Monday, July 7, 2014

PEDOPHILES: GLOBAL CHICK'S ETHICAL DILEMMA



It doesn’t happen to me very often that I run into such a complicated social issue that I have literally no idea where to stand, but it can happen; hence today’s column.

On Saturday morning I was happily sitting in bed with a mug of coffee, wasting time on one of my favorite Czech blogs. In one of the discussion threads a member made a nasty comment about the last LGBT Pride Parade in Prague as “a parade of pedophiles”. Naturally, I considered the comment homophobic and the lady who wrote it a judgmental, narrow-minded bitch.

Except that this time it turned out to be less simple. As the discussion continued, I learned to my amazement that yes, the last Pride Parade really included four pedophiles, who marched publicly side to side with the LGBT community on the grounds that they couldn’t help being born pedophiles and therefore they had the right to be accepted by the society as everybody else.

I can’t lie to you, my friends, my first response was a total freak-out! Mainly because the argument that “we can’t accept homosexuals because they sexually abuse little boys” has been pissing me off for a very long time, and I like to see myself as a part of the crowd that patiently educate the public that no, homosexuality and pedophilia aren’t a same thing. What on Earth, I thought, possessed the LGBT community in Prague to invite pedophiles to their parade?! Isn’t that precisely the thing that would cause most religious fundamentalists go “I knew it!!!” and throw a beer can at the TV screen?!

Intrigued, I read through the whole thread and then clicked on a link provided by some of the members, which led me to a website that is supposed to be the most comprehensive Czech informational and psychoeducational source about pedophilia. Further research discovered that:

1)      Most pedophiles will not sexually abuse children or become consumers of children’s pornography. When we hear in the media about cases of a children’s sexual abuse, they were usually committed by a person who isn’t a “true pedophile” (i.e. a person who is sexually attracted to children), but a person who has an entirely different issue, for example sadism. (I must admit that this information is consistent with what I learn from literature both professional and popular about these predators).
2)      Pedophiles don’t have a choice in that sense that no matter how hard they try, adults simply don’t turn them on. They usually become aware of their sexuality as adolescents or shortly after. Fear, disgust, and self-loathing follow.
3)      It’s not all about sex. One of the differences between true pedophiles and other kind of sexual predators is that pedophiles are capable of genuinely falling in love with children. Because children’s world is close to their way of thinking and being, they often become terrific teachers, or writers of children’s books (I couldn’t help but remembering a recent Facebook argument with a former classmate, who couldn’t deal with my observation that “evidence suggests that Lewis Carroll might have been a pedophile”).
4)      Many pedophiles are trying very hard to not commit an act of sexual abuse against children; they often voluntarily undergo treatment and spend most of their lives in therapy. In those cases where a pedophile “slips,” the abusive act is significantly milder that act of a sadist, usually limited to, say, masturbating in the front of the child. (I’m still recovering from reading an autobiography of a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. Her description of what her stepfather used to do to her truly makes a masturbation in front of a child a piece of cake – by which I’m not by any means trying to say that it’s okay, God forbid! I’m making this comparison because it supports the idea that a pedophile and a sadistic sexual deviant are two different matters.)

All right, so I read the website. The question is: Where do I go from there!?

I remember a psychopathology class in college back in Czech Republic, taught by a psychiatrist who specialized in sexual deviations. Learning about the most bizarre types of sexual attraction made me feel deeply sorry for people who seemed to be born that way and there was nothing they could do to change (can you imagine spending all your life being sexually attracted to, say, trees?! Yes, that exists.) But that’s the thing: While I have never had a problem to accept the LGBT minority as equal, I confess that pedophilia, together with all sorts of other ‘ilias, has always been on my list of “sick people”. My mindset was therefore such that I was ready to treat such people with compassion (especially those who made a serious commitment to do no harm), but not to perceive their condition like something that the mainstream society should accept as a norm.
Intellectually, I’m capable to comprehend that if pedophilia is a sexual orientation people are born with, the society probably should treat them like human beings. In my heart, however, I’m not yet quite ready to hear at a parade:

Say it now and say it loud,
I’m a pedophile and I am proud!

Some aspects of the website I reviewed are not helping matters. Women in the original blog where I learned about the site’s existence complained about some of the pedophiles having photos of kids as their profile picture and about the forum being littered with photos of kids (fully clothed – the website wouldn’t allow anything inappropriate) randomly downloaded from Internet with comments underneath like “oh, this little cutie is so adorable!”

And once again I’m asking: Am I a bad person for cringing?

As a mental health professional, I like to believe that should I ever find myself counseling a pedophile, I would treat him as any other client, i.e. with compassion and unconditional positive regard. However, from a societal perspective I struggle with trying to determine how far as a society we should go in normalizing these issues. I have been going back and forth ever since Saturday morning and so far a conclusion isn’t in sight.

One thing is for sure though: I don’t have children of my own (and no intention to get any), but there are some children in the world that I happen to love dearly. If I imagine, say, one of my best friend’s little boys being salivated over on a pedophile website – even if I knew it was fully platonic - well, let’s just say that I would feel a very strong desire to kick somebody’s ass, possibly even balls!

So, what really interests me today is how do YOU feel about this?

5 comments:

Frank F. O'Barski said...

