Monday, January 13, 2020

Holden Caulfield: Pedophile, Yes. Monster, No.

<"ACatcher in the Rye"> is a highly acclaimed novel by J.D. Salinger, often finding its way into the high school curriculum in the US. The protagonist is Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old who is struggling to find his way in the world. He is notably upset by all the phoniness in the adult world. Then there is the key fact which critics have universally failed to see: He is a pedophile. Critics' blindness to this stems not from a misunderstanding of Caulfield himself so much as a profound ignorance about what pedophilia is. The category in the real world into which Caulfield fits neatly exists in few of even the most astute minds of our culture.

<This fascinating article> points to a lot of specifics in the book that might suggest pedophilia (not that I agree with every one). However, Atwill and Russell are only able to see and write about these things because of their overarching belief that this is a conspiracy, intentional evil at work: "As is often the case with black propaganda projects such as this, the perpetrators were striving for plausible deniability. However, hopefully this subterfuge will be effective only for the most extremely credulous and/or skeptical critics of our work. We believe that the sexual implications of Phoebe and Holden’s relationship, although well hidden, are obvious enough once they’re pointed out."

Assume instead that J.D. Salinger struggled with <his own pedophilia> . And assume that all the same issues are at work as he crafts his Caulfield character. Salinger has no devious plan to make adult-child sex accepted. He and his character are trying to work out this basic question: what the hell does a teenager do who is trying to avoid the conclusion that he is a pedophile. We see lots of denial, reframing, reinterpretation -- and a profound alienation from the world. A great many non-offending pedophiles in the world today would relate to all of those things.

Rereading Atwill and Russell's article with those more innocent assumptions, all the examples have a straightforward and more sympathetic interpretation.

Taking the bigger picture, why do I say Caulfield a pedophile?

One huge hint comes from the title itself, "The Catcher in the Rye." When reflecting on what he would really, really like to be in life, Caulfield chooses someone who protects children from falling over a cliff. This is a very rare choice among teen boys. But your fundamental attraction is to 10-year-old girls, and your interest contains a lot of adoration along with the sexual attraction. But you find the sexual attraction wholly unacceptable and so you transform it into more adoration and love and protectiveness -- and there's your catcher in the rye.

Another big hint is that Caulfield's sister Phoebe is the one solid part of his world. He doesn't just like her, he feels like she and everything she stands for and believes is what is true and right. I doubt he has a sexual attraction to Phoebe herself, but she certainly reminds him of all the girls her age who he really is attracted to.

He does not perform sexually even with a young prostitute who he has paid for and is sitting in his lap. His thoughts as revealed in the book center on how it isn't right, but this is likely a smokescreen for the basic fact that he feels no actual sexual attraction towards her. She is physically an adult. He hires her because he would like to enjoy sexual satisfaction with her the way most boys would -- but he himself can't, because he has no attraction to physical adults.

So what gets in the way of the obvious conclusion that Caulfield is a pedophile?

I return again and again in my thinking to the statement on the website of the Association for the Treatment of Sex Abusers (ATSA) as of 2012 that "almost all pedophiles are child molesters". These pedophiles know they want sex with children, are unashamed of the fact, and engage in cynical manipulation to achieve their aims. There is a reason why experienced professionals in the field might reach this conclusion: all the pedophiles they meet have been caught committing child sex abuse, and they naturally draw conclusions about the pedophiles they meet. All the law-abiding pedophiles keep very quiet, knowing they will be hated if their attraction is discovered.

Virtuous Pedophiles was a major step in extending awareness of pedophilia as a condition encompassing celibate pedophiles -- the decent people who struggle with an attraction but don't act on it. We were invisible not just to professionals who study sexuality but to all of the rest of society too, including the critics and pundits.

What happens if we reinterpret Caulfield as a fundamentally decent but struggling pedophile? There are large parts of Caulfield's life that are independent of sexuality, just as for those who are gay or straight. He is dealing with universal teen issues. But we also can see how his pedophilia colors and influences a great deal of his experience. Early on, why is he so concerned with possible mistreatment of Jane Gallagher, a girl his age who he had feelings for when they were both children? Because his feelings are much deeper than just a childhood friend.

