[Trigger warning: While I include no graphic descriptions, if you or someone close to you has been victim of adult-on-child assault this frank discussion of the perpetrator’s condition may be disturbing.]
Pedophilia is one of our society’s most perplexing problems. On the one hand we must protect our children. Few goals are more important to a civilized culture than protecting the innocent, and none are more innocent than a child.
That said, the way to keep children safe is to make sure people who have pedophilic feelings get help before they act. It is clear most of the people who suffer from an attraction to children never act on those feelings.
While we need harsh punishments for those who do become child molesters, we also need to discuss and research the nature of pedophilia, and offer help to those tempted to violate society’s boundaries and harm a child.
Three recent articles have broken the impasse on discussing this touchy subject. Clearly Jerry Sandusky’s highly public conviction after years of molesting boys as assistant coach at Pennsylvania State University brought the discussion forward in ways that have been rare over the last decades.
In a prominent New Yorker article, Malcom Gladwell tackled the subject of how Sandusky and all child molesters get away with it, pointing out that the process includes grooming both the victims and their supposedly protective adults.
When monsters roam free, we assume that people in positions of authority ought to be able to catch them if only they did their jobs. But that might be wishful thinking. A pedophile […] is someone adept not just at preying on children but at confusing, deceiving, and charming the adults responsible for those children.
To my mind the role of the supporting cast is particularly fascinating. I am stuck on the image from Sandusky’ s trial of a child screaming in the basement while being abused while hearing Mrs. Sandusky doing housework upstairs. To this day she denies any knowledge such things every happened.
Of course the other image stuck in my mind is of Penn State students streaming into the streets to rally behind their team’s coaches even as the damning news of the pedophile scandal broke. That is a group pathology I cannot even wrap my head around. I guess I don’t love football enough.
The other two articles focus on help and prevention. The more disturbing comes from Gawker with the provocative title, Born This Way: Sympathy and Science for Those Who Want to Have Sex with Children which states, “If you can’t beat pedophiles, it’s best to try and help them help themselves.” While the descriptions of the crimes are tough the review of the current state of our scientific understanding of pedophilia is constructive.
The other article is a bit more clinical as Slate.com tackled the issue with useful descriptions of actions we are taking as a society to help including organizations like B4U-ACT, Virtuous Pedophiles, and Germany’s Prevention Project Dunkelfield.
While we do not know the origins of pedophilia, whether it is inborn, learned, or a mixture of both, we do know that a child cannot give informed consent for adult sexual contact. Because of that simple fact, every adult attracted to children could use our help. What we need now is a more pro-active approach to the problem of pedophilia, as the first line of any good defense is prevention.