Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The problem of pedophilia

I'm torn between two reactions upon reading a report about a symposium held today in Baltimore. It was organized by a group called B4U-ACT, which describes itself as seeking to help those who are attracted to children and young people, both sexually and otherwise.

My initial reaction was anger and disgust, as I'd feel towards NAMBLA and similar organizations. The report about the symposium was couched in terms that appear designed to produce that reaction (its headline screamed "Academic conference seeks to normalize pedophilia"). I note that the report was circulated by an organization that describes itself as pro-life and pro-Christian.

However, on closer examination, B4U-ACT doesn't appear to support pedophilia in any way (at least, not according to their Web site). Instead, they claim to want to provide appropriate assistance and treatment to those voluntarily seeking help with their problem. You'll find their principles here if you're interested.

Today's symposium is described by B4U-ACT as follows:

This day-long symposium will facilitate the exchange of ideas among researchers, scholars, mental health practitioners, and minor-attracted persons who have an interest in critical issues surrounding the entry for pedophilia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. The symposium will address critical issues in the following areas:

  • Scientific and philosophical issues related to the DSM entry on pedophilia and/or hebephilia
  • Effects of the DSM entry on stigma, availability of mental health services, and research
  • Ways in which minor-attracted persons can be involved in the DSM 5 revision process

There's more at the link.

My huge problem with the way B4U-ACT talks about this problem is that they appear to deliberately adopt a neutral, non-judgmental approach to those with pedophilic tendencies. For example, their second principle states:

2. INDIVIDUALITY. We realize that other than their sexual and emotional feelings toward minors, minor-attracted people do not have any particular characteristics in common. They vary as do all people, and it is inaccurate to claim that all or most minor-attracted people have certain beliefs or personalities, exhibit psychopathology or specific personality disorders, or engage in particular behaviors. We do not assume that they abuse children, that they are prone to deception or violence, or that their sexual feelings are more compulsive or uncontrollable than other people’s. We see clients as individuals, not as a category.

If someone has never committed an offense against children, that's not an inappropriate attitude. If such individuals can be helped to control their wrong attractions, that's a good and healthy thing for society. My problem is that I don't see B4U-ACT actually coming out and saying, bluntly, that such attractions are wrong. To my mind, this almost completely negates any good work they may do. If they're not prepared to state, categorically and absolutely, that pedophilia, pederasty, etc. - indeed, any sexual activity that exploits children - are always and everywhere evil and morally wrong, I don't believe they can ultimately help anybody. I don't see how one can possibly be neutral towards such practices. (This has nothing to do with being pro- or anti- either heterosexuality or homosexuality; it concerns the age of the participants.)

Of course, this presupposes the existence of objective moral truth - that an act can be classified as innately, inherently good or evil. I have no problem with this at all, but then, I come from a background of the Judeo-Christian faith, which preaches the existence of such objective moral truth. Today, there are many who deny the existence of any objective truth, regarding moral norms as 'relative' or 'situational'. I guess this is the perspective from which B4U-ACT is operating - at least, it appears that way to me.

I'm really torn by this dilemma. From my Judeo-Christian moral perspective, I find pedophilia absolutely evil, one of the worst possible sins. I find no redeeming features in it whatsoever, and can't possibly support any approach to it that doesn't condemn it as intrinsically morally wrong and abhorrent. On the other hand, I must accept that someone who has a propensity towards pedophilia, but who has never acted upon it and never harmed a child at all, does not deserve to be condemned, particularly if he or she is seeking treatment to ensure that they never will act upon it. They're in the same position as any other potential criminal. If they haven't committed the crime, they're not guilty of anything. The law judges actions, not thoughts.

I want those guilty of the crime, the act, of pedophilia, to be permanently removed from society, as I see no way in which they can be cured of their moral and mental sickness. On the other hand, those who may have such desires, but have never acted upon them, are not guilty of pedophilia and don't deserve such punishment. In theory, any organization seeking to help them, in order to ensure that they never offend in that way, should be encouraged. The fact that the organization may operate from a different moral perspective to my own would appear to be less important than whether or not it succeeds in preventing potential pedophiles from becoming actual pedophiles.

