Recently, there have been a number of legal cases in which criminal defense lawyers have claimed that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was the cause of their client’s illegal behavior. This is part one of a three part series that examines these cases.
In March 2009, the Edinburgh Evening News of Scotland reported the case of Iain McKinlay, a father of three who claimed that the huge amount of child pornography that he had amassed on his computers was a result of his suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). McKinlay was caught after he used his personal credit card to access child pornography web sites. When the local police raided his home in April 2008, they found 3,557 illegal pictures on two separate computers.
McKinlay’s initial explanation for his collection was somewhat reminiscent of the pedophiles seen on NBC’s “To Catch A Predator”, in which nearly all of those caught on camera claim that they were under the impression that the young child they ostensibly came to meet was actually much older (this despite the video and audiotapes proving that they were explicitly looking for young children). In McKinlay’s case, he claimed that he was conducting internet searches specifically for young women aged 18-21, and that the search engines somehow mistakenly presented him with the illicit photographs of minors.
McKinlay’s lawyer took a different approach, claiming that his client’s child pornography collection was evidence of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and that his collecting and viewing the pictures “helped him escape from the pressures of reality”. McKinlay’s lawyer went on to claim that his client should not receive jail time because he was not likely to return to viewing and collecting child pornography, despite the fact that he had been previously convicted of other sex crimes.
Unfortunately, many people, including judges and juries, could potentially be swayed by the argument made by McKinlay’s lawyer that this was a case of OCD. After all, McKinlay’s behavior (collecting and viewing child pornography) seems “obsessive” and “compulsive“. But in assessing the merits of the defense attorney’s argument, it is important to note three salient issues.
First – there is absolutely no connection between compulsive pornography viewing and OCD. There are many problematic behaviors that have obsessive and compulsive components, yet are not the same as OCD, including anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, compulsive shoplifting, drug addiction, alcoholism, sex addiction…and pedophilia. It is clear from news reports about this case that McKinlay enjoyed looking at pictures of naked children. After all, he had collected over 3,500 pornographic pictures of children at the time of his arrest. This suggests pedophilia…not OCD.
Second, people with OCD do not act compulsively in an effort to “escape from the pressures of reality”, as McKinlay’s lawyer claimed in this case. Those who suffer from OCD act compulsively with the sole intent of reducing or eliminating the overwhelming anxiety that they experience related to very specific unwanted thoughts. In other words, they perform compulsive behaviors to counteract unwanted thoughts that they find extremely distressing. I fail to see how McKinlay’s collecting and viewing of child pornography was driven by an effort to reduce or eliminate any specific unwanted thoughts. On the contrary, his habit quite clearly seems motivated by a desire to satisfy his sexual urges.
Third, it is worth noting that there is a sub-type of OCD in which people have unwanted sexual thoughts, including thoughts about children. But in cases where individuals with OCD have obsessions about children, they are uniformly disgusted by those thoughts. In 15 years of treating people with OCD, I have never once seen a client with obsessions about children act on these thoughts. In fact, those with obsessions about children often go to the opposite extreme, avoiding all contact with children (even their own) because they are so horrified by these unwanted thoughts. They never seek out pornographic pictures of children. Never.
Fortunately, the judge in the case was not fooled by the lawyer’s specious argument. He sentenced McKinlay to nine months in jail, and placed him on the local sex offenders registry for the following ten years.
Next week – Jerry Seidl shot his estranged wife in the head five times…then claimed his OCD made him do it.
•Tom Corboy, MFT, is the director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related conditions. In addition to individual therapy, the center offers six weekly therapy groups, as well as online therapy, telephone therapy, and intensive outpatient treatment. To contact the OCD Center of Los Angeles, click here.