by Ruth Murai
“Keep it to yourself. It’s disgusting. If you prayed hard enough, you wouldn’t be this way. You don’t have to be this way. It’s a choice.”
Slowly, yet surely our society is moving in a direction that makes it unacceptable to say any of the above statements to a person with regard to their sexuality. Sexuality is not a choice. It doesn’t matter if you identify as gay, straight, bisexual, assexual, or any of the 46+ terms for sexuality and gender identity listed on the online resource It’s Pronounced Metrosexual. It’s okay to be who you are. Unless, of course, you’re a pedophile. In which case, keep it to yourself. It’s disgusting.
Now, it’s true that pedophilia and other types of sexuality are not the same in that an act of pedophilia can never be mutually consensual. But without the act, pedophilia is at its core a sexual urge. Most people have sexual urges and can confirm that it would be difficult, if not impossible, not to act on or at least fantasize about their sexual desires. And let me be very clear; that’s not to say that child molesters should be acquitted or excused for acting upon a sexual desire for children, but it does beg the question: how can someone keep from acting on a strong sexual urge when it involves minors?
Currently there is little effort to answer this question. Of course the topic of pedophilia is taboo given the severity of acting upon this desire, but I would argue that the social stigma around the topic has become dangerous in itself. The only way to stop a pedophile from hurting children is if he or she has already hurt a child and been sent to jail, but by then it’s too late. If there was a better way to understand pedophilia, perhaps the urges could be subdued before any child becomes a victim. But consider that researchers like Elizabeth Letourneau have been called “pedophile sympathizers” for even trying to get funding to further explore pedophilia and possible treatment. Because of a lack of research, there aren’t even clear numbers that can tell us how many people are pedophiles. According to Cracked, some studies suggest it may be one percent of the population, while others report upwards of 20 percent. Either way, there are enough pedophiles to support four million child pornography websites and a 20 billion dollar international child pornography industry. Letourneau said on This American Life, “If we can prevent [pedophilia], we can prevent a lot of harm and a lot of cost. And we just don’t. It’s nuanced. It’s difficult to wrap your head around. It’s a lot easier to say these guys are monsters.”
Yet many of “these guys” aren’t monsters at all. Take, for example, the community found at virped.org, a group of men and women who consider themselves, “Virtuous Pedophiles” or pedophiles who would never act upon their desires. According to the website, “We do not choose to be attracted to children, and we cannot make that attraction go away. But we can resist the temptation to abuse children sexually, and many of us present no danger to children whatsoever. Yet we are despised for having a sexual attraction that we did not choose, cannot change, and successfully resist.”
Online communities are some of the only options for pedophiles who do not want to act upon their desires. Some pedophiles are able to seek therapy, but due to the lack of research in this area, there are no guidelines for therapists on how to treat pedophiles. And then, of course, there are the mandatory reporting laws that require anyone, even a therapist under doctor/patient confidentiality to make a report when they think a child may be in danger. Although these laws certainly help to elucidate cases in which a child is in danger, pedophiles who do not wish to act upon their desires are then discouraged from seeking professional treatment outside the anonymity of the internet, where they may be turned in to authorities for having desires, or in the case of states like California, they may be turned in for admitting to watching child pornography. In Germany there are no such laws, and PSAs that encourage pedophiles to come forward and seek help air on television. A German organization called Prevention Project Dunkelfeld (PPD) provides free therapy and help for those who are resisting the pedophilic urge. Although the lack of a reporting law and the PSAs that are run by PPD may seem to be lenient towards pedophiles, UNICEF reports that for every 2 children that die from maltreatment in Germany, 27 die in the U.S.
The fact is, save for chemical castration and anonymous online communities, there is little for pedophiles to do once they’ve realized their desire and chosen to resist it. Pedophile or not, what we can all do is make the conscious decision to stop the stigma around pedophilia in the hopes that one day people will be able to seek treatment, ensuring happier lives for those with unacceptable urges and a safer world for our children. When pedophilia is discussed in mass media I urge you to make the effort to remember the difference between a pedophile and a child molester. Understand and educate those around you, and help to remind them that having the urge does not imply the act.
Although it may seem like there is little hope and few options, I have found reason to believe in men like Craig. An admitted pedophile, 41-year-old Craig is a member of the VirPed community. In a letter to his 16-year-old self, Craig wrote, “You’re all right, even if you don’t always feel like it. Remember to believe in yourself and keep doing what’s right. It’s not exactly what you’ve been imagining so far, but trust me: you’re gonna have a life worth living.” Next time you hear the word pedophile spoken with the disdain and judgement that should be reserved only for those who act upon pedophilic desires, remember Craig’s words, and ask yourself if in some way, they don’t apply to you as well.
Sources: This American Life, Cracked, It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, BehaveNet, Unicef, VirPed, Boston Magazine