Very Bad Thoughts

A pedophile who labors to keep his desire to rape little boys a figment of his imagination admits he's a walking time bomb

Derek says he regularly reports any child pornography he comes across to law enforcement agencies. (Viewing or possessing child pornography is considered sexual exploitation of a minor and a Class 2 felony. Like other sexual offenses in Arizona, conviction carries with it a sentence of five years to life.)

Instead, he relies on therapeutic devices, such as the ammonia capsules and an "intimacy script" a written recipe for what a proper, healthy, adult sexual relationship entails that he developed in conjunction with his therapist. Although the intimacy script can't compete with the power of his deviant script, as much as he'd like it to, he'll try everything he can to keep himself in line.

However, therapy will soon be out of his reach financially, and he'll be left to fight his inner battles alone.

Jonathan Weiner
Jonathan Weiner

The prospect is bleak that any politician or activist group will advocate to expand the rights of pedophiles, Derek concedes.

Dr. Fred Berlin agrees. Berlin is a psychiatrist and leading expert on pedophilia and one of the founders of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Disorders at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Society, Berlin says, would sooner banish pedophiles from our midst than address the root of what he calls a serious public health problem. "There's a whole part of this story that we as a society haven't stopped to think about because of all the passion and angst about children being harmed."

Berlin compares the current pariah status of pedophiles to what alcoholics went through pre-Betty Ford. "People make moral judgments," he says. "But there are people who are beginning to try to see these [pedophiles] as human beings who, if afforded help, will come out and get it."

Pedophilia is a recognized psychological disorder, he says, and not a lifestyle choice. "It's not present because someone decided this was how they wanted to be. None of us as children sit around thinking that when we grow up we want to be a pedophile. No one would decide to grow up and be attracted to children."

Research into pedophilia's cause is inconclusive. Whether sexually deviant behavior is present from birth or a product of environmental factors is unknown. Berlin concedes it is probably a combination of both. "Being a boy who was sexually abused certainly is a risk factor, not that most abused boys will become pedophiles," Berlin says. "It's like smoking. Most smokers don't get lung cancer, but many do. A very significant number of adults with pedophilia were damaged as children."

Berlin says pedophilia can be managed, though not cured. He does not advocate the use of ammonia capsules or other attempts at reconditioning sexual response. Instead, he suggests cognitive behavioral techniques. "Like a drug addict or an alcoholic," he says, "we try to identify what their triggers are and what strategies to put into place so they can remain in control." Berlin says he tries to emphasize the difference between having a thought and acting on it, and encourages his patients to be "proud of maintaining proper controls."

For those patients for whom therapy is not enough, there is the option of chemical castration to lower the sex drive. Berlin prescribes androgen therapy, injections of what he calls "sexual appetite suppressants," such as Depo Provera (also used for birth control in women), which decreases testosterone levels.

Berlin's success rate is impressive. In a five-year study conducted on 600 sex offenders treated at his clinic, the recidivism rate was less than 8 percent. But before things can change, a sympathetic human face will have to be put on the vilified disorder. Finding an appropriate representative, a Betty Ford of pedophiles to soften views, is a difficult task in an age when everyone from priests to pop stars can't seem to keep their hands off children.

Lester Welch, a former patient of Berlin's, is one of the few who has been willing to speak out in his own name on the subject of pedophilia. He will be featured on Fox News' Pulse news magazine in a special next month regarding Megan's Law, which requires sex offenders to register with local law enforcement when moving into a new community.

At 62, Welch is a retired nuclear physicist who is comfortable financially and has retained the support of his family through his arrest, incarceration and rehabilitation. "I have relatively little to lose," he says. He hopes to make a "positive impact" by speaking out.

But even his appearance of respectability belies a chilling undercurrent of deviancy. His frank descriptions of the seduction of girls he met when they were 1 and 5 years old as well as his subtle implication that his victims sought molestation is unsettling.

Welch was arrested in October 1997 for fondling two young girls, ages 5 and 9. He served 17 months in prison and is on probation. "I'm not a pedophile," he's quick to claim. "I'm a human who yielded to temptation."

Welch says he first met the girls through volunteer work, befriending them and their foster family. The friendship grew to the point where Welch would watch the girls while the rest of the family was in therapy.

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