ActivismDiscrimination

Pedophiles Are People Too

[TW: Pedophilia, child molestation, rape.]

Sometimes, I see people on the internet who talk about pedophiles. These people talk about ‘pedophile priests,’ they mention ‘disgusting pedophiles,’ they often use the word ‘pedophile’ as a synonym for ‘child abuser’, and almost always the word comes with a very negative connotation. This is part of a greater attitude that society holds toward pedophiles, which creates a serious problem that I would like to address.

I want to get one thing out of the way very quickly. Pedophiles and child abusers are not the same thing. Pedophiles are people who are sexually attracted to children. Child abusers are people who sexually abuse children. There is an extremely important difference between the two. Pedophiles are defined by their thoughts, child abusers are defined by their behavior. If this doesn’t make sense, I’ve included a helpful Venn diagram above.

It’s entirely possible for pedophiles not to be child abusers. I would argue that most pedophiles aren’t child abusers. For instance, heterosexual men are attracted to women. However, most heterosexual men would never even consider raping a woman. Just because heterosexual men are attracted to women doesn’t mean they are willing to ignore the (very serious) legal and ethical problems involved with rape. In exactly the same way, even though pedophiles are attracted to children, that doesn’t mean that most are willing to ignore the very same legal and ethical problems involved with child abuse. Most pedophiles are normal people, and are just as horrified as everyone else is at the thought of abusing a child.

Furthermore, not all child abusers are pedophiles. There are a number of reasons that drive a person to abuse children, and a sexual attraction to them is only one. Again, like rape, child abuse is frequently more about power and dominance than about sex or attraction. There is some overlap between pedophiles and child abusers, sure, but they’re not identical. The fact is, most pedophiles aren’t monsters or child abusers. They’re just as horrified by child abuse as everyone else.

You may have noticed that, although I’ve used phrases like ‘most pedophiles,’ I haven’t provided any numbers or statistics in this article. That’s because there aren’t any. What percentage of the general population are pedophiles? One percent? Five percent? We have no idea. What percentage of pedophiles are child abusers? One percent? Fifty percent? What’s the age, race, and gender distribution of the pedophile population? Nobody knows.

Most of the studies of pedophilia use convicted child abusers as subjects. Nearly all available statistics on pedophiles or pedophilia focus on this subgroup. Most of the psychology and sociology of pedophilia use this subject pool to base their research on. Most of the conclusions of that research might not apply to pedophiles who don’t abuse children.

The problem is that society treats pedophiles like they’re already guilty of committing a crime. By either assuming that all pedophiles are child abusers, or assuming that all pedophiles will inevitably become child abusers, most people eliminate the very real possibility of trying to help pedophiles not become child abusers in the first place.

Conflating pedophilia with child abuse marginalizes pedophiles who don’t abuse children. When people are rendered invisible by society, there is nothing there to help them. There is no counseling available, there are no support networks, there are no organizations to advocate on their behalf. And some people slip through the cracks. Plenty of pedophiles don’t need support to keep them from abusing children, but there are plenty more who do.

And, in many cases, the situation is far worse than simple erasure. Most of society is violently opposed to the idea of functional support structures for pedophiles. Most people are quick to demonize and dehumanize pedophiles instead of supporting them. This pushes pedophiles to the sidelines, where they are unable to get the help they need. And, of course, when pedophiles are actively prevented from seeking help, some may succumb to their desires.

The fact is, stigmatizing pedophiles and treating them like scum hurts everybody. It’s far better to treat pedophiles with compassion and understanding instead of fear and hatred. None of them chose to be pedophiles, and most are trying to do the right thing, even in the face of a hostile culture that despises them. It’s time the rest of us chose to do the right thing as well. After all, pedophiles are people too.

Resources:

Virtuous Pedophiles

Overcoming Pedophilia: Facts, Research, and Counseling Treatment Strategies

Understanding MRI Research on Pedophilia

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Avery

Avery

Avery is a 23 year old recent college graduate, and when he's not busy wishing he didn't major in physics, he enjoys go, juggling, and music.
You can find him on his blog, Google+, or on Twitter as @PhysicallyAvery.

