Single injection could stop paedophiles abusing children - scientists
Published 07/04/2016 | 08:02
Paedophiles could be treated with a single injection to prevent them abusing children, scientists hope.
Experts in Sweden believe that a drug which stops the brain from making testosterone can combat hyper-sexuality and aggression, turning off the need to seek out sexual contact with youngsters.
The drug degaralix is currently being tested on five Swedish men who called a sexual offenders helpline because they were concerned about their paedophilic inclinations.
Scientists at the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden now want to expand the trial to 60 men, and have today launched a crowdfunding project to raise money for the controversial research.
Dr Christoffer Rahm, Consultant Psychiatrist and post-doctoral researcher at the Karolinska Institute said: “Child sexual abuse is one of the most pervasive social problems today. This issue is hard to deal with, but we must, because it effects all of us.
“Child sexual abuse causes a lot of suffering for the victims and their relatives, and also costs society enormous amounts of money. It also has negative consequences for the perpetrator who risks becoming totally isolated, depressed and sentence to imprisonment.
“Up until now, most of the attention has been trying to deal with perpetrators by the police but by this stage children have already been harmed. With this research project .I want to shift focus and explore methods of preventing child sexual abuse from happening in the first place. “What is relatively unknown is that a substantial number of patients which paedophilic disorder actually want help.
“The goal of pilot is to reduce the number of child sexual abuses, intervening before the damage is done.”
Studies have suggested that between one in 20 and one in 35 men are sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children, a prevalence so high that some experts think it could be an orientation, in the same way as homosexuality or heterosexuality.
Around one in 10 girls are sexually abused as youngsters and one in 20 boys. More than 36,000 sexual offences were recorded against children in the UK last year.
The Home Office estimates that the cost each child sexual offences costs £37,000 when taking into account the police investigation, legal proceedings and medical treatment.
Drugs have been used in the past to ‘chemically castrate’ sexual offenders, but always after abuse has taken place. Many of the therapies used also have serious side effects such as breast growth, bone thinning, mood changes.
The new treatment would work before a crime has been committed. It is hoped that men who are worried that they will abuse children would voluntarily opt for the treatment.
As part of the research the team will also be trying to identify biomarkers which could indicate if a person was prone to paedophilia. Last year, researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Oxford University found that 40 per cent of the risk of committing a sex crime is genetic, with the remaining 60 per cent down to personal and environmental factors, such as being abused as a child.
Although the researchers have ruled out screening for paedophiles, it could help identify those who were likely to benefit from medication.
The new drug, degarelix, is a hormone therapy which is currently used in the treatment of prostate cancer. It blocks brain signals which stimulate the testicles to produce testosterone. Testosterone is known to be linked to high sexual arousal, diminished self-regulation and low empathy. The drug appears to block receptors in the limbic system of the brain which promote anger.
Initial trials showed that after three days men had no detectable levels of testosterone and within two weeks their risk of abusing children had dropped substantially.
One way risk was measured was by scanning brains for sexual arousal while looking at computer-generated images of scantily clad children. The drug appeared to limit arousal.
The effect lasts for three months and another injection could be given afterwards if sexually inappropriate behaviour and thoughts returned.
Assistant Prof Stefan Arver, Karolinska Institute added: “Sexual crimes are committed by people who are unknown to society, 90 per cent are new perpetrators.
“They exist already out in society, at the grocery store, and some of them will commit crimes.
“We need to reach those people who have behaviours which may lead to crime and abuse. We need treatment programmes.
“In 2012 we raised money to establish a telephone line where people who are worried about their own sexuality can call and talk to a professional. We have the proof of principle that people with these worries really want help, and we have shown if help is offered people will come forward.”
Researchers said the project was focussed on men because, while it was acknowledged that women also sexually abuse children, it is men who carry out the most serious crimes.
Prof Donald Grubin, Emeritus Professor of Forensic Psychiatry, Newcastle University, added: “It's about prevention. Typically we come in after an offence is committed and we're trying to pick up the pieces.”
The project called Priotab (Paedophilia at Risk – Investigations of Treatment and Biomarkers) is being launched on the crowdfunding site Walacea. Researchers need £38,000 to fund the project.