Pedophilia is bad. The question is what to do about it. Photo by Mike Monteiro.
Molesting children is a horrific crime. Is being attracted to children also criminal? For some people their attraction to children may be impossible to change, even if they never act on it. No group of people is as widely reviled as pedophiles, but crime and punishment alone may not be enough to stop the real problem – actual children being abused. To prevent that, we may have to understand and treat the pedophile.
“All of the attention is on known sex offenders and just heaping on the punishment,” Letourneau told me. “This is said to be due to an interest in prevention, but it’s really about retribution. If people are really serious about preventing children from being molested or raped, it may very well necessitate the uncomfortable acknowledgement that some people are born as pedophiles. All we do is drive it underground.” (Slate)
The Slate article above is a fascinating take on the subject, as is this more scientific Gawker article. My general belief is that things happen and it’s better to have them discussed and controlled than suppressed and punished. This goes for drugs, prostitution, etc. Pedophilia is one line I can’t cross, in practice it is the forcible rape or molestation of innocent children, but there are pedophiles that aren’t murders or rapists. The question is what to do with them.
Pedophilia And The Brain
Recent research in Canada (cited in Gawker) suggest that there is a brain component to pedophilia, one to do with their own neo-natal development.
Cantor says his first indication that there was something different about pedophiles’ brains was that, compared to teleiophile offenders (sex offenders who victimized adults), pedophiles’ IQs were about 10 points lower on average. He also found that the age of a pedophile’s victim was directly proportional to the pedophile’s IQ—the younger the children, the lower the attacker’s intelligence. ”
Other patterns soon emerged: Pedophiles tended to be shorter than teleiophiles, which Cantor says told him “whatever’s going on, it’s not just the brain; it seems to be that the whole body isn’t formed quite correctly.” Pedophiles were more likely to have failed grades in school. They were also more likely to have sustained head injuries before the age of 13…
In the general population, only about 8 to 12 percent of people are either not right-handed or ambidextrous. In Cantor’s pedophile studies, nearly one third of the men were non-right-handed…
“The differences were in the white matter.”
“The white matter” is the shorthand term for groupings of myelinated axons and glial cells that transmit signals throughout the gray matter that composes the cerebrum. Think of the gray matter like the houses on a specific electricity grid and the white matter like the cabling connecting those houses to the grid.
“There doesn’t seem to be a pedophilia center in the brain,” says Cantor. “Instead, there’s either not enough of this cabling, not the correct kind of cabling, or it’s wiring the wrong areas together, so instead of the brain evoking protective or parental instincts when these people see children, it’s instead evoking sexual instincts. There’s almost literally a crossed wiring.” (Gawker)
Pedophilia And Policy
If this attraction is something pedophiles don’t really choose, they need serious help controlling it. The current policy is just ignore, or capture and punish, keep in jail for a certain time and then let out again. What people call for is the death penalty or for acting pedophiles to be raped and killed in jail. While these may seem satisfying, indeed, perhaps even proportionate to the crime, it’s not good policy. That means looking at this ill and mitigating.
That does not mean that saying that pedophilia is OK, but neither is violent schizophrenia or other mental problems, and we do treat them. Pedophiles that molest or rape children are criminals and need to be reported to the police and arrested. No question about it. However, to prevent pedophilia means giving people with these urges an option besides that eventuality – which is good for no one. Which means therapy, support groups, and talking about this taboo as an attraction some people have which can be controlled.
This means that people suffering from these attractions can get support to not act on them, hopefully preventing more children from being abused. Some people will molest children – more often friends and family members than strangers – and these people need to be reported, prosecuted and put in jail. As much as that, however, we need to prevent future children from being molested, and that means therapy and support as much as punishment. The movement in scientific and psychological circles seems to be towards treating the borderline pedophiles who – while they can’t change their attractions – can get help to not act out and hurt other people.