Paedophilia is an affliction, child molestation is a crime

Our visceral public hatred of paedophiles risks driving afflicted men underground and putting children at greater risk.

Our visceral public hatred of paedophiles risks driving afflicted men underground and putting children at greater risk

The shadow cast by the Savile affair and the prospect of a paedophile ring in government itself still hang dark over parliament.

As Cameron scrambles to deal with the realities of the internet age and legislate against loopholes in the law, it should be clear that Britain’s approach to paedophilia has not been working.

It’s a simple distinction, but it has been completely absent from any public discussion of paedophilia until just this month: that there is a real and important difference between paedophilia (meaning sexual interest in children) and child molestation.

The issue was introduced to the British public by a brave film aired on Channel 4 called The Paedophile Next Door, but is well recognised in academia.

The NSPCC supports a new approach, and a TV ad campaign in Germany is already calling men with paedophilic propensities into treatment before they harm a child.

Shockingly, here in the UK, we only offer assistance to paedophiles after they have offended – we wait for them to violate a child before intervening.

We cannot cure paedophiles, but we can help and treat them. There are indeed paedophilic persons who have stayed celibate, not committing crimes against children, who have remained in our society.

Failing to make the above distinction has made the public demonisation of innocent men socially acceptable. And properly considered, our visceral public hatred of paedophiles is most probably driving afflicted men underground and putting children at greater risk.

Scientific research indicates that paedophilia is what is known as an innate quality. It is not something paedophiles choose to be. Paedophilia is most frequently regarded as a form of sexual deviance, of which there are many forms, which the press and indeed most of us consider pretty ‘messed up.’

Yet, it’s something that I would consider an affliction. It is commonly described as an ‘illness’ after all, and is considered by many Psychiatric Associations as a ‘mental disorder.’

The Harvard Health Letter of July 2010 described paedophilia as a ‘sexual orientation’ and researchers in Canada testified that it should be recognized as such to the Canadian parliament in 2012.

Our society is currently however, pushing in all areas to ensure innate qualities are not punished in people. Words like homophobic, sexist and racist have only entered the public lexicon in the past century; and more recently, transphobia and Islamophobia.

We live in a progressive society that is making positive steps to ensure that people are not persecuted in any way because of arbitrary social or biological facts about them.

Not at all in a redistribution sense (if only), but there is a pervasive liberal convention that no one should be at all punished, disadvantaged or subordinated simply because of their religion, sexuality, race, disability or any other thing they can’t control.

We have made bold steps to ensure that disabled people are held back as little as possible. Afflictions, conditions and handicaps, sustained and innate, are treated with understanding and compassion. Recent campaigns to ‘end the taboo’ around mental illness and even the glory of the London Paralympics are testimony to this.

But is paedophilia a mental illness / disability too far? Can society really offer these people any help and hope, or must we solely ostracise and condemn them?

Sex crimes against children – venerable, innocent agents who don’t posses the ability to give consent – are some of the most unambiguous moral ‘wrongs’ that society can agree upon. Crimes most people find excruciating and sickening to contemplate, let alone imagine occurring in their community.

Acting on paedophilia is objectively wrong, in all contexts, historical and cultural. But remember, I am talking about the condition of being a paedophile – different from being a sex offender.

All paedophiles, regardless the crimes that they have or have not committed, are increasingly branded as the very embodiment of evil, because they posses a characteristic they did not choose.

We live in an age of anxious moral uncertainty. Long standing but blind historic clarity about right and wrong is dissolving and our pluralistic society is constantly manoeuvring between intolerance and relativism to preserve any sense of credibility or common purpose.

It is within this climate that the characterisation – stigmatisation – of the paedophile has emerged. A personification of evil that tabloids, cabinet ministers and parents at school gates can discuss with levels of moral certainty that they crave when touching upon other current topics. An unchallenged, black and white, hated stereotype of the paedophile has become the norm.

The ongoing legal and social crackdown on sex crimes against children is not a ‘witch hunt’. It’s well overdue. But as shocking as the ‘post Savile’  revelations are, we must be cautious of crude social stigmas at this time.

The only way to treat paedophiles and prevent their crimes is if paedophiles know they are different from child molesters.

If levels of sexual offences committed against children are observed to fall in Germany now this new approach has been implemented, there will be a strong moral, but also practical, case for our own society to begin to reconsider how we socially and legally deal with paedophilia.

Still very little is understood about the condition, but about one to five per cent of the male population is generally thought to suffer from it. Even less is known about female paedophiles. None, however, are born criminals and with the right support, many might be able to live on without committing terrible crimes against children.

