a "disability", entitling those so-diagnosed to receive social benefits.

These discussions were spurred by two newspaper articles, the first of which reported that benefits would be extended to persons diagnosed with Pedophilia in Greece—which was apparently incorrect. The second article, essentially a clarification, stated that Pedophilia would be listed by the social service sector, but not for the purposes of assigning benefits.

The possibility that a pedophilic person might somehow receive financial benefit for being that way seems to have struck a chord in many persons, judging by both the news reports and some of the email traffic I read. However, the question remains (at least) in my mind. Might there be circumstances in which we could/would/should consider Pedophilia to be a disability?

Before anyone starts getting offended or angry about the prospect of giving social benefits to a person who has sexually abused children, just follow along for a couple of paragraphs—I am asking readers to think outside the box for a moment.

Over the past couple of decades, an ever-increasing number of legislative attempts have been made to control the behavior of sexual offenders in the community; a good number of these persons being diagnosable as pedophilic. If we assume, for the moment, that the majority of higher risk or more intractable persons who offend are also those who have a preference for (or really strong sexual interest in) children, then at least some of these laws and policies will have a marked effect on how well a pedophilic person might be able to function in the community.

In many contemporary communities, persons who have sexually offended are, among other things, subject to:
  • public notification (sometimes including photos and other personal details)
  • registration (sometimes including publicly accessible records)
  • residency restrictions
  • employment restrictions (including mandatory reporting of status as a sex offender/predator)
  • 1000/2000/2500 foot rules as to where they can be
  • GPS tracking, or other means of electronic monitoring
Used judiciously, any of these measures may be useful in managing the risk of a specific offender. However, we tend to apply most or all of them to most or all of the offenders. And, whenever we hear the diagnosis "Pedophilia", we are immediately caused to think high-risk, incorrigible, etc. Professionals working with persons who have sexually offended know that all clients are unique and that each brings his/her own set of risk factors and social issues to the table.

The first point I suppose I would make is that, taken together, many of these legislated attempts at risk management have resulted in poor social reintegration prospects for some or even many offenders. Finding a place to live, finding a place to work, and finding people upon whom the person might rely for social support can be particularly difficult for anyone returning to the community after incarceration. It appears that these difficulties are heightened when the person trying to reintegrate is a sexual offender. Everyone will likely remember the famous "sex offenders under the bridge". The majority of these issues would appear to stem from, first, identification as a sexual offender/predator and, second, the notoriety that sometimes comes along with that designation.

So, could being identified as a pedophile be a determining factor in a person being unable to function appropriately in the social domain? Could that be considered a disability?

The second point I would like to make is that all these risk management measures cost money. As a society we already dedicate a lot of money to trying to make people with Pedophilia “better” by providing treatment in civil commitment centers and prisons, so why would we not consider the judicious use of funds to provide a “hand-up” (as opposed to a “hand-out”)? We provide community supervision, but people often see this as “management” rather than as the support of efforts at rehabilitation that it really ought to be.

As an example, let me share a personal experience. Some 10 years ago in Toronto, I was the psychologist-of-record for a particularly notorious "pedophile" who had recently been released from prison. Although he had apparently not offended in nearly two decades, the system was still clearing-off many of the complaints against him from the many instances of offending he engaged in while younger. Hence, the reason for the recent release.

Anyhow, when he was released, his picture was front page news. He was the subject of television and radio reports, and he soon became a particularly recognizable person. He had difficulty finding a place to live, and even more difficulty finding work. During our counseling sessions, we brainstormed as to how he might make ends meet and get off the street, as it were. In the end, I suggested that we attempt to get him social benefits, even though both of us were convinced that he would be denied.

After completing the necessary paperwork and providing a rationale that was akin to identifying his diagnosis and the subsequent notoriety as a "disability", we mailed it in and the waiting began. To both our surprise, he received a letter from the benefits office some six weeks later stating that he had been approved.

This fellow eventually did find some work and was able to find accommodations with a family member, which led to his coming off the social benefits roll. However, without those initial funds of assistance, his community reintegration picture would have been considerably more grim. While I am hesitant to state that he would have returned to reoffending—I think he was pretty much past that—I do wonder what other ills might have befallen him. In this particular instance, I continue to believe that our application for disability benefits was the right way to go.

Whether or not this is a bona fide example of Pedophilia as a qualifying diagnosis for receiving disability benefits, I don't know. I do know that it helped my client immeasurably and I can imagine that there might be others in the same boat in other communities. The bigger question may very well be in regard to whether or not our legislative efforts have created another problem entirely. In our haste to manage the "dark spectre" of pedophilic risk, have we sometimes made it nearly impossible for these persons to get better and move on?
(RJW, with a little help from my friends)


  1. I'm curious about the rehabilitative aspect of the proposed benefits. If someone commits a felony while addicted to crack cocaine and then is released from prison rehabilitated, would benefits be justified in assisting the person in making ends meet, if that person can't find employment re: the felony? Is this situation different in some ways? Any comments relating to using benefits to help a person that no one will hire/house would be welcome.

    1. The day I have to "pay" a guy who cant keep his zipper up around what society has deemed an "atrocity" to the well being of our children? Is the day we have all truly gone to hell. God help the "voodoo" doctors who advocate for it.

  2. Thanks for an interesting post - I am a UK mental health nursing student in my 3rd year and have just completed an assignment on the efficacy of treatment on sexual reoffending rates. It certainly is a foggy area to study I found, and there are many ethical considerations. Society only see "danger" when it comes to pedophiles, they do not see the illness that may encompass it.

  3. By the way, I just realised I emailed you regarding my assignment - thank you for your reply, I cannot say how many professionals I have emailed only to be ignored!