They returned from the field of tall grass to the faces of the others. Liddle sometimes asked them for introductions, though the faces stayed mostly the same. They went around the circle. “I was convicted of two counts of sexual assault four, and three counts of risk of injury to a minor, and enticing a minor over the Internet,” Roy began. He forced himself not to mumble. Facing up to what he had done was a requirement for graduating from treatment. And he hoped this might lead—especially if he had Liddle’s recommendation—to a judge’s reducing his term of probation.
The treatment was grounded in an idea that seemed simple: to acknowledge both his crime and the anarchy of lust that lay within him was the first step toward his finding self-control. So the ability to confront himself, and to be candid with Liddle about his desires, was a requisite if he wanted to do anything outside the bounds of his probationrestrictions: visit his parents over the state line, or go to a bowling alley or a movie or a family function, anyplace where he might come in contact with kids under sixteen. Any family gathering he attended had to be adults-only; he needed to leave right away if kids showed up. In his state, the group leaders and probation officers worked in tandem, weighing how well they could trust the men, and the therapists could be as cautious, as suspicious, as the probation officers. Together, Liddle and Roy’s PO set the limits on his existence. And unless he got Liddle’s recommendation and this led to a judge’s mercy, it seemed Roy would be existing this way for the rest of his life.
“I was sentenced,” he went on with his introduction, “to twenty years suspended after thirty days, with thirty-five years probation. My offense behaviors I engaged in were touching my wife’s daughter and her best friend sexually, touching them through their clothing between their legs, around their waist, moving my hand into the top of their waistband. I moved my hand under their shorts up to their panty lines. I used games that were called Chase and Spider to manipulate them into feeling safe with me.” His voice lowered, sped up. He rushed on into the next part, into the online messages he’d sent to Faith, suggesting what they might do.
he told me his story time and again, in detail he withheld from the group, as we sat at his kitchen table or in an empty conference room at his job. He was still a supervisor at the telecommunications repair company. In a squat suburban building just off a highway, at worktables in vast, orderly rooms, he and his team leaned over high-tech consoles and microprocessors with multicolored flashing diodes. They fixed the circuitry or, depending on Roy’s decision, redesigned it. With the permission of Liddle and the probation department, he was allowed to work around computers as long as he never went online outside the watch of a colleague.
Everyone at his job was aware of his crime. He’d made a point of being open, of answering questions. The company’s owner, who’d hired Roy several years ago, had testified on his behalf at his sentencing. “You’re talking about a person I know,” the owner told me. “A stranger, I would write them off, I wouldn’t talk to them, I wouldn’t see them, if they did one-tenth of what he did.” And for Roy, within the squat building, it wasn’t only the owner who forgave him As I drove with him to work one winter morning, he said that he was engaged to be married again—to a bookkeeper at the company, a colleague since before his arrest. A few weeks earlier, at a Christmas Eve dinner at his house, he’d hidden a ring in the chocolate cake he served for dessert.
“they’re starting to develop. Look at their behinds. Look at my daughter, how pretty she’s going to be when she grows up.” Telling me about his crime at the well-polished kitchen table in his neatly kept wooden house, he always began with the words of Faith’s mother, Jackie, at the beach. “I’m going to have problems with her when she grows up. Sexually. With boys. I know I’m going to have a problem with her.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Look at you.”
“Please. If she ends up like me I’m going to have to shoot myself.”
He’d known Faith and her older brother from the time they were born. Their father had been a friend of Roy’s since kindergarten and, for years, a member of Roy’s band, until Jackie left him for Roy when the kids were around four and six. Roy had no children of his own. Faith and her brother lived with their father, but they spent lots of time at the house Roy shared with their mother. The boy, a prodigy on the drums, jammed in the basement with Roy on guitar. The time Roy spent with Faith was more childlike. But after that vacation at the shore, the games they played—often with her best friend, Elizabeth, too—grew sexualized at some level within his mind.
During Chase, he and the girls would turn off most of the lights. They plugged in a strobe light from his band equipment or a lamp that cast the shapes of moons on the walls, in blues and yellows and greens. His marriage was starting to come apart. Sometimes his wife was home, having shut herself in their bedroom for the evening. Sometimes she was out on her own. He raced after the girls through the house, through the colored beams.
“I remember times they would want to play Chase with me. I’d be sitting on the couch on Friday night, watching TV I didn’t want to play with them I was beat. And they’d come pulling on me. They were the ones that talked me into it. And I remember they’d go into their room and put their bathing suits on. I never told them to do that. And they’re running around the house shaking their butts at me.”
In Spider, each player had to sit motionless; if you moved at all you got pinched. The touching occurred during both games, and the dutiful confession Roy delivered to the group implied that the touching was blatantly, consciously sexual on his part. But the truth, he felt, was more complex, more elusive. He believed that a change had occurred with Jackie’s words on the beach, that he’d never before seen his stepdaughter as sexual, that a new awareness had penetrated at that moment, but he wasn’t at all certain that his own thinking, during the games, was permeated by desire.
He was obsessively introspective about all that had happened. He thought back to his anger at his wife, his fleeting idea that if she was going to leave him taking care of her kids, then he was “going to get something out of this, too.” Yet he recalled no lustful intent at that stage, not even any dalliance with fantasy. “I don’t think I ever touched them in their private areas,” he said, drawing a distinction between those areas and the edges of underwear. “Grabbing them, pulling them, knocking them down. Them jumping on me. It was still just teasing and playing with them It wasn’t like I wanted to have sex with them Is there a difference?” lately he’d had fairly open conversations with his family about his crime. Male relatives had talked about their nieces entering adolescence and starting to flirt with them “And they said, ‘Roy, when that happened, we stopped playing with them the same way. We wouldn’t let them jump all over us anymore—it scared the daylights out of us. After a certain age, it was no. No to this. No to that. ’Cause things can go a little too far.’”
Listening, I thought of the way Faith’s father had spoken to me on the phone one afternoon about his daughter. He was confirming details about what had happened when suddenly he interrupted himself to say how beautiful Faith was, even more gorgeous now than a couple of years ago when Roy had been arrested. “She’s killing me,” he said. “When I hug her I give her these half-ass hugs.” Then, without segue, he volunteered that he never looked at pornographic magazines. “I can appreciate the body, but… ” His voice trailed off, sounding indifferent. He seemed to want to prove that eros had no hold over him It was as though the erotic power of his daughter made desire itself uncomfortable, unbearable.
And I thought of my own twelve-year-old daughter, who, along with her younger brother, still loved to be chased through our apartment in a game they called Fee Fi Fo Fum I, the monstrous giant, chanted the nonsense syllables and twisted her name to fit the rhyme: “I smell the blood of… ” I dove for her across the couch. She rolled off the cushions and out of reach, shrieking and giggling as she sprinted down the hall from the living room to the master bedroom with me right behind. She darted around the bed. Her body danced on one side while I, on the other, calculated the right moment to lunge. She taunted me, laughing, breathless, telling me I could never catch her, never cook her, never eat her, that this was the night I would starve. And then I made my move. I grabbed her by the wrist, clutched her by the waist. I lifted her into the air and threw her onto the bed. “Now I am cooking you!” I roared. “And then I will devour you!” She cowered in delight.
Constantly Roy tried, but there were so many things he couldn’t sort out. How much of the touching had been errant, inadvertent, amid playful mauling? How far beyond the normal had things gone at that stage? Had he gone beyond the normal at all? The questions made him reel; he couldn’t settle on single answers. “But was there sexuality behind the games?” he asked himself aloud while we talked—and answered immediately, “Yes.” the erotic became explicit, he said, when they were in separate rooms, at separate computers. The layout of the house mirrored the one he owned now, many towns away: a series of rooms along a narrow hall, a basement crowded with his guitars and keyboards and recording equipment. His stepdaughter was twelve, though he preferred, when talking to me and perhaps to himself, to say that she was by then fourteen, maybe thirteen. During his introductions in group, he didn’t mention how old she was at this point in his story, so for a short while I didn’t know her true age. When I read an old article from a local newspaper about the case and told him that it put her age at twelve, he insisted that the article was mistaken. Only after I had asked him a third or fourth time did he call me one morning: he had just phoned his sister and “found out” that the newspaper was right.
When she was twelve, one evening she sent him an instant message. She asked what he was doing. He sat in his office; she was in her bedroom down the hall. He told her he was working on band contracts. She wrote that she was bored, that none of her friends were online. He replied that her brother had been giving their mother trouble, that she was completely different, that she was “a really good little girl.”
“She came right back to me and said: ‘Roy, you don’t know me. I’m not a good girl, I’m a bad girl.’”
He’d always been attracted to the dissolute in the women he dated. He’d been infatuated with the wild streak in Jackie as she had left her husband for him. “I wrote back to her, ‘What are you doing?’
‘“I’m not going to tell you. ’
“It just drew me in. You couldn’t have drawn me in any faster. I still remember it. Not excited as in arousal excited, but excited as in I’ve got to know more. Major adrenaline rush. I felt myself go flush. I felt like I got hot. I told her, ‘Gotta get back to work.’ She came back on a couple of times with little blurbs like, ‘Hurry up and get done, I need somebody to talk to,’ and I just ignored those comments because I was already overloaded.
“I finished the contracts I was doing. I got off the computer right after that, and I went immediately downstairs and started playing. That’s what I always do when something’s really got me; I need to shut it off. I had to shut that off at that moment. I had to calm it down. Put my headphones on. Had my guitar. Sat and played and sang. I have this jazz routine I like doing. I do a jazz version of ‘Blue Skies.’ ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’—it’s a slow jazz tune. I have a quick foxtrot version of ‘I’m in the Mood for Love.’ And ‘When Sonny Gets Blue’—it’s a pretty tune. I have about an hour’s worth of music. I just have to concentrate on the chord changes and the progressions, and it clears my mind.
