The awful crimes of Jared Fogle offer a case study in child sex offenders.
Not all sex offenders are pedophiles, and oddly enough, not all sex abuse and criminal activity on a child is done by pedophiles. The criteria to be a pedophile are easy to find. While Fogle may not have been clinically be diagnosed as a pedophile, to date, for the purpose of this article, because of his behavior and statement "the younger the better", we will assume that Fogle may be a pedophile.
So what could Jared Fogle's case say about criminal pedophiles?
- Income: pedophiles are not necessarily poor, low income, or living on the margins of society.
- Family: Fogle had what was to believed a loving stable family. We should not visualize that a pedophile or sex offender is someone living alone in a dark dirty apartment. It can be a family person.
- Status: Fogle was well known as the guy who ate Subway and lost a lot of weight. His face and story were known all over America and throughout much of the world.
- Appearance: Jared Fogle gained fame and money by being someone who improved his appearance. We often think of criminals as people who are not attractive, people who are missing teeth, or have any number of other physical anomalies. Not only is there no relationship between people missing teeth and sex offenses on children, there is no reason to believe that we can predict who is a sex offender based on looks. Furthermore, while our prison systems' across America have a disproportionate number of minorities, we have a hard time thinking of a person of color who is a high profile example of a child sex offender.
- Victims: Fogle had 14 victims. The subsequent 13 victims could have been saved had the first victim reported abuse. It is not known if the first victim was able to report abuse, or even knew abuse was going on, as with cases of hidden recording devices. What we do know is that pedophiles often have several victims before they are caught. Sex offenders as a general category have a fairly low rate of recidivism, but pedophiles as a specific subgroup withing the sex offender category have a high rate of recidivism.
- Other Criminal Activity: We can also learn from the Fogle case that someone who abuses children may not be engaging in other criminal behavior. There is no evidence that Fogle did or sold drugs, was engaged in sex abuse on adults, or were engaged on committing any other crimes other than the crimes he pleaded guilty to.
- Trust: Pedophiles are often trusted members of society. They may be trusted family or friends. There is a common misperception that a stranger is the most likely person to victimize a child. That happens, but it is not the majority of cases of sex abuse on children. More often than not, the person who is sexually abusing children has direct access to children. He or she is a trusted person. This may be coach, teacher, boy scout troop leader, babysitter, daycare worker, and more. Pedophiles and people who commit sex abuse on children may be found in any profession and across all socioeconomic strata.
- Deception: Pedophiles oddly enough know what they are doing is wrong. They know their behavior is wrong because they take great steps to hide what they are doing. It is this willful disregard of social norms and proper conduct that suggests pedophiles have a lack of conscience, which is the hallmark feature of a psychopath. This also raises the question about one's ability to self-reflect and how someone places his or her behavior up against the behavior of others. Something is clearly missing.
Pedophila is a clinical disorder that has a sustained sexual attraction towards children, typically 13 and younger. Attraction is not something that someone can necessarily control - hence attraction is a clinical disorder but not a crime. However, behavior is subject to one's control and acting on the pedophilc attraction is a crime.
There is no excuse for any child abuse. With sex abuse on a child, one can't claim that they were unaware they were breaking the law. This crime is too well known and well publicized. It raises the question that with all of the attention that high profile child sex abuse cases and convictions receive in the media, why do children continue to be victimized? One would think that an offender would stop and make the connection that what someone else in the media is being prosecuted for is the same behavior that could result in their own prosecution. Yet their behavior continues. Why?
It is an unfortunate reality that most of our efforts to reduce sex abuse in children rest on prosecution. This is a problem because it relies on a crime to happen before the government intervenes. With this in mind, the best way to prevent sex abuse in children is for parents to take action, which is something I have previously written about.
Paul Heroux is a state representative from Massachusetts on the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Paul worked in jail and prison before becoming a State Rep. Paul has a master's in criminology from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master's in public administration from Harvard, and a bachelor's in psychology and neuroscience from USC. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.