Bernardo-like sexual deviancy poorly understood, expert says

What exactly causes such deviance is not known but some evidence exists of physical brain damage to the front part of the brain

What drives some people to sadistic violent sex remains poorly understood but Paul Bernardo’s contention that feelings of inadequacy led him to commit his savage crimes is junk, an expert familiar with the serial rapist and killer said on Friday.

At his failed parole hearing this week, Bernardo argued among other things that a speech impediment as a child and later anxiety over his sexual prowess moved him to dominate girls and young women as a way to boost his low self-esteem.

“That’s rubbish,” said Dr. John Bradford, a forensic psychiatrist who thoroughly assessed Bernardo ahead of his trial more than two decades ago. “People don’t go around raping and committing sadistic homicides because they have low self-esteem.”

People who perpetrate the kinds of horrific things Bernardo did have a deviation in the direction of sexual sadism — usually referred to as a coercive sexual or paraphilic disorder. Those with the condition are aroused by sexual violence and need the violent component to become aroused.

In Bernardo’s case, that meant 14 increasingly violent rapes of random girls and young women in the late 1980s and early ’90s culminating in the kidnapping, torture and killing of two girls in their mid-teens.

What exactly causes such deviance is not known but some evidence exists of physical brain damage to the front part of the brain. It’s in that area that our centres of aggression and sexuality are located next to each other. Whether the damage happened in the uterus or subsequently is not clear when it comes to the sexually sadistic.

READ MORE: Parole denied for convicted killer-rapist Paul Bernardo after 25 years in prison

“He’s not just evil; he ended up where he ended up,” Bradford told The Canadian Press. “People who have this problem have had their temporal lobe damaged in some way. There’s something that’s gone wrong.”

Most people have what psychiatry terms “sexual preference.” Generally, that means attraction to someone of roughly similar age and, usually but not always, to someone of the opposite sex. When that preference goes seriously awry, adults might turn their attention to children or become the kind of monster Bernardo was — a psychopath incapable of understanding or being affected by the suffering of others.

Bernardo, now 54, told the parole hearing that he didn’t derive pleasure from hurting his victims. He was too preoccupied with his own feelings and needs, he said, displaying classical signs of self-absorption and narcissism that left the parole board panel unimpressed with his claim that he is “nice to everybody” and that he no longer poses a risk to reoffend.

“There’s no cure for psychopathy,” Bradford said. ”But the risk of violence can be mitigated with treatment.”

Drugs and intensive therapy that can help ensure sexual deviants refrain from violence might have worked for Bernardo had he sought help in his teens, Bradford said. Doing so, however, would have required his understanding of just how abnormal he was becoming.

“Part of the difficulty is that sex is pleasurable, so the urge may be stronger than any glimmer of insight,” Bradford said.

At the same time, there is strong scientific evidence that the risk of reoffending declines with age. Data show rape to be mostly a crime of young males — 18 to 25 — and the risk of recidivism as one approaches 65 years of age drops to close to zero. But assessing the risk posed by violent sexual deviants who do get released is hard to do.

At this week’s hearing, the mothers of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, the two girls Bernardo raped and killed, made an emotional plea to keep him behind bars until he dies. They noted he has never apologized for his crimes, and said that any tears he claims to shed over his horrific acts are for self-serving show.

Bradford, a professor of psychiatry at McMaster University and professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa where he was head of forensic psychiatry, is currently writing up a study of 10 sexual deviants who were found not criminally responsible for their acts by reason of a mental disorder.

All have been treated and have now been in the community for at least 15 years with zero recidivism, he said. But it’s a small group because people who commit these kinds of crimes are generally never released so the actual recidivism risk becomes impossible to study.

“Sexually motivated homicide is extremely rare and therefore it’s difficult to study, and very few people ever get released,” the psychiatrist said.

The parole board will have to reconsider Bernardo’s case in two years — unless he asks them not to. Regardless, it is unlikely Bernardo will walk the streets again given the enormity of his crimes. The flipside of the imprisonment coin is Bernardo has been locked up in solitary confinement for 25 years and that also does damage, Bradford said.

“I don’t think he’ll ever be released,” Bradford said. “They’d worry about the perception. The parole board would tend to look at this as a punishment trajectory rather than a rehabilitation trajectory.”

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Honour

Houston residents took the time to rememeber on Nov. 11, 2018 (Simon… Continue reading

Vancouver Island brewery re-brands again after cryptic new logo failed

Victoria-based brewers said goodbye to confusing hexagon logo

B.C. Legions in need of young members to continue aiding veterans into the future

Lest we forget what thousands of men and women did to fight for Canada’s freedoms – but without new membership, many Legion chapters face dwindling numbers

North Coast figure skater to star in Dancing On Ice

Carlotta Edwards learned to skate in Prince Rupert, before becoming a star with millions of viewers

Missing man found

On Oct. 21, 2018, the Prince George RCMP received a report that… Continue reading

Trudeau warns of dangers of nationalist leaders at historic armistice gathering

U.S. President Donald Trump in recent weeks described himself as a nationalist

Grim search for more fire victims; 31 dead across California

More than 8,000 firefighters battled wildfires that scorched at least 1,040 square kilometres

Politicians need to do better on social media, Trudeau says

Prime minister suggests at conference in Paris some are trying to use technology to polarize voters

Wally Buono exits CFL, stinging from painful playoff loss

B.C. Lions lost the Eastern semifinal to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday, 48-8

Pot company hopes to replace jobs lost in mill closure in B.C. town

About 200 workers lost their jobs when the Tolko sawmill in Merritt shuttered in 2016

Funding announcement promises to drive business innovation in B.C.

Minister is scheduled to make the announcement at the Penticton campus of Okanagan College

Conifex announces a temporary curtailment in operations at Fort St. James mill

Between 180 and 200 people will be affected by the curtailment for at least four weeks

Ticats destroy Lions 48-8 in CFL East Division semifinal

Wally Buono’s last game as B.C. coach ends in disappointment

Olympic decision time for Calgarians in 2026 plebiscite

Calgary’s ‘88 legacy is considered among the most successful in Olympic Games history

Most Read