“The only problem is,” he almost shouted to me across his kitchen table, “it didn’t help.” soon he loaded his computer with a software program that would allow him to monitor Faith’s online conversations. Alone in the house, he stepped back and forth along the hall, between rooms, between computers, making sure his system worked, that she wouldn’t be able to detect him reading what she wrote. And the next time she came over and logged on and began chatting with Elizabeth, their words
ran across his screen.
“They started talking about school and the boys in school, and Elizabeth said, ‘I can’t believe you were in the back parking lot with’—I can’t remember the kid’s name. It was like watching a story. A sexual story, from what Faith started doing, kissing him, to him feeling her, to it just kept progressing. It was like a movie.” He followed the progress for weeks, months. He would masturbate after she signed off. “It had your mind so cranked you had to have some relief. I wasn’t having sex with my wife. At any point I thought this girl was going to have sex with this boy. That’s how intense this was. She told Elizabeth he had her pants off. It really got my motor going. I thought she was going to come on and write that she actually had intercourse with this kid in the back parking lot at school.” He didn’t worry that she would walk down the hall and find him reading her words. “Impossible, because my computer didn’t face the door, and it would have taken a split second to shut it off. Nobody could catch me, nobody. I’m too good. I’m too good with computers. When I shut the computer off everything was erased. There was no trackable record on those PCs. It was wrong. So wrong. I put myself in such a bad situation, and I just fell into it. I guess that’s how a drug addict gets. Once you’ve fallen into that, it’s almost like that’s it: now you’ve got it in your head, and it’s not going to go away.”
The instant-messaging between him and Faith went on between his monitoring. “She would sign on and see that my computer was online, and she’d say something to me. That’s how the conversations started. And I would flip it. She didn’t start it sexually. I always flipped it. She didn’t do it. She was a kid.
“I said, ‘Have you been getting into trouble?’ And she said, ‘What do you mean by that?’
“‘I don’t know. You’re growing up now. You’re starting to turn into a woman.’
“‘What do you mean by that?’
“‘I don’t know.’
“‘How are you looking at me?’
‘“I’m looking at you as a girl turning into a woman. ’
“‘What do you mean by that?’
“‘You’re going to be really attractive when you grow up.’
“‘Do you like me that way?’
“ ‘ Г m not your father. ’ ”
He suggested that, in front of him, she take off pieces of clothing. She asked what he wanted to see, said no to each request. Online conversation by online conversation, they went back and forth, she asking, he requesting, she saying no, desire surging within him until he suggested that they have sex. She refused.
It was months before her thirteenth birthday when he wrote that he was going to step out of his office and into the kitchen to get a soda. This time, he said that if she wanted to see what he wished to do with her, she should walk into his office and click on a window that would be on his screen. She left her computer and walked to his. When the window opened, a video showed “a man rubbing his penis on a girl’s vagina that’s been shaved,” he told me. A moment later, they passed in the hall. He remembered her calling him “disgusting” and each of them hurrying back to their own PCs. Petrified that she would report him, he begged her over the Internet to meet him on the stairs to the basement music room, promising that he would stay at the bottom He pleaded his apology as she sat at the top of the stairs. Then she was gone.
at her father’s house, she told her stepmother. Her father was away on a business trip. Her stepmother sent her back to Roy’s home so that, assuming he would make his requests yet again, she could print out his words for evidence. The transcript the police read went, in part, like this:
“what do u want again”
“any small thing you want to do”
“let me see you”
“no. what else”
“y can’t you do this stuff with my mom she’s like me and she actually is ur own age”
“i just want to do something with you anything”
He was arrested. In court, he pleaded under the Alford Doctrine, acknowledging that the evidence against him was enough to prove his guilt, and—with decades of probation and the prospect of twenty years in prison if he violated its terms—he had been going to Liddle’s sessions now for a year and a half. “I’m so embarrassed,” he told me. “I can’t believe I did this. I just don’t know how I got myself there. I really don’t. It makes me sick.” And he looked that way—ill, aghast, mortified— whenever he finished his story.
“you will see people of varying ages.” A woman, one of Liddle’s colleagues, stood over Roy, reading from a set of instructions. He sat behind a gray laptop that rested on a metal desk in a small office in the probation building. Her long blond hair fell over a loose sweater. He would be shown one hundred and sixty images on the laptop screen, she informed him Her voice stayed level, her face expressionless. “Imagine being sexual with the models in the slides.”
He wore a black blazer, a tie, sharply pressed khakis. From here he was headed straight to a meeting at work. She told him to score each picture, typing one for “disgusting” up through seven for “highly sexually arousing.” He should advance through the images by clicking the returnkey.
She showed him a practice set: a blond woman in prim white lingerie; a clean-cut man in a plaid shirt and khakis; a boy, who looked to me around twelve, straddling a bicycle with a book bag over his shoulder; a girl around the same age wearing a straw hat and eating strawberries; a pudgy little girl, maybe four, in a blue one-piece swimsuit…Liddle’s colleague asked Roy if he was ready. Sitting perfectly upright, always demonstrating his obedience, he said that he was. He was left alone with the photographs.
All the men in the circle took the Abel Assessment, an alternative to testing by plethysmograph, at some point during their treatment. It measured erotic preference not by the one-to-seven ratings but by the length of time a man let his eyes linger on each image before clicking to the next. The photos were fairly demure. In the United States, it was illegal for such tests to show pornographic pictures of minors, so to keep things balanced even the adult images held to some degree of decorum And when, later, I clicked through a set, the distinction between age categories sometimes eluded me. The subjects in the pictures were supposed to represent four plainly separate age groups so categories of attraction could be clearly measured. There were children of two to four, children between eight and ten, adolescents between fourteen and seventeen, and adults at least twenty-two. But some of the eight-to-tens looked to me like young adolescents. And some of the adolescents looked more like youthful adults: they had the kinds of faces and bodies that appeared on billboards selling underwear —an association that turned inward on itself, because those billboard faces and bodies, which defined adult beauty, sometimes belonged to adolescent models.
When Roy finished, he looked shell-shocked, like a patient who’d been through an arduous and shameful diagnostic exam The information was sent down to the Abel offices in Georgia, and the results were quickly sent up to Liddle. Roy’s attractions were for adult females and, slightly more so, for females in the adolescent range.
This put him, Liddle told me, within the realm of ordinary male desire. The preference for adolescents over adults was, he said, a cause for some worry, given Roy’s crime. But in itself the strong erotic response to adolescents was entirely normal.
Along the circle sat a few whose Abel scores were plainly aberrant: men drawn above all to preadolescent boys and men drawn powerfully and almost equally to disparate categories, adults and young children, boys and girls. There was a retired accountant who, Liddle said, met the psychiatric definition of a “fixated”—exclusive—pedophile. He had coached sports and built a clubhouse on his property in order to lure the neighborhood boys; he had spanked and groped many over a period of many years, and now, perhaps past the age of desiring anyone—though Liddle suspected otherwise— he lived by himself in a trailer home. On his round mahogany dining table, which was old and scratched, a shiny deck of cards sat on a square of paper towel, as if to keep the cards, at least, unsoiled by all that had long been part of his life.
Most of the group fell somewhere closer to the middle of a continuum: a continuum on which normal occupied a broad and blurry band. And thinking about all the men he’d worked with during the past fourteen years, including the retired accountant, Liddle said, “The difference between me and my guys is a very, very thin line.”
Liddle was a marathoner; he’d run Boston in three and a half hours. In his mid-fifties, his deeply sculpted and lined face, and his long, angular body, gave him a look of strength and stoicism But a muted anxiety lay just beneath his self-restraint, an anxiety not only about the state of his men but about the state of all men, and about himself. It emerged when he spoke about pornography and its proliferation online. Internet porn was “overwhelming, desensitizing.” It was “a launching pad for molestation.” It was “a nightmare.”
“No!” he said, when I asked whether the images might be a way for his men to deal safely with harmful desires: let them masturbate to the pictures and let the longings subside. “That’s like an alcoholic saying, ‘I’ll only have a couple of drinks, I’ll only have low-alcohol beer.’” For those in his groups, he felt that even images of adults were dangerous; the legal would only lead to the illicit. But his fear extended beyond his men, beyond what they’d done and might do again with the underage. Pornography, for him, stood for something ungovernable, something threatening within male desire. He saw the threat everywhere, in movies, in video games, in advertisements. “The meta-message in our society is rape,” he said. It was unclear whether he meant the word to be taken literally or as a suggestion of all that was aggressive, uncontrolled, damaging. “There’s so much out there that isn’t responsible. I never allow myself to visit a porn Web site.” He’d put a block on his computer to prevent it. He wouldn’t let himself so much as fantasize about adult strangers. “I have very clear boundaries for myself. If I have deviant thoughts on the train, I think, How comfortable would I be with telling my wife what I’m thinking? How comfortable would I be with telling my kids? That’s how I block myself off.” Beyond the bounds of his marriage, all desire was deviant, ominous, liable to lead anywhere.
one evening Liddle sent me by e-mail a parable he’d written. It was called “Desire.”
There once was a very gifted sculptor who came to a city and was allowed to come in to create his art. He began to work on a beautiful piece of marble he had obtained from a local quarry. While he was carving the stone, a rich patron came by and wanted the piece for his own house. The artist agreed and worked day and night for several weeks to complete the statue for the patron.
Once it was completed, the patron arranged for a large gala for the unveiling of the artwork. He invited the entire town to come to his house. As the moment approached to reveal the statue, there was much anticipation in the minds of the townspeople. The velvet covering was pulled back and there was a gasp of horror from the onlookers.
Each one of the people looking upon the artwork saw something different, something unspeakable. One person saw a man and a child having sexual contact, another saw two men engaged in sex, another saw a woman and an animal in sexual congress, and one saw a man exposing his phallus. Each was sure this was what the piece of art portrayed.
