One cost of pedophile hysteria is paid not by pedophiles but by all men.
When I was a child in the 1950s and 1960s, adults and kids could mix quite freely. My assumption was that no adult or big kid was going to engage in any sexual behavior with me. It would have taken something as obvious as actual genital touching to bring the possibility to my mind. I have no memories of abuse.
When I graduated to the class of parents in the 1980s and 1990s, things still felt pretty loose. I could change the diaper of a friend's baby. I could bounce a baby on my knee. I could teach Sunday School and accompany a 3-year-old girl to the bathroom. I could drive someone else's daughter to a soccer clinic, just the two of us in the car. I could rough-house to some extent with a bunch of girls.
But then the rules started changing. I was shielded to some extent from the changes as long as I was a father with young children of my own. But there was one day when my family was visiting another in their yard. I entered the house on other business and found the other family's 4-year-old girl using the toilet with the bathroom door open. I absentmindedly asked from the hall if she needed any help. She said no with emphasis and reported this exchange to her mother in my presence. The mother asked what happened next, and since of course nothing had, I was off the hook. But something had shifted -- there was danger here.
Once my children got older, the shifts became more apparent.
As a substitute teacher in a Sunday School class, at story time a 3-year-old girl plopped herself in my lap. The teacher hesitated, but announced out loud that it was OK since that girl was known for sitting on laps.
One warm evening I was babysitting a boy of age 4, trying to get him to go to bed. He announced that he was taking all his clothes off, and he did. I didn't know their family's views on nudity -- some of my formative years were the late 1970s, when there was a movement to stop shaming children about their bodies. So I lay down on the bed beside him and read him a story, and he finally was drowsy enough to stay in bed when I left. When the parents arrived home a few minutes later, I reported immediately that he had stripped but I had figured there was no great harm in it. They told me the rule was that underpants must stay on -- with a tone implying I should have known that. They questioned the boy, and I realize that had he joked around I could have been in big trouble.
I enjoy the company of small children a lot -- spending time with them is one of my favorite things. I continued to volunteer for a while, but with more caution. I realized that every action I took had to be analyzed keeping in mind the new rules, which weren't even all that clear. What risked giving the appearance of impropriety? Any adult observing me could be a survivor of sexual abuse with a special sensitivity on the subject.
I could write this whole post so far while completely forgetting I'm a pedophile, since I didn't realize it back then and there were no sexual connotations to any of those things -- I was just like any other man.
Since I've realized I'm a pedophile, another layer of self-consciousness has taken hold. What might I do that an ordinary man wouldn't? The biggest danger seems to be my natural tendency to give genuine, warm smiles to little girls. But I never approach them even to talk. I have stopped volunteering with children. If one is approaching me on the sidewalk, I'll cross the street to avoid her, pretending that was where my path took me. Once my route brought me up behind a pair of children. The girl seemed nervous when she noticed me. I didn't feel I could risk reassuring words. I quickly passed them and acquired a sudden urge to jog away down the sidewalk at a rapid clip for a couple blocks. Get away! In part, I ran in frustration that society has taught the girl to see a man walking down the street as an active danger.
What keeps me away from children is society's fear of pedophiles. I am a pedophile, but I am not a molester. There are of course places on a child I would never touch and activities with sexual interpretations I would never do. But society's fear creates a barrier that keeps me much farther away than that, just because I'm a man.
<The Hunt> tells a chilling fictional tale of an ordinary man caught up in a false accusation of abuse, and its premise is all too realistic for comfort.
Society has its new rules. I suppose those rules might even protect a few children from sexual abuse. But I fear it comes at a cost. A whole generation of children is missing opportunities for fun and educational contacts with men. But more ominous perhaps is that they are learning that most men are aloof people who don't care to have anything to do with them. It may be a loss that is hard to measure, but I don't think it can be good.