Bernardo-Like Sexual Deviancy Poorly Understood, Expert Says

By Perkel, Colin | The Canadian Press, October 19, 2018 | Go to article overview

Bernardo-Like Sexual Deviancy Poorly Understood, Expert Says


Perkel, Colin, The Canadian Press


Bernardo-like sexual deviancy poorly understood

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TORONTO - 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.

"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. …

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