24 Comments

  1. August 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm —

    I’m told that B4U-Act is also a good resource.

  2. August 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm —

    I’m not really comfortable with this article. As someone who was a victim as a child I really don’t want to hear about how great most pedophiles are.

    • August 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm —

      I think “X are people too” is far cry from talking about how great X are. In fact, if an article were devoted to saying it about any other group, we would consider it pretty weak tea. For example, “Poor people are people too”. Or, “Criminals are people too”.

      Criminals are a good example. Criminals are second-class citizens, and very well *should* be second class citizens. But they are still people, and we should still talk about criminal rights even if some victims of crimes don’t like it. With pedophiles and other people attracted to minors, we don’t know how many are criminals, but fewer than 100%, no? So why do we seem to consider them lower on the humanity scale than violent criminals?

  3. August 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm —

    I’ve been thinking along these same lines. I remember a year or so ago a big dust-up at TVTropes, when the owner realized that there was a lot of content on the site that appealed to pedophiles and decided to purge it (This was mostly animated material, so the argument wasn’t that children were abused to generate the material, but that it would arouse interests). Of course, he has every right to do so; it’s his site to do with as he wishes. The parts I had problems with was where he and most other people there demonized people for being pedophiles, which even got into the official consensus policy. You can see the full statement here (scroll down to the line that reads “Of course I know what porn is, but what the deuce is ‘paedoshit’ (or ‘pedoshit’) supposed to mean?”). This policy on its own isn’t too unreasonable compared to some of the things said in various forum threads when this was an issue, but it does demonstrate the prevailing attitudes very well, and it brings up a related ethical question of whether there’s anything wrong with material that appeals to pedophiles but doesn’t involve child abuse in its creation.

    I think a lot of this comes down to people not being able to, or not being willing to, think too hard about subtleties when it comes to moral issues. It’s a lot easier mentally to simply engage the moral centres of brain and rationalize afterward than it is to logically think through to a moral outcome. The problem is, these moral centres paint with very broad brushes. Child abuse is unquestionably bad – it violates the bodily autonomy of people that don’t have the ability to consent to it. In the face of something like this, emotions kick in, and careful thought goes out the window – “It’s caused by attraction to children, so attraction to children is a moral wrong.” Which, if one were to think logically about it, is like saying “Crime is caused by poverty, so being poor is a moral wrong” and ignoring all the well-off people who commit crimes and all the poor people who don’t crimes.

  4. August 24, 2013 at 4:55 pm —

    Sorry animated child porn normalizes the sexualization of children and should be banned as well. This whole article smacks of pedoapology and frankly its quite disgusting.

    • August 24, 2013 at 8:15 pm —

      Or an alternative just-so story with no evidence to support it: Being able to use animated child porn to satisfy their urges, pedophiles are then less likely to abuse actual children. Which of these stories are true? Maybe either, maybe neither, maybe both. As mentioned in the article, there’s a serious lack of research on factors concerning pedophilia, so we can’t say for sure.

      • August 26, 2013 at 12:00 am —

        It creates a child rape culture. Its painfully obvious to the point that it would be a waste of resources to research it. This whole post derails attention from where its needed, the victims of child abuse. So what there are some pedophiles who can manage to keep it in their pants, what do they want a fucking cookie for doing what they should be doing anyways? Frankly I don’t fucking care. Yeah they need treatment and they have a disease and some of them were abused too and that’s tragic but it does not excuse anyone from abusing and it doesn’t make that desire any less sick. We don’t hand out awards for not being amoral and i don’t think we should start now.

        • August 26, 2013 at 10:22 am —

          Not using blockqotes since they are still broken:
          “Its painfully obvious to the point that it would be a waste of resources to research it.”

