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Opinion | Researching the mind of a pedophile is key to preventing crime against children

Milam's Musings

By Brett Milam
On April 28, 2014

Let's talk about pedophilia. In talking about pedophilia, and believe it or not, in helping pedophiles, we help children. For once, the cliché line "think about the children" is actually never more appropriate than in this discussion.

On a recent episode of the noted podcast This American Life, "Tarring and Feathering," they dealt with public shaming. They presented two run-of-the-mill stories, albeit still interesting, but the third one focused on Adam (not his real name).

Adam is a pedophile. He's also only 19-years-old. When he was 14, he self-diagnosed himself as a pedophile because he became aware of his attraction to children, mostly between the ages of eight and 11. To satisfy his attraction, he watched child porn.

I've never gone out of my way to research pedophilia before, so it was a mind-blowing concept to me that a pedophile could be so young and develop those attractions at that age.

Then, after Adam saw an 18-month-old in one video, he knew he had to stop. He had nowhere to turn to.

No group in society is more ostracized, and often for good reason, than pedophiles. So admitting that he's a pedophile that watches child porn to his family or a friend or even a psychiatrist was not something he wanted to do.

Again, let's be clear here: He never acted upon his fantasies. Being a pedophile does not actually mean acting upon your fantasies - it's having the attraction to begin with. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association, pedophilia falls under a paraphilic disorder.

To fall under a paraphilic disorder, you must meet two criteria: You feel personal distress about your interest, not just from social ostracizing and your sexual desire or behavior involves another person's distress, injury or death; unwilling participants or those unable to give legal consent.

Given his depression, Adam met the first criteria and given the nature of pedophilia, in that children can't give consent, he fell under the second criteria.

He took his self-diagnosis, eventually, to a real psychiatrist. Predictably, she was alarmed and told his mother.

She was also interviewed by This American Life and treated it as, "Okay, here's something we need to overcome together." Her acceptance of Adam's situation was encouraging.

As an outlet, Adam formed a support group for his peers - young pedophiles - and kept to a strict moral code: Nobody was allowed in if they had acted upon their fantasies and attractions.

Now, here's the problem. As a society, we're going to write off Adam because he's a pedophile. He's only 19. Adam should not have to live the rest of his life like a pariah even though he has not acted upon his attractions.

Science is sorely lacking in the area of pedophilia for obvious reasons. Nobody wants to fund pedophilia research and no scientist wants to deal with the stigma therein. They fear being seen as a pedophile apologist.

There is no cure for pedophiles like Adam, but perhaps there is a treatment. Some pedophiles, according to The Daily Beast, have been given medicine to stymie their testosterone levels.

Prevention seems paramount, but muddled by the law. Contrary to doctor-patient confidentiality, a psychiatrist must report a pedophile to the authorities, if he or she feels they are a threat to children. Meaning, pedophiles would be resistant to seek psychiatric help. And it puts a psychiatrist in an unenviable position of making a judgment call on whether their patient is a risk-factor.

But we should see this for the absurdity involved. Pedophiles, when they are active, hurt children. If we want to help children, we need to understand pedophilia. We currently do not.

"Truthfully, I don't think the psychiatric profession has much of a clue about pedophiles. Most studies are based on...the 5 percent who get caught-a very unrepresentative group." Judith Herman, a psychologist who works with abused children, told The Daily Beast.

There are a few million pedophiles in the United States. Yet, half of child molesters aren't pedophiles. That is to say, they do not harbor sexual desires for children. Instead, they have some other psychological disorder or violent past.

Conventional wisdom would tell us that a pedophile probably suffered abuse when they were younger. Not Adam. According to him at least, he had basically a normal childhood.

In society, we detach ourselves from the worst of us. We dehumanize them to make sense of what they did. But that is the wrong approach. For one, across most violent acts, the perpetrator is someone the victim knew prior. A 2003 National Institute of Justice report found that 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted knew the perpetrator well.

Two, it allows us to forgo looking for solutions because they are just aberrational monsters.

Yes, there are some pedophiles that seek the dismantling of age-of-consent laws and that society accept their attractions. But most are like Adam and they want to control their desires.

This should be simple. By treating pedophiles as pariahs, we send them underground. Before they act, how long were they trying not to act? If we could've reached those individuals, then how many children could we have saved?

The Crimes Against Children Research Center found that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are a victim of child sexual abuse. Keep in mind, as with any sexual assault crime, underreporting is rampant.

A media campaign in Germany in 2005 launched billboards that said, "You are not guilty because of your sexual desire, but you are responsible for your sexual behavior," and encouraged individuals to seek help.

Seems reasonable and that is the distinction we need to make as mature adults to ensure the protection of children.

Here is the episode in question:


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