From the Wikipedia article,

'In their biography of Salinger, David Shields and Shane Salerno argue that: "The Catcher in the Rye can best be understood as a disguised war novel." Salinger witnessed the horrors of World War II, but rather than writing a combat novel, Salinger, according to Shields and Salerno, "took the trauma of war and embedded it within what looked to the naked eye like a coming-of-age novel.' \

To me, a better match is that trying to come to terms with a pedophilic sexual attraction is the emotional equivalent of bloody combat.

The story that initially brought Salinger to critical acclaim was <"APerfect Day For Bananafish"> . The Wikipedia article describes the rejection of the story in its original, simpler form: "Originally, the story consisted merely of Seymour’s [playful and innocent] incident on the beach with Sybil Carpenter, and the consequent suicide. Maxwell argued that there was no clear explanation that justified Seymour killing himself."

I'll give you an explanation: Seymour is profoundly and fundamentally attracted to small girls. He doesn't want to hurt them and realizes he can never have a satisfying relationship with one, and life without any prospect of real love is not worth living. It's plain and simple, if you know what you're looking for. Perhaps after that point Salinger learned to disguise his story lines better. He was contemptuous of publishers and editors and for most of his life wrote novels for himself that he then destroyed. Maybe they were full of pedophiles.

Seymour is a decent pedophile. Caulfield is a decent pedophile. Salinger is a decent pedophile. But molesting children is really not on the radar screen of any of them as a live possibility. None of them is a monster. They are all celibate pedophiles.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Not Attracted to 13-year-olds? The Ultimate Challenge

Perhaps some straight male readers will scoff at the idea that they have any attraction at all to 13-year-old girls. Warning: various people might find this post to have arousing elements to it. For my purposes, this is unavoidable.

Here is a thought experiment. It is a few years from now, and based on your 23AndMe profile, scientists contact you with a proposition. Due to your genetics, you are the only known person on earth who can cure a 13-year-old girl of a fatal illness. She looks perfectly normal now, but if it isn't treated she will rapidly go downhill and die within a year. What you must do is to have sexual intercourse with her. She confessed that she's been fascinated by the idea of sex for a couple years now and looked forward with ambivalence to when she could try it out. They showed her your picture before and she blushed while saying she'd be happy to sleep with you anyway, even if it wasn't to save her life. Given what's at stake, she's downright eager. The doctors have arranged a legal waiver because of the circumstances.

It turns out she's pretty nice looking for a 13-year-old. Do a Google image search on "13-year-old girl models". Those typically show you only faces, but with a little effort you can find pictures of their bodies too. Try an image search on "middle school gymnastics teams" and look at the ones with faces or body shapes you find most appealing. Others who are better at searching can find better images -- but please, don't seek out anything illegal!

So, you're a good Samaritan and you figure you'll give it a try, but you're worried about whether you'll be able to get it up. So here you are with her in bed. She's naked. Her breasts are not adult size but they are most definitely there. There's a tuft of pubic hair, though not as much as adult women have. With a smile she spreads her legs and gently spreads her labia. You can see it's wet inside. She confesses with a giggle that she's been masturbating, wanting to be as ready as she can be. She's used full-size dildos before so there will be no pain. She's got a Plan B ready to take after it's over just to make sure she doesn't get pregnant.

She looks at your penis with a mischievous smile, and gently cradles it in her fingers, then rubs it gently. Look again at that picture of your favorite model's face, then the girl on the gymnastics team, and imagine you are actually in bed with her naked. To save her life, you must have enthusiastic sexual intercourse with her and deposit semen inside her vagina. She looks at you with a warm smile, lies back, spreads her legs and labia and says, "Please?"

Is your penis soft?

Now let's compare this to what happens if the 23andme scientists find other people who need the same cure. You're pretty clear you would get it up for a lovely 25-year-old woman. But here is a 90-year-old woman (images await...). Here's a 20-year-old man (for whom anal intercourse is the treatment).

Now, if you hear of a man who did have sexual intercourse with a girl that age, was his problem one of self-control, or an unthinkable sick attraction?

