For years now our society has been grappling to understand paedophilia in the vain hope of being able to protect children from abuse. In the last couple of years some research has emerged suggesting that paedophilia is actually a branch of sexuality. Understandably, this is quite a controversial premise, but perhaps rebranding paedophilic acts under the banner of sexuality can help us better protect children.
Suggesting that a sexual attraction to children might in some way, just be a variation of the norm, is a very contentious angle. After all, we are trying our darndest to stop shaming people for their sexuality, to embrace everyone on the planet as equal, regardless of who they love. For many years the word paedophile was synonymous with homosexuality, and that was a gross misunderstanding that needed to be aggressively corrected, however to suggest that paedophilia is a branch of sexuality is unrelated to the spurious claims of the past.
Being able to classify paedophilia as a sexuality might in fact be a useful tool in our armoury against the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. And we need every tool we can possibly generate, after all, our current approach is quite clearly failing abysmally. Our current plan of attack is to try to rehabilitate offenders. We send them to therapy, we send them to prison, and soon they are back on the streets, free to offend again. And make no mistake about it, the majority of them are re-offenders.
In a paper titled Misperceptions About Child Sex Offenders, released by The Australian Government in 2011, the author, Kelly Richards, who works with The Australian Institute of Criminology writes that it is difficult to ascertain true numbers of re-offenders for many reasons. These include the budget of any studies undertaken, the fact that some studies only included a re-offender if they were charged and found guilty of re-offending, limiting the years over which offenders can be tracked, and the fact that we know full well that the vast majority of cases of sexual abuse go completely unreported.
With that in mind, she writes:
“The 52% recidivist figure should be considered as a conservative approximation of the true base rate for sex offense recidivism in previously convicted child molesters…[it]…represents the lowest approximation for extrafamilial child molester sexual recidivism.”
The American Psychiatric Association states their position from an interesting angle. They believe that there are two separate and distinct parts within paedophilia when it is defined as a sexuality. They believe that there are paedophiles, and those who suffer from paedophilic disorder. The latter are the offenders who are arrested for abusing children, and the former “merely have inappropriate sexual thoughts” but do not act upon them. From the perspective of parents, this definition is unlikely to matter. We don’t want either of them walking freely amongst our children.
What concerns parents is a desire for governments and law enforcement agencies to place children at the helm of the decision making process, well ahead of potential offenders, and those who have already been charged, and convicted of the rape and abuse of minors.
It’s highly unlikely that a mere “paedophile” – to coin the American Psychiatric Association’s definition – would draw any attention unless they sought therapy or support, which complicates things significantly for lawmakers. Furthermore, how does the government intend to define “non active” paedophiles? Does possessing pornography involving children count as active, or inactive?
In this day and age, it is a crime to possess pornography that contains a child, but the internet is a relatively safe place for paedophiles to inhabit, and whilst someone might “just” be a voyeur, the pornographic material itself only exists because of an offender. So the activities, whilst they may not directly involve a child in person, would impact on the activities of other offenders, and children, and frighteningly, we may never know about it.
Which brings us to the question of how labelling this abhorrent behaviour as a sexuality, can ever be helpful. People fear that if we accept it as a sexuality, we will one day be pressured to accept paedophiles into society. But it is unlikely that we would ever welcome them amongst us, and whilst it remains illegal to partake in any sexual activity with a child, it is unlikely that active or inactive paedophiles, would risk drawing attention to themselves by demanding acceptance.
Those who are uncomfortable with the acceptance of paedophilia as a branch of sexuality often cite the way society has moved towards the acceptance of same sex relationships. This citation is offensive in the extreme. People who believe this are missing a giant part of the puzzle. The key word is CONSENT.
Children are unable to legally consent to participating in adult relationships, or sexual activity, so the inclusion of paedophilia as a sexuality will not impact negatively on the safety of children. Same sex relationships between consenting adults, are not even remotely comparable to paedophilia unless you are delusional, bigoted or a combination of the two.
As it stands currently, there is no way to predict someone’s sexuality, either through DNA testing or brain imaging, however if such technology was developed that allowed us to do so, it would be folly not to use it to the advantage of community safety. The question is how would we do it ethically, and do the same ethical standards apply to people who have the potential to cause great harm to others? With the lowest estimate for reoffending being slightly more than one in two, the need to find management strategies for these types of people, is vital.
Classifying paedophilia as a sexuality is a useful tool in the protection of children because by doing so, we can give up on our attempts at rehabilitation. We will be forced, as a society, to find a solution, a way to track the whereabouts of every single person ever convicted, or even suspected, of inappropriate behaviour involving children. It’s time to decide that the safety of children comes before the civil liberties of those who might harm them.
In the coming years it’s highly likely that science and technology will combine to find ways to predict who will and who will not become an offender, but at this point in time we need to work with what we have. Perhaps the only possible solution currently, is to sentence convicted offenders to life, and give up on our futile attempts at rehabilitation. Recognising paedophilia as a sexuality, rather than a criminal offence, gives us one more toe in the door. We all recognise the basic truth of sexuality, that it is inherent, and cannot be changed.
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