Salon recently published an article titled I’m a pedophile, but not a monster. The author, Todd Nickerson, shared his story about being an “anti-contact” pedophile, i.e. someone sexually attracted to children who is against engaging in any sexual activity with them.
Nickerson begins the article by talking about his disability (he was born without a right hand), his difficultly fitting in with other children, and finally an instance of sexual abuse by a family friend. I give him credit for that approach. He tried to humanize himself after stating his attraction to children. I doubt it worked, but at least he tried.
He went on to then state:
It’s easy to assume that pedophilia is always the result of some early sexualization or abuse, and certainly there seems to be a connection in some cases. However, evidence suggests there’s no magic bullet that pedophilia can be traced back to. For every pedophile who was sexually abused as a child there’s another who wasn’t. Likewise, most abuse victims never manifest pedophilic desires. Some researchers surmise that pedophilia can be traced back to genetics. Others believe the cause is congenital, and still others that it’s environmental. Personally, I think the ultimate cause is likely some combination of those, and that it varies from person to person.
I agree. His assessment matches what I read over the years and what I experienced as a child. No one know precisely what causes a person to become attracted to prepubescent children. It obviously does not serve a biological function. It does not serve a social function since most children have no understanding or general interest in sex in the way most adults do. It does not even serve much of a cultural function, unless one has a cultural practice similar to that of the Afghan bacha bazi. Yet even in those cases, the cultural interest is largely in the power demonstrated by having so many boys and not the boys themselves.
It more likely that there may be a biological abnormality that causes a person to fail to age their attraction as they get older. As Nickerson notes, many pedophiles notice something is off about their attraction when they enter puberty. It could be that whatever gene that should turn on or off either fails to or does not do so all the way (as most pedophiles still have age-appropriate interests). This would leave the person with an abnormal attraction that could easily worsen:
Another issue is the role feelings of inadequacy play in forming our sexuality. Pedophilia may not arise from such fears (otherwise there’d be a lot more pedophiles), but those fears can certainly reinforce it. I think it’s safe to say that many pedophiles have deep-seated feelings of inferiority in one way or another, or at least we did when our sexuality was forming, and this becomes a downward spiral during puberty and beyond. Anything can be the trigger of this: disabilities, weight issues, or just general feelings of unattractiveness to peers. These feelings can be influential on one’s developing sexuality, such that even the severe cultural taboo is not enough to override it. Indeed, the taboo itself can negatively influence these vulnerable children.
This also tends to be true. For example, sex offenders ostracized by their community are more likely to re-offend than those who have a support network. One can see how our perceptions of pedophiles, specifically the way we talk about and treat them, could lead a person with those feelings to turn inward. Once that happens, whether they progress to the point of hurting a child is largely dependent on their base personality. If they care more about alleviating their lack of intimacy than accepting that the object of their attraction cannot consent, it is possible they could turn to assault. Should they do so, that leads to them hearing things like this:
I recall an event from when I was 11, sitting in the family jeep with my dad and his friend Andy when a news piece on the radio reported the sexual abuse of a girl, to which my dad said to his friend something like, “They should take people like that and place weights on top of their genitals until they smash.” Pretty horrific imagery for an 11-year-old to process, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with the abuser. After all, I could recall my own molestation perfectly, and I hardly felt it warranted that kind of response.
Therein lies the problem with Nickerson’s approach. I agree with him that people’s reaction toward hearing about abusers is often overblown. I have no desire whatsoever to defend those who hurt children. I also have no desire to see the people who hurt me have weights placed on their genitals until they smash. While I cannot say I love the people who hurt me, I genuinely do not want to see them suffer. I am not alone in this regard.Many abuse survivors feel this way.
Yet for Nickerson, the comment comes across differently. Instead of seeing this as an 11-year-old protecting his own experience onto the girl’s story and reacting from that perspective, people will assume that this is adult Nickerson feeling sympathy for one of his own.
That sentiment will continue to plague people like Nickerson, and as he notes it can easily backfire. Someone who does not intend to have sex with children may become defensive and double down on their feelings. Instead of the person trying to find an acceptable outlet or managing their attraction, they may take the “I’m not like that!” stance, which could potentially lead to them to rationalize bad thoughts, which in turn could lead to abuse.
Some may read my comments and assume I am siding with Nickerson and pedophiles. That is not the case. I simply understand the situation they are in. They have feelings they cannot act on and cannot talk about without people wanting to literally kill them. Just the admission of those feelings puts them at risk. They are in a no-win situation.
I frequently remind people that convicted sex offenders are not monsters; they are people. I see no reason why that would not apply to those who have never harmed a child. I would not tell anyone to empathize with them, only to muster some pity as these people did not choose to be this way.
I also think it is important to listen to people like Nickerson because I suspect that the majority of pedophiles do not abuse children. Merely having a desire does not mean one will act on it. There are millions of people who choose celibacy for a variety of reasons, and yet the majority of them do not hurt others. I suspect the same is true of most pedophiles. They may have the attraction yet choose not to act on it.