The townspeople reacted by blaming the artist and patron for what they saw. But none of them would talk about what they believed they saw in the marble. They turned on the artist and the patron and forced them to flee the city. Once they were gone, the townspeople destroyed the statue, yet the thoughts and images remained in their hearts.
sometimes when I sat in Roy’s kitchen in the evening, with the sky dark outside the windows and the light low over the table and the walls close, I was repelled by his story. I was repelled when I learned about the Internet screen name he’d used—“Freakypeephole”—though he had an explanation: the anti drug anthem he’d written back in the seventies, the song that had brought him his few minutes of airtime, was called “Freaky People.” He’d tried for this as his screen name, but it was already taken, and his server had supplied the alternative—he’d accepted Freakypeephole, as a joke, well before his crime. And I was repelled, above all, by his dissembling over Faith’s being twelve. The delayed revelation brought home all the more that she had been exactly my daughter’s age. The thought of a grown man with my bird-boned, barely pubescent daughter was enough to make my body curl in on itself and enough to make me murderous.
Yet there was excitement in Roy’s memories of his aunt. The idea of the slightly older girl beckoning him to the sun room was enviable in itself; that the girl was his mother’s sister added a particular electricity. And his stepdaughter’s education in the back parking lot; her letting the boy slide her pants over her hips—this was the standard stuff of pornography.
“I was flabbergasted,” the owner of the telecommunications repair company said. “I told him, ‘Roy, why’d you go off and do something so stupid?”’
I asked the owner about his use of the word “stupid”—it seemed to diminish the crime.
“Fisten,” he said, “I’m not going to get philosophical, because I’m not smart enough. And I’m not trying to get myself or yourself in trouble. But we’re human beings. Everybody has these thoughts. The only thing that separates him from you and me is we didn’t act on them”
For the state, Fiddle’s boss had been watching over and treating men like Roy for twenty years. Before that, he’d been a therapist for child victims of sexual assault. “We want them to be the few, the perverted, the far away,” he said about the perpetrators. “We want there to be the clear line. We want
there to be the sloped forehead. It just doesn’t exist.”
A volume of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the world’s leading journal of research on sexuality, held an essay by Richard Green, a psychiatrist at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London and a professor emeritus at UCLA. He wrote about a study of around two hundred male university students. “Twenty-one percent reported some sexual attraction to small children. Nine percent described sexual fantasies involving children, five percent admitted to having masturbated to sexual fantasies of children and seven percent indicated they might have sex with a child if not caught.” The researchers, Green went on, remarked that “given the probable social undesirability of such admissions, we may hypothesize that the actual rates were even higher.” And Green wrote of work done by Kurt Freund: forty-eight Czech soldiers were hooked to a plethysmograph. Viewing a series of slides, “twenty-eight of forty-eight showed penile response to female children age four to ten.”
Not many studies had been done, as though to spare everyone the truth. But to think about the Internet or to consider legal history was to deal with something inescapable. Typing in “preteen porn” on AOL’s search engine brought a list of sites covering thousands of pages. And until the late nineteenth century in England, the legal age of sexual consent was ten.
“they are not monsters. They are us,” Joan Tabachnick said. She was the director of public education for Stop It Now!, a national organization devoted to the prevention of child sexual abuse. “It’s so much easier to think only of the most sadistic, the most dangerous pedophile. It’s very comfortable. It’s very uncomfortable to say, ‘I know what it means to look at my child as a sexual being—I know what it means to want to touch my child. ’”
Words like these made empathy for Roy come all the more readily. And this could lead to minimizing what he had done and attempted to do. But then I would think of the first babysitter who’d taken care of my daughter. I learned about Caroline’s past years after she’d left us to become a prison guard. I learned about her past as she told me about her training, about a morning at the Corrections Academy field when she’d clutched her pistol and done what the staff commanded: turned the target’s black silhouette into someone she wanted to shoot.
“Are you a pussy or what?” the trainers screamed at classmates around her. “Aim! Shoot the fucking gun! It’s your family, he’s coming into your house. What you gonna do?” It was pouring. A bank of dark mud rose behind the targets, a place for the bullets to bury themselves. Her new uniform was soaked and clung to her skin. She tried, at first, to control her crying, then realized gratefully that it didn’t matter, that no one could tell with the rain. Scarcely an inch taller than five feet, she stood with the target twenty feet away and her instructor spitting, “Who are you home with?”
“If s just me and my kids.”
“So what the fuck are you going to do?”
“I’m going to kill him”
I asked whose face and body she had conjured in place of the black silhouette. We sat in her dining room; on the wall above her hung a portrait of a dreadlocked woman. Caroline’s own hair surrounded her light brown face in dreadlocks curled so tightly they looked like braided extensions. Her voice was as careful and tight as her hair. She said that she pictured her stepfather.
“No one’s known what an encounter was really like. How he would start. What he would do. No one, no one. Because no one really cares to hear. My sister would never; she would die. My mother
would probably—no one wants to know that.”
Her family was not, she wished to make clear, a chaotic ghetto stereotype. They had lived in the projects, but her mother had kept their home immaculate and made biscuits and gravy from scratch every weekend. Her stepfather worked steadily and later became a union official. He raised Caroline from the age of one, and throughout her childhood she believed he was her natural father, as he was her younger brothers’ and infant sister’s. A photograph, taken on a sun-blanched, tree-lined sidewalk when Caroline was around eight, showed him with her and a group of her friends, all gathered close. With a small Afro and fleshy cheeks, he smiles and looks like the kind of man who would lift his eight-year-old stepdaughter onto his shoulders and tour her around their apartment, so she could do what she loved—touch the ceiling and gaze down, from her great height, on the top of the refrigerator.
She was eight when, on her parents’ bed, with her mother out on errands and she and her brothers snuggled up to watch television, he started by asking her to scratch his head, to tend his Afro. He asked her to massage his back. In all of this she took pleasure, in the parting and oiling of his hair and the spreading of lotion on his skin, until he told her brothers to leave the room and instructed her to rub his chest. She complied uneasily, moving her hand in tiny circles. “Lower,” he said. “Lower, lower, lower.”
He led her hand to his penis. Over the next days he forced her mouth. Soon he was turning her facedown on her bed, pulling off her clothes, examining her body silently. He would part her legs; wordlessly he would stroke her back; he would rub himself against her. Whenever she tried to curl or cover herself, he clamped his fingers painfully on her shoulder.
In the sun-blanched photograph, Caroline, wearing a red skirt and black blouse, tugs at a red scarf with both hands, tugs in opposite directions across her throat in symbolic strangling—or mere fidgeting. In another picture, one of the many her stepfather posed and took, she smiles in the park, wearing black patent leather shoes and a white Easter hat, a miniature patent leather pocketbook swinging from her shoulder. Sometimes on Saturday mornings, if her mother went out early to do the laundry, he would wake Caroline, lifting her abruptly out of bed to begin. In one photograph she sleeps beneath a green-and-red striped blanket, head turned to the side and resting on her hand, mouth slack and features serene, hair covered in a pink kerchief.
“I never used to make any sound,” she remembered. She stayed quiet through anal rapes that went on, sometimes as frequently as several times in a week, for four years. Trying to soothe at least the physical pain she lived with, she would often spread strips of wet tissue paper between her buttocks as she lay alone in her room. She made sure to wash her bloodstained underwear herself. She would ask her mother not to go to the grocery store or else to let her come along, but she was careful never to beg, for fear that her stepfather would catch on and, as he had once threatened to do, kill her. Then, with the arrival of her first period, she gained what she’d thought of as a grown-up’s resolve. Her stepfather had never raped her vaginally; she decided that at least she would try to keep him from ever doing that. And she told herself she was too old now for what he had been doing.
While he listened to jazz one evening in the living room, and while her mother read the Bible in bed and Caroline washed dishes, she planned her words. She went back and forth in her mind about whether to use the word “rape.” She walked up and down the hall, from the kitchen to her parents’ bedroom door and back again, unable to say anything. At last, she stood beside the bed and told her mother, “Daddy’s been having sex with me.” When her mother asked if she knew what she was saying, Caroline touched her mouth, then touched her buttocks.
Her stepfather was arrested by housing project police and beaten within her earshot. A prosecutor steered her and her mother away from criminal charges, warning them that it would be her word against his and lamenting the outcome in advance. “I never thought,” Caroline told me, “that I’d be—how many years later? I’m almost forty years old—still thinking about this. I never thought it would last this long.”
She had three children of her own, a son in college and two younger twin daughters in a junior high school program for the gifted. As for herself, she said, “Just take something with very intricate parts and just shake the whole thing up and flip it upside down and stand it up. I mean, you’re not going to have a clue.” She talked about sometimes still missing her stepfather, about feeling somehow rejected by him, and she described a life so permeated by a sense of her own strangeness that, despite the success of her kids, she felt utterly uncertain of her judgments about everything. “All the norms that you’re taught are taken away from you,” she explained the effect of those four years. “It makes everything foreign.”
Throughout those years, her stepfather had licked her vagina, the sensations pleasurable beneath her fear and revulsion. And the legacy of her childhood had led to adult lovemaking during which she imagined having vaginal intercourse with him She would picture herself with him, but as she was now: “an older woman, experienced, like I was giving him something.” It was the only way she could reach orgasm down the hall from Meredith Chivers, the psychologist at the edge of the forest of female sexuality, Ray Blanchard and James Cantor believed that the pictures of the brain they had recently taken and studied all but proved nature’s dominance over nurture, biology’s primacy over experience, in setting the direction of desire. The research appeared almost unprecedented. (One precursor was a controversial study published by the sexologist Simon LeVay in 1991: autopsies of gay and straight men detected a difference, corresponding to sexual orientation, in the size of a minuscule cluster of cells in the hypothalamus.) Blanchard and Cantor radiated triumph. Blanchard was a compact man with a disciplined gray beard; there was efficiency in the way he looked, and, in the way he spoke, dismissiveness when he mentioned those who opposed him
“In graduate school I started in clinical psych,” he said, “and it was a hardcore behavioral therapy department. You were taught to apply methods, learned in the laboratory with rats and pigeons, to humans.” Behavioral conditioning was the prevailing theory of his professors, and he had rebelled. “The emperor has no clothes,” he recalled sensing. He couldn’t pinpoint the reasons for his early skepticism He seemed almost to ascribe his judgment to his own superior instinct, to biology.