Warning: If you have discovered an attraction, let me remind you that you must never, ever engage in any sexual activity with actual girls this age. It's illegal and risks serious emotional damage to the girl, even if she were to appear willing.

<This post> describes the larger context for why this question is important.

Men NOT Attracted to 13yo Girls? Ha!

Pedophilia as the scientists use the term is an attraction to prepubescent children. It is rare. Most straight men see a 6-year-old girl and do not feel any significant sexual interest.

What about 13-year-old girls? I will try to convince you in this post that the vast majority of ordinary straight men feel a strong gut-level sexual attraction to the average 13-year-old girl in the US today.

Why does it matter? The world is right to be deeply concerned about child sex abuse. But the vast majority of incidents that fall into that category concern girls aged 13 and older. In the public mind such abuse is the work of pedophiles. But it is not. What lies behind such incidents is not an unusual sexual attraction. What underlies them is not properly controlling the expression of an attraction. If there is any mental illness involved, it involves such things as impulse control or empathy. I am in no way arguing that sex with 13-year-olds ought to be legal or accepted.

The 2012 movie <"Are all men pedophiles?">  made this basic point, except that they were misusing the term "pedophile". What it showed convincingly is that most men are attracted to girls of age 13 or older.

Note that in choosing who to actually date (or sleep with), much is taken into consideration beyond gut-level sexual attraction. When choosing a partner, men will typically consider a host of other variables that will make women roughly their age more attractive. One way to think about gut-level attraction is what enthusiastic partner you would most prefer going to bed with for an hour, never to see them again.

I am not claiming that men find 13-year-old girls to be the most attractive females around. Most will be more attracted to women of age 18 or older. However, the famous <OKCupid study> shows that it is not much older than that. The only reason there are no numbers below 20 is that the design of the study did not allow for it.

There are other lines of evidence. "Barely legal" is one of the most popular categories of pornography, suggesting that without the law there would be great interest in the girls who are 16 or 17. People are dismayed that so many men watch illegal child pornography, and it is a good bet that many of them are ordinary men seeking video of girls of 14 or 15 -- not 6 or 7. In other times and places, it was common for girls to be married as soon as they had their first period, which could well have been at age 13 or so. No one ever called their husbands perverts for being able to consummate the marriage.

When it comes to social policy, it does not matter who a man finds to be most attractive, all that matters is whether he finds girls of that age to be attractive enough. If a man is dating a woman with a 13-year-old daughter, what matters is that he has plenty of sexual attraction. What holds him back is self-control, and if he finds himself drunk and alone with the girl, after they've both had (separate) big fights with the mother, there is danger. This will rarely happen with the woman's 6-year-old daughter.

For those who are still skeptical, I will put in another post the <ultimate challenge>.

So when we think about men and sexual activity with apparently willing 13-year-olds, we should be placing it in the same universe of other cases where there is questionable consent. Here we find the man who propositions his adult date insistently and repeatedly to the point where she gives in rather than continuing to refuse. Here we find the man who has just had a violent outburst, and while he isn't explicitly threatening violence if his date refuses sex, she dares not find out. Here we find the man with a date who is very drunk. Here we find the man who thinks his partner is 18, only to find out later that she is only 14. The fact that this last situation is not just possible but common underscores the point of this post. Often if we are shown a picture of that 14-year-old, we do NOT say, "Surely he's crazy -- no one could believe SHE is 18!"

I suppose some feminists will claim that the men who act in these ways with girls they believe to be 18 or older are not just evil but sick, suffering from a mental illness. But I think most of us would say the men are suffering deficits of self-control or empathy. We should have exactly the same feelings about a man who does sexual things with a girl he knows to be 13. Our thoughts about appropriate penalties and sex offender registry status should be similar.

There is another category to consider -- men who actively seek out girls of age 13 with the intention of doing sexual things with them. That introduces an element of premeditation. But it does not apply to the man and his girlfriend's 13-year-old daughter.

