An Uncomfortable Place: Louis Theroux’s ‘A Place For Paedophiles’

KEM Hospital, Pune in collaboration with Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine at the Charite University, Berlin is looking to initiate Program for Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Violence (PPPV), which is a first of its kind program in the country. The  program aims to work with non-offending pedophiles (individuals who are sexually attracted to minors but who have not  acted on their impulses) through behavior and drug therapy to achieve constant behavior control. It is envisioned as a culturally specific adaption of the ‘Don’t Offend’ program in Germany.

Needless to say, this news has been met with both optimism & anxiety. For some it offers a new hope and new path that needs to be explored if we are to tackle a complex issue like sexual offences against children. For others, in a issue that is largely spoken of in the context of a victim-offender narrative, working with ‘a potential offender’ seems like a taboo notion. In a country where scales of justice are tilted against the victims of sexual offences, contextualizing a ‘criminal’ issue as a ‘public health’ issue seems problematic.

Some have expressed doubt regarding the practicality of the program in an Indian context- the German program reached out to pedophiles was through Public Service Advertisement that played in Television. Given the sexually conservative mores of Indian society & television, it seems challenging to imagine such a scenario play out on our screens.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the suggested program seems so entirely new and vague that it takes us out of our comfort zones in order to grapple with the idea of it. We are unsure of what such a program would look like. In our search for a suitable frame of reference, that we came across the documentary ‘A Place for Peadophiles’ directed by acclaimed BBC Journalist Louis Theroux. Unlike the preventive program suggested by KEM, the documentary focuses on the treatment of previously convicted sexual offenders. But it asks the questions that needs to be asked and sheds light on a previously little seen and understood facet of working with child sexual abuse.

‘A Place for Paedophiles’ is set in mental health facility in Coalinga State Hospital, a mental health facility in California, USA. It was set-up in 2005 with the explicit aim of incarcerating and containing sex offenders. It is spread across 1.2 million sq. feet and was built at the cost of 400 million dollars and costs 200,000 dollars per year to run. It houses over 800 ‘individuals’.

California law cites treatment and allows to permanently keep sex offenders behind bars and away from communities despite them finishing their court-ordered terms. Coalinga Hospital functions as a halfway house where sex offenders are committed, sometimes for life. .

The hospital offers a program that attempts to cure the individual of the psychiatric disorder of pedophilia. Theroux’s documentary crew, the first to be allowed within the premises, unflinchingly draw out the successes, challenges and paradoxes of the program.

We recommend that this documentary be seen as a whole. For the purposes of this article, we have culled out and edited together relevant portions that are particularly illuminating.

  1. The Institute

The Coalinga State Hospital is unlike anything that you would imagine.This video puts together the impressions of the hospital. It showcases a group therapy session and an assessment tool called the ‘Penile Plethysmograph’ (PPG) which is used to measure an individual’s level of arousal when presented with sexually suggestive material. Theroux also questions if the hospital exists for purposes of treatment or whether is a ruse to keep problematic individuals away from society.

2. The Picture on The Wall

In his interaction with one of the individuals, Mr. Rigby, Theroux spots some artwork on the walls that raises some uncomfortable questions. What follows is a fascinating chronicle of how the hospital responds to the scenario.

3. The Social Worker

Ernie Marshall is a social worker who facilitates group therapy with the individuals. Theroux attempts to find out from Marshall how he manages to sympathize with convicted child sex offenders even as he helps them reform.

4. An Uncomfortable Place

Dr. D’Orazio is the head psychologist at Coalinga. In this clip she interacts with an individual who admits to cheating on his assessment. The interactions quickly escalates into a confrontation. The doctor offers her insight into the incident.

5. The Reformation of Mr. Lamb

Off the 100s of individuals who signed up for the treatment, only 13 have been considered reformed. In fact, the number of people who were released following legal appeals is higher. This clip compiles Theroux’s interaction with one such reformed individual. Theroux attempts to snyc the individual’s past history of serial child sex abuse with the almost sorry figure he seems to cut today. Is the individual lying? Is he truly reformed? Is it Theroux who is prejudiced? What does society need from a offender to truly consider him reformed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *