There are some words that never fail to make people cringe. I told several friends that I was planning on writing for Concrete about paedophilia, which was, without exception, greeted with frowns or raised eyebrows. This is what it was like to talk about rape a few years back; we knew it was a bad thing, but it wasn’t a subject anyone wanted to get their hands dirty by touching. Fortunately this is no longer the case and, particularly on the information superhighway, discussion about consent is increasingly pervasive. If we are to ever start seriously addressing the problem, the same thing needs to happen to the issue of paedophilia. At the moment, the discussion seems to be limited to isolated events. The subject crops up with each account of child sexual abuse that makes the news, but there are thousands more that will never be reported. With so many lives affected, measures need to be taken to open up the debate and make paedophilia a more prevalent topic on the international agenda. Widespread opinion already has it that too little is being done to protect children, especially with the recent Edward Snowden whistle blowing.
The countries accused of spying and breaching privacy are now less inclined to share information about known offenders, which is attracting criticism of The Green Notice. Interpol’s system for identifying offenders is said to be outdated and inefficient, but at least it is something. Not all countries have a register of sex offenders, and of those that do only a few actually restrict foreign travel of those registered. Perhaps this deficiency in security is due, as suggested above, to the absurd taboo that hangs over the problem at hand.
If we can haul this topic out of its relative obscurity, we can move on to thinking about more effective ways of preventing the sexual abuse of children. Perhaps the most difficult but equally the most fundamental step forward would be to change the way we see paedophiles themselves. Paedophilia is a mental disorder, and concerns anyone who is sexually attracted to or has engaged sexually with prepubescent children, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMMD). This definition makes it clear that people who do not act on their sexual attraction to children are still paedophiles, and yet we tend associate them directly with the offence, overlooking the fact that they too are human beings who can choose not to act on their urges. This does not make the offence itself any less abhorrent, but since when did the unrestricted demonisation of a group of mentally unwell people ever do any good to anyone?
This stigma against paedophiles means that they are often too afraid to seek help, therapists don’t have specific guidelines for treating paedophiles who have not offended, and mandatory reporting laws require them to make a judgement call about whether or not their patient is dangerous. Furthermore, there is an alarmingly poor amount of available research on the subject. Funders don’t want to be associated with it, and some researchers who try to look into possible cures are rejected as ‘paedophile-sympathisers’. It is staggering to think that we know so little, even though a little more insight into what makes these potentially dangerous people the way they are could save so many lives. Small communities and support groups can be found online. A lot of them are formed to help paedophiles deal with who they are in a world that doesn’t seem prepared to help them, preferring to leave them to their own devices, an approach that seldom ends well. There are an approximated 250,000 paedophiles in the UK and nearly 1.3 million in the US. Helping them may sound unpalatable to some, but it has to be the answer.