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Lucas: Treat Pedophiles Humanely

Lucas: Treat Pedophiles Humanely

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COMMENTARY: Last Friday pedophilia was once again the talk of the airwaves. Network news anchors and the hosts on cable news went apoplectic about a self-published book called The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure for sale as an e-book in Amazon's Kindle Store. Predictably, the book became an instant best seller for a brief moment -- until Amazon pulled the plug. It was shocking to see the visceral hate that the mere word pedophilia stirred -- journalists, prosecutors, and legal consultants fulminating and calling all pedophiles "disgusting criminals." Upstanding citizens demanded a boycott of Amazon. There was not a single doctor on any of the shows who might have pointed out that the majority of pedophiles don't act on their desires.

There is more pity and understanding for terrorists held in Guantanamo than for the disease of pedophilia. This just shows once again how incompetent our sexphobic society is when it has to deal with sex, sexual orientation, and sexual desires that are out of the mainstream. This behavior is both stupid and counterproductive.

We have to be clear: Pedophilia is a sexual orientation just like homosexuality or heterosexuality. It's genetic and unalterable. That's proven by science and illustrated by treatment failure. Remember, the same treatments are being used to cure pedophiles that were used not so long ago to "cure" homosexuals: electric shocks, strong cocktails of psychopharmaceuticals, and aversion therapy. They don't work here, just like they didn't work there. But even basic logic should be enough to understand that pedophilia is a fixed orientation. Who would make a choice to focus their sexual attraction on children, with all the misery and ostracism that will bring? Would somebody casually pick up The Pedophile's Guide and on a whim decide to wander over to the playground and cruise young girls? That's an even more ridiculous thought than the idea that we "make a choice" to be gay -- just in time to be beaten up by the high school bullies.

No. Pedophilia is a condition. It's a curse that can't be lifted, only resisted. Child molestation is evil; pedophile orientation is not. One is a crime, the other is a tragedy.

Statistics say that between 3 and 9 percent of the population are pedophiles. That means that in the US alone there are between 9 and 27 million pedophiles. How many of them are acting on their desires? 10,000? 100,000? Whatever the number, it's a small minority. Harmful, poisonous, evil -- but still a tiny minority. The rest are victims of nature. They thankfully suppress their sexuality through a constant day to day fight.

Our objectives must be two: to prevent the crime itself, and to alleviate the miserable suffering of the people who are inclined that way. Only if we help potential perpetrators to strengthen their defenses will we achieve meaningful reduction of actual molestation.

We have to absolutely keep children safe from sexual molestation. To accomplish this, we also have to recognize the pedophile as a victim. The tragedy of being born this way means that one's sexual fantasy can never be realized because the object of desire must be absolutely forbidden. In fact, most pedophiles never act on their desires. But sexual needs are powerful, and morality does not always successfully stand in their way. If we really want to prevent pedophiles from turning into active child abusers, we need to recognize their fundamental and miserable humanity. We don't need gory TV shows like To Catch a Predator where presumptive child molesters are lured into a trap, publicly shamed, and then arrested. We need to be able to have a dialogue with them because shame and embarrassment lead to alienation and introversion, and both make it less likely that somebody will be successful in combating inner demons.

Dialogue doesn't mean approval; it's a search for understanding. Before we turn humans into demons, it would be helpful to listen to testimonials of what it's like for pedophiles to live their lives. But we will never be able to listen to these voices because we ostracize people for the desire alone, even if they never act upon it.

There is a big difference between understanding (and even pitying) the people who are drawn into a behavior and justifying a behavior. I disdain groups like the North American Man/Boy Love Association that attempt to construct shaky justifications for fundamentally immoral behavior -- but I am also aware that the reality of NAMBLA is a bunch of middle-aged men jerking off to the fantasy that some nubile pre-adolescent might actually find them attractive. There is a lot more sublimation than dangerous advocacy here.

And again we see how dysfunctional mindless demonization is. We think that pedophilia is inherently evil and conclude that only evil people can be pedophiles. NAMBLA-ers, shadowy men in frumpy raincoats, oily voices in anonymous chat rooms -- but never the rich and the talented, never the beloved or admired, never people who, in all other respects, are just like us. Wrong on all counts.

Michael Jackson acted on his desire, lied about it, and used his celebrity status to continue to act on and lie about it. And because he was rich and talented, a jury of presumably sane people could be convinced that little boys slept over in his bed because -- well, who knows, but not for the obvious reason.

And as for the beloved, the admired, and the respected, most children are molested within their families, in churches, and wherever people with authority have easy access to them. But we search for evil and often miss what's mostly in plain sight.

Todd Field's movie Little Children is the first film in which I have seen pedophiles depicted humanely. The character Ronnie, a convicted child molester, released from jail, lives with his old mother in a small community and tries to come to terms with his urges. His mother agonizes over his struggle, and when she dies, she leaves him a note reading, "Please, please be a good boy." Overwhelmed with grief, Ronnie castrates himself. Here is a lonely human being, alienated by society, who has recognized his condition as unalterable and takes desperate action to keep himself from causing harm.

I don't know what the ultimate answer is. What I do know is that we need to pity, support, and help people who can't celebrate their sexuality as a source of joy but need to disable it to keep it from doing harm. If you demonize and ostracize them, you just increase the likelihood that their defenses will fall, crimes will be committed, and children will come to harm.
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