It tends to be the case that the less a society can speak about something, the more it insidiously festers beneath the surface.
So I want to talk about this. Because I think we have to. I think we need to learn more about it, research it and help those who suffer from it. To engage with paedophiles, both those who feel bad about their desires and those who don’t.
But we’ll get to all that in a minute. First, here’s an unfortunate segue to the Christian clergy.
I’ve heard self-described ‘progressive’ Christian ministers/pastors talk about why they stand by the teaching that homosexual acts are a sin, and therefore, why they support Christian counselling that will help people not be gay. Or at best, not to do gay things.
Most Christian clergy seem to argue that simply wanting to sin is not hell-worthy; it’s only doing the crime that gets you (after) life imprisonment in hell. In other words, some churches teach that God won’t condemn people for being gay, he’ll only condemn them for succumbing to the temptation.
Other sins are the same – like murder for instance. In fact, in both cases they’re saying, “I know you want to put that thing inside him, but actually stab him with it, and you’re in trouble.”
The two main issues I have with this kind of reasoning are:
1. It makes desire-for-immoral-acts irrelevant to morality, and;
2. It means there’s no recourse for those who want to change their desire for immoral acts.
And please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that people who are gay should want to change (or that it’s even possible). This is just an illustration of a way of thinking.
So what I am saying is that intention and a potential offender’s desire not to, are both things we would consider in other arenas of morality and justice. To run with this article’s theme, if a person had a desire to have sex with a child, then I’d say their desire to do that has a large part in whether they will. I’d also say that we should be able to provide ways with which that person could change those immoral desires, or at the very least, have places they can go to talk about it.
This is why I want to talk about paedophilia.
Paedophilia is not a crime, it’s a psychiatric diagnosis. It describes a person who has a sexual preference/desire (sometimes exclusively) for children. Nowhere in the USA, UK, Europe or Australia can you be charged with wanting to have sex with a child. You only commit a crime when you act on that desire.
That’s all I want to say about the criminal side of this topic. Instead, let’s talk about a hypothetical teenage boy. At 12 this boy has secret fun touching other boys’ and girls’ genitalia. It feels a bit naughty and it’s stimulating without being sexual. It’s harmless. At 14 he finds his younger sister’s friends more attractive than kids his own age. At 16 and 17 and 21, he’s still only attracted to those much younger children of 6 or 7.
The whole world condemns this desire and so he naturally feels intensely ashamed of it. He’s also very aware that if he acts on this desire, he’ll do irreparable hurt to those children. Who could he even talk to? The shame alone would be crippling. At 16 he’s already going to be self-conscious about his sexuality, without this deeply troubling complication. What would a teacher or a school counsellor do if he spoke to them? What would his parents think? His friends?
I can only imagine the effects of having to repress those desires so completely, or in fact, not repressing them and living with the guilt of that means.
So then, at 21, he’s a man. Now, legally and morally, admitting to these desires could be even more devastating than it was before. Even if he wants to see a psychologist/psychiatrist, there’s a chance that he’ll be judged a danger to others and reported to the police. Who would take such a risk?
So where could this person go? Even if we say there’s no hope for him, no chance he could ever be changed, where could he go for help with how to manage it? Have you ever heard of a place that provides support for paedophiles? There are a few around, but too few. And it’s understandable given the stigma that surrounds the subject.
Even those in professions that would (should?) be first in line to provide psychological support for those suffering from a psychiatric condition (e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counsellors) will face the associated stigma of paedophilia, so pervasively does it infected us. Not only would someone have to be comfortable telling their friends and colleagues that they provide paedophiles with support, but they’d have to be okay with the strong possibility that one day their client will not respond completely to their treatment and end up acting on his paedophilic desires.
I’m certainly not the first to suggest it, but this is sort of a blackhole in psychological practice. People are happy to judge, condemn and punish people who are charged with child-abuse crimes. People research the causes and correlations with paedophilia. But unfortunately, this research usually has the aim of identifying (potential) criminals, not developing effective therapy for those who suffer from the condition.
So when I say I want to talk about, counsel, support and research paedophilia, it comes from two places: a genuine desire to help others find greater peace or self-develop (why I’m a therapist to begin with), and; responding to what is a definite blind spot in psychological practice’s field of view.
If you agree that this is an issue, then I encourage you to bring it up with people. Can you imagine how hard it is for paedophiles who want help? Who could they even talk to?
I understand that even doing that could make people look at you funny or they might assume that you’re harbouring paedophilic tendencies, but getting people to reflect on those sorts of judgements is the first battle. Maybe the next time someone mentions paedophilia around them, they’ll ask the same question.