He switched, in school, from the clinical department to the experimental, from a focus on humans to lab work with animals. “And what I discovered was that the animal experts weren’t talking so much about learned behavior anymore. Instinctive behavior, prepared behavior—these were becoming the things. So you had clinicians teaching that you can just apply these learning principles established beyond doubt in the animal laboratory, while the people doing animal research were saying, ‘Well, it’s not really like that.’” Ever since, Blanchard’s career had followed—and, in a small way, forged—the path of scientific culture toward medical, physiological explanations for human behavior. And now, in the infinitely complex realm of eros, he felt that he and Cantor held confirmation.
In the lab at one end of their floor, a technician had hooked a plethysmograph to the one hundred and twenty-seven men who were Blanchard and Cantor’s current subjects, and he had tested for arousal to the young. “I’ve studied mind, body, and soul,” the technician told me; he had earned master’s degrees in psychology, medical science, and religion “And here I am measuring dicks.” He had seen, he guessed, thirty-two hundred, and he often conducted an informal interview before strapping on the glass tube and securing the wires and leaving the subject alone, pants around ankles, with the slide show. For his own curiosity, he liked to ask, “If I had a video clip of your mind in the last ten seconds before you climax during sex, what would I see?” He marveled at how few men, including those who were excited most by adult women, said that the ten-second video would be filled with the women they were with.
The current subjects were split nearly equally between pedophiles and what Blanchard called “teleophiles”—“the normal guys,” he translated, though with a hint of irony: a recent study of his own jibed with those Richard Green had cited. Normal didn’t mean uninterested in the young. Measured by plethysmograph, teleophilic heterosexuals were aroused most by pictures of female adults, but significantly, too, by female pubescents and, less so but still markedly, by female children. There was no mistaking ordinary men’s erotic response to very young girls when their reaction to female children was compared to their negligible responses to slides of males of any age, or when it was compared to their indifference to a neutral picture: a photograph of a pond surrounded by the bare limbs of trees in winter. Teleophilic homosexuals adhered to their own analogous continuum. And the pattern held in reverse for the pedophilic.
After their sessions with the plethysmograph, the hundred and twenty-seven men had slid into the cylinder of an MRI machine, and images had been taken of their brains.
a magenta cat floated on the computer screen, body tilted upright, belly exposed, eyes bulging. Its limbs were grotesquely short, except for one long foreleg that swiped at the air. An amorphous teal creature sat behind the cat, tending like a servant to the floating animal’s back, stroking. Below the cat stood a pair of slender beings: twins, one magenta and one teal, as though the cat and its servant were lovers and these were their children. Little teal amoebas were suspended all around them.
The colored shapes were superimposed on a white-and-gray side view of the human brain. The cat and the servant, the twins and the amoebas were areas where a difference existed between pedophilic and teleophilic brains, with the magenta forms signifying differences in the right hemisphere and the teal indicating distinctions in the left. The MRI pictures of the two groups of brains had been analyzed and compared, minuscule point by minuscule point, for quantity of white matter. Within the magenta and teal areas, Cantor, an elfin man in a black sweater vest, explained, “the more pedophilic a person is, the more the amount of white matter goes down.”
Specialized technicians—“my two imaging geeks,” Cantor adoringly called the young man and woman who spent their days rotating, slicing, and tinting images as they rendered representations of the brain on their computers—had transformed the quantitative analysis into graphics that made visual sense of the comparisons. And it seemed right that the outcome would look like a surrealist’s vision. The surrealists had given shape to the subconscious, to anarchic and bewildering desires that could be buried but never killed off. Here, on the screen, was the science of lust turned into art.
And here was proof, it seemed, that a divergence of desire was rooted in the anatomy of the brain, proof that pointed to the prenatal in molding sexuality. Blanchard and Cantor acknowledged that the physiological differences could somehow be caused by pedophilic experience; they foresaw that those who refused to accept the determinative power of biology would insist on making this argument as soon as the study was published. But the argument, they felt, would be strained, especially given an earlier discovery they’d made—that pedophilic men are about three times more likely than teleophiles to be left-handed. The statistical link was glaring, and handedness is set prenatally. Now, with their current results, it seemed logically undeniable that pedophilia, or at least a strong predisposition toward pedophilia, was determined prenatally, too.
Even about the evidence that perhaps one-third of sexual abusers had, as children, been abused themselves, Blanchard and Cantor were dismissive. The data were overly reliant on self-reported, unverified histories, Cantor argued. And Chivers’s husband, the researcher Michael Seto, who supported Blanchard and Cantor’s conclusions, said that while he did credit the link between being abused and abusing, this didn’t contradict the idea of pedophilia’s prenatal origin. The abused might have a related inborn trait that made them psychologically vulnerable to, or more likely to receive, adult advances, he suggested. Or being abused might be “a trigger” that, later, set off the prenatally loaded tendency.
“Terror,” Cantor said, remembering his feelings as the early results of the brain imaging had come in, and had seemed, for a short while, inconclusive. “My heart was beating fast. I thought, I’ll never find anything. There’s nothing here.”
“Thank God!” Blanchard recalled his reaction as the patterns of difference in the temporal and parietal lobes had become more and more clear with the help of the imaging geeks.
And now, showing me and Michael Seto the latest computer-generated graphics of differentiation, Cantor was thrilled. His snug sweater vest seemed unable to contain the exuberance within him. “Isn’t that the hottest thing in the world?” he asked. He directed one of the technicians to click slowly through a series: the differences viewed from dozens of vantage points and highlighted in red and yellow and green. “It doesn’t get any cooler than that!” he exclaimed. Then he told the man to rotate one of the graphics; he wanted us to admire it from all angles. With the technician manipulating the computer’s mouse, a large, three-dimensional, liver-shaped glob flew toward us, paused, spun slowly, paused again, and seemed to pose in front of us like a runway model, challenging anyone to gaze her way and doubt the supremacy of what she had to offer. “The proof is staring us in the face!” Cantor declared.
Posters of three Michelangelo sibyls, the Delphic, Libyan, and Eritrean seers, hung above Cantor’s desk. “I just want to know how the sexual brain works,” he said. “What makes the human brain tick when it comes to sexuality. That’s our thing. Etiology.” He made it clear that he was less driven by the wish to have some practical effect in the field of child sexual abuse than by the wish to know how we become who we are in the world of eros.
With the aid of magnetic resonance imaging, with the assistance of his geeks, with the power of equipment and techniques that hadn’t yet been invented, Cantor wanted to become a kind of seer. But, exultant though he was over the revelations in magenta and teal, he knew he hadn’t yet seen with enough precision, not at all. The vast differences between the pedophilic and teleophilic brains, as detected by the MRI machine, were almost certainly too generalized, too vague. The magenta and teal reflected not only the divergent directions of lust but also the fact that pedophilic brains held any number of associated conditions, “a constellation of symptoms” having little or nothing to do with sex, Cantor suspected. As his and Blanchard’s thinking went, something had happened in the womb, a “perturbation,” as they called it, probably a chemical event, a toxin introduced by anything from maternal drug use to infection to some agent in the environment, the introduction coinciding with a particular developmental period for the fetus. The result was an array of abnormalities in the white matter. Somewhere within the magenta and teal was the exact area of distinction that led to pedophilia, but so far Cantor and Blanchard had no method to eliminate the irrelevant regions. “We haven’t hit it yet,” Cantor said, and he guessed that the precise point of relevance might be too tiny for present technology to pick up. “A three-dimensional pixel is called a voxel. A voxel is about one millimeter cubed. But of course a fiber in the brain is much smaller than that. So if there are fine differences they may be too thin for an MRI ever to be able to see.”
Our conversation drifted to the men whose brains he studied. About those who preferred children, he said, “I don’t think any of them are quite happy. I don’t think I would be quite happy if I realized that I would never be permitted the sexual partners I find most attractive: that’s it; there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s easy to understand why a lot of them ask for sex drive-reducing medications. They don’t want a sex drive they have to spend the rest of their lives resisting, that they’re never allowed to express. It’s easier to try to live without the sex drive altogether.”
He spoke about the near-absence of sexual aberration among animals. In humans, “higher parts of the brain have taken over things done by lower parts in other species. And it appears that one of those things is sexual behavior.” The result, he said, was not a complexity worth celebrating. “More things can go wrong. It’s like with each new version of Windows we just end up with more problems.”
And the problems are compounded by constancy. Most animals have their mating seasons; humans are prepared for sex year-round, and so continually prone to torment.
Was there, I asked, any chance that someone with a dominant desire for children could move to a different point on the continuum, any hope that he could subordinate that lust to another; was there any possibility for real change?
Beneath the three sibyls Cantor’s voice flattened. It lost the buoyancy that came with his talk about the science of eros; he was no longer peering into unknowns nor thrilled by his discoveries.
“Not that I’m aware of,” he said. Biology was the beginning, and biology was the end.
“masturbatory reconditioning,” Blanchard wrote later in an e-mail, answering a question I’d sent about the brain’s capacity for reconfiguration, a capacity known as neuroplasticity. If stroke victims could, through relentless and painstaking practice, stir their brains to sprout new neural wiring that allowed them to walk, to speak, might the physiology of the brain, I wondered, be similarly plastic when it came to desire? “I don’t recall exactly when the notion of masturbatory reconditioning was introduced,” he wrote. “Probably back in the 1960s, when a number of behavior therapy procedures, based on conditioning experiments with rats, dogs, and pigeons, were first applied to human patients. The basic procedure was that a patient with pedophilia, fetishism, or (in those days) homosexuality would be instructed to masturbate, with a Playboy magazine within easy reach. When the patient started to approach orgasm, he was supposed to grab the magazine and focus intently on the nude adult female just before and during ejaculation. This was supposed to establish erotic interest in adult females.
