Making Sense of Pedophilia
~ Oleg Cassini
Pedophilia is painful and confusing topic for abuse survivors. When a complete stranger rubs against me on a bus, I have no problem calling them a pervert and moving on. Unfortunately, child sexual abuse is more complicated than that, because it's usually perpetrated by someone the child knows: parent, relative, friend, neighbor, pastor, teacher, coach, babysitter, etc. Abuse is not the only interaction I had with this person, our relationship lasted for years and had some good sides to it too. It wasn't some random stranger on a bus, it was my dad, whom I loved, and who I believed loved me, who taught me how to ride a bicycle and bought me my first watch. I can't simply label him a pervert and move on, I feel the need to make sense of what happened, why he did what he did, and how I feel about it.
For many abuse survivors, our first (and sometimes the only) source of information on pedophilia was the person who molested us. They weren't impartial to the subject, the conversation was serving their interest, and they might not have been very sound mentally. What they told us was a bizarre concoction of truth, lies, and delusions, that can be hard to sort through even once we reach adulthood. Additionally, while most abuse survivors aren't pedophiles - most pedophiles have been abused in childhood, so a few of the people reading this page might be struggling with sexual urges towards children. This page is an attempt to untangle this mess of pain, confusion, and self-hatred that child sexual abuse left many of us with.
Pedophilia is a type of paraphilia. In the broadest possible sense, paraphilia is sexual preference for things/activities that won't result in procreation. In a more practical sense - for things that majority of people in your culture don't find arousing. For example, asphyxiophilia is sexual interest in asphyxiation (being choked), pyrophilia - setting things on fire, kleptophilia - stealing, algolagnia - pain, sitophilia - food, coprophilia - feces, plushophilia - stuffed animals, zoophilia - live animals, necrophilia - corpses, spectrophilia - ghosts, dendrophilia - trees, etc. Societal norms vary from country to country and fluctuate over time, so the same sexual preference can be seen as harmless and socially acceptable - or as a taboo perversion; homosexuality and bestiality are common examples of such cultural differences. Pedophilia (sexual preference for prepubescent children) is and has always been condemned in most societies, while ephebophilia (sexual preference for adolescents) is often perceived as normal (though might be illegal to act upon, depending on age and jurisdiction).
Paraphilias vs sex crimes
Paraphilias are desires, while crimes are actions. There's naturally an overlap between the two, as people tend to act on their desires, but this overlap is not complete. For example, not all thieves are kleptophiles, and not all kleptophiles are thieves. By the same token, not all child molesters are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles molest children. Vast majority of diagnosed pedophiles were convicted of sex crimes against children, but there are records of non-offending pedophiles as well, and it's unknown how many of them exist because they rarely come out with it, for fear of social persecution. On the other hand, many child molesters are not pedophiles, they molest children simply because children are more accessible. It can be hard to convince an unwilling adult to have sex with you, while children are easy to confuse and intimidate. Similarly, teens who smear peanut butter on their privates to get their dog to lick it off - aren't necessarily zoophiles; they take advantage of the dog simply because it won't complain. Child molesters, pedophiles or not, view children the same way.
Many child molesters claim that they can't help acting upon their sexual urges, that their obsession with children is an illness they can't control and shouldn't be blamed for (common excuse of alcoholics, by the way). Paraphilias are classified as mental disorders if they cause significant impairment in functioning. For example, a sitophile can be a productive member of society, occasionally buying themselves a pizza to masturbate with, not experiencing any distress about it, and not causing any distress to others. That would not qualify as a mental disorder. On the other hand, a sitophile who is repeatedly arrested for public lewdness in pizzerias, loses job/family/friends/etc, is ashamed of their compulsion, attempts suicide - would be considered mentally ill because their obsession with pizza significantly impairs their functioning.
