Recent high-profile cases of sex crime convictions, as in Rolf
Harris and Max Clifford, reveal outwardly puzzling and strange
reactions from their own families. Some relatives show solidarity,
appearing each day in court, loyally at the side of the
What goes on inside a household when someone at their centre is
guilty of child, and other, sex crimes, could explain how these
particular criminals lead such an incredible double-life. This
might account for these astoundingly long criminal careers, in what
is widely regarded as one of the worse crimes of all, because
children are the most innocent of victims.
Laurence Miller, a Florida psychologist, has published an
investigation in 2013 into the different types of paedophile;
'Sexual Offenses against children: Patterns and Motives'. His
categorisation could suggest families or relatives are sometimes
even colluding in some way, or possibly are victims themselves. At
the very least, they can appear in severe denial over the
perpetrator in their midst.
He points out, in his study published in the academic journal,
'Aggression and Violent Behaviour', that the 'situational' child
molester abuses children as targets of opportunity, particularly if
other sexual prospects are unavailable. They therefore tend to also
target the elderly, disabled and any other kind of available
victim, provided by circumstance.
This is in contrast to the 'preferential' child molester, who in
the seductive sub-type, grooms young victims with gifts and
attention. He rationalises a 'special relationship'. The 'fixated'
sub-type, within the 'preferential' category, is a bit of a child
himself - emotionally immature and socially inept.
The most violent and dangerous type is the 'sadistic' paedophile,
who enjoys inflicting pain, fear and horror. To heighten the
torment, they may even tell the child victim that their parents
hate them, and ordered this retribution.
Laurence Miller contends that many child molesters seem to deploy
primitive child-like 'defence mechanisms' such as dissociation - 'I
didn't know what I was doing' - or denial - 'they're not really
hurt, they seemed fine at the time'. Another classic psychological
inner defence is 'projective identification', in which one's own
unacceptable feelings are projected onto the victim; so it's the
child who was viewed as acting seductively.
It's possible that some families also deploy such defence
mechanisms in order to reconcile themselves to the paedophile in
their midst. Some paedophiles either manipulatively encourage this
process, or it spreads naturally through a close-knit group, as
people under stress often need such defences in order to
These powerful psychological mechanisms may explain why some
paedophiles don't get caught for so long.
Laurence Miller comments that few family members will actively
collude with blatant criminal sexual behavior on the part of their
husband, brother, father, or son who may now be facing prosecution.
However families will rationalize the perpetrator's behavior partly
because they have a lot to lose if the perpetrator is convicted
(home, finances, family reputation, etc.).
Sometimes, Laurence Miller observes, an interesting "flip" occurs
when families, who have been rallying on the side of their loved
one for some time, are now faced with mounting evidence against
him, and abruptly switch to loathing and rejection, partly against
the perpetrator, but also partly out of self-denigration for
"letting myself be fooled for all these years."
Nevertheless, Laurence Miller points out, many family members
continue to support long after the nature and scope of the offenses
has been made clear. Parents are more likely to remain supportive
than spouses or children.
Laurence Miller quotes an example of a news story in 2009 of New
York's then oldest registered sex offender, who had his 100th
birthday in a correctional facility, while serving a ten year
sentence for sexually assaulting two sisters aged 4 and 7. This
perpetrator appeared to have used his grandfatherly charm to entrap
young victims for over 60 years.
Garry Walter and Saby Pridmore, psychiatrists from the University
of Sydney and University of Tasmania, have published in 2012 a
study of suicides across the world in publicly exposed paedophiles,
entitled 'Suicide and the Publicly Exposed
Their examples, published in 'The Malaysian Journal of Medical
Science', include former Liberal MP and Secretary of State to the
Colonies, a 1st Viscount, who killed himself aged 59 in 1922,
following publicity over the raping of a 12 year-old boy. But he
had been a sexual predator for years previously.
Another example they report is of a famous US paediatrician who
shot himself in 2011 aged 71, one day after a class action sexual
abuse and malpractice law suit was filed against him, charging that
he had performed unnecessary genital examinations on 40 boys. He
was also a number one New York Times Bestselling Book
Other illustrations they quote include a 56 year old man who had
been Texas District Attorney for more than 20 years, who shot
himself as a SWAT team entered his home following an investigation
by an anti-paedophile group, which had arranged for actors to
pretend to be under-aged children making contact with him.
Twenty incidents of suicide in publicly exposed paedophiles were
identified from eight countries, with the average age of offenders
being Fifty-Three years. These also include a United States
Prosecutor, as well as a UK author and academic emigrant to Canada
with a PhD in neuroscience.
Of course we never really know why a person who commits suicide
does it. But these cases illustrate how really serious family
wrecking criminals, often have built socially very respectable
careers, just as the 'successful' Rolf Harris.
In four of these cases, Garry Walter and Saby Pridmore explain, the
evidence suggests they had been perpetrating sex abuse on children
in the order of 30 years, and in another four cases for at least 15
years; some were married with families.
Donald Campbell, a psychoanalyst based in London, recently
published a paper entitled 'Doubt in the psychoanalysis of a
paedophile', where he argues that issues of disbelief, particularly
the ability of such perpetrators to create doubt in the minds of
those around them, might be a fundamental modus operandi.
Donald Campbell, Past President of the British Psychoanalytical
Society, refers to a kind of 'sadistic' doubt, in his paper
published in the June 2014 issue of 'The International Journal of
Psychoanalysis', where the sex abuser appears to derive sexual
gratification from the sewing of seeds of incredulity all around
Perhaps uniquely more than in any other crime, at the heart of sex
offences, is doubt. This renders the crime particularly
psychologically damaging. Uncertainty is planted in the minds of
the victim, and of those close to the victim, and the perpetrator,
over exactly what happened.
It may be the ability to make people distrust even themselves, is a
uniquely manipulative skill of abusers. Grasping this strategy
could halt these immoral careers much earlier, as they seem to be
some of the longest in criminal history.
A court conviction, followed by sentencing, normally ends the
ambiguity for the public, over what happened, in a sex crime.
But for the families of perpetrators, as well as the victims, the
hesitation and uncertainty over who someone like Rolf Harris really
is, can be a life sentence.