People...I’m bisexual. By it’s most modern definition that means “being attracted to more than one gender over the course of your lifetime.” Being bisexual hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been part of who I am. Like any sexuality, I don’t have a choice about who I’m attracted to, but I do have a choice about acting on it. And for the most part, I live in a world that encourages me to “live my truth”, to pursue the things that make me happy, and to be with the people that help that happen. But imagine if your sexuality meant that was never a possibility.
Today, I want to talk about Pedophiles. And I know that I’m already on several government watch lists, and the internet troll radar just by going this far. But here’s the thing, I’ve never been afraid of talking. Talking about things demystifies them. Conversations have the ability to break down misconceptions and breed empathy. The more controversial the issue, the more it deserves to be explored. Too often we have the attitude, especially towards pedophiles, that we should stick our heads in the sand until someone commits a crime, and then we should come up with the most colourfully violent language to describe what we want to do to that person. We seem to have this idea that unless we are vehemently and violently denouncing all attempts at a conversation about pedophilia, then people will suspect that maybe we’re one of them. So violent is this reaction that in 2013, residents in Brislington beat to death Bijan Ebrahimi, a 44 year old disabled man, because they believed he was a pedophile. He wasn’t. He was taking photos of the kids who were vandalising his beloved garden.
Part of the reason Bijan was murdered has a lot to do with the way we think of pedophiles. The common image in most people’s minds is a middle-aged, cisgendered man who spends a lot of time in a van, parked outside playgrounds, taking photos of kids. He’s usually seen as a predatory individual who masturbates to child porn and has plans to steal neighbourhood kids. Hopefully today, we can change that mental image. Because that’s not really what a pedophile looks like, it's just how we've taught ourselves to see them.
The biggest problem that pedophiles face is that the term “pedophile” is synonymous with “child molester”, and therefore "monster". They are NOT the same thing. It’d be like saying every heterosexual cis man is a rapist, because socially we think of rapists as being straight dudes. The majority of pedophiles don’t molest children. Why? For the same reason that you and I don’t touch kids - because they know that it’s not just illegal, it’s also a reprehensible act. Pedophiles aren’t monsters. They’re born with a quirk in their brain that tells them children are attractive. But that doesn’t override the part of their brain that knows it’s morally and ethically wrong. "Pedophile" isn’t a legal term, and there’s no law against having an attraction to children. Being a pedophile is not a crime.
Assaulting children is a crime, and the majority of people who sexually assault children aren’t pedophiles. Child molesters and child abusers normally have a history of heterosexual relationships, and don’t express an exclusive attraction to children. Often they don’t even express sexual interest in children at all. Most crimes against children are committed by family members (30%), or family friends (60%), not strangers in a van (10%). Dr Shields of the Moore Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore points out;
"When we assume that only 'monsters' or total strangers are capable of hurting our children, we fail to see, much less act on, evidence that something might be wrong in our own social circles, because none of us believes our friends, relatives, or partners are 'monsters' and therefore they couldn't possibly be trying to engage a child in sex.”
Pedophilia, comes from the Greek words for "child" and "love". I probably don’t need to point out how few people today consider pedophiles to be “lovers of children”. In fact we have very deliberately distanced pedophilia from any concept of love, instead focusing on the physicality of their relationships with children. We do this all the time, with any sexuality or even relationship style that isn’t heterosexual. For instance, parents often protest about having gay or lesbian characters in the media, because they don’t want to have to explain “gay” to their children. They forget that the explanation is as simple as “Gay is when a man loves another man,” or “Polyamory is when a person loves more than one other person.” Instead they seem to think that they need to provide their precious offspring with the entire works of the Gay Kama Sutra, or spell out what an orgy is. Pedophilia is no different.
Pedophilia is an attraction to prepubescent children. It shouldn’t be confused with an attraction to early adolescents, as this is actually Hebephilia. And an attraction to mid to late teenagers, something our society almost seems to condone if not celebrate, is known as Ephebophilia. Pedophilia is a sexuality, in that it’s an unchosen sexual attraction to a specific set of persons. And just like being gay, bisexual, or straight, being a pedophile isn’t a choice. I mean, why on earth would it be? Who would make the decision to have a sexual preference that would utterly destroy their life and any possibility for a loving and understanding relationship, let alone compassion from their fellow humans. Knowing what you know about how the world sees pedophiles, if you had the choice, would you opt in to that?
This isn’t just conjecture by the way, all of this has been clinically proven by looking at MRIs of pedophile’s brains. And if further evidence was needed, there was the case of a 40-year-old teacher in Virginia.
“A man with no history of sexual deviance suddenly became interested in child pornography and was arrested for molesting his prepubescent stepdaughter. The night before sentencing, he showed up at an emergency room with a bad headache. An MRI revealed a tumour compressing his brain's right frontal lobe. When the tumour was removed, his obsession faded...A year later he again became sexually fixated on children. The tumour was growing back.”
It used to be considered fact that a history of childhood abuse makes you more likely to become a pedophile. Fortunately for victims of abuse everywhere, this was disproved once in 1998 and again in 2001.
Becker and Murphy (1998) estimated that while 30 percent of sex offenders were sexually abused as children, 70 percent were not. Hindman and Peters (2001) found that 67 percent of sex offenders initially reported experiencing sexual abuse as children, but when given a polygraph test, the proportion dropped to 29 percent, suggesting that some sex offenders exaggerate early childhood victimisation in an effort to rationalise their behaviour or gain sympathy from others.
