Long after the Bishop Raymond Lahey scandal fades from the front pages, the victims of images of child sex abuse distributed over the Internet will continue to suffer, says a Halifax expert on adolescent mental health.
“It’s not a victimless crime,” said Dalhousie University psychiatry professor Stanley Kutcher.
“Most of (internet child pornography) is young children who are abused sexually, and the pornography is developed from that.”
Lahey, the former bishop for Roman Catholic diocese of Antigonish, faces charges relating to images of child pornography allegedly found on his laptop computer last month. He resigned from his post in Antigonish a few days before his arrest in Ottawa went public.
Sexually abused children, like those in child pornography, suffer devastating mental health problems, Kutcher said. “The impact profoundly affects the child’s brain development into adolescence and beyond.”
Such “abnormal stresses” physically damage brain development in the sensitive hippocampus, which relates to mood control and the integration of feeling and thinking. The damaged neural pathways create difficulties with depression, anxiety disorders and sexual fulfillment later in life.
“There is a strong possibility that the young person’s ability to self-regulate their moods will become problematic,” Kutcher said, making them more prone to physically lashing out in stressful situations. Victims also find it more difficult to “get over” emotional turmoil later in life.
After a UN meeting on human rights in Geneva last week unconnected to the Lahey scandal, the Vatican issued a statement saying most incidents reported as “pedophilia” were in fact “ephebophilia” – priests with a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.
Asked about ephebophilia, Kutcher said adolescence is a critical time for identity formation, when people consolidate what they’ve learned in childhood. Sexual abuse at that age can derail the process, he said, causing life-long problems.