Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Path Out of Self-Hatred

Many pedophiles who send email to Virtuous Pedophiles express a profound self-hatred. The "First Words" tab of virped.org's "Who We Are" menu has some examples.

One source of self-hatred is simply the strong societal message we have all grown up with. Sex with kids is despicable, of course. Thoughts of sex with kids are also despicable.

But science strongly suggests that pedophiles did not choose their attractions and cannot make them go away. Sexual attraction is a powerful enough force that simply ignoring it and pretending it doesn't exist isn't a viable strategy either. One powerful idea in much of liberal society is that you cannot be a bad person for anything you did not choose and cannot control. You must control your actions, but you cannot control the attraction.

What other reasonable basis is there for self-hatred? One is a fear that despite your moral convictions, you will nonetheless abuse children.

One of my favorite methods in thinking about pedophiles is to compare their situation with ordinary adult-attracted people. Ordinary people meet other adults who are very attractive to them yet unwilling, and they almost always abstain. The ones who don't are known as rapists. Logic would suggest that pedophiles could just as easily always abstain.

Why would a pedophile think he would have a harder time not molesting children than ordinary people do not raping attractive adults?

There is a strong societal message that all pedophiles molest children. Most pedophiles come to society's attention when they molest a child, so it's a natural conclusion.

If they are instead caught with child pornography, the societal message remains that they will molest a child eventually, or they have already and not admitted it. It is very hard to decisively refute this assumption, since no one can prove he or she does not molest kids. Perhaps we could benefit from a public compilation of dozens of men who were guilty of child porn possession, but swear that they have never molested a child -- the older they are (say over 60), the more credible it is that they never will. While they can't prove anything, if they were guilty they would run the risk of their victims stepping forward.

But to refute the idea that all pedophiles molest children, what you would most like to see is a lot of pedophiles like me who have lived their whole lives and remained law-abiding, neither molesting a child nor looking at CP. Yet we remain almost universally hidden, because the stigma we would face if we "came out" would impose a huge personal cost. Hatred means we cannot step forward, and without stepping forward in large numbers we cannot challenge the idea that the hatred is justified. It is a vicious impasse.

A partial solution arises from the online anonymity that the internet allows. Law-abiding pedophiles can have a strong virtual presence, even if it is just writing and rarely linked with voices or faces. The public at large is beginning to take notice. A self-hating pedophile who joins a group like Virtuous Pedophiles can get to know hundreds of law-abiding pedophiles.

At this point in the story, the pedophile who initially hated himself has come to see that his attractions alone are no justification. He also sees that he is not doomed to offend against a child. It would seem that there is no further cause for self-hatred. Perhaps he could be completely at peace with his pedophilia.

And yet I think there is one more obstacle. It is one thing to say that many pedophiles never abuse children, but it is another to say that they are no more likely to do so than ordinary adults are to rape other adults.

There is greater opportunity for sex with children who are apparently willing or at least not objecting. This still has the potential to do great harm and is of course a very serious crime.

I for one have always had a lot of self-control. I am highly non-exclusive -- I have been passionately interested in grown women, deeply disappointed when relationships don't pan out, and very interested in sex with my partner when I have had one. Yet I also have on multiple occasions been in a room alone with a woman who was both attractive to me and interested in sex, and I have not gone ahead. Partly I have recognized that sex tends to bond me to someone (and vice versa) and if I'm not interested in a long-term relationship, then it creates complications. When people suggest that I as a pedophile must pose a danger to children, this is strong evidence that makes me confident I do not. I have turned down willing, attractive, entirely legal partners because of long-term complications. Why would I let this self-control slip with a child? The child is not actively interested, she would probably be confused and hurt, and the activity risks devastating long-term legal and social consequences to me (and her).

But my impression is that many other people lack this level of self-control. They will have sex with attractive, willing adult partners, even if they could foresee long-term complications. We certainly know that ordinary men will go to extraordinary lengths to get women to have sex with them. Sometimes consent is ambiguous, and this is the motivation for the current trend towards a standard of affirmative consent. But the vast majority of the time, if a woman says "no", a man stops. Adult women know how the world works, they know about their own sexual desire and that of their partners, and they know men's declarations are especially suspect when they are seeking sex. They have a pretty good understanding of the range of the regret they may feel later (along with other emotional reactions) and can balance that against their own desires. If an unpleasant scenario has unfolded before, they will be especially attuned to the possibility.

