Originally posted on August 29, 2013
The Atlantic published two articles about pedophilia recently. The first featured convicted pedophile David Goldberg discussing whether those who view child pornography should face long prison terms. The second featured an interview with Dr. James Cantor discussing whether pedophilia is a sexual orientation.
(Before I comment on the articles, I must say that I am curious as to whether feminists will pitch a collective fit over the Atlantic’s articles like they did when the Good Men Project tried a similar experiment. I suspect they will not.)
In his article, Goldberg described his obsessive need to collect child pornography. He spent every night online searching for new images and videos or looking through his own collection. He got caught when he ordered films with naked boys in them, although the films were not pornographic.
I found his arrest curious. I am not familiar with Canadian law, so I do not know if the government prohibits any depiction of nude children. However, if the films were benign, I fail to see why they would be flagged. Goldberg does not state what exactly he purchased, but I am inclined to assume that it was something more than just the random scenes with nude boys. I would like to know what exactly prompted the police to pay him a visit.
Goldberg goes on to state:
The most important thing I’ve discovered in the 15 months since my arrest isn’t the why, but rather what can be done to change the preconceptions and misconceptions that society has when it comes to pedophiles. Most people hear that word and think of the Jerry Sanduskys and abusive Catholic priests of the world. Fewer people think about the millions who grapple with sexual feelings on which they can never act. When someone hears the word “pedophile”, they immediately think of a child molester. Yet the majority of pedophiles do not molest, but instead spend hours looking at child pornography. And as those numbers grow, so does the number of child victims.
I doubt that the majority of pedophiles spend hours looking at child pornography. That would require them to be compulsive, and it is unlikely that all men and women sexually attracted to children would compulsively seek sexual gratification.
It is more likely that some pedophiles suffer from some psychological issue that prompts such compulsive behavior, while most are discernibly no different from the general population, and likely can control their behavior. That does not mean that some or many of them do not collect or view child pornography, only that I think this probably plays out the same way it does with other sexual orientations.
The latter is a problem for many people as “sexual orientation” has a specific political meaning in our society. As Dr. Cantor explains in his interview:
“Sexual orientation” means different things in different contexts. When they say “sexual orientation,” most people mean a sexual interest that is inborn and unchangeable. No one chooses to be sexually attracted to children, although people do choose whether they act on their sexual attractions. Therapists have been attempting to turn pedophiles into non-pedophiles for a very long time, but no one has presented any objective evidence of any enduring change in sexual interests. People can learn self-control, people can take sex-drive-reducing medications, and people can learn how to live more healthy and productive lives, but we do not appear to be able to change the pedophilia itself.
He goes on to explain what he thinks causes pedophilia:
The best current evidence suggests that pedophilia results from atypical wiring in the brain. This field of research is still very new, but it appears that there exists what could be considered a “cross-wiring” in the brain anatomy that is responsible for controlling natural social instincts or behavior. Although learning happens after birth, humans are pre-wired to recognize and respond to certain stimuli. It seems, from research conducted thus far, that stimuli that usually elicits nurturing and protective responses in most adults are instead eliciting sexual responses in pedophiles.
I would like to see that research because I want to know how specific the researchers were in using the label “pedophile.” The reason I find this important is because people use the term as catch-all for anyone who has sex with a minor. Some people, like me, attempt to limit this people sexually attracted to minors, yet we still use it as a catch-all for anyone attracted to a person under the age of 18.
However, pedophilia refers to the sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Hebephilia refers to sexual attraction to child just reaching puberty, while ephebophilia refers to sexual attraction to teenagers. If the researchers made no distinctions between the types of attraction, I think the findings could be misleading as the latter two sexual attractions may not stem from the same cause as pedophilia.
Dr. Cantor also mentions the problems pedophiles faces when seeking treatment:
Many jurisdictions have passed mandatory reporting regulations for psychologists and other health care providers. Consequently, when someone who thinks he might be a pedophile comes in for counseling or therapy, the psychologist may be compelled by law to report the person to the authorities. That, of course, can lead to loss of the person’s job, family, and everything else. So, these people have simply stopped coming in at all, and instead of getting help to them, we now have pedophiles circulating in society receiving no support at all.
I agree with Dr. Cantor. While I understand the logic behind mandatory reporting, if a person has not committed a crime, there is no reason to require anyone to report the person. No therapist is required to report someone expressing thoughts of blowing up hundreds of thousands of people, thoughts of mutilating people, drowning people, poisoning them, or a host of other violent acts. As Dr. Cantor notes later in the article, pedophiles are more likely to offend when they feel they have nothing to lose. This is also true of convicted pedophiles. They are more likely to re-offend when they have no other options available to them.
In other words, by making them pariah we may cause them to do the thing we do not want them to do. While I doubt most of these people are incapable of controlling themselves, those who are might seek help if they did not think they would be reported. If those men and women have not offended, I see no reason why we ought not provide them with confidential support with the understanding given to all other people: if you intend or imply that you will hurt yourself or others, you will be reported to the police.
This also goes back to Goldberg’s issue. He states:
Despite my arrest, I am one of the lucky ones. Because I was arrested in Canada, I was only given a 90-day sentence. Had I been arrested in the U.S., I could have served many years with hardened criminals. My family and friends stood by since my arrest and love and accept me, despite my sexual flaws.
How many millions of pedophiles throughout the world aren’t as lucky as I? How many will never seek help, too scared of the legal and social consequences? How many will continue to create the demand that fuels a malicious child pornography market? Is locking them away for a while the answer? Will the day ever come when we, as a society, reach out and offer them the help they so desperately need?
I agree with Goldberg. Placing people who view child pornography in prison for decades does little to prevent further abuse, and it only makes that person’s life worse than it already is.
Understand, there are images of me and my siblings on the internet. I know this because I have been asked about it by someone who deals with such crimes. I also know because I remember the photos and videos being shot. I used to wonder when I was younger whether people staring at me did so because of how I looked or what I wore or because they recognized me from those pictures.
So I understand the violation of having those images out there, being traded now, while some woman or man gets off on them. I also, however, understand that vast majority of people who will see those images did nothing to me and likely will not do anything to any child. It makes no sense then to punish them more harshly than we do those who actually made the images.
Yet we do, and it proves absolutely pointless. Those making the images get to continue to abuse children while someone like Goldberg gets labeled a sex offender for thinking about having sex with a child.
The money we spend locking these people up could be better spent treating them by teaching them how to not act on their impulses. We can then take the rest of that money and use it to find people who actually abused children.
The 90-day sentence seems a little lax, but the 10 to 20-year sentences we see some people getting for possessing child pornography are absurd. There is an easy middle ground we should go for, particularly since locking them up is not a deterrent.
That leaves us with the obvious issue: these people’s attraction towards children is not going to go away. That is an inherent problem because as society we are essentially telling them they can never act on their feelings. That is not working well.
Unfortunately for pedophiles, unless someone creates a robot that looks like a child or manages to stop people’s growth so they appear to be children but are technically adults, pedophiles have no option. A child simply cannot give informed consent to sex. That is not to say that they do not know what they are doing or are not interested in doing it. It is only to say that their ability to understand what they are doing is very low. No eight-year-old can understand what an adult relationship entails, let alone a sexual relationship. To force that on them is grossly unfair, and that puts pedophiles at a disadvantage because they can never act on their feelings with a genuinely consenting partner.