          Infophile’s point it that this is actually not obvious, because there is no research and it is actually equally plausible with no prior information. One would think that, if we were actually interested in harm reduction and not just making sure everyone knows we really hate those paedophiles, research into possible means of preventing harm to real children would be seen a a positive thing.

          There also seems to be suggestive (if not conclusive) evidence that porn might reduce sexual violence generally. If that thesis were proven with further research, would you still object?

          Caveat: I have only seen some correlation studies re: porn, but am unaware of any further work, so if anyone knows about that please chime in.

          • August 26, 2013 at 10:50 am

            Blockquotes seem to be working fine for me. What issue are you having with them?

            Also, YES THIS to your comment.

          • August 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm

            In reply to Will:

            The problem with blockquotes is sporadic for me. Sometimes they work alright (like the one in your comment at the bottom of this thread), sometimes they appear blank. I’m running Firefox 23.0.1, in case that helps you figure out the issue.

          • August 26, 2013 at 1:50 pm

            Huh. Weird. Thanks! I’ll pass it along to Rebecca.

          • August 26, 2013 at 8:51 pm

            I am also using 23.0.1 Some quotes display but others are fifty lines of whitespace. I can’t tell what differentiates them. They all work in Chrome.

  5. August 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm —

    if i have to say something nice about this article, it’s at least you didn’t nitpick on what ephapehapebaepbaeibapeibaepbapeahilia is compared to pedophilia

    which is good, ephapbpppabeapbpobpobobobobopbbobpobobobphilia is much worse

  6. August 24, 2013 at 10:02 pm —

    When I used to be primarily a therapist, I worked at a rape crisis center. Several of my clients had been victims of child molestation, and (though a lot of evidence shows links between this, it’s not entirely clear why…) many of them found children sexually arousing as adults. Some had acted on their attraction, many had not. It was a huge struggle for them. A lot of them described it as a sexual orientation. As a therapist, you need to have major empathy for your client (even if you disagree with their actions) so I had to work through my initial knee-jerk reaction to pedophilia and sit with them as people.

    I don’t have answers to this issue, but I do think that blanket statements that adults who are sexually attracted to kids are evil is not useful. I generally subscribe to a lot of the same attitudes about it that are outlined in A History of Sexuality. Throughout cultures and time, attitudes about it have varied widely. It hasn’t always been seen as disgusting or inherently bad. Clearly, nowadays, adults should NOT abuse/molest children, or take advantage of them sexually even if said kids are “willing” or “consenting” (not able to consent legally, obviously). But it’s damn tricky, because pedophiliac practices used to be the norm in a whole lotta cultures, and not everyone raised into said cultures were hurt or damaged by these practices. Culture defines what is wrong and what is injurious, and our culture has definitely swung in the direction of adult sexual behavior with anyone under 18 being wrong and harmful.

  7. August 25, 2013 at 8:56 pm —

    “Culture defines what is wrong and what is injurious, and our culture has definitely swung in the direction of adult sexual behavior with anyone under 18 being wrong and harmful.”

    Could you cite a culture that sexualizes children and normalizes pedophilia without harm to children?

    To the OP: I’m unclear as to whether you see pedophilia as a pathology that should be treated, or as an orientation that should be unobjectionable.
    The stigma exists because of the need to protect children from harm. I don’t see any way to be an ‘out and proud’ pedophile and still be welcome to interact freely with kids, because their safety is going to be paramount. It’s fine to talk about research and statistics (definitely a lot more needs to be done to enhance understanding and risk management), but I wouldn’t leave an admitted pedophile alone with children. I don’t think it’s intolerance, I think it’s legitimate caution.

    • August 26, 2013 at 1:23 am —

      Sure, historically, the United States: http://www.sunypress.edu/pdf/60840.pdf If we were a culture where marrying 10-14 year olds was cool and a norm, guess what, we regularly sexualized children! Culture also defines, and redefines what a “child” is – and therefore, what age ranges are and are not ok for adults.

      Not saying that we should look at pedophilia from a cultural construction lens only. Obvs we’ve learned things since the early 1900s, and obviously child sexual abuse is very damaging, but it does seem weird to not take a more nuanced and contextualized look at this issue.

