A team of researchers from KEM Hospital Research Centre is working on Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence Against Children (PPSVAC) through treatment. In an interaction with Namrata Devikar, the team, including Dr Laila Garda, Director, Research, KEM Hospital Research Centre, Dr Vasudeo Parlikar and Dr Ujjawal Nene, both principal investigator, PPSVAC, and Varsha Pol, project coordinator, talks about the social stigma related to paedophilic tendencies and the need for awareness to promote treatment for the same before an act of offence against the child is committed.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), sexual attraction towards the body forms of children or young adolescents is a psycho-sexual disorder, which is termed as paedophilia.
How was the research started?
Parlikar: Klaus Beier from the Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine at the University Hospital in Berlin, Germany has been developing such treatments successfully for last 12 years. We are focusing on self-motivated paedophilia, i.e. who are out of the legal system and who are aware of their preference but have not acted and come to us. However, it was necessary to check feasibility in the Indian context for such a project, as sexuality is a delicate matter here. Hence, in the first year, we did a feasibility study to check if people would come ahead to talk about paedophilia. We interacted with secondary stakeholders, parents, teachers, psychiatrists and psychologists. By our preliminary studies, we achieved in shaping public opinion in this matter. Patients who come forward should be treated like they have not committed any offence so far.
Who can come for help?
Parlikar: According to Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, any incident of sexual abuse that has happened has to be reported under the law. Hence, the initiative of Beier was modified according to the cultural, social and legal adaptation to suit our land. We have to handle these cases delicately and maintain confidentiality during treatment of those who come forward. Those who feel tempted to use child sexual images but have not used them can come to us for help, and then we could enrol them in psychotherapy and sexual assessment, medical assessment, diagnosis for paedophile inclination or any other sexual problems.
What is the treatment and why is it necessary?
Nene: We will provide psychotherapy to make the patient understand his condition, so that they are not dangerous for children, as they will be able to control their inclination. They will also not be dangerous for themselves.
Parlikar: These patients are very depressed and feel that their life is ruined. However, primary prevention of any such act and proper care at the right time can help them.
Pol: It is important to note that every person who is involved in child sexual abuse is not a paedophile, and every paedophile will not be an offender.
Nene: There are many paedophiles with good control, who learn to manage their impulses.
Parlikar: We can see the positive use of stigma here. They are afraid of what people may say and might refrain from doing this. However, this should also encourage them to seek help, as sexual life offers attachment and communication. But in these cases, they are deprived of it. Hence, we want them to fulfil their need for attachment and communication with appropriate adults. We have to understand that sexual preferences cannot be changed but controlling impulses can be learnt through psychotherapy.
There is lack of awareness about paedophilia. How are we trying to reach maximum people?
Garda: The first stage of our research was to reach people. We are doing a lot of awareness. We want to reach to as many healthcare providers as possible, as they may get us referrals. Overall, we have to make most people aware, as this is a problem and it should be addressed. We can take this research forward only by awareness and prevention.
Pol: Awareness is important. We are present on social media like Facebook and Twitter. We have a Facebook page called DontOffendIndiaNetwork, on Twitter as @DontOffendIndiaNetwork. We also have a toll free number 180030000681. There is also a website, www.troubled-desire.com, which is a self-assessment tool for an individual. The website is designed for the Indian population and the tests checks for your sexual preferences. Offenders do not come to us, the website directs them to am online self-assessment treatment therapy. If the person is a non-offender, he will be directed to KEM Hospital Research Centre or a therapist based in Mumbai.
Any future research project related to those who are already convicted under POCSO?
Garda: The thought is there, however, there are ethical issues involved. Also, a lot of permissions are needed, hence, the plan is not yet formalised. But, the research may be seen as critical if undertaken to understand how many offenders are actually paedophiles and how many people have offended, however, are not paedophiles.