“One would expect that such a procedure, if effective, would have swept the world. I think that would have been true even if it turned masturbation into a tiresome obligation. In fact, the treatment has been quietly abandoned, like many of the animal lab-based therapy inventions of the 1960s (although one can, of course, find pockets here and there where these procedures are still recommended).” cantor talked about the course his career had taken the way Blanchard did, as beyond his control. To ask why he’d become a sexologist, or why, as a sexologist, he’d been drawn to prove physiological explanations for attraction, was “like asking a twig how did it float down the river,” he said. “I’m a twig, I’m in the water, and this is where I ended up.”
It was different two hundred miles to the northeast, in Ottawa, where Paul Fedoroff—like Berlin and Blanchard, one of the world’s best-known sexologists—spoke about how he’d come to treat a legion of paraphiliacs, among them a man who had sex with horses, a woman who had stroked herself so frequently her vagina was covered in sores, and an array of pedophiles, all of whom, Fedoroff believed, could change. During medical school, he said, he’d met a psychologist, a researcher whose focus was sexuality. “He told me about the case of an NFL football player who’d been arrested for exhibitionism The man was a quarterback, a star. He’d married a Miss America or someone like that. And this psychiatrist said, ‘Think about it. Here’s a guy who’s the envy of every man in the States. He’s the quarterback of a winning football team Every weekend literally millions of people watch everything he does. He’s married to the prettiest woman of the year in the U. S. And even with all that, for some reason he goes out and exposes himself.’ The league had known about the problem and covered it up for some time, but this apparently was one time too many. He lost his job, his huge salary, his wife. And this psychologist said, ‘There’s something interesting here.’”
Fedoroff had padded cheeks and a sharp nose, a soft middle amid a stretch of height. There was a mix of softness and superiority in his face and body. And then there was the sheer enthusiasm of his clothes. His suits flaunted the thick pin-stripes of the moment; they were so current in their style, he looked almost like a dandy. A rim of gray hair, some of it tossed untidily over the top of his head, undercut the dandyism But the enthusiasm, the energy—he saw patients and met with colleagues and addressed seminars from early morning till after dark without even a break for coffee—were unmitigated.
“I’ve fooled around with dogs,” a patient told him one afternoon, his eyes shut tight, as though against the truths he was confiding. “Not mounting—masturbating. I have relationships with horses. I don’t know if I want to stop. If given the choice, I’d choose a horse over a woman.”
“Why?” Fedoroff asked quietly. He leaned back in his leather desk chair, a bright tie bringing extra flourish to the high fashion of his suit, while across from him, on the couch, the man sat upright in a dingy T-shirt and dusty khakis. He was portly, with a light brown mustache.
“The trust factor,” he said. He added that he had a girlfriend.
“Isn’t that preferable?”
“I find I’m closer to horses.”
Fedoroff s office was in a small, square hospital building with low ceilings and floors of bleary linoleum Above Fedoroff’s head hung a print by Chagall: a floating couple engaged in an airborne kiss. The scene looked, at first, blissful, banal; the woman clutched a bouquet of flowers while her lips met her lover’s. Yet on second glance, all was askew.
The patient acknowledged that there might be emotional limitations in his relationships with horses. He explained that he’d had some run-ins within the zoophile community over this very point. “They say there’s a husband and wife bond between the human and the animal.” His feelings didn’t go quite that far. Still, he kept returning to the trust factor. “You’re not going to have an animal try to hurt you emotionally. You’re not going to have an animal make fun of you.” He didn’t think he’d always been attracted this way. He believed it was a product of human betrayal.
When he touched himself, he did so with horses in mind. Whenever he could, he made love to one of the mares at a local stable. He’d come to Fedoroff’s office out of fear: he didn’t want to change, but he didn’t want to get caught; sex with horses could be punished with years in prison His dream was of a life across the border and down in Missouri and back in the past. “Missouri,” he said, “was once a legal state.”
He saw his lovemaking as part of natural progression. “People have been training horses for thousands of years. Long ago horses didn’t have people on their backs. They didn’t have bits in their mouths. Now they do.” He was merely taking the next step. And he was careful to do no harm, to take no advantage, never to mount the young. “They don’t really know what sex is. Their drive isn’t there. It’s like a child—they don’t really know what’s going on.” Nor would he persist with an unwilling adult. He could tell when desire was returned. “Mares are very vocal.”
Fedoroff took all this in without reaction except, once, to straighten his tie and, now and then, to suggest gently that change was possible. The patient stayed focused on immediate fears: arrest, disease. He asked Fedoroff if illness was communicable between animals and humans, and in reply the psychiatrist asked if he used condoms.
“Me and my human partner use protection. Me and my equine partners don’t.”
Fedoroff scheduled another appointment for him several weeks away. He tended to see his patients individually every month or so, though many came weekly to group sessions. He monitored them and often medicated them and checked up on the therapy some of them received elsewhere. The zoophile didn’t yet want treatment of any kind. “If he agreed,” Fedoroff told me after the man left, “I would try to steer him more strongly toward humans.” Then he went out into the waiting area to greet his next patient.
Lust, Fedoroff believed, was analogous to language. “People are born without language,” he said, “but with a genetic makeup that allows them to acquire and express any of the languages that exist in the world. And the language they end up speaking is determined by who they’re raised by. At about the age of two their mother tongue is set, so that even though a person can learn new languages the fact is that there’s a basic hardwired one. Even with people who are multilingual, if you ask what their mother tongue is, they can tell you. And if they can’t, if they say ‘I speak these languages equally well,’ and you ask, ‘When you calculate numbers in your head what language do you use?’ there will be one answer.” It was similar with sexuality. Infinite possibilities narrowed early on; what John Money, Berlin’s mentor, had called “the lovemap” took shape. But all was not over; the lovemap was not unmalleable. “If you buy that it is,” he went on, “then you tend to think like neurologists do: diagnose and adios. It’s a fatalistic approach, and over the years I’ve discovered that it’s not right. Because of course people are capable of learning and developing second languages. I’m not sure that you can get rid of the original interest. But you can become less dependent on it by developing new desire.”
Fedoroff assumed that desire was shaped by all sorts of factors, biological and experiential, weighted differently in different people. Unlike Blanchard and Cantor, he wasn’t bent on proving nature’s predominance over nurture, though he was fascinated by the evolutionary, the biological. Thinking about why certain body parts and objects were frequent targets of paraphilic desire, he said, “People have asked exactly the same question about why there are certain things we are more likely to be phobic about. Heights, the dark, wiggly objects—these are phobogenic across cultures. One answer is that people have been naturally selected for these fears. People with fear of heights are probably more likely to have children than people who don’t. So using the analogy with fetishes, there are things we’re genetically predisposed to sexualize. Characteristic odors. You can look at animals and see the power of odors in reproductive behavior. It’s not too much of a leap to say that humans have odor-driven sexual pathways, and that many of the things that are fetishized have or are associated with musky smells—feet, shoes, undergarments.” Fetishes, like phobias, were a legacy of evolutionary advantage, an expression of desired traits taken to excess or diverted to related targets.
Sometimes Fedoroff s mind seemed close to exploding with theories. “I resist single answers because they all turn out to be wrong.” His etiological explanations included the role of shame and fear in spurring orgasm Some paraphiliacs, he thought, suffered from a “sticky switch” governing their parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, two branches of the autonomic circuitry that regulates heart rate, sweating, breathing, salivation. The parasympathetic system controls arousal while the sympathetic sends us into the ecstasy of orgasm “The natural progression during sex is that the parasympathetics are set off, and at some point when we become sufficiently aroused a switch flips and the sympathetics kick in and we start to have an orgasm But the poor paraphiliac has a sticky, sluggish switch and needs to do something extreme to get the sympathetics going.” Besides orgasm, the sympathetic system takes control in situations of emergency, and Fedoroff s theory was that some paraphiliacs use the deviant or forbidden to stoke their sense of mortification or danger—to create the emotional emergency that would open up the sympathetic pathways and drive things on toward climax.
He mentioned a patient, a heterosexual woman, who sought treatment because she’d lost the ability to climax with her regular partner. Sex with a succession of men in the same evening; videos of women copulating with animals; making videos of herself masturbating—these sent her toward orgasm Satisfying sex with her partner seemed a hopeless cause “until,” Fedoroff wrote in a journal article, “it was discovered that she consumed large amounts of L-tryptophan, available in health food stores, to help her sleep. This substance is metabolized into serotonin, which is known to cause difficulty reaching orgasm She was advised to discontinue taking L-tryptophan. Soon afterward, her ability to reach orgasm through intercourse with her partner returned, and with it, her paraphilic interest in group sex, exhibitionism, and zoophilia disappeared.”
After the man who mounted horses, Fedoroff s next patient was a girl who looked to be in her late teens. Her blue hair formed a spiky plumage above her pale, round face. She wore heavy black boots and a beige fleece with a stitched outline of a lion’s head decorating the front. The stitching wasn’t prominent; the lion’s face and mane were ethereal, like the specter of something aggressive or untamable that lived within her. Once, she’d masturbated compulsively, abrading herself until her genitals were disfigured by sores. She’d humped herself with broom handles. She’d fondled dogs. She’d been living in a group home; her groaning during masturbation had unsettled the staff, and there had been accusations that she molested younger residents. Now, under Fedoroff’s care, an antiandrogen curtailed her erotic drives. But he didn’t think her problems were permanent. He didn’t think the chemical restraint would always be needed. He suspected that she had an obscure genetic disorder, that her particular array of symptoms pointed to a certain missing chromosome, yet as he leaned toward her, from his chair toward the couch, he drew her a comforting graph with a line that zigged and zagged but climbed ever upward, the zags representing setbacks but the climb representing inevitable overall improvement. “I know you want to live a normal life,” he said. “There are going to be some bumps along the way. But I think you will.” It wasn’t clear exactly how normality would be accomplished and maintained as the drugs were removed, but the girl listened, un-questioning, looking at least a little reassured.