As we dial down the age of these women to older teens, younger teens, and then prepubescents, this complicated world knowledge becomes dramatically scarcer. (The same goes for males of these ages.)

I am convinced that if a child says a clear "no", the vast majority of pedophiles will stop, just as ordinary men will with adult partners. But the shortage of real-world knowledge makes that decisive "no" far less likely. To set the stage for a dangerous situation, assume a friendly, affectionate relationship. Younger children often like non-sexual snuggling. Yet they may not know what sexual touching is or why an adult would want to do that. Part of a successful childhood is doing with an open mind new and strange-seeming things that adults suggest, and when that is applied to sexual advances, it can lead to abuse.

Some pedophiles stay away from children entirely, out of some combination of fear of harming them, fear of being suspected of inappropriate behavior, and avoiding the anguish of seeing in front of you what you can never have in the way you desire. Others do relate to children. Many know how to manage interactions confidently and with no danger of offending. Part of what we do in the Virtuous Pedophiles support group is to help pedophiles who are less certain navigate their interactions. If someone mentions a situation with a child they find alluring, it is sometimes coupled with confusion and a lack of clarity about what to do. They love it when the child chooses to spend lots of time with them, but what will others think? If the child sits on their lap, should they allow it? If the child makes a game of exposing herself, just how strongly should they object? Those of us who have been confident parents are especially likely to have good suggestions. These situations can be managed, especially with the help of groups like Virtuous Pedophiles.

Self-hatred is on the run, in the face of knowing the attraction is not chosen and cannot be changed. It is on the run based on the knowledge that many pedophiles do not offend. And it is on the run based on the knowledge that interactions with children happen in the real world in very specific ways, and there are in turn very specific ways that the situations can be controlled to actually avoid offending.

And yet there is some residual risk. Can self-hatred cling to the possibility of doing harm?

The world is full of people who pose a risk of harming others. Those who have repeatedly driven drunk or dangerously are among us. So are those who have assaulted, harassed, beat up, threatened or even killed others. They might do it again. Why do we not insist on life sentences? The main reason is that we recognize that they are people like us who made mistakes and they deserve a second chance. Yet society hates pedophiles who have done nothing wrong based on what they might conceivably do. This is only possible because society does not view them as "people like us". In its extreme form, this view says the pedophile is outside humanity, a one-dimensional monster defined by evil. As such, his happiness has no value, his potential offense is worse than any other, and any risk that he will offend is unacceptable. Pedophiles who have internalized this view will feel self-hatred.

In fact, a pedophile is a person who deserves happiness. What he might possibly do with a silent or willing child is not in a completely different moral category from manslaughter, assault, harassment, or battery that causes broken bones. A pedophile should of course try very hard not to act on his attractions. Very hard. He should take precautions to avoid temptation. But the possibility that he will fail does not mean he should hate himself or shut himself off from the world. Others who not only might but already have hurt other people in other ways are not encouraged to hate themselves. It's not a productive part of staying crime-free.

Pedophiles did not choose their attractions and cannot make them go away. They can refrain from abusing children. They not only can, but a great many -- perhaps a large majority -- do. There are specific strategies they can take to minimize the risk. And if they do offend, they have not committed genocide. They join other criminals who have hurt people. But they are still people of value who have made a mistake and deserve a second chance.

Self-hatred just doesn't have a leg to stand on.


2 comments:

  1. Pedophilia is an exclusive or primary attraction to children. Not all pedophiles are sexual predators. Similarly, not all sexual predators are pedophiles. Only 19% of offending sexual predators are pedophiles. Many pedophiles recognize the ethical issue of having sexual relations with children and seek assistance in managing the urges. There are multiple types of therapeutic treatment options for those affected by pedophilia. However, there are many dangers associated with seeking help. Friends, family, and even professional psychiatrists could easily report them to the authorities. Which, could be a serious issue if the person has been viewing child pornography. Some pedophiles chose not to self-identify because they cannot do so without putting their livelihoods and reputations at risk.

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    1. I agree with everything you say. The "19%" number is interesting, and surely depends on the age cutoff for "child". I completely agree that emerging from self-hatred does not mean other people will stop hating you. Pedophiles should be extremely cautious in who they reveal their attraction to. I totally agree.

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