Inside a restaurant, an elderly woman stares continuously at a child. She tries hard not to do so but cannot help it. Sadly, her involuntary action is not out of affection; the woman is fantasising about things that would be nightmares for most individuals. There are many like this woman, who are sexually attracted to children, but have never abused a child and never intend to do so. They want to control their unnatural urges but don’t find support anywhere in society. Moreover, very few believe that females paedophiles too exist in society.
Treatment for Paedophiles
“There were days when I was suicidal. I wanted help in controlling my sexual impulses, but had nowhere to turn,” shares the woman (on the condition of anonymity). Desperate for some sort of comfort, she turned to the Program for Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence (PPPSV) at King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital Research Centre, Pune. The PPPSV calls on paedophiles to undertake a treatment that helps them control their urges. More than 1,000 individuals from across the country have enquired about the programme. Of these, about six people, including the woman, have volunteered to go ahead with the therapy, which is free and maintains the clause of confidentiality. A few weeks into the treatment, the woman not only broke the stigma of paedophilia, but is also encouraging other potential paedophiles to seek help. “If we would have had such programmes in India earlier, things would be different,” says another 45-year-old individual, who is a part of the same therapy.
Female paedophiles go unnoticed
In our country, even though there are several disturbing facts about female predators out in the open, it’s difficult to put a finger on the numbers. We have, for the most part, seen women as motherly and nurturing figures, so it’s hard to imagine that a woman can be an abuser. However, “It’s not uncommon for women to be paedophiles and abuse children,” says Sunitha Krishnan, co-founder of Prajwala, an organisation that rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates sex-trafficked victims into the society. “Cases against women perpetrators are mostly unreported as most children do not recognise this as abuse and they are committed under the guise of affection. Traditionally, we have created a construct that only girl children are abused, so most male children, even if abused, are unable to articulate it as abuse and thus, a significant number of boys are abused by older women. Many boys think that when inadvertently their body responds to a physical stimulus, it actually means consented and they then carry the guilt and shame regarding their bodies for a lifetime,” she adds.
Women abusers are often emotionally manipulative, says Diana Monteiro, a counselling psychologist. “The abused child doesn’t report it for they feel mixed feelings towards the abuser. Also, kids abused by adults don’t know how to inform their parents,” explains Diana.
Urges can be controlled
Paedophilia is not curable. “But it can be treated and a paedophile can learn to control his urges,” says Dr. Klaus M. Beier, Professor and Director, Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine, Charité, Berlin.
Interestingly, the programme by PPPSV not only provides assistance to adults and adolescents in mastering and controlling sexual impulses towards children but also offers preventive measures. Dr. Beier adds, “Prevention through treatment is a programme initiated under PPPSV to prevent child sexual abuse in India. By providing therapeutic support for adults with a sexual preference for children (paedophiles) and/or early adolescents (hebephiles). Also, ‘Don’t Offend: India Network’ aims to detect risk early and prevent potential offenders from giving in to their urges.”