Her case reminded him of another, and after he’d led her out with a few more soft, upbeat words, he described a patient with an even more rare genetic disorder, Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. The young man had to live strapped down to a chair; unrestrained, he would gnaw off his own fingers and tear off his penis. The compulsion to mutilate and get rid of his own extremities was caused by a deficient supply of a single enzyme. “It’s amazing that it’s just one enzyme that keeps us from doing these things,” he said. Another symptom, for his patient, was that change—any change—was excruciating, unbearable. But the man’s parents, whom he lived with, had learned to adapt. Every night they moved pieces of furniture, so that change was the soothing constant. And understanding that their son needed some sort of sex life, they designed a special apparatus that allowed him to masturbate without granting him the freedom to dismember himself.
Fedoroff adored the ingenuity of the parents; it fed his faith in solutions. His trust in the possibility of setting things right dated back to a truck driver transvestite decades ago. At the time, Fedoroff had been a psychiatric resident going through a required period of psychoanalytic training, but when more than a year of talking brought no change in the cross-dressing, a mentor suggested that he shift his focus from treating the paraphilia to addressing the patient’s anxiety. Fedoroff decided to try a new medication, buspirone.
“SoonI get a call from the guy’s wife. I’ve never heard from this woman before. She said, ‘What is that medicine you put my husband on?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s this new antianxiety drug; is he less anxious?’ And she said, ‘No, he’s as anxious as he ever was, but don’t ever take him off it.’ ‘Why’s that?’ And she said, ‘Because we’re having the best sex we’ve ever had in our lives.’
“So I had the truck driver come in. This was a macho guy, but during sex he’d had to have lingerie on, or have intense fantasies about wearing it. And his wife had picked up on the fantasies; she described it as his being completely tuned out. And now he said, ‘I don’t know why, but I don’t have to do that anymore. I can have sex with my wife, and I don’t have to think about lingerie at all. This has never happened to me in my life.’
“We took him off the medication, and six weeks later he couldn’t function unless he was thinking about lingerie. Put him back on and the problem disappeared again. But a long while later I called him and asked, ‘Are you still taking it?’ He told me no. He kept a bottle of it in the cupboard, just in case. But he didn’t need it. I’m quite convinced there had been a fundamental change in his lovemap.”
Fedoroffs theory was that the buspirone had eased the “sticky switch” that engaged the sympathetic nervous system during sex. With the switch working smoothly, making ordinary love with his wife became a thorough pleasure. He’d been able to develop a second language, to become fully functional within it, and eventually the drug was no longer necessary.
Pedophiles, too, might learn to manage without their mother tongue. Fedoroff talked about putting them through a second puberty. His plan depended on the idea that everyone had once been pedophilic. As children we’d had our primary crushes on other children. For most of us, our preferred objects of desire grow older as we do, at least through puberty and for several years beyond. But for the pedophile, Fedoroff thought, something had gone awry around puberty’s onset— and the solution was to set the patient back into a prepubertal state. This could be accomplished, at least as far as the sex drive went, by giving anti-androgens. With the lust for children out of the way, emotionally romantic attachments with adults would be given a second chance to develop. Then the dosage of anti-androgen could be gradually reduced, allowing sexuality to join up with the romantic sentiments.
It was a theory somewhat like the one Berlin had described as central to Money’s thinking—and as disproved. What made Fedoroff confident that an attraction to adults would gradually rival the longing for children wasn’t fully apparent. He hadn’t yet tested his idea, though he intended to soon. His self-assurance seemed to rely on another analogy: on thinking not only in terms of language but in terms of cuisine. “I tell my guys, ‘What you’ve been doing is like eating at fast food restaurants. Your fast food days are over. The gourmet dining experience is coming. If all you’ve experienced is sex with children, you have no idea what it’s like to have sex with someone who can actually reciprocate and play on the same level as you Once you’ve had that, once you’ve had gourmet food, you won’t want to go back.’”
The metaphors seemed to buoy him above all doubt. And to be around him was to float above darkness and to feel that desire need hold no threat, no anguish. “If you haven’t noticed,” he declared one evening at a dinner party at his home, “I’m very sex-positive.” The house embodied a mix of the intellectual and the sensual. A sculpted relief of three nude backsides decorated one bathroom A large library, lined with built-in bookcases that rose from floor to ceiling, opened onto a small indoor swimming pool. On the floor above, a balcony in the living area overlooked the water and whoever might be swimming or floating languidly. Directly behind the house, which was a ten-minute drive from downtown, a tributary to the Rideau Canal ran past. Fedoroff could fish for carp from his back deck. And the force of this water, seen through the windows, seemed to stitch the bookish and erotic elements of the house inextricably together.
At the opposite end of the dining table from where he sat, Fedoroff’s wife, who had served takeout Indian food for the occasion, joked about her cooking with one of his interns. “He has to put up with my experimenting.”
Overhearing, he called across the table, “Are you talking about our sex life?”
Someone asked whether his patients ever turned in any strange sex toys, whether he kept a collection.
“I’m his sex toy,” his wife yelled out.
She had a tousle of long hair, dyed blond with dramatic dark roots. She wore black pants that clung to her slender hips and a tank top that showed off her arms, her breasts. They’d met when she was a psychiatric nurse on a ward where he was doing rounds. To their guests, she told a story about being trained to wrestle unruly patients to the ground. She told stories, too, about a pornography convention she and Fedoroff had attended because of some research he’d done. She’d had her picture taken perched on Larry Flynt’s lap, in his wheelchair. And Candida Royale, a porn star “known for her ass,” she said, had patted her on the butt, which she had taken, she recounted, smiling half- ironically, as a particular tribute.
Considering the perfect body and profligate hair and brazen conversation of his wife, I thought, No wonder he has such an optimistic vision of the erotic. Everything is easy—reality is fantasy—in his house. Then, amid the laughter that followed the Candida Royale story, his wife said, “I used to be insecure about my boobs,” and explained raucously that they had been much smaller before she’d contracted breast cancer and gone for prosthetics. The laughter doubled, hers the loudest of all. So they’d had their share of darkness, I thought. There had been anguish to fight through.
fedoroff didn’t deny that his metaphoric reasoning was imperfect, that his own analogies could work against him A person might gain fluency in a second language, and might live for years far from his native soil, but still have a longing to return home and speak his mother tongue. A person might discover haute cuisine, develop his palate, and take keen pleasure in the food’s complexity, but still have a hankering for McDonald’s. Yet Fedoroff believed that stubborn desires could be dealt with in the pedophile—partly through pornography. He and Patrick Liddle thought in opposite ways. Liddle wanted his men nowhere near pornography, not even images of adults; he wanted lust circumscribed, narrowed, in some ways negated, for fear that it could lead so easily to the uncontrollable. For
Fedoroff, desire wasn’t pervaded by threat. He ran groups like Liddle’s, gathered molesters around him in circles of chairs, gave them a place to gain self-control. Yet he didn’t seem anxious that they might be one step away from molesting again. At the dinner party, he said that staring at child pornography could help the men; they could masturbate, diminishing their urges, their yearning to speak the mother tongue, their wish for fast food. He mentioned a study showing that during a period when the availability of child pornography had increased in Denmark, sexual offenses against children had declined. The same had been shown in Japan. Fedoroff encouraged his molesters to fantasize. Fantasy hurt no one. Touching yourself hurt no one. And with the craving sated, the patient could turn his attention back to developing the second language, the taste for the gourmet.
One evening, as Fedoroff led a group that held a range of offenders—against children, against adults, against animals—a patient who’d assaulted a woman confided that he’d been looking at pornography online. A Muslim in the circle, another patient, inveighed against this: “Our scholars tell us that looking leads to touching and this will destroy.” He had a thick black beard and wore white leather Converse high-tops. He could have been speaking for Liddle. And Fedoroff replied, “Billions of people find pornography pleasurable. It’s okay. There’s nothing in the Koran about Playboy. There’s nothing in the Koran about X-rated videos.”
“Not specifically.” The Muslim stared Fedoroff down.
But nothing could shake him One morning, a patient settled himself on Fedoroff’s couch for one of his periodic check-ins. With neatly cropped dark hair and a blue crewneck sweater, the man talked about having just found a girlfriend online, using the dating service Lavalife.
“Do you have a profile?” Fedoroff asked blandly.
“What do you say about yourself?”
“Just a paragraph.”
“Now, you have some special sexual interests—do you mention any of those?”
The special sexual interests included binding women in a certain position, arms behind their torsos, accentuating their breasts. Twice the man had kidnapped women from parking lots, driven them out into the country, forced them from the car, used large screw clamps to bind their ankles and arms and a knife to slice off outer clothing. During one of these assaults, the sight of the woman in his favorite position had been enough to make him come without any touching. The other time, he’d been about to rape his victim, threatening her with an ice pick, but stopped when she begged him not to go on. He’d spent a few years in prison. A few months ago he’d been arrested for soliciting a prostitute. As he talked with his patient, Fedoroff turned to me and explained that in Ottawa prostitution was legal but soliciting a prostitute was not. The irony amused him He seemed concerned by the societal schizophrenia reflected in the policy. He didn’t seem worried by the fact that his patient had been negotiating to bind the prostitute in his preferred way. He didn’t seem too concerned that the man was free and courting women on Lavalife. He didn’t seem panicked that the man’s dose of medication was apparently not enough to subdue a desire that, the patient told him, sometimes felt “like anticipating a fix of heroin.” Fedoroff told me later that trying to arrange for a prostitute to be tied up was a sign of significant progress—a move away from the violently coercive and toward the consensual. He didn’t see it as a sign that the man might soon again be wielding an ice pick.
