Like other forms of mental illness, paedophilia can be contained and managed with therapy.
Last month Greece announced that, as part of its austerity measures, it would reform the way disability grants were handled. Many of the changes boil down to reduced benefits for a broad spectrum of disabilities and although this did not go down well, there was one change that set the country’s disabled community fuming: Greece defined paedophilia as a disability.
People who are willing to register for this category will receive a small stipend from the government. It has even been argued that, in some cases, paedophiles might end up with larger payouts than people with other disabilities.
I am researching paedophilia for my PhD and am aware of how complex and emotionally charged this topic is. It is almost impossible to write about the issue without offending someone. But, having said that, I think Greece is on the right track.
I am not defending paedophiles or paedophilia. But the fact is that paedophiles who do not receive therapy are more likely to act on their desires. And although I am using the word “fact” with a dash of caution (there is so little quality research on paedophilia that hard facts are hard to come by), one of the things that we do know is that paedophiles are able to resist their urges if they are given appropriate emotional support.
So, if the Greek government is hoping that disability payments can be used to provide the country’s paedophiles with therapy and registration can be used as a monitoring tool, then I think it is on the right track.
It is a tragic irony that the witch-hunt mentality surrounding paedophilia makes paedophiles more likely to act on their urges, because it severs them from any kind of social support. This weakens them emotionally and makes it more difficult for them to resist their desires if they get an opportunity to act on them.
Sympathy for paedophiles
Of course, there is one group that can always be relied on to provide a sympathetic ear to paedophiles: other paedophiles. Despite the best law enforcement efforts, there are more than a dozen websites run for paedophiles by paedophiles, and those are just the ones I found while doing my research. On these sites paedophiles can find the understanding and acceptance that is lacking in their lives. They can also find tips on how to groom children effectively for sexual activity and advice on how to destroy evidence safely, as well as terabytes of a kind of pornography that could cost you your lunch.
These are not the places we want paedophiles to go when they want a helping hand.
I have given therapy to many victims of abuse. I know the damage it can cause and I feel we are not doing nearly enough. One of the things we need to do is to empower children.
They need to know that they can stand up to adults if they must and they need accurate, comprehensive education on sexuality, their rights and all forms of abuse.
It is far easier for us to look after them if they are also looking after themselves.
Some may accuse me of being “soft” on paedophiles. Should we not just arrest them all and throw away the key? The problem with that attitude is that by the time we have arrested someone for child sexual abuse, it is already too late. A child has been harmed, often seriously. We, as a society, have already failed that child.
Therapy to resist the urge
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could act before anyone was harmed? Shouldn’t we be trying to get paedophiles into therapy before they succumb to temptation? Shouldn’t we help paedophiles before they become child abusers? This is an important question and a crucial distinction.
Being afflicted with a psychological disorder is beyond your control. There is nothing wrong with having pyromania, but there is something wrong with being an arsonist.
The former is nobody’s fault, but the latter is. And whereas being a child molester is just about as bad as a person can get, there is nothing wrong with having paedophilia—unless you act on it.
In the same way that we arrest and punish arsonists but give people with pyromania understanding and support (unless they succumb to temptation), we need to draw a distinction between paedophiles who act on their desires and those who do not.
If we deny support to those paedophiles who are trying not to harm anyone, then we are violating the rights of their future victims. The way to deal with paedophilia is to treat it.