The problem for Nickerson and others like him is if they choose to act on it. Unlike someone who is straight or gay, a pedophile’s intended interest cannot consent to the act. This is not a situation where two teenagers want to have sex. This is a situation in which a 20-year-old is sexually attracted to a 9-year-old. A child that age lacks any understanding of sex, let alone the desire to have it. Even if the child did want to have sex, they are not physically or emotionally developed enough to deal with what that entails. They simply do not understand it.
Yet the situation is much worse because pedophiles are not only interested with sex with children. They also want a relationship with the child. Try to imagine how that would work. Try to imagine the things an adult wants and is interested in compared to that of a child. Any parent or anyone frequently around children can tell you the impossibility of this desire. A child simply does not think that way. They can pretend, however, they will not understand.
This is particularly true when it comes to bonds. Let us say someone has this relationship with a child. What if the person’s interest is only in 9 to 12-year-old girls? What happens when the girl turns 13? Do they break off the relationship? Do they stop the sex? Do they bring in another girl?
If you have a moment, go and read some of the stories survivors tell about their experiences. One of the most common elements of hurt is the moment the abuser suddenly cuts off contact. The child does not understand that they simply aged out of the person’s preference range. Instead, they think they did something wrong. It traumatizes them and ruins their ability to bond with others.
This is why this is so wrong. It is not just a matter of people thinking about the worst scenarios (like serial rapists who murder their victims) and projecting that onto every pedophile. It is also a matter of the child being incapable of engaging in any of the behavior the pedophile wants. This is so obvious that even cultures that allowed sex with children like Ancient Greece and feudal Japan had rules about how one could engage in sexual activity with them.
More so, every pedophile does not agree with no contact:
In the midst of that dark era in my life, I discovered an unhealthy pedophile forum. Nothing illegal was happening there, but many of its most influential members were pro-contacters, meaning they believed that sex with children was theoretically OK and supported the elimination of age of consent laws. That forum still exists and I won’t name it here, but suffice it to say, I found myself taking up the same pro-contacter chants, if only to feel like I belonged somewhere. At the time it was all that was available in terms of an actual pedophile community, and I had nothing left to lose by joining the cause, misguided though it was, and even decided to out myself on that forum. Over the ensuing years, though, I was often at odds with the pro-contacters and flitted in and out of their clique; I wanted desperately to be friends with people who shared my sexual orientation, even if they held crazy beliefs, but I could never quite reconcile with their viewpoint.
That experience is precisely the reason why our current approach is a bad one. If someone lacked moral standards or rationalized having sex with children, imagine the impact a forum like that would have on them. While it would not guarantee they would offend, it could certainly increase the chances, especially if they are in an unstable condition.
It is much better to allow people to say these things aloud than drive them into hiding. We can do something about them, perhaps help them, if they share their feelings. If they bury themselves in the deepest corners of the internet and surround themselves with like minds, the chances of this turning bad increase.
Nikcerson eventually found a site that provided that positive outlet, where he currently acts as a moderator. For reasons of decency towards both the survivors who read this blog and to those who use the pedophile forum, I will not name or link to the site. If you are interested, you may follow the link from Salon’s website.
I take no issue with the site. I think it serves a needed purpose, and I hope that the people using it find some solace. They do have my sympathy. It must feel terrible to have such feelings and not only be unable to act on them, but also to be despised by all of society for what you think yet have no intention of doing.
Where I disagree is with the notion that we should normalized this position. I would not say that every pedophile is such a threat that they can never be around children. I would say, however, that if you know someone is attracted to 5-year-old boys and they regularly express such interest it would be unwise to allow them to babysit a 5-year-old boy. This is the same logic one would apply with a person who frequently spoke about breaking bones. This may not be the person one wants working in law enforcement or martial arts training.
While I would not condone anyone acting on those impulses, I cannot fault them for wanting to talk about their feelings. Yet I fail to see the broader benefit of talking about feelings only to be told to never act on them. This did not work with the Church and its stance on sex outside of marriage or homosexuality. It does not seem to work in instances where people choose celibacy either. Having the option to talk about it seems to provide some comfort. Constantly talking about it seems to make the pain much worse.
It is not that I think that these people will offend so much as I find it masochistic. Why punish yourself in such a manner? Why constantly bring up something you will never be able to act on? Most pedophiles are not solely attracted to children, so I would think it would be best to focus on the appropriate attractions rather than talking about the ones you cannot act on.
Granted, I do not know what kind of conversations they have on the forum, so perhaps it is not a bleak as I think.
Where I do take issue is the very publishing of this article. I understand Nickerson’s position. He does not want people to fear and likely hurt him for what he thinks but never acts on. Yet why did Salon publish this?
Many conservative outlets share my confusion, and my conclusion. Like them, I took Salon’s publishing of this article as an attempt to “normalize” pedophilia as just another orientation. I freely admit this is unfair, yet Salon, like many progressive spaces, is not beyond pushing misguided agendas for the sake of the politically correct concept of “diversity”. I doubt that was the intention, however, I cannot shake the feeling that it might have been.