Unlike other more accepted sexualities, pedophilia is also still classified as a “paraphilia”. A paraphilia is a state of sexual arousal to atypical objects or situations. For instance “coprophilia” is a sexual attraction to poop and pooping, or “necrophilia” which is a sexual attraction to the dead. Up until the 70’s, homosexuality was considered a paraphilia and was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is basically the handbook that mental health professionals use to diagnose their patients. So up until 40 years ago, being gay was the same as being schizophrenic or depressed. It was a disorder of the mind, which meant that it could be cured or treated. We now recognise that trying to “cure” homosexuality is barbaric. Because there’s nothing actually wrong with being gay. The reason that we recognise homosexuality as a sexual identity, and no longer as a paraphilia, is because it doesn’t actually do any damage. If two women are both consenting to have sexual relations, then neither they, nor anyone else, is damaged by the experience. Currently, pedophilia also sits in the DSM. It’s seen as a disorder of the mind and is something that some clinicians believe we can treat. The reason that pedophilia, unlike any other sexuality, requires treatment, is because there’s no situation in which a pedophile can have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship that fits with their sexual identity, and is also consensual.
We live in a society that recognises that pre-pubescent children are unable to consent to certain things, because they don’t have the capacity to fully appreciate the impact of what they might be consenting to. This means that people born with pedophilia should be given the same level of understanding and support as those born with any other mental health issue. It’s our responsibility, as a society, to provide a system for pedophiles to get help, treatment and support with their sexuality, so that their own willpower isn’t the only thing stopping them from offending.
Elizabeth Letourneau is the founding director of the Moore Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins University. She is the only U.S. researcher developing science and policy in the field of primary prevention. She eloquently points out the social issue;
“We say we’re really concerned about sex offending and we really don’t want children to be sexually offended and we don’t want adults to be raped, but we don’t do anything to prevent it. We put most of our energy into criminal justice, which means that the offence has already happened and often many offences have already happened.”
But here’s the rub, in order to get help for a mental health issue, you actually need to be able to talk about it. And most pedophiles can’t. In many states in America, and countries around the world, as soon as an individual expresses an attraction to children to their mental health care specialist, that therapist is legally required to report them and have them put on the Sex Offenders Register. This is especially disturbing given how prevalent the rates of depression (76%) and suicidal ideation (90%) is among people who identify as pedophiles. They’re living a life in which there's no hope for love, sex or even emotional support and understanding; no wonder they’re depressed.
Margo Kaplan, an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Law pointed out that,
“The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals with mental disabilities, in areas such as employment, education and medical care. Congress, however, explicitly excluded pedophilia from protection under these two crucial laws. It’s time to revisit these categorical exclusions.”
In addition to the inherent misery, there’s also the kind of life-ruining vigilantism that’s heaped upon them by society at large. In 2013, Steven Rudderham was arbitrarily accused of being a pedophile on social media. There was no evidence to the rumours, no reason for them, just the kind of online harassment typical of cyberspace. Within minutes the post had gone viral and Steven was receiving death threats. The 48 year old father hanged himself in a cemetery just days after the accusation was posted. When you’re a pedophile and you’re staring down mob vigilantism, major depressive disorders, not to mention the threat of losing your job due to legislation, or just being run out of town by an angry mob, it’s hard to see anything left to live for.
And when people don’t have anything to lose, that’s normally when they’re most at risk of offending. The world already hates you, before you’ve even committed a crime, so why not live up to their expectations and become the monster they’ve decided you are. As Kaplan succinctly puts it;
“Without legal protection, a pedophile cannot risk seeking treatment or disclosing his status to anyone for support. He could lose his job, and future job prospects, if he is seen at a group-therapy session, asks for a reasonable accommodation to take medication or see a psychiatrist, or requests a limit in his interaction with children. Isolating individuals from appropriate employment and treatment only increases their risk of committing a crime.”
With the lack of support available, and no real treatment methods developed, most pedophiles are left with only their willpower to keep them from offending. Some have resorted to using ethical child pornography (CP) as an outlet for their urges. Ethical CP is basically child porn that doesn’t have an actual child in it. This can be done with CGI, animation, or just really young looking, but legally aged actors. It can also include erotic fiction. However in most places, including Australia, this is still illegal. This is despite studies conducted in the Czchech Republic, Japan and Denmark all showing that porn can actually lower rates of sex crimes. And while it’d be great to have more information and a clearer picture of what exactly might help and what might make it worse, most institutions are too scared to start asking the questions or doing the studies in case they get labelled as child abuse apologists.
Currently the only place doing any real research, or offering any ongoing support is the Prevention Project Dunkelfeld in Germany which provides "confidential treatment, free of charge" for anyone who is attracted to kids and/or teenagers. Germany is one of the few countries that has taken a proactive attitude towards its treatment of pedophilia. It has no mandatory reporting law, which means that pedophiles can get the help and support they need without worrying about having their jobs and lives stripped away.
All of this is great if you live in Germany, but not so helpful for anyone outside the EU. The only support network available to pedophiles around the world is the “Virtuous Pedophiles” website. Basically the AA of unwanted sexual identity, VirPed provides a support network for hundreds of self-professed pedophiles. By their definition, a “virtuous pedophile” is someone who has the attraction to children, but is determined not to act on it. In their own words, “ To admit our condition is to invite suspicion, hatred, and social ostracism. Virtuous doesn't mean we think we're better than the average person, just that we're not worse.”
Ultimately, that’s what people need to understand about pedophilia. Being a pedophile is not a crime, any more than being heterosexual. But it does invite a lifetime of loneliness, social exclusion, and suffering. If we as a society are asking pedophiles not to offend, then we owe it to them to provide the research and support they need. Otherwise we’re the real ‘monsters’.
That is all.
You may go now.