Pedophiles. What an idea. I first came up with it while I was working for TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin. I was assigned to make three short documentaries about the brain. They gave me the first two topics and said that the third was up to me.
Like any ambitious filmmaker, I thought “Let's see how far I can push this.” That night I was listening to a RadioLab podcast about a man with epilepsy who would seizure in his sleep, and after waking up every morning in a blood bath that came from biting his tongue, he and his wife decided that a lobotomy might be an acceptable option for treatment. A few months later he was arrested for downloading child pornography, and claimed that he had never had urges to look at naked children before doctors had removed part of his brain.
Search for an Expert
I wondered if anyone was studying the brains of pedophiles? Could scientific research explain why pedophiles feel as though they are not in control of their sexual attractions? Ironically, everything I’ve learned about pedophiles since then suggests that the man with epilepsy had been a pedophile all along, he was probably just able to control his urges much better with a full frontal lobe.
Dr. James Cantor (PhD) at the Centre for Mental Health and Addictions (CAMH), is the expert I was looking for. He is one of the few scientists in the world who study pedophiles and had just uncovered the first scientific evidence that pedophilia is caused by a developmental disorder, which results in some sort of cross-wiring in the brain’s connective tissue.
"I decided to create a film with the purpose of moving people from a place of terror and stigma to a place of understanding and compassion."
After convincing TVO to take on the explosive topic of pedophilia for our third brain video, I made the short documentary that would eventually lay the groundwork for the much larger, CBC Firsthand documentary. This video’s tumultuous life online convinced me that this subject matter could make a riveting film where actual pedophiles can advocate for their own experience. My first feature would only be possible if real pedophiles were willing to speak on camera about their attractions. To make it work, I would have to find them, and if possible, convince them to take a great personal risk.
Meeting Pedophiles in Person
The first group of pedophiles I reached out to were the two co-founders of Virtuous Pedophiles which is now the largest online support group for non-offending pedophiles. These were the good guys I heard Dr. Cantor talking about in his lectures. On virped.org, thousands of pedophiles chat anonymously about absolutely anything. Much of the focus is, of course, on alleviating the trauma that comes from being attracted to children, and supporting each other through the daily ache that comes from a living celibate lifestyle.
It was in Baltimore at a B4U-ACT conference where I first met pedopiles in person. I learned that they're a group of people who had been completely crushed and demoralized by public stigma. As a heterosexual, I was the outsider, someone who couldn’t even come close to understanding the cosmic injustice of being born attracted to the impossible. It was heart wrenching. I heard tearful testimonies of witch-hunts, beatings, suicides, all common experiences for pedophiles who were discovered by their communities, or had decided to confide their secrets to the wrong person.
At one point, I shook the hand of a young pedophile named Paul Christiano, who would kill himself six months later after an incident around misreporting his address to the police. He had never touched a child, but had been busted for collecting images of naked children years before. Rather than receive jail time for his initial offence, he got off with parole and stiff stipulations on where he could live. There was an inconsistency in the records he gave, and rather than face almost certain prison time, he decided to take his own life.
It was there that I interviewed Bob Radke, an extremely patient, warm-hearted, ex-marine who now sits somewhere between American war hero and social outcast after he was arrested for looking at images of young boys. When you talk to Bob, his sincerity is indisputable, and his agenda is simple. Like Edward, my other main subject who I would find much later through Virtuous Pedophiles, Bob wants a revolution of ideas to create a world where young pedophiles don’t have to grow up tortured by their attraction, but find understanding from their families, their friends, and the mental health community which has yet to show any official compassion to the pedophilic population.
Why We Need to Understand Pedophiles
I decided to create a film with the purpose of moving people from a place of terror and stigma to a place of understanding and compassion. The desperation that pedophiles feel as they’re faced with the reality of their situation can be unimaginable. After countless conversations and a trip to Germany to investigate Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, the only place in the world that guarantees non-judgmental and anonymous help for self-identified pedophiles, it’s hard to believe that any policy we have in North America for dealing with pedophiles could actually be making the world a safer place for children. After two years of investigating both the scientific and emotional truth of this issue, I have to conclude that the first step to helping reduce the overall instances of child sexual abuse is to help the pedophiles themselves.