What is it about?

Tens of thousands of men, and a smaller number of women find themselves compelled to watch pornography involving small children and minors. These behaviors are almost always kept secret and a source of great shame and confusion. Those who watch "kiddie porn" are viewed with much hatred and contempt in society and are rarely viewed as human and worthy of understanding. They are treated as abject and often as dangerous. Psychological treatments for these compulsions have generally been behavioral and have focussed on extinguishing the behaviors. Few have delved into who these people are and their inner worlds. In this paper, I describe my intensive psychoanalytic work with a man compelled to use "kiddie porn". We came to understand the compulsion as an attempt to manage an inner life of trauma, conflict and unbearable pain. He recovered from the compulsion and grew immensely in his life. I do not offer this case as a blue-print for work with men with such a compulsion, but as a window into the kind of psychological work that is possible when one makes space for the inner world and pain in the treatment and the arduous work that is required to restore a person's humanity when it has been murdered early in their life.

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Why is it important?

This paper is important because it brings a human understanding and depth psychological perspective to an area of human functioning that has almost never been engaged with in this way. The whole area of child pornography has, understandable, evoked such horror and revulsion that it has almost never been the subject of psychoanalytic or psychological curiosity. The paper makes clear the value of a treatment that offers an address for the trauma, inner confusion and suffering that drive such a compulsion.


I am indebted to the work of the late Sheldon Bach, a psychoanalyst who brought a unique and clear eyed caring to his clinical work and could engage with the outer limits of the human condition with the most open, curious and sensitive humanity. I try to bring this kind of humanity to an area that has been virtually off-limits to psychological and psychoanalytic inquiry. My work with my patients who have struggled with this kind of compulsion - and many others - has opened up to me the depths of torture, psychological murder and torment that they are imprisoned in. This work is about the restoration of humanity and my intention is to offer hope to those who are imprisoned and those who seek to help them.

Robert Grossmark
New York University

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This page is a summary of: A child is being murdered: A contemporary psychoanalytic treatment of a compulsion to child pornography., Psychoanalytic Psychology, January 2023, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/pap0000430.
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