      • August 26, 2013 at 1:46 am —

        Yes, statutory rape laws have changed to recognize both harms and advances in neuroscience and our understanding of brain development. I’m not arguing against a nuanced approach, as long as harm reduction is the goal, with the recognition that an adult has real power over a child simply by virtue of being an adult. And adolescents aren’t adults. I’m not talking about sex between peers. The author at the link seems to be challenging the notion that children can’t consent, or that statutory rape does demonstrable harm, while providing no citations to refute all the evidence that it does real harm.

        And there was nothing in your link to support the assertion that marrying 10-14 year olds was a norm. Just that it was legal before women and children were considered something other than a kind of property.

        • August 26, 2013 at 10:23 am —

          You can look cross-culturally to find examples. The one that comes to my mind immediately are the various groups in Papua New Guinea who, as part of male initiation rites into adulthood, perform fellatio and swallow the semen of older boys and men. The Sambia, as studied by Gilbert Herdt, are one example.

          There is also the example of pederasty in ancient Greece.

          Child marriage is a norm in many societies around the world.

    • August 26, 2013 at 10:44 am —

      I just want to reiterate this because I think it is a valid concern and critique of Avery’s post, and I hope Avery will address it at some point. =)

      To the OP: I’m unclear as to whether you see pedophilia as a pathology that should be treated, or as an orientation that should be unobjectionable.
      The stigma exists because of the need to protect children from harm. I don’t see any way to be an ‘out and proud’ pedophile and still be welcome to interact freely with kids, because their safety is going to be paramount. It’s fine to talk about research and statistics (definitely a lot more needs to be done to enhance understanding and risk management), but I wouldn’t leave an admitted pedophile alone with children. I don’t think it’s intolerance, I think it’s legitimate caution.

      • August 26, 2013 at 9:28 pm —

        What I got from the article (though this may be my confirmation bias talking), is that paedophilia is an orientation that cannot be “treated” in the sense of being changed or eliminated. That is a separate issue from whether or not actually fulfilling the desires is morally objectionable.

        Conflating these issues is not really useful, and it does nothing to solve any real life problems of abuse. I often get the sense that many queer and queer-positive people are desperately afraid to use the word “orientation” for paedophilia (or zoophilia, or whatever really problematic orientation), because they (for historically justified reasons) don’t want to risk being tarred with the same brush or give ammo to fundagelical nutjobs (“see, we told you the child-molesters would be next in line after them queers!”). You even hear the same people decry as shameful and horrific what the UK government did to Alan Turing while advocating the same treatment (or worse) for paedophiles as a pre-emptive measure.

        It seems to me that there are few things more important than doing the necessary research to solve the problem in the most humane way possible for everyone, especially if it involves something as simple as fiction and/or artificial images.

        In b4 OMG u loves teh ped0s, because seriously, come on.

        • August 27, 2013 at 3:05 am —

          I agree that conflating the issues is a real problem.
          These conversations are going to be explosive, because survivors of childhood sexual abuse are going to object to anything that seems to give their abusers (and people like them) comfort or cover. That’s leaving aside the deeply triggering effects of stumbling across media and accounts. It’s a difficult balancing act, respecting survivors while trying to suss out ways to ameliorate the number of walking wounded.

    • August 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm —

      Hi, sorry I couldn’t respond to your question sooner. I’ve been extremely busy with college (which just started this week).

      To your first question, on whether pedophilia is a pathology or an orientation, my opinion is that there isn’t enough evidence to really make a case for any one side. There are plenty of arguments for and against every possible position, and until we actually do some research, we’ll never know for sure. In fact, I think that many, if not all, of the discussions about pedophilia could be greatly illuminated with solid research.

      Secondly, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “unobjectionable.” If you mean, should sex with minors be legal, then I absolutely do not believe that. In no way am I advocating for legalized child abuse; that would be a monstrous thing to do.

