Wants to take action before it is too late

Over 2,000 rapes committed against children were reported in 2015. Now, Christoffer Rahm, a specialist doctor in psychiatry and a researcher at the Department of Medicine, Huddinge, is going to investigate whether medication can prevent a person with a sexual attraction to children from offending.

Christoffer Rahm. Photo: Christopher Hunt

Text: Viktor Karlsson, first published in the magazine Medical Science no 2, 2016.

How many Swedish people are sexually attracted to children and what are the current treatment options?

“It is estimates that about five per cent of the population, both men and women, have sexual fantasies about children, but there is surely a large number of unrecorded cases. In Sweden, we have a unique opportunity to help them, thanks to a national helpline called Preventell. Around 100 people with this background call this service to seek help each year. They are offered an adapted treatment programme involving interventions such as psychotherapy and medication.”

Is the research able to answer the question of what background leads to a person offending?

“There are several reasons, not just paedophilia, but also, for example, that they have a sexual addiction or poor impulse control.” Why did you begin this study? “While I was training to become a psychiatrist, I worked at a clinic for children and adolescents where I met the victims of sexual assaults. Later on, I worked at the Centre for Andrology and Sexual Medicine, where I got to meet the perpetrators. This made me more motivated to find a preventative treatment that helps both victims and perpetrators. We want to make an intervention that prevents the perpetrators having these thoughts and prevents children being harmed.”

How will the treatment be carried out?

“Our study, Priotab, involves 60 adult men with paedophilia. Half of these people will receive medication and half will receive a placebo. The medication is given in the form of an injection that has an immediate effect and reduces the testosterone level in the whole body, including the brain. The effect then lasts for almost three months. By reducing the testosterone level, we hope to reduce several risk factors for offending such as hypersexuality, low impulse control and reduced empathic capability. According to the patients themselves, many people with paedophilia believe that they are born with this attraction to children. Looking at the studies that have been conducted in this area supports the patients' stories. You meet these people every day in your work.”

What are your thoughts about this?

“A large proportion of these men know that their feelings are not accepted by society and seek help for it. They feel really bad and have realised that if they act out their fantasies, people will be harmed. Some of them have also done horrible things to children. But I have to look past the moral aspects in these cases. My principal duty as a doctor is to help people with problems. A preventative approach, preventing men from committing sexual offences, helps both the men and the children.”