Child sexual abuse is not exactly part of my regular Voice, or at least probably doesn’t seem like it. But bear with me.
I read a piece a little over a year ago at Matter that talked about the absolute lack of resources for a non-offending pedophile or hebephile. Non-offending means the person hasn’t yet acted on that attraction. Hebephilia refers to intense and persistent sexual interest in “pubertal minors,” or children who are entering puberty, typically around ages 11-14. Pedophilia, even though society uses it to mean any sexual attraction to children, actually refers to “pre-pubertal” children or children under the age of 11.
If the idea of a non-offending pedophile or hebephile doesn’t make sense to you, consider it this way: They have a sexual attraction but are not committing criminal acts. It’s rather like a man or woman who is attracted to another man or woman but doesn’t rape them.
Not so outlandish now, is it?
Luke Malone wrote a stunning piece, very well done, and it made me think about the problem that someone like that might face. The article pointed out that the well-intentioned mandatory reporting laws across the country are probably preventing many young men (and women) from getting any help with their feelings.
That makes total sense if you think about it. Our criminal justice system focuses on picking up the pieces after someone has been hurt. There’s very little done towards actual prevention of crime. Likewise, too many people are frightened of the consequences if they’re aware of a non-offending pedophile and don’t report them, and they later offend – which is a nice way of saying that they abuse, or molest, or rape a child. Then we’ll treat them. Then we’ll ask, “How could we have prevented this?” But right now, if someone says “This is what I need help with,” we basically shun them.
What if we were able to help someone like that?
Don’t we owe it to victims and offenders alike to do everything in our power to prevent the hideousness that is child sexual abuse?
Or should we just weep and wail and wring our hands the next time a child is hurt?
I was reminded of the Matter story recently when I read a piece at Vice that linked back to it. The Vice article examined how non-offending pedophiles are using various online communities and games to deal with their compulsion and try to somehow keep themselves from hurting someone.
Writer Cecilia D’Anastasio quoted leading pedophilia expert Dr. Michael Seto in Ottawa as saying “pedophilia can be viewed as a sexual orientation along the axis of age rather than gender… There’s no evidence to suggest that people can change their pedophilia, just like there’s no evidence that someone can change their gender orientation.”
So what are we doing about it?
What are we doing to try and help someone who admits they have an attraction they know they cannot ever act upon?
Not much, as it turns out, which is the crux of both articles.
Destigmatize The Act of Asking For Help
There’s The Prevention Network in Germany, which interestingly doesn’t have mandatory reporting laws. Malone’s article suggested that lack of reporting makes it easier for non-offenders to seek help.
The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, led by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, is working on research towards causes and prevention. But Malone points out that to do the research that needs to be done, one must apply for and receive a federal exemption from reporting laws. In the last 40 years, the federal government has only granted one exemption for pedophilia research, and that study ended in 1985. Letourneau is working on a research project though.
She wrote in this 2014 piece in Time, “The best prevention programs focus on the individuals at highest risk of offending. But to get those individuals into an intervention, we must destigmatize the act of asking for help. The problem behavior must remain stigmatized, of course. But the act of asking for help should be met with encouragement and effective professional interventions.”
B4U-ACT and Virtuous Pedophiles are two support groups available in the States, but the actions of Judith Reisman, an activist associated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, well illustrate the troubles those groups face. In a 2011 story at WorldNetDaily, she called B4U-ACT a “sexual anarchist lobby.” How can a researcher respond to that?
If we’re going to do more than pay lip service to protecting children and preventing crime, we’ve got to recognize that there are people with this attraction who aren’t acting on it, who don’t want to act on it, and want to get help to keep from acting on it. That help has to be more than locking them up before they’ve actually done something wrong.
If they offend – if they touch a child sexually – then absolutely lock them up.
But if someone recognizes they have a mental illness and asks for help, we must help them.
- Facing Disturbing Truths About Pedophilia Could Help Us Keep Kids Safer; Pacific Standard, 2015
- Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime; New York Times Op-Ed, 2014
- Pedophiles Need Help More Than Handcuffs; Huffington Post Canada, 2013
- How Can We Stop Pedophiles?; Slate, 2012
- Meet Pedophiles Who Mean Well; Salon, 2012
- Therapy for Pedophilia: “I Hate My Desires – They Make Me Sick”; Der Speigel, 2006
- Celibate Pedophiles blog