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Tackling paedophilia: Psychologists open doors for those seeking help

The World Health Organization (WHO) terms paedophilia as a mental disorder, with patients suffering from persistent sexual interest in children.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Updated: November 11, 2019 2:53:14 pm
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Over the last four years, at least 300 people with suspected paedophilic tendencies have reached out for counselling support on an online portal, and another 30 have contacted counsellors through a network of psychologists and psychiatrists based in Mumbai and Pune.

Two psychologists in Mumbai, and four in Pune are slowly trying to expand training amongst experts on treatment of this disorder.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) terms paedophilia as a mental disorder, with patients suffering from persistent sexual interest in children.

In Pune, KEM Hospital Research Centre runs a clinic to assess and counsel such individuals. Thirty individuals have so far reached out to the clinic. The fear of social stigma frequently scares people away from discussions on the problem, and prevents help from reaching them.

“The disorder cannot be cured, but the behaviour of a person can be controlled. We teach patients coping mechanisms, and give them anti-depressants to alleviate stress,” Dr Vasudeo Paralikar, head of the psychiatry unit in KEM, Pune, said. Dr Paralikar counsels such patients to stay away from jobs such as those of teachers or schoolbus drivers, where there is frequent association with minors.

Prof Klaus Beier, director of the Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine in Berlin’s Charité University, estimates that at least 1 per cent of the male population suffers from paedophilia, with symptoms manifesting since adolescence.

In 2005, Beier started a clinic to counsel paedophiles in Berlin. In 2015, a similar initiative was started in India. He has so far held workshops for over 50 psychologists to raise awareness on treatment.

Sexual crimes against minors is a punishable offence under The Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The network of psychologists is currently focussed on helping people at the lower threshold of the disorder, and have not been booked under the Act.

“A lot of psychologists and psychiatrists have never heard of paedophilia treatment. They don’t know how to tackle if a patient with this disorder turns up. It is not taught in books. Paedophilia is different from child abuse, and can be controlled through medication and counselling,” Beier told The Indian Express.

Last year, the Pune clinic received a 60-year-old salesman from rural Maharashtra who complained that he fantasised about young boys and was afraid of ruining his marital life. “He knew it was wrong, but remained in dilemma. We gave him anti-depressants and counselled him. He travelled 800 km to seek our help. His wife didn’t know about this,” Dr Beier said. The 60-year-old remains on regular follow-ups.

Mumbai-based psychologist Janavi Doshi said stigma compels patients to not disclose their condition to their families or therapists. “Sometimes they may not understand they are paedophiles at all. We have to make careful diagnosis. We are encouraging people to reach out anonymously through our online portal. People suffering from paedophilia suffer from stress and severe depression,” Doshi said.

The portal, called ‘Troubled Desire’, allows a person to anonymously log in and undergo therapeutic counselling sessions. In severe cases, a physical session is advised, and patients are given medication. In 2018, a hotline (number 18001238905) was started for those who wanted to seek help by telephone.

Treatment generally involves long-term psychotherapy and drugs to alter sex drive and reduce testosterone levels. Dr Shubhangi Parkar, head of the psychiatry department in KEM Hospital, Mumbai, who is monitoring several government mental health programs, has treated only two patients of paedophilia in her entire career.

“They were both brought by their families, who did not recognise the disorder but found something wrong in the behaviour of the men,” she said, adding that due to low awareness, diagnosis is often difficult.

“Paedophiles are different from psychopaths who abuse children. The diagnosis is different for both. Although it is a disorder, not every person with this disorder necessarily abuses a minor,” Parkar said, adding that India lacks awareness on this disorder.

In Germany, programmes like “Kein Taeter warden” (Don’t offend) have brought attention to the treatment of this disorder. Beier has assessed 1,500 people suffering from paedophilia there.

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