Damned doubters

In the wake of cardinal George Pell being found guilty of five child sex offences, local psychologist PETER JULIEN DUNLOP gives us a fascinating insight into his treatment of more than 200 men who have committed child sex abuse. He pulls no punches in calling out those such as shock jock Alan Jones who’ve questioned whether someone of Pell’s standing could possibly be guilty of such heinous crimes. For all the Chook historians out there, it was Mr Dunlop who gave us the name THINKING ALLOWED.

A SIGNIFICANT part of my practice as a clinical psychologist over the last 20 years has been the provision of psychological treatment to men who have committed child sexual abuse, and also to men and women whose mental health problems have been a consequence of having been sexually abused as children.

In the course of this I’ve come to know more than 200 men who have committed child sexual abuse with the kind of intimacy and detail only possible through undertaking psychotherapy with them.


One of the important things that has emerged from this work is that there is no particular personality or character which is typical of men who sexually abuse children.

As a consequence whenever anyone asks: “What are the men who commit child sexual abuse like?” I always answer: “They are like your father, your brother, your uncle, the man next door, the guy you work with and your best friend.

Very often in my experience they are people who have shown a deal of commitment to charitable works and caring for others.

The only thing they have in common is that most of them were also sexually abused as children.

The research I undertook on imprisoned sex offenders in 1974 for my Master’s degree dissertation addressed the personality/character issue. It confirmed my hypotheses to this effect at a level of statistical significance of p <0.000.

So for those who believe it is impossible for Cardinal Pell to have sexually abused the two boys on the grounds of his personality and character I have to say “Not so.”

Children are sexually abused by all kinds of people including people like Cardinal Pell.

In fact one third of the sex offenders in the study fell into a subgroup of that population which was characterised by holding highly conservative attitudes towards sex.

Another point relevant to Cardinal Pell is that by far the majority of men who sexually abuse children are not predatory, repeat offenders with a large number of victims in the manner of the stereotype “Paedophile” promulgated in the media and elsewhere.

Most have only offended once or on a small number of occasions and their victim(s) has(have) almost always been from within their family circle.

I have no difficulty believing that the jury’s finding is likely to have been correct especially given the number of reports of sexually inappropriate behaviour by Cardinal Pell around young people in his earliest years as a priest, and his seemingly much greater empathy and support for priests who have sexually abused children than for their victims.

I’m not entirely surprised though by the number of people like John Howard, Andrew Bolt, Tony Abbott and Greg Craven who have come out supporting him and believe the jury was mistaken.

Most of them would be totally ignorant of the fact that a proportion of men just like them in personality and character do sexually abuse children.

Given the ubiquitousness of child sexual abuse–one in three or four girls and one in five or six boys report having been sexually abused before they were 16–it is highly likely that they have met men who have sexually abused a child or children.

The rich, and/or the powerful are far less likely to have their misdeeds brought to light than those who are less well off.

Finally, Cardinal Pell responded to the police laying out the allegations before him with “What a load of absolutely disgraceful rubbish…What a load of garbage and falsehood…deranged falsehood.”

It reminded me very much of marist brother Bertinus’s response when the facts of his sexual abuse of ABC Radio Announcer Eoin Cameron and others as children was put to him. His response was: “It’s a crock of shit.”


Cardinal Pell’s attitude is amazingly similar. I am not calling for long terms of imprisonment for men who abuse children as I believe imprisonment is not the answer.

The best way to protect children from further sexual abuse from known offenders or those at risk in this way is to provide them with effective psychological treatment to enable them to heal from the damage that has been done to their personality and character which put them at risk of offending.

This can only happen if the individual concerned acknowledges his guilt and accepts responsibility for his behaviour.

One response to “Damned doubters

  1. Hello Mr Dunlop,
    I’m a super enthusiastic third week, first year Mature age Bachelor of Science, double major in Psych at UWA.
    I was really excited to read your piece in “Think” last week. After just 3 weeks of Uni I was able to see your use or Aristotle’s 3 appeals and the principles of charity when you were referring to the “Dammed doubters”. Then, when you referenced your research “It confirmed my hypotheses to this effect at a level of statistical significance of p <0.000" I actually knew what the numbers meant. I am smiling while I write this because it felt good to read with more clarity thanks to a tiny bit of higher education… despite the not so "smiley" topic.
    I'm using my reflection on "Damned doubters" in communications for my first ever marked submission "reflective learning journals".
    So thank you for the serendipitous encounter through The Chook!
    Warm Regards, Kristy

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