There are a lot of voices that protest that all pedophiles are monsters, subhuman, or not worthy of life. But, isn’t this position forgetting that a person’s impulses do not equal their personality, does it not ignore chances for change or creating strategies help both pedophiles and society better coexist? Could it be that society’s inability to discuss the problem, or deal with people who have those kinds of urges, is directly connected with many of them turning their desires into an abusive reality?
The vast majority of pedophiles, like the vast majority of sadists, or whatever noun we would use to describe those into bestiality, do not act on their impulses. The vast majority of people, regardless of sexual orientation or proclivities, are not alright with others suffering long-term loss or damage just so that their urges are fulfilled. I may be attracted to women, but that in no way signifies that I would ever force sexuality on or sexually exploit a woman: why should we make this kind of assumption about pedophiles?
Most pedophiles subdue their urges, and speak to few or no friends about it. Much like when talking about serial killers: it is not the urges themselves that necessarily create the problem, but instead the facts about how these urges are dealt with. If the urges are allowed absolutely no contact with reality, with reflection and exchange with others: it leads to a separation between these urges and reality. This separation can create a fractured view of reality, allowing the person to internalize ways of seeing and acting in the world in a way that allows them to abuse and harm others without negatively impacting their self-image.
How can we protect ourselves and our children from them if we don’t let them talk about it with us?
Do they not see themselves as any worse because they have rejected society’s view, or because they have identified so much with the negative identity connected to their thoughts that their actions cannot further impact it? This is a question we cannot yet answer, especially because relatively little research has been carried out on the topic. As famous serial killer Ed Kemper said: if you think and want these things, then please talk to a friend and get them outside of you.
Part of the problem might be that we immediate stamp people with these kinds of thoughts as bad, pushing them into either rejecting society’s view of everything or seeing themselves as a bad person. Both of which can lead to them accepting abusive behavior as being alright. If a person who has a pedophilic sexuality comes to be forced to see themselves as bad or to simply reject societal norms, it becomes easier to see themselves as bad than to try to pretend they do not feel how they do.
Could the stigma associated with the feelings be associated with an increased chance of affected individuals becoming abusive towards others? Could this be reduced if we were to understand that what someone does is more important than their impulses? To focus on creating strategies instead of trying to punish. Could this be the reason why a significant connection between actual child molesters and low-self esteem was found in a Queensland University study, and that improvements related to reduced recidivism (or reduced re-offending) seemed to be connected to changes in self-image?
Maybe the complete villainization of pedophiles, same as the villainization of criminals, is doing far more damage than good. There is reason to think this, and doing so simply requires us to draw parallels with different forms of effective rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. If you force people to see themselves as bad, worthless, or unacceptably different: you are encouraging them to move further in the direction of becoming anti-social. By stigmatizing the conditioning instead of the behavior, we “radicalize” those who suffer from thoughts they do not want, and prevent them from reaching out and getting help.
Certainly, we are doing no one any favors by dehumanizing people who haven’t hurt anyone, or those who want to take responsibility for their actions and improve. Forcing these people into isolation and preventing them from coming to terms with their problems, prevents them from taking ownership of their thoughts and actions while still seeing themselves as good people. This dehumanization certainly increases the chances of these people doing bad things and keeping it all secret. Much like dealing with pornography or sexual abuse, transparency and public discourse present the best course of action.
None of us is perfect, and even though many of us are lucky enough to not have too many socially unacceptable fantasies: this doesn’t necessarily make us better people. What we do with our thoughts, our impulses, and what we create in the greater world, decides far more about our interpersonal value than whatever happens within our heads. Society is not harmed by peoples’ thoughts, but by their actions. Shouldn’t we then do our best to foster honesty and openness? We do not know exactly what causes pedophilia, but we do know what causes it to spill over into reality. We should aim to foster responsibility and respect, instead of pretending everything is perfect and forcing people in danger of being dangerous into the most risky caverns of their minds?