The patient went on his way, out Fedoroff’s door and out into the world. The psychiatrist mentioned to me that successful phallometric testing for tendencies toward violent, coercive sex was difficult. Among all men, sexually violent pictures and audiotapes were “too generally arousing.”
At the dinner party, he mused about giving sex offenders Viagra. A parallel approach had worked with AIDS patients. “People say, ‘Men with AIDS on Viagra?’ They’re incredulous. But men with AIDS get erection problems, especially when they’re put on all these drugs. They stop using condoms. Instead, you prescribe Viagra so they’ll have safe sex.”
For offenders who had trouble getting erect “in appropriate contexts,” he went on, Viagra might help in learning second languages. He imagined writing prescriptions for pedophiles. Then came another metaphor to go with language and cuisine: his plan to interrupt the sex drive with antiandrogens was “like an orthopedic surgeon breaking an arm intentionally in order to let it mend and redevelop into a healthy limb.”
The metaphors were seductive, each one seeming beyond argument, each one substantiating the others. Couldn’t we indeed learn fluency in second languages? Wasn’t a four-star meal more compelling than a Big Mac? Didn’t orthopedic surgeons sometimes do exactly as Fedoroff said in treating a malformed arm or leg? Fedoroff seemed a visionary. “Some guys spend their time in the lab,” he said over dessert. “They’re the ones who win the Nobel. But—all right, I’m drunk—I want to change the world. I might not succeed. But that’s what I want.”
He longed to prove that desire could take fundamentally new paths. To succeed with pedophiles would draw everyone’s attention. The prevailing opinion was Cantor’s, that transformation for such men was impossible: talk therapy couldn’t accomplish it, conditioning couldn’t accomplish it. The only hopes were to extinguish eros with drugs or to teach techniques of self-restraint, the way Liddle did, and pray that they were enough.
You are drunk, I said silently to Fedoroff at dinner, but then thought of a tribe ten thousand miles away in the jungle highlands of Papua New Guinea. An anthropologist, Gilbert Herdt, had lived among them during the 1970s and discovered that the erotic lives of their boys and men passed through stages as transformative as any redirection that Fedoroff envisioned. The Sambia, Herdt had called the tribe in reporting what he’d found, using a pseudonym to protect the people from an onslaught of Western attention.
Sambian boys, at around the age of seven, began performing fellatio on the teenage males of their clans. The act was considered necessary to fill the young boys with semen. The fluid would then manufacture more of itself inside the boys’ bodies, but to build up a sufficient base in order to create a life’s supply, the boys had to give frequent blow jobs. In this way, both the young, who swallowed, and the teens, who climaxed, were performing a service for the survival of their people. As the teenagers grew into men, they passed beyond homosexuality, took wives, and impregnated their women. But in addition to allowing for reproduction, the homosexual rites offered pleasure, not only for the teenagers but, Herdt observed, for the boys, who had their favorite partners. Sambian males seemed to pass seamlessly from being homosexual givers of oral sex to being homosexual receivers of oral sex to being heterosexual.
Audibly, loudly, despite the vast distance and the decades that had passed, Herdt’s research argued that the direction of lust could change—easily. It could change according to a culturally constructed system; the learned seemed far more potent than the congenital, the prenatal. And I’d sensed this often as I spent time with the paraphilic.
One night, on my way to a lecture the Baroness was giving to a society of sadists and masochists, I glanced up through my taxi window at a billboard in Times Square. The modefs face filled me with a wanting so keen I felt bereft. Then I walked down a set of gray metal stairs and entered the fluorescently lit basement room where the Baroness was speaking. The dominatrixes in the audience had bodies ranging from the thick to the obese; their faces were plain. Yet the room was charged with the craving, the devotion, the love of the submissives who surrounded them Three hours later, as I headed back through Times Square in another taxi, the woman on the billboard was almost unrecognizable. Her looks had little effect on me. I hadn’t adopted the ways of seeing that suffused the basement air, but I had absorbed them I hadn’t become enamored of the obese and plain, but my way of seeing had shifted. It would shift back. It wouldn’t take long. A rush of conventional culture, beamed through the taxi windows from the rest of the neighborhood’s huge and luminous advertisements, would be enough to carry out the reversion.
if Sambian males could change so radically, couldn’t Michael Thayer? With tight blond curls and a way of locking his gaze to the eyes of anyone he spoke to, he attended one of Fedoroff s groups each week. He had licked and sucked his young daughter’s genitals, and been sentenced to treatment. Fedoroff had put him on a strong dose of Lupron. Before that, merely reading a book with a child character could overwhelm him He talked about finishing a novel in which a boy was killed. “I was grieving over this child. Responding as though I was in love. And it was like that in my life. For the conversation, for the teaching, for the sexual—the same as you’d fall for an adult, I would fall for a child.”
The Lupron put him “totally to sleep.” He lost not only all interest in sex but almost all inclination to socialize. He worked as a groundskeeper outside a government complex, weeding flower beds, scouring graffiti. “People were always around me, asking me for directions. This included children,” he recalled in an e-mail he sent me. “I was a little nervous being around the kids, but that is all. Everything was fine with my attractions.” Then, abruptly, though there had been no change in dosage, he “woke up.” It was Canada Day, and the grounds were thronged. “It seemed that every child in the city was there playing and running around. I had to walk through groups of them to get to the various work sites. It was okay for the first couple of hours, but eventually my defenses and nerves broke down. The thoughts were so severe that I had to rush home. I spent the next two days alone in my apartment virtually in tears. The thoughts lasted for two weeks and refused to give up. It was so bad that I almost approached my probation officer to ask her to call the police and take me into custody.”
But something still more strange came next. By the third week, he said, the torturous longing for children faded, and by the fourth it disappeared, replaced by interest in adult women. The substitution was far more swift than anything Fedoroff had imagined. Michael remembered that when he told Fedoroff what had happened, the psychiatrist reacted with disbelief that his patient was “awake” despite the Lupron (though he wasn’t so awake that he could become hard), and that MichaeFs fantasies had switched so suddenly toward adults.
After six months, Fedoroff decided to cut MichaeFs dose of Lupron by half. Wakefulness increased. Erections, though fleeting, became possible. Fantasies stayed focused on adult women. He began to date. Any thoughts of children were like vestiges, easily put behind him. Recently, he told me, he’d played with his young nieces on the floor. “Not once did I have a deviant thought for any of them”
He felt he could do without the Lupron altogether. Fedoroff wasn’t yet ready to take this step. But he trusted Michael’s reports, didn’t think they were driven by the wish to get free of the drug, free of Fedoroff’s watch, and to get back to pursuing kids. Fedoroff saw him as a possible test of his theory. He wanted Michael to find an adult partner, to build a stable relationship. The second language should be given time to develop. Then the Lupron could be eliminated, the full force of eros restored to this man who had danced his tongue between his daughter’s legs with the ardor of love.
in a statement Faith made to the police, which I discovered late in my time with Roy, I read that some of the touching, through clothes, began when she was in the second grade. Roy continued to insist that there had been nothing even suggestive of desire until she was eleven, until after that day at the shore. Faith’s father, when I asked about the police statement, seemed unsure when to date the beginning of Roy’s crimes. So I asked myself the obvious: Had the taint of recent times distorted Faith’s vision of the past? Had Roy’s propositions and his groping stained what had once been innocent? But I wondered, too, if I could believe anything he told me. Had he been lying from behind a veil of agonized introspection? Weren’t child molesters often the most deft, the most subtle manipulators? Or was I posing the wrong kind of question? Was the sort of touching she described—a hand on her seven-year-old bottom, through pants—ever innocent?
With extreme reserve, Liddle fought to impose control. After their time in the tall grass and after their introductions, the men, at his direction, lifted loose-leaf binders from the floor beside their chairs. The blue-eyed poet who’d taken his brother and daughter to a motel room, and the white – haired retiree who’d fondled his grandniece—they owned the type of binder whose leatherette cover closes with a zipper. So did most of the others, as though this style could make a binder look like a briefcase and elevate their being here.
The binders were filled with the homework the men had done and the handouts they’d been given, with “Feelings Journals” and instructional sheets on techniques like “Thought Broadcasting”: “If you get a deviant thought, imagine that your thought is being broadcast from your mind over a loudspeaker system”
There was, too, “Punishment Scene”: “When you get a deviant thought, put your mind on fast forward to the part where you are held accountable for your actions.”
And “Aversive Scene”: “When you get a deviant thought, you begin to think about something that you find disgusting, e. g., Brussels sprouts. Or you could think about an experience that you don’t like, e. g., going to the dentist.”
Back in the 1970s, Liddle’s boss told me, when the field of child-molester treatment was just developing, the prevailing strategy was psychodynamic—profound insight into the disinterred past was supposed to eliminate deviant desire. Mostly, it didn’t, and by the early eighties, therapy shifted toward behavior modification. Offenders were instructed to inhale noxious odors during illicit fantasies. This brought success, but the success didn’t last. Men plunged back into old longings. So cognitive-behavioral approaches, like Liddle’s, tookhold.
His sessions could seem more like classes in coping skills than anything that could be called treatment. The pragmatic and trite had replaced the penetrating and profound: thoughts of Brussels sprouts to quell deep-rooted need. Yet there were studies to suggest that the practical could displace the dark, that the trite was somehow profound, that the method might cut recidivism—which wasn’t as high as people tended to imagine—by more than one-third.
Liddle asked the group to open their binders to a handout on “dynamic risk factors.” He called on the white-haired man to read aloud, and the retiree, who liked to reminisce about how, when he was a boy, the probation building had been an ice factory, droned through definitions for the nine factors, from “negative social groups” to “distorted attitudes” to “victim access.” These were to be recognized and avoided. “Intimacy deficits” was another factor that required awareness, caution, rectifying. And complexity lay quietly within this category: if loneliness was unsafe, then molesting involved reaching out for love.