Fascinating topic. So, I am pretty convinced by everything I know about people, sexuality and psychology, that there is an enormous range of variation in sexuality and sexual preferences. I have always suspected that most genuine pedophiles were sexually abused as children themselves. However, I can grant, arguendo, that some people may be born with a preference for children as sexual and/or romantic partners. I see a distinct difference between forms of sexual behaviour between consenting adults, and sexual behaviour with children. The legal principle, which I fully support, is that children are in no position to consent to such behaviour with an adult. There may be people who were born that way, but they need to understand that the child is too vulnerable, too easily influenced, to be capable of an informed consent based in an equality of agreement. It is a similar principle to that of contract law. We do not honor contracts entered into by underage persons, because the consent is flawed. Power relationships and other complications always enter into these calculations. For example, a psychiatrist or counselor might be attracted naturally to a patient/client. Would you consider that appropriate? I suspect not. Why? Again, the unequal relationship ensures that any consent by the weaker party is flawed at the outset. And I know there are subtle power plays in many adult relationships. But there is at least a good chance that, in most of those, the weaker party can seek guidance from friends, and reason out the nature of an abusive relationship. A child is less capable of resisting the influence of an adult in this area, particularly if the adult is manipulative and clever at wielding power.
The more complex part of the question enters the argument closer to the boundaries. For example, does a 19 year old boy in love with a sixteen year old girl, though it would be pedophilia under the law, get a pass? The law would disagree, depending on the jurisdiction. What about a seventeen year old girl? Does something magical happen to the brain of a minor on their eighteenth birthday? Such that one day they are legally incapable of consent and 24 hours later they are full adults? This is not a simple question. The law requires that, in the interest of fairness, there be a defined age of adulthood, so that we all know it. But is that really the way humans work?

Seshiri54 said...

There is a difference between normalizing and understanding why people are the way they are. Seeking to understand pedophilia and pedophiles is not a bad thing. What is bad is our current system of labeling things as good and evil. Nothing is black and white like that. The LGBT issue is a big thing for me, because there are people trying to take away the right of adults to be with whoever they want. My problem with pedophilia is that children are not sexually developed enough, or mentally able to be involved in relationships, so pedophiles should be kept away from children. That doesn't mean they should be demonized, but efforts should be made to understand the humans are much too complex to be slapped with a good or bad label. The difficult part is getting people as a whole to read into these issues and fully discuss them from a non-biased point of view. It's easy to shout about why you hate something. It's much harder to seek to fully understand all issues, inside and out.

SarahJean said...

While I still am not sure where I exactly stand, I am so thankful you brought up this topic. As I've grown ad a counselor, I have wondered about this particular group of people. Are they monsters or just regular people cursed with a condition abhorred by society. I know I feel strongly against those who carry out abuse towards children no matter who they are, but those who do not? I really don't know...

Leo R said...

I think we should be accepting of pedophiles, but not their pedophilia. I think the point that a child cannot legally consent or that their brain is not developed enough to be able to is less significant than the fact that children in most cases will likely not consent.

It's not fair that pedophiles do not get to choose their orientation, but children to not get to choose their age or stature either, and it is no more fair to them to be the target of predatory affections like this - not predatory by action, but predatory by their very nature of the power and status imbalance between the two parties.

Being accepting just for the sake of being accepting is ethically vacant and progressively useless. The whole point of pride parades is to encourage acceptance of both LGBT people and their orientations. As I said, I believe we should be accepting of pedophiles and strive to understand them. But attempting to accept pedophilia is just silly. Just because there is gray area does not mean the whole world is the same shade of gray, and this is a particularly dark shade.

Global Chick said...

Thank you all for your comments! It's nice to see it so lively here :)

It seems to me that I need to clarify that when I'm writing about a dilemma, I don't by any means mean dilemma whether pedophiles should be allowed to pursue relationship of their dreams! As Seshiri54 pointed out, children simply CANNOT become sexual partners - no dilemma here! I like how Leo R pointed out that there is a difference between pedophilia and pedophiles as individuals!

Even if we are clear on that - what exactly does it MEAN in practical life? I mean, yes, it's one thing to be writing about things like "acceptance" and "understanding," but if you have children and discover that one of your neighbors just proudly "came out" as a pedophile, how would you feel? Would you be able to treat him as any other neighbor? These are the issues that bothers me the most: How to apply ideas and thoughts to every-day life...

Frank: As usual, you open a whole new can of worms! I have been planning to write an angry column when it comes to American legislative regarding sexual offenders for a very long time. In Europe, once the government decides that you are old enough to have sex, the assumption is that you are also old enough to decide with WHOM. I honestly can't see how is it different for a girl of, say, 17 to have sex with a 19-year-old instead of 17-year-old. I'm not buying into that argument that it's about prevention of abusing power. Just because you are a couple of years older doesn't mean that you have power over younger people (leave alone the fact that maturity level is a very different matter with each individual). In fact, one might argue that a college student might be more responsible than a high school junior. A while ago I read an article about young men who were prosecuted for "statutory rape" on the grounds of being a couple of months over 18. In one case, the couple has been together for several YEARS,but the father of the girl didn't approve and so he waited when the boy turned 18 and called the cops on him. The boy ended up getting 10 years in prison! I remember that the sentence ended up being significantly reduced, but still, he is going to spend the rest of his life registered as a sexual offender and for what!? Committing the crime of being a couple of months older than his girlfriend!?

Such cases, in my opinion, are

a) ridiculous
b)not related to pedophilia whatsoever
c) another sad example of American prudishness and restrictiveness when it comes to all things sexual

However, if I remember correctly (and I can't speak for every state), these cases are not prosecuted as pedophilia, but as statutory rape.

Great! Now I need to do research and write another column :)