A message to women: These attractions are an integral part of the minds of the other half of humanity. Some men will deny it to you to keep the peace and/or seem politically correct, but deep down, that's the way it is.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The parallel between HIV and pedophilia

One argument that pedophile haters make is that since pedophilia is a risk factor in child sex abuse, we should hate pedophilia more -- and send all pedophiles to prison for years if we discover their condition, perhaps because they were caught looking at child pornography.

I was trying to think of analogies to help clarify the issues (as I often do). What else do some people have that others do not that can harm others if they give in to sexual desire and have sex with them?

HIV seems like a reasonable match. Let's rewind the clock to 1990 or so in the US, after the disease was fairly well understood but before effective treatment existed -- a time when an HIV infection was a death sentence.

It is possible to have relatively safe sex with HIV if you avoid sexual intercourse or if you use a condom. But many in the gay community were unwilling or unable to follow those rules. A great many continued to engage in risky behavior even when they knew it could kill them. Some who knew they were HIV positive did not reveal this to their partners and infected them -- sentenced them to death. Their partners were not sufficiently informed to give valid consent -- a parallel to child sex abuse. Although some faced prosecution for this, the vast majority did not.

A pedophile doing sexual things with a child doesn't kill them, but it can cause severe lifelong emotional distress. Pedophiles rarely engage in intercourse that is physically damaging to the child, and often don't engage in intercourse at all, but that does not seem to matter much in terms of the risk of emotional distress. While the risk is real and serious, the <Rind et al studies> showed that such activity usually does not cause severe distress. In this it is like unsafe sex with HIV, which is often not harmful.

While HIV did lead to increased hatred of gay men, it was among people who were already inclined to hate them. Others of a more liberal temperament instead had compassion for the men whose sexual desire led them to engage in risky behavior, and even for those with AIDS who did not inform their partners.

Some people who contracted HIV in 1990 were totally innocent, such as those who got it from blood transfusions. But IV drug users who shared needles and men who engaged in unsafe sex with men were the vast majority of the new infections. They had put themselves in harm's way. In contrast, no pedophile has ever gotten the condition based on anything they have done -- it arises completely independently of how someone lives or what they do.

Some pedophiles do molest children, though the sadistic stereotype of physically overpowering a struggling child is extremely rare. The vast majority of the time the child is willing or at the least not objecting in an obvious way. Many non-pedophiles also molest children, and form a large majority of the perpetrators against young teen girl victims.

Even today, an HIV infection is no joking matter. It requires lifelong medical care, the therapy often has unpleasant side effects, and it significantly shortens life expectancy.

HIV infection is a risk factor in infecting others with HIV. Although infected people know they shouldn't, some take those risks and infect others. But do we hate those with HIV infections? Do we suggest they deserve to go to prison because of what might happen if they don't do what they should? No. So why would anyone hate a pedophile or support his removal from society based on what he might do? Although no one has good statistics, a great many pedophiles -- likely a large majority -- never molest children.

I mentioned that pedophiles are often detected because they are caught watching child porn. Let's contrast this with the gay men who engaged in unsafe sex knowing it might kill them. We sympathize because a sex drive is a powerful thing. We might have some sympathy for pedophiles who also engage in sexual behavior with an apparently willing child -- even while we insist it is always wrong. But in looking at child porn, pedophiles are directing those powerful sexual energies in a way that harms no one. That deserves far more sympathy. Sending them to prison for years has no legitimate purpose and is profoundly unjust.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Houston police: Be afraid for no good reason

The holidays are coming. People will be taking family pictures, including ones of children. The Houston police would like to <warn parents against posting them online>, because pedophiles might look at them. From the examples given, they aren't talking only about half-naked shots, but mean to include shots of just kids being kids. (The simpler solution of checking your privacy settings isn't even mentioned.)

For the most part, the report just assumes that parents will feel horror at the idea of pedophiles enjoying pictures of their children. But it also does allude to one possible concrete danger.

The policeman (Detective Luis Menendez-Sierra): "...they're looking for details like a full name and a school's location. 'I know your mom, she asked me to come pick you up'"
The interviewer: "Has that ever happened?"
The policeman: "Yes, it's definitely happened."

