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Shedding light on rapists who target teenagers

Sophie Desjardins presents her thesis on hebephiles


Sophie Desjardins

Pediatrician Jocelyn Lussier, who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2005 for sexually assaulting three teenagers, and Mario Bastien, who was found guilty in 2001 for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old boy, are “hebephiles” (from the Greek hêbê, meaning “adolescent,” and philein, meaning “to love”). Because they are attracted to adolescents, these sex offenders are in a category of their own, separate from rapists and pedophiles. “Hebephiles are an alarming clinical reality, and yet they are almost completely absent from the scientific literature,” explains Sophie Desjardins who recently submitted a doctoral thesis on this issue at the Université de Montréal.

According to Ms Desjardins, the actions of celebrity manager Guy Cloutier, currently serving a 42-month prison sentence for sexual assault, and those of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, accused in 1995 of murdering Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, also correspond to the definition of hebephilia (also referred to as “ephebophilia”), since most of their victims were on the cusp of adulthood.

After devoting several years to this research which involved analyzing data pertaining to 149 men who were found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to two years or more in a federal penitentiary, Ms Desjardins believes that there is an urgent need for judicial and penal systems to examine this particular deviant behaviour. “While the victims of hebephiles represent more than one-quarter of sexual prey in Quebec and more than one-third in Canada, we know virtually nothing about those who perpetrated the crimes. My thesis lifts the veil of silence on this reality, but we still have a lot to learn.” 

With greater knowledge of hebephilia, it would be possible to better adapt prevention programs for victims and treatments to rehabilitate offenders.  Furthermore, Ms Desjardins’ study reveals that the authorities are wrong to put hebephiles in the same category as “ordinary” pedophiles. “Compared to pedophiles, sex offenders who target teenagers “are more likely to use force to obtain sexual favours from their victims, particularly excessive force and a weapon, to perpetrate their crimes. Coitus is the standard act among hepephiles while this is much less common among pedophiles.”

The criminal and personal profiles of hebephiles as well as their modus operandi differ from other types of sex offenders.  Strictly speaking, hebephiles do share some common ground with pedophiles—individuals who are sexually attracted to pre-pubescent victims—and rapists—who strike out against non-consenting adults. But when we take a closer look, we see that hebephiles form a group of their own. To begin with, “hebephiles are the most stable group in terms of family responsibilities. They are more likely to be married at the time of their sexual crime, to have a long-lasting marriage and to have children,” explains Ms Desjardins.

Like rapists who use violence to perpetrate their crimes, nearly one out of every four hebephiles uses a weapon to control victims. Sex offenders who target teenagers are more likely than rapists and pedophiles to have an accomplice in order to satisfy their sexual drive, and to choose young women as sexual prey.  Hebephiles are also more interested in humiliating their victims than pedophiles.  Ms Desjardins reports surprising differences between these groups in terms of their personal and socioeconomic profiles.  While most of the sex offenders that were part of this doctoral study were unemployed at the time of the evaluation, this reality was even more pervasive among hebephiles—a staggering 84 per cent did not have paid employment.


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