I suppose the real problem is that I'm hyper-cautious about the possibility of pedophiles using the 'cover' of a seemingly legitimate organization like B4U-ACT to disguise and conceal their crimes. Readers of my series of articles on the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church will understand my caution! However, is this predisposition unfair? Should I - should all of us - be more open to such organizations, and their efforts to help potential pedophiles before they become active as such? Should exercises like today's symposium in Baltimore be considered acceptable, as a genuine effort to address the problem, or are they to be rejected as an attempt to adopt a 'politically correct' approach towards what is intrinsically wrong?

I'd like to hear from readers in this regard. Please take a look at B4U-ACT's Web site, and read the (very negative) article that alerted me to today's symposium, then make up your own mind. Is this an organization that appears legitimate to you, or could it be a 'smoke and mirrors' deception? Should this and similar organizations be supported in their efforts? Try to look at it rationally, rather than with an emotional, knee-jerk reaction (the latter is all too easy, I admit!).


EDITED TO ADD: The Daily Caller has published an article on the symposium, and other blogs (particularly those with a strong faith orientation, such as these two) are picking up the story. Most of these sources are coming out flat-footed against any approach to pedophilia that doesn't reject it out of hand. Like I said, I'm torn between a similar (and very strong) visceral reaction, and acknowledging that such a reaction can't and won't help those fighting such problems. Still hoping for my readers to provide their insights . . .


Cybrludite said...

Trying to think of something to say on the subject other than that the B4U_ACT membership should all off themselves in various amusing & gruesome ways before they give in to temptation and molest a kid...

However, I will say that it must take some serious chutzpah to sign up for their services, assuming they're on the up-and-up. Seriously, standing in front of a room full of people and saying something like, "My name is Roman, and I like 13 year old girls."

williamthecoroner said...

Sex is not simple, as I learned in medical school. I took a course in the psychiatry of sexual deviance, and I was pleased to learn that I lead a rather dull, mental life.

People are attracted to what they are attracted to, and the life of a serious paraphiliac is no bloody fun. I met a man who could not perform unless his wife followed a particular script, this one involving two woman wrestling or pretending to wrestle. Could. Not. Perform. Anything other than his script left him...yeah I won't make the bad joke. He was quite miserable.

Primates use sex for couples bonding, to determine social hierarchies, and all sorts of things too numerous to relate in a blog comment, LabRat has touched on several on her blog, there are others.

It's really, really sad, to have sexual desires that are so socially unacceptable; and not just socially unacceptable, downright wrong that to act on them leaves you with two choices: celibacy or prison.

I would very, very much hate to be in the situation where what I need for sexual satisfaction could not be obtained morally. Sexual satisfaction isn't the be-all and end-all of life, and some folks do wish to be abstinate. To require a lifetime of abstinance is a heavy burden, and leads to wierdness. St. Augustine was not the picture of mental health.

LabRat said...

I have a lot of thoughts on this but little time to write them up today... hopefully tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I am a shrink and I was at the conference. I just drove home today and I've been cruising the net to see what the reaction has been. The reality of the conference is this: several psychiatrists and a single psychologist talked about the topic of sexual interest in minors, including the best current research on causes, whether it is a mental illness or just a problem behavior, etc. There was also a linguist and a philosopher who spoke about listening to these folks if we want to know more. And that was the real deal: we had men who are aware of their sexual interests in minors and do NOT act on it, who can teach us how they manage to control themselves. This information is hugely important so we can teach the ones who do act on it. And we got a sense of the struggle they experience: can you imagine going through life without ever being allowed to be sexual with the population you find most sexy? There were also 2 "journalists" there, including 1 from Liberty U. I suspect their perspective won't quite match mine.

Anonymous said...

Williamthecoroner said:

"It's really, really sad, to have sexual desires that are so socially unacceptable; and not just socially unacceptable, downright wrong that to act on them leaves you with two choices: celibacy or prison."