It has happened, but in fact, it is extremely rare. The chance of a stranger abducting your child is very small in comparison to such dangers as getting killed while driving in cars. If the police warned people not to drive over the holidays, they would be addressing a danger to children hundreds of times greater than a stranger stalking a child based on a social media post. People accept the risk of driving because cars let them do things they value. Posting family photos on social media also lets people do things they value -- enriching their social life and connections.

With the danger of tangible consequences put into perspective, what's left is simply the horror people feel at the idea of pedophiles thinking sexual thoughts about their children. It's a horror at the general idea of what might be happening with some pedophile all alone at home, even though no one else will ever know whether it happened or not. For this you should limit your online social life.

A healthier reaction might be roughly <So what?>. (I blogged about it <here>.) That tells the story of a serious photographer who posted photos of his young daughter, in some of which she is partly naked. He refused to let the possible private activities of other people get in the way of his art.

There is an interesting parallel with the requirement of women to cover up in conservative Islamic countries. I try to maintain respect the traditions of other cultures, but it is hard for me to avoid the gut-level reaction that this is horribly unjust. Men might think sexual thoughts about women that would distract them or lead them to do something inappropriate, and in response the onus is put on the women to seriously restrict how they dress. The experience of western countries makes clear that even if men do think sexual thoughts while looking at women sometimes (gasp!), we handle it pretty well. US feminists may urge men to do less looking of that kind, but they rightly feel women and girls should be able to dress however they want. There's no evidence that covering up would reduce sexual violence in any case.

While the current warning is directed at parents, there are also children themselves to consider. Asking them to restrict their posting isn't so far away from requiring them to cover up. Left to their own devices, some kids send even sexually explicit selfies to each other. Society's idea that this is not just to be frowned upon but a cause for criminal charges is outrageous.

With regard to terrorism, careful thinkers note that the danger looms far larger in the public mind than in reality. If people feel terrorized without good reason, they have let terrorists achieve one of their goals. There is no conspiracy of pedophiles to make people afraid. Pedophiles cover the same range as the rest of humanity on just about any trait you can think of. Some molest children and a great many do not. If there is some tiny deranged minority of people who want parents and children to feel afraid of what pedophiles might do when they are all alone, it's not composed of pedophiles themselves. Parents are hiding their children and restricting their activities for no good reason.

The news report shows clips of men's faces (presumably looking at images of children) who look devious and dangerous. Menendez-Sierra also tells an anecdote of the depravity of pedophiles. When serving a warrant to look for child pornography, "the person is sitting at their computer, and they haven't gotten up in maybe a month. They literally will use buckets and jars to urinate and defecate, because there's a likelihood that if they get up to use the restroom, they might miss the opportunity of an image that just popped up for a second or so." Since people have to sleep and know they will miss plenty of opportunities while they sleep, this doesn't make sense as a strategy. This is obsession and craziness. The detectives have no way of knowing the man hasn't gotten up in a month, and even if he told them that, they would be fools to believe him. There's no reason to think obsession and craziness is any more common in pedophiles than anyone else. Adult-attracted men often get obsessed with adult pornography. Menendez-Sierra is using an anecdote of repulsive behavior to tar an entire class of people -- pedophiles. We wouldn't tolerate it if he emphasized that the man in question was black or Hispanic.

Most pedophiles are decent people trying to get through life as best they can. They have a handicap of an attraction they did not choose and cannot change. They must keep secret a major part of their identity, knowing others would hate them if it was discovered. They face a life without the prospect of love or satisfying sex. Like all other men, they have a temptation to seek out pornography showing their sexual desires. Many pedophiles resist that temptation, and instead look at innocent pictures of children, privately. They might be objectifying the children in those images, which is <perfectly OK>.

If your goal was to protect children rather than to feed an irrational hatred of pedophiles, you might encourage people to post pictures of their kids on social media instead of warning them against it. There is intriguing evidence that in societies where it had been very difficult to obtain pornography and it suddenly became very easy, <sex crimes went down>. They certainly never went up noticeably. This includes child pornography. There's every reason to think that innocent pictures of children that pedophiles might find to be erotic would have the same effect. On balance, pedophiles who think private sexual thoughts about children based on images are less likely to molest children.