However, mental health diagnoses don't automatically constitute legal insanity. Alcoholism is not an excuse to drink, kleptophilia is not an excuse to steal, sitophilia is not an excuse to engage in public lewdness, and pedophilia is not an excuse to molest children. Paraphiliacs, including pedophiles, are fully responsible for their actions. Sexual arousal is something that most adults experience multiple times a day, and are fully capable of coping with appropriately. It's not some mysterious irresistible force compelling us to act against our better judgment. We might be unable to control whom or what we are sexually aroused by, but each of us is fully responsible for the choice what to do with this arousal, which sexual fantasies to share with others and which to keep to ourselves. If one feels unable to control themselves, they are a danger to self or others, and need to call their local emergency number, so that an ambulance would come and take them to a locked psychiatric facility, before they harm someone. Refusal to do that may lead to a crime, and a crime may lead to prison.
Age of consent myth
Many pedophiles claim that age of consent is arbitrary because it varies by jurisdiction: if we lived in some other country, our relationship would have been perfectly legal, therefore it's not unethical or immoral. That's a lie, because statutory regulations don't exist in a vacuum, they are a part of overall legal system and cultural norms. For example, in many Middle Eastern countries age of consent is pretty low or non-existent altogether - yet such countries also have death sentences for adultery (extramarital sex), marriage requires permission of both sets of parents, and divorce isn't an option. It's a different legal system, where child molesters get stoned to death for adultery rather than sent to prison for statutory rape. Additionally, cultural norms vary across the globe, which results in different levels of maturity in minors of the same age. In Bangladesh an average woman gets married at 16, so a 14yo is usually capable of independently running her household (housework, budgets, repairs, mortgages, etc), and knows how to care for young children. On the contrary, in USA an average woman gets married at 27, so a 14yo is often still studying decimals, needs reminders to clean her room, and has never done weekly grocery shopping on her own. She's still a child both legally and ethically, there's nothing arbitrary about it.
Consensual relationship myth
Children are only learning about cause and effect, so they often blame themselves for things that weren't their fault. For example, I knew a boy who broke his leg while playing outside, and was scared to call his mom because he thought he'll be in trouble. Sex offenders take advantage of this vulnerability, and convince their victims that they had a choice to engage in sexual contact or to opt out of it, that it was caused by the child's actions rather than by the adult's choices, and that therefore the child only has him/herself to blame. For example, they might say things like "if you didn't want to have sex you should have said so earlier, it's too late to say 'no' now," or "you shouldn't have worn such a sexy swimsuit," "you shouldn't have accepted the iPhone I bought you," "you should have done your homework, to avoid this punishment," etc. In reality, all of the above are simple traps: the child had no way to know that wearing this swimsuit would result in sexual abuse, and therefore couldn't make an informed choice and bears no blame whatsoever. Sorting through these mind games is beyond child's capabilities. Children and adults are not on an equal playing field; adults are in a position of power and have a lot more experience than children, so it's easy for an adult to confuse and manipulate a child. That's why sex with children is illegal, and responsibility is on the adult no matter what the child did or didn't do, even if they begged for it, and even if the adult is so deluded that they genuinely believe in the possibility of consent between a child and an adult.
Vampire syndrome myth
Some people believe that if you have been sexually abused, and/or having sexual thoughts about children, you will inevitably grow up into a pedophile and will molest kids. That's a myth. Most people keep their sex fantasies to themselves so there's no way to know which fantasies are common and which are rare. But there are statistics on both registered sex offenders and survivors of child sexual abuse: there are 20.4 million male survivors and 0.4 million offenders in the USA. Even if all registered sex offenders were male, that still calculates to less than 2 sex offenders out of 100 abuse survivors. Clearly majority of survivors either don't have the urges to molest children, or don't act on these urges. There's no uncontrollable force compelling people to hurt children, so if you don't want to hurt them - you can avoid it. Each of us has a choice what to do and what not to do. The person who abused you made the wrong choice. You can make the right one.
~ Mark Twain
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