Roy sat with his binder on his lap. His notebook was the thickest of any in the circle. He tried to think of the course as “a normal college class,” to convince himself that diligence would guarantee graduation. Not only did he have the jumbo zippered binder with labeled dividers that he brought to group; he had another that he kept at home. He threw away nothing. He kept every page of evidence that he did everything Liddle asked.
On those pages were notes about “positive self-talk,” a method to help the men keep themselves from feeling that they had nothing to lose. Roy was lucky in this regard. He had, for one thing, his job. His boss told me how his own wife felt about Roy: their children were grown, but she would have him in their house even if kids happened to be around. “That,” his boss said, “is the confidence he gives you.” Roy had plenty to lose, and still, driving over bridges, he fantasized about swerving through the rails. Thirty-five years of probation. He fantasized about the fall through the air, the descent through the water, the finality of it. Most of the others had the weekly circle of chairs and little else.
The pages were covered, as well, with notes on “maladaptive coping responses” and “adaptive coping responses.” If the men woke in the middle of the night having had a deviant dream, what they should never do is lie there, touch themselves. They should get out of bed and get themselves a glass of milk. It was as though they were to swallow purity before returning to the danger of sleep.
Roy was doing well in Liddle’s eyes. When Liddle asked for a definition and example of an “SUD,” a “seemingly unimportant decision,” Roy answered perfectly. It was like that with everything. His “action plans”—his applications to do what his probation restrictions did not permit—were composed at length and neatly typed out. When his sister gave birth, he put in a request to visit her over the state line. He was thorough in anticipating all the potential problems. “What if my brother-in – law’s friends show up with their children?” he wrote. “What if my brother-in-law’s brother came with his two girls and they were running through the house from room to room? I would say my goodbyes and leave.” His request was granted.
He applied for more and more freedoms, and they were given more and more often. He was allowed to take his fiancee bowling, to take her to the movies, to fly kites with her at the town beach. He asked to perform music at a local bar, which filled Liddle with fear. The bar didn’t attract underage girls, but the therapist envisioned admirers and temptation: Roy picking up a strange woman and this leading—by way of eros unleashed—to his unraveling, his reoffending. Liddle refused the request, but intimated that, if Roy continued to show control, he might be performing soon.
And Roy applied to host a reception after his wedding to the bookkeeper. He applied to honeymoon down South. The problem with the reception was that the catering hall would be holding more than one event, and at the others, girls might be among the guests. “What if we are outside taking pictures and I need to go in and use the men’s room? Since my brother is the best man, I would ask him to come with me so I was not walking through the building or the hallways alone.” roy’s new wife wore white socks on her shoeless feet, blue jeans, a blue sweatshirt. It was a Friday night, and they had just finished their ritual Friday dinner: pizza and eggplant sandwiches. Now they sat close on their new couch, her feet tucked beneath her. Outside, on the windows, the shutters were adorned with quaint carvings. The house, his house, which she’d moved into, was pristine. The wood floors gleamed, the matching end tables were polished and bare. All felt at once irreproachable and ephemeral.
She was a few years older than Roy, but young-looking and slim, with brown bangs and a smile that held the endearing hint of an overbite. On their first date—three months after his arrest but before his plea, so that probation’s restrictions and Liddle’s rulings on his action plans didn’t yet determine what he could and could not do—they’d flown his purple-and-aqua stunt kite. They laughed, on the couch, remembering the way it had yanked and dragged her down the beach. Besides the kites and the movies and the bowling, they’d gone for long walks, and he’d confided in her about his crime. “Fve talked to her about everything,” he said, as I sat with them “Fve talked to her about my thoughts when I was committing. I told her, ‘If you’re uncomfortable you can tell me. If you don’t want to see me anymore you can tell me. But I have to be honest with you, I have to be.’”
“In my heart,” she said, “I don’t think he was this monster he was portrayed as in the paper.” She was thinking of the articles in the small newspaper of his suburban town at the time of his arrest. “I didn’t know what to believe. I couldn’t believe the charges.”
She described the plaque he’d won at work for most valuable employee of the year. “Who is Roy?” she asked, and answered herself, “He’s very responsible. He’s very kind. Very much like a little boy. Very playful. Very sincere.”
On the night of the Fourth of July, they had gone to the shoreline park not far from his house and set a gargantuan kite aloft: the one he had outfitted with strobes. From high in the darkness it throbbed beams of orange and green and indigo down through the blue-black to color the sand.
They shifted closer to each other on the couch. She remembered, “One of the nicest things he ever said to me was that when he met me God was giving him a second chance.”
He recalled her once telling him, “‘When we go out flying, it’s like an entire new day.’”
Her voice, as they spoke, was tender yet never fully surrendered to emotion. She could sound, at moments, utterly clear-headed and almost managerial, as though she had accounted and planned for every aspect of the past and future. But just before their wedding, Roy had talked in group about the meeting they’d had with her family priest, who was going to marry them They told him about Roy’s crime. The priest asked if she was really prepared for a life with a convicted child molester serving thirty-five years probation. “All of a sudden she was crying hysterically.”
“I think,” she said now on the couch, “I know Roy well enough to be sure he won’t ever do that again. I think things just got out of hand.” She wanted to take a special training course that would allow her to become an ancillary, probation-approved supervisor for her husband. This would give them a bit more freedom And she felt it would teach her how to be on guard, how to save him “I want to be able to recognize the signs, to know what to look for,” she said. “People can stumble.” Then her voice sharpened severely. “To this day, I can’t understand how he could write crap like that to a little girl. I tell him that all the time.”
“She does,” he mumbled, his soft face looking as though he’d been struck. “She does.” his fantasies emerged during a polygraph test. The men usually took the lie detector twice a year. The most incisive part sometimes came not when the machine was running but, beforehand, when anxiety was unbearable and the subject was asked to fill out a long questionnaire. During this section Roy confessed to thinking about Faith.
He’d said the same to me, more than once. “How do you turn it off? How do you turn off the thoughts that got you in so much trouble? Those conversations she had with her friend, they’re still vivid in my mind. I’d be lying to you to tell you I’m not sexually aroused. Even at this point.” And the thoughts, he felt, were “burned” into him by the group sessions themselves, by his being forced every week to walk the mazelike corridors and enter the windowless roomand sit in the circle of chairs.
To Roy, the sessions offered no relief. After the discussions of dynamic risk factors and SUDs, Liddle tended to ask the men what deviant thoughts they’d had during the week just past. In over a year with the group, I never once heard the men speak more than a few words about desiring the young. “If we talked in there about what was really going through our minds,” the poet once told me, “we’d all be wearing ankle bracelets.” And Liddle didn’t press. In response to the few words that were spoken, he quickly reviewed “thought broadcasting.” Liddle, Roy said, “asks for deviant fantasy but he doesn’t really want it.”
The therapist talked with me about eliciting candor—but a candor that was delicately calibrated. Wrenching confessions, he felt, could destroy the composure he wanted to instill in the men. Too much honesty could stoke illicit fantasies. The men were forbidden to talk with one another outside the meetings. Liddle wished to “build up their sense of decency” and teach them to believe in their own capacity for restraint. In the windowless room, he allowed nothing to breach the atmosphere of control.
Roy had never so much as given the group any detail about the content of Laith’s online talks with her friend. He had never really told his story. To imply that she’d played any small part in what had happened was forbidden. To call any attention to the fact that she had walked toward his computer when he’d invited her to see what he wished to do—this would have been the ultimate sin. In the back room, there were child victims and adult perpetrators. Nothing even slightly more nuanced was permitted, for fear that the men would justify their crimes to themselves. The men were trained to come down on each other for the faintest sign of deflecting responsibility. Roy kept his memories to himself.
Then, soon after the polygraph test, and after his wife had applied to be trained as an ancillary supervisor, it came out—indirectly, during a discussion in group—that she and Roy hadn’t told her parents about his crime. Liddle worried that, had she completed the training without this deception emerging, they could have been at any sort of family function with her parents, and, if young girls were around, her priority would have been to keep Roy’s secret rather than to tell her parents they had to leave. Despite being his entrusted supervisor, she might have allowed him to stay.
But the deception itself was even worse. Liddle saw a man in denial, a man failing the program’s fundamental requirements of honesty and self-confrontation, a man who should have delivered, in group, a simple, undetailed admission of his fantasies, and who should have been clear about the situation with his in-laws. In the evasion of candor, Liddle sensed the threat of anarchy.
His fear was compounded by an answer on another questionnaire: Roy was having sex with his wife several times each week. This seemed to Liddle a sign of excessive urgency. Roy told me that he was sexually satisfied, that his wife was taking care of all his needs. Liddle mentioned to me that he was considering trying to convince Roy to take medication to reduce, though not eliminate, his sex drive. There would be no legal requirement that Roy agree. But Liddle’s influence over what he could and could not do, over the rest of his life, might persuade him
The therapist held off on medication. He limited himself to taking away Roy’s privileges—the visits to his family, the bowling, the movies, the kite-flying. The prospect of performing his music was now beyond discussion. Except for work, Roy would remain inside his house. Eros would be kept within.
one night, shortly before his privileges were taken away, Roy and his wife had launched a vast, luminous gold-and-red kite at the town beach. Usually after dusk the beach was empty. But a group of kids—“a mob,” it seemed to him—came running toward them, boys and girls who looked between the ages of four and twelve. By his agreement with Liddle and the probation department, he was simply supposed to tell the kids to keep their distance, to tell them they might get tangled in the heavy lines. The mere presence of the underage didn’t mean he had to leave the waterfront. But everything had begun at the edge of the water. The words of Faith’s mother had come with the sound of the surf. And now he panicked. He handed the unwieldy lines to his wife and, whether dreading some imagined probationary infraction or terrified of something inside himself, he raced away.
He rushed for the waist-high fence that divided the beach from the parking lot. But he couldn’t get his bearlike body over it. He got stuck, sitting on the wire, crushing it, caught between the shore and the pavement. He couldn’t get free.