Virtuous pedophiles exist
It is a commonly held belief that individuals with a sexual interest in children (that is, pedophiles) are at an extremely high risk of committing (or to have already committed) a sexual offence against a child. When people hear ‘pedophiles’, most immediately think ‘child molester’, ‘predator’, or ‘sex offender’. Most overlook an important distinction: pedophiles are those who hold a sexual interest in children whereas sex offenders against children are those who have committed a sexual offence against a child. These terms are not synonymous. Indeed, a large body of research has found that not all pedophiles are sex offenders, and not all sex offenders are pedophiles (Seto, 2008). Some pedophiles only have a sexual interest in children (exclusive pedophiles), whereas other pedophiles have a sexual interest in both children and adults (nonexclusive pedophiles).
In recent years, the anonymity of the internet has allowed many individuals who identify themselves as pedophilic, that is, holding a sexual interest in children, to explain the life of a ‘pedophile’ (such as here, here, and here). Many speak of the turmoil they face once they realize, typically during young adolescence, that they are attracted to children. They speak of silence and isolation because they feel they cannot tell their friends, family members, or professionals. Many do not want to offend but do not know where to go for help. The scientific evidence to date suggests that pedophilia is not a choice. Instead (and similarly to other sexual orientations), there is a strong biological role in determining pedophilia (see here for a video of Dr. Cantor summarizing the evidence).
It is, however, a choice to become a sex offender by either offending against children or viewing child pornography. It is important to provide the resources necessary to help pedophiles to continue to choose not to offend. Fear of being identified as a pedophile means that anonymous or confidential resources are key to providing pedophilic individuals support to help them cope with their sexual interest in non-offending ways. Germany has confidential treatment for any men who have sexual interest in children called the German Dunkelfeld Project. Recently, Klaus Beier and colleagues (2014) have published a small pilot study on their program. Compared to a group of pedophiles that did not yet receive treatment, those who completed treatment had a drop in several factors that are associated with sexual offending (ex: attitudes supportive of sexual offending, sexual self-regulation deficits) and committed fewer sexual offences.
Unfortunately, not all countries can offer such help. Mandatory reporting laws in the United States, for example, means that mental health professionals generally cannot offer pedophilic individuals much help. There are, however, websites available to help (ex: circles of support, croga, dunkelfeld, preventell, stop it now). Nick Devin and Ethan Edwards (pseudonyms), who coined the term “virtuous pedophiles”, also has a website to provide support to those who live with a sexual interest in children but are committed not to commit sexual offences.
I do want to make clear that this post is not ‘pro-sex offender’. Instead, it is a post intended to highlight the distinction between those who hold a sexual interest in children and those who choose to commit sexual offences. As a society, we should care about this distinction. Equating all pedophiles to sex offenders helps generate a culture in which individuals who believe they may be attracted to children isolate themselves and do not seek help, and this makes society less safe. Instead, we should provide the necessary support (such as access to confidential treatment) to help reduce the chance that a pedophile will commit a sex offence. In short, providing pedophilic individuals with the necessary support and resources so that they can be ‘virtuous pedophiles’ helps make society and children safer.
Babchishin, K. M. (2014, December 19). Virtuous Pedophiles Exist [Weblog post]. Retrieved from http://wp.me/p2RS15-7U
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