Liam Deacon is a philosophy graduade, a communications student and blogger. Follow him on Twitter

4 Responses to “Paedophilia is an affliction, child molestation is a crime”

  1. Gary Scott

    It’ll always be controversial. I watched the documentary with interest. He was brave to speak out and I truly hope that others will seek treatment before offending. There are difficulties though. Treatment must be sought by those willing to commit to it and who genuinely wish to never offend or stop offending. It should not be wasted being pushed on the unwilling who merely wish to have a sentence reduced. The other danger is that the status of paedophile is misused. At the moment most people conflate the term with someone offending. I understand that ‘philias’ are an affliction and may have roots in psychological damage etc. But the worry, for me, is that groups similar to PIE may use this ‘affliction’ status to demand rights similar to those (quite rightly) sought for gay men and women, for example. Offenders in years gone by have hidden behind gay men. They claimed to have been victimised for being gay, when in reality gay men were victimised due to being wrongly conflated with paedophilia. Whatever we do it should be carried out with extreme care and be part of the NHS rather than part of the prisons or courts system.

  2. Mike Stallard

    It is worse than that. Look at your local Primary School. Once it was full of men teachers. Now probably none there at all. Scouts? Don’t make me laugh! A Headmaster recently was falsely accused and suspended for a year or so on the word of a child. The law suit proved his innocence but that was the end of his career. His family, of course, went through the same hell as he did, but nobody noticed.
    If you get a situation when any child can tell on a teacher or indeed male adult who they feel like, it really does pay to keep well clear of all children. It really does.

  3. O

    Professor Tromovitch and the psychologist Bruce Rind (of Temple University) in 1998 published an article based on a peer-reviewed meta-analysis of 59 studies which used the self-reported experiences of child sexual contact with adults by 35,703 college students. A substantial majority of the people in this study did not report any harmful effects of (non-coercive) sexual experiences (as opposed to victims of coercion), and a substantial minority even stated these intergenerational sexual contacts and relationships when they were children had a positive effect on their life. This article was published in the Psychological Bulletin, the official journal of the American Psychological Association (APA).

    Predictably, this caused a storm in the mass media and in the political elite. Apparently for the first time in US history, both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate condemned this scientific paper and threatened to withdraw funding from the APA, so the APA apologised for publishing it. 12 past and present presidents of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex sharply protested against the APA’s response to the public and political pressure surrounding the study, stating that it “cast a chill on all such research”. The American Association for the Advancement of Science refused APA’s request to review the study, stating they saw “no reason to second-guess the process of peer review used by the APA journal in its decision to publish” and that they “saw no clear evidence of improper application of methodology or other questionable practices on the part of the article’s authors”.

    More recently, the Harvard lecturer Susan Clancy came to the similar conclusions in her book “The Trauma Myth”. In the 1970s and 1980s, Donald West, Professor of Criminology from the University of Cambridge, advocated the abolition of the age of consent in scholarly books. See also Professor Richard Green’s article (he is a psychiatrist from Cambridge University and UCL) “Is Paedophilia a Mental Disorder”.

    In the words of Karin Freimond (“Navigating the Stigma of Pedophilia:
    The Experiences of
    Nine Minor-Attracted Men in Canada”, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Frasier University, 2013): “Many adults who are attracted to minors experience intense suffering as a result of contemporary attitudes about them and current methods of relating to them. Even when no crimes have taken place and no sexual interaction with people below the age of consent has occurred, people who are sexually interested in children and adolescents encounter incredible stigma. They experience fear about the possibility of their desires becoming known to others, and they cope with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. These individuals are often completely alone in dealing with their feelings, as they may be too worried about the negative consequences that could arise from talking to loved ones. Further, they may feel restricted in seeking help from therapists, as mandatory reporting laws in many jurisdictions require counsellors to report their clients to the police if they express sexual interest in children. If the nature of their sexuality is revealed, these people are at risk of experiencing physical violence, losing relationships with their friends and families, being fired from their jobs, and encountering financial destitution. The situation facing this population is troubling, and researchers argue that a new, more compassionate approach is needed in order to help people who are attracted to children lead more positive lives (see Cantor, 2012; Goode, 2010).”

    Much more pleasurable to dehumanise all the paedos regardless of their behaviour, to cage them or drive them to suicide. As Felix Guattari wrote (“A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari”), there is a certain “Jewishness” about paedophiles which provokes a “racist” reaction.

  4. Ann

    For a different perspective, see these two interesting YouTube videos:

    About a Minority – by Antipedophobe Aktion

    Let’s talk about pedophilia – by Jenn

    It is also interesting how almost everybody ignores or doesn’t know about the major meta-study of 35,000 people by Rind et al., the testimonials of positive relationships documented in a book by T.Rivas, the book by Theo Sandort (although the Guardian article “Paedophilia: Bringing dark desires to light” does mention it), etc. See also the Counterpunch article “Sexual fascism in progressive America” and the article by the Cambridge and UCL lecturer Richard Green, “Is paedophilia a mental disorder?” (including the bit about the bonobos) and Filip Schuster’s “Every fifth boy and man is pedophilic or hebephilic”.

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