But in any case, you would have to feel that private pedophile sexual satisfaction is a terrible thing indeed to have it be worth restricting your activity on social media.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Funding to reduce CSA is never specifically to catch passive CP viewers

Occasionally a wealthy individual wants to donate some money with the goal of stamping out child sex abuse. It is a noble goal. Part of that problem is the child sex abuse that happens in front of a camera that is subsequently spread around the entire internet. Another problem is the people looking at this material once it has been widely disseminated.

But can you imagine a funder who says they want to donate money for the specific purpose of incarcerating those who download and look at child pornography? I have trouble doing so. Their funding goal will always be reducing child sexual abuse at the source. If you are considering donating a sum of money, that is the cause you will want to donate it to.

Sometimes you hear impassioned pleas that looking at CP is child sex abuse -- it is just as bad as doing the abuse yourself. This is rhetorical hot air. Simple logic would then say that abusing a child in person is no worse than looking at pictures of abuse that happened long ago and far away. And no one would want to endorse that. But funding is another line of evidence. If looking at CP was just as bad as doing it yourself, funders would be just as likely to donate money to punish CP viewing as to punish the abuse that happens when CP is made.

Far more than private funders, the government is a big source of funding to prevent child sex abuse. When it's time to allocate funds, legislators have to set aside rhetoric and look carefully at how to allocate limited funds among competing priorities. Have legislators ever allocated funds specifically for finding viewers of CP? I doubt it.

The money is instead allocated to stamping out child sex abuse. Low-hanging fruit will be eagerly plucked. But the problem is that the fruit remaining is rapidly limited to that above our grasp. Hands-on abuse is very difficult to prove if there is no evidence but a child's word, given tentatively or inconsistently. Makers of CP are often in foreign countries that do not put a priority on cooperating with western governments to track them down. Those remaining inside the western countries are clever with computer security and police cannot locate them.

So what do police departments do with these funds if they cannot effectively spend them to make progress on the intended purpose? One solution is to <entrap ordinary guys online> into looking like they seek sex with underage girls.

Another is to find those who download child pornography. Among the millions who download are many who aren't clever with internet security and can be identified by the IP address that downloaded illegal images. A search warrant can be issued on that basis, and they can be arrested and convicted based on the files found on their computers. In the context of justifying their budgets, the police point to their success in jailing hated pedophiles. Their narrow bureaucratic interest and public hatred of pedophiles feed off and reinforce each other.

But if we back up, the government and private funders did not allocate this money to find those who download CP, they allocated it to stop child sex abuse. Their purpose is not really being met. Once you recognize this, the solution is to allocate only the money that can be effectively spent in finding actual child sex abusers and spend the rest on some other vital need.

In sum, another line of evidence that simple CP possession should not be a serious crime is that no one allocates funding specifically for that purpose.

Why CP possession penalties are unjust -- a summary

I have over the years taken different angles in support of one central point: our society's criminal penalties for passive child pornography possession are far too severe. My next blog post will cover the next angle I have found: funding. But in this post I want to summarize the situation to date.

Some justifications for the serious penalties for CP possession can be dismissed by two separate levels of argument. The evidence of a relationship is itself weak, but even if the evidence were sound, nowhere else in the law would the penalties be comparable:

1. The idea that CP viewing can stand in for the crime of hands-on sexual abuse. Suppose we accept the highest estimate that 50% of CP viewers have committed hands-on offenses: Nowhere else in the law do we penalize something that is correlated with a crime we care about. Gang symbols are highly correlated with gang-related violent crime. We might prohibit gang symbols or paraphernalia in schools, but we never send someone to prison for having them.

2. The idea that CP viewing leads to hands-on offenses. The evidence is very weak, but also: Some extremists have argued that ordinary adult porn leads men to rape women, but their suggestion is that we might make such porn illegal -- even the extreme view does not suggest that we should send to prison any man who was subsequently found in possession of any.