      Lastly, with regards to your comment about not leaving an admitted pedophile alone with children, I’m curious if you would change your mind if there was research suggesting that most pedophiles never abuse a child. For instance, if there was a study that showed that only 5% of pedophiles ever abused a child, would this be a low enough number for you to entrust a child’s safety with one? What if that number was 1%? 0.1%? How low of a number would that statistic have to be for you to trust a pedophile with children? Could you ever trust a pedophile with children, regardless of how low that number is?

      And now, a parallel. What percentage of the population do you think are thieves? 5%? 1%? Certainly, we’ve all, at some point in our lives, been tempted to take things that didn’t belong to us. Regardless, most of us seem perfectly willing to invite strangers into our homes on occasion, and even leave them unsupervised at times. How often do we let TV repair people, or electricians, or plumbers, into our houses or apartments to fix things, and then go into a different room? It happens fairly regularly, and yet no one bats an eye.

      Furthermore, we apply an entirely different standard to people that we know. If we’re familiar with someone, and know them to be a trustworthy person, we would not suspect them of attempting to steal our possessions. In fact, we may trust them enough to lend them some of our belongings, with the justified expectation that those belongings will be returned. Similarly, I believe that if the pedophile in question is a person that you know and trust, it’s entirely reasonable to leave them with children, in exactly the same way that I can leave my friends alone with my most treasured possessions with the expectation that they won’t steal them.

      Now, it’s certainly possible that the number of pedophiles that abuse children is much higher than 5%. It might be 10%, or 50%, or even 80%. If the number were that high (and I suspect that it is), I would say that mistrust is certainly warranted, especially if you know nothing else about that person. However, if you’re unwilling to let a pedophile be alone with children, no matter how low that number is, and also no matter how trustworthy they otherwise are, I think you might be applying a bit of a double standard.

      • August 28, 2013 at 4:59 am —

        Thanks for the reply.
        I mostly agree with you, except for this:

        “And now, a parallel. What percentage of the population do you think are thieves? 5%? 1%? Certainly, we’ve all, at some point in our lives, been tempted to take things that didn’t belong to us. Regardless, most of us seem perfectly willing to invite strangers into our homes on occasion, and even leave them unsupervised at times. How often do we let TV repair people, or electricians, or plumbers, into our houses or apartments to fix things, and then go into a different room? It happens fairly regularly, and yet no one bats an eye.

        Furthermore, we apply an entirely different standard to people that we know. If we’re familiar with someone, and know them to be a trustworthy person, we would not suspect them of attempting to steal our possessions. In fact, we may trust them enough to lend them some of our belongings, with the justified expectation that those belongings will be returned. Similarly, I believe that if the pedophile in question is a person that you know and trust, it’s entirely reasonable to leave them with children, in exactly the same way that I can leave my friends alone with my most treasured possessions with the expectation that they won’t steal them.

        Now, it’s certainly possible that the number of pedophiles that abuse children is much higher than 5%. It might be 10%, or 50%, or even 80%. If the number were that high (and I suspect that it is), I would say that mistrust is certainly warranted, especially if you know nothing else about that person. However, if you’re unwilling to let a pedophile be alone with children, no matter how low that number is, and also no matter how trustworthy they otherwise are, I think you might be applying a bit of a double standard.”

        That’s not a double standard, because someone stealing isn’t anywhere near the level of harm caused by someone raping a child. I would rather have everything I own stolen a thousand times over than have one of my kids raped. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, or unusual. It’s a responsibility to the helpless and vulnerable.

        • August 28, 2013 at 7:37 am —

          I agree, that is a weak parallel. For some reason theft is a popular choice when trying to make parallels to rape, even though it is such a different kind of thing. I mean, I just had a similar thing happen to me a few weeks ago where an acquaintance stole something of mine while my back was turned, and though it was a violation believe me it was nothing like getting raped.

          A more apt question might be: let’s say pedophiles have sex with minors ate a rate similar to that at which men in the general population rape women. Now what?

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