I completely approve of their decision to study pedophilia in neutral terms. It's time to draw a line between Pedophilia, the sexual attraction to children, and child molestation, which is a horrible crime. Keep in mind too that we no longer legally recognize any distinction between pre-adolescent and post-adolescent abuse, when in fact there is quite a difference.

If that's too much to absorb, Peter, then read through the link and what you wrote again, but substitute "homosexual" for "pedophile". 40 years ago the reaction would have been the same.


Kristopher said...



Although homosexuality was held in similar disgust earlier last century, homosexuality was still behavior between consenting adults.

Pedophilia victimizes non-adults, who cannot consent by definition.

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Peter said...

It seems we have a pedophile troll in our midst, making pro-pedophilia comments. For that reason, I'm imposing comment moderation until further notice.

Anonymous said...


You're right--it isn't a perfect analogy. But we still need to be able to discuss the matter rationally. There is a good Powerpoint at the B4UAct site:

I don't ever want to lessen the severity of the punishment given to child molesters, but we need to do everything possible to prevent pedophiles from acting on those impulses. We won't be able to get there if we so demonize them that they never seek therapy beforehand.

Anonymous said...

Just read this. Peter, you will no doubt know who I am from my URL but I am not going to be public about this one yet.

I have to admit that as a long time victim of a paedophile, this conference (and all it's possible ramifications including making paedophilia appear "normal", giving active paedos a group in which they can make further contacts etc etc)makes me want to vomit.

However, my rational brain says that far better that people who struggle with this do so with help in sight than they fall off the wagon and hurt a child.

So maybe this is not a bad thing.

A comparison cannot be made between paedophilia and homosexuality for the simple reason that love between two adults is by and large consensual (unless it is abusive) and children are not able to give their consent to something for which they are completely unprepared.

But how do we then as a society help those who do struggle? I am not sure that paedophiles have needs that are exclusively directed towards children. Except for one, all the paedophiles I have known have also had successful adult relationships. I doubt there are many for whom paedophilia is an exclusive desire; perhaps it is more of compulsion.

Have to say, I am completely in two minds about this, still.

Comrade Misfit said...

There is probably a good clinical argument for distinguishing between the desire (pedophilia) and the act (child molestation), in that people are generally not receptive to help if you're yelling at them and calling them evil. Doc William is quite right in that people are attracted to what they are attracted to. It probably is indeed hell to have an attraction.

But I am not neutral on this. I came within an eyelash of being molested as a young teenager. I was mature/savvy enough to flash on what was about to happen and I ran as fast as I could.

I have had friends who were not so lucky. Knowing what damage that wreaked in their lives, I find it hard to approve of any treatment or punishment for child molesters that doesn't involve throwing them into an active volcano.

Anonymous said...

So real real soon now a stacked deck of selected headshrinkers will take a vote and remove pedophilia from the DSM, just like they did homosexuality.

So much of age of consent.

Who is feeling old gray and cynical this evening.

williamthecoroner said...


There's a big difference between pedophilia and being homosexual. That big difference is the ability of the parties to consent. The power differential between adults and children makes consent impossible--just as it makes consensual relationships between prisoner and jailor impossible.

Medical professionals are well aware of consent issues, TYVM, that's why we cannot treat minors without permission from guardians unless it's an emergency.

And, really if the thought of having sexual relations with kids is exactly as bad as acting on that thought--if the people are just as evil--why should they seek help and avoid the action?

Anonymous said...

"As a man thinks, so is he" It's extremely important to take care of what we put in our minds. I was molested once as a youngster, but in looking back, the worst thing that happened was stumbling across my dads porno stash in the second grade. That was way more than I could understand or digest. It awakened desires that should have been dormant for another decade. It is still a stumbling block 40 years later.

I remember hearing of a woman who was intrigued with bisexual thoughts. She and her husband sought some counselling. The prescription was to watch a movie or two with lesbianism as a theme. She replied, that was what started the thoughts in the first place.

Be careful what you feed your brain. It could well be your undoing. If you stumble on pedo-porn, you may find you are an addict. I've known very few addicts who didn't act on their addiction. Drugs, sex, alcohol, gambling, kids... made no difference.

Anon Y. Mous