3. The idea that passive viewing somehow creates a market encouraging more production. It may have been true 30 years ago, but it isn't any more. What's more: Explicit, detailed news coverage of terrorist acts clearly creates a market for more -- what terrorists want is news coverage. Yet few people feel guilty for watching such coverage, nor suggest we boycott news outlets that provide it -- and no one suggests a law banning such detailed coverage.

Ultimately, support for draconian penalties for CP possession comes from a different place. It starts with the truth that child sex abuse is a serious crime calling for serious criminal penalties. Behind those crimes is the alien 'other' -- the pedophile. He is defined in the public mind solely by the fact that he molests children. As such, he deserves punishment just for existing. If he is found looking at CP, he is linked (by association rather than careful thought) back to the children who suffered in the creation of that CP, as the cause of that suffering. Our sympathy for the victims in those CP videos is brought forth to justify the CP viewer's years in prison. But that's not really the story, since a pedophile is subjected to similar penalties for looking at virtual child pornography made without any children, for looking at cartoon drawings, or (except in the US) for reading erotic stories.

Other assumptions around CP viewing typically include: The man approves of the fact that the child was molested and is only envious that he wasn't there to do it himself. He enjoys the very fact that the child is suffering -- there is an element of sadism. He feels no hint of shame. All of these are false in the vast majority of cases.

Let's start from the other end. A teen boy discovers he is attracted only to children. He is horrified. Society tells him he is destined to molest a child. He is likely to agree that anyone who molests a child is the scum of the earth, so he is inclined to agree he is the scum of the earth based on what they assure him he will do. More than a few teens kill themselves. If they reveal in a suicide note the reason, it is likely to be suppressed because of the shame that would accrue to his family. He also will find it extremely hard to talk to anyone about this, perceiving correctly that most people will not listen to him with compassion but condemnation. In recent years he has the additional very realistic fear that he will be reported to police based on mandatory reporting laws for nothing but his attractions. Professionals have a duty to report if they believe children are in danger. Many have been taught that all pedophiles eventually molest children, so it takes very little more than the attraction to make them file a report.

Somehow he makes it through those early years, still determined never to molest a child, but endowed with the same sexual drive as any other young man. Some of those ordinary young men will approach and date girls (or boys), or perhaps visit prostitutes. Those who can't (and even those who can and do) will also seek out pornography. In this day and age a flood of ordinary porn is available to young men, and most of them look at it and masturbate to it.

What does a pedophile do? One thing he might well do is look for some child pornography -- pictures of children being sexual in exactly the ways he would (at a gut level) like to be sexual with them. The child in the video may have suffered, but it is in the past, and he knows that his clicking and looking does not make the child suffer all over again. He knows he is not really hurting anyone. Nonetheless, he is also very likely to feel ashamed just for doing that -- he condemns himself just as society condemns him. Yet his sexual desire remains strong, and he may repeatedly give in to this desire in a way that fundamentally does not harm anyone.

When young men harm others in fairly minor ways, the law applies fairly minor penalties. Breaking into houses, stealing cars, fighting and beating people up, groping women on the subway -- first offenses are likely to call for probation. Prison sentences for subsequent offenses are likely to be short. In contrast, the CP viewing that did not harm anyone gives rise to longer penalties and several years on a sex offender registry, which is a penalty that in many cases ruins a person's life -- having nowhere to live and being unable to find employment are pretty much a ruined life. This difference in penalties with crimes that do cause real harm is profoundly unfair.

To be clear, there are things a pedophile might do where justice calls for serious penalties. Molesting a child is the most obvious one. You could make a case for penalties if someone pays for child pornography, or perhaps even if they give effusive praise to a maker of child pornography. But passive downloading and viewing has but one effect in the real world -- increasing a hit count somewhere. It simply does no harm.

A pedophile feels an attraction that is alien to many people, but it is one he did not choose and cannot change. He shares society's horror at child molestation and makes sure he doesn't do that. Then he does the same thing other young men do who can't find suitable partners -- he looks at pornography in line with his desires.

I'm certainly not saying looking at CP is just fine. It is morally problematic. But it is less problematic than groping women on the subways, breaking into people's houses and stealing things, or beating people up. Harsher penalties for simply looking at CP are an utter travesty of justice.