Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
I am no stranger to sexual repression. I know how hard it is to live with a social stigma targeting your sexuality. This is a reason for me not to turn away in disgust when I hear about pedophiles. Indeed, one of the greatest sexual stigmas of our time is the one against pedophilia.
If the attempt to have sex with a child raises serious moral concerns, the attraction itself seems to be a condition out of the direct control of the pedophile. Pedophilia, independently of whether it is classified as a psychiatric disorder or as a natural tendency to feel sexual attraction for prepubescent individuals, can’t be blamed insofar as it is a trait of a person and not a choice.
The dilemma of pedophilia is this: there might be a condition on who you are that you can’t change but, at the same time, its expression meets strong moral opposition. Moreover, if we don’t have the puritan presumption of thinking that a pedophile is intrinsically different from non-pedophiles with respect to sexuality, why should this person even try to “change”? Shouldn’t we be open to pedophiles and accepting them as people who have to carry a burden much greater than the one non-pedophiles carry?
Me, J, R, P and J were sitting in my living room as we started talking about the puzzle of pedophilia between a glass of wine and the next. We came up with an imaginary example, which might illustrate an aspect of this dilemma from an interesting perspective.
One of your closest friends – R suggested to call him Steve, has come out to you in the past as a pedophile. It was hard for you to accept him at first, but you have slowly understood his struggles in repressing his inclinations. Now you love him just as you do with all your other close friends. You are also a parent, and your six-year-old son thinks that Steve is a very cool person and he always looks forward for Steve to visit.
Your child doesn’t feel an attraction for Steve in sexual or romantic terms. He is just very fond of him as a human being, and he has no clue about Steve’s struggles with his sexuality. You also know that Steve would do no harm to anybody, especially to children.
One day, your son comes to know that Steve is going on vacation to the Grand Canyon (this part was suggested by J). Steve has found very cheap tickets, he is a climbing specialist and he would do a wonderful guide. Moreover, he would never refuse to make your child happy, given the friendship between you adults.
This would be a one-in-a-life-time experience for your son, and you strongly doubt that there will be any such convenient opportunity for him in the relevantly near future. Unfortunately, you have to work in those days and you can’t join.
Your child really wants to go with Steve to the Grand Canyon none the less. He has twinkly eyes at the thought of exploring the rocky mountains and he has already started scheduling all the experiences he will enjoy with Steve. He trusts Steve as if Steve were you.
Would you let your son go with Steve, knowing that they will be alone for a couple of weeks in the middle of nowhere?
R was still unsure that there would have been no risks for her child. So we add the condition that God himself sends you a vision of your child having the best experiences and coming back home safe and sound. What you can’t know, is how Steve himself is going to feel. Moreover, you have absolutely no clue about the fact that he might feel sexual attraction for your child specifically.
This is a complicated case. Many factors come into play, especially trust, which is only in part a matter of rationality. But another important factor, to my understanding, would be the position you are putting Steve into, if you let your child go with him.
Given what I called the “dilemma of pedophilia”, could you put Steve in such a borderline situation, where he would be alone with the potential object of his sexual desire and no adult friend nearby? Would it be fair of you to leave him confront his demons on his own? Will you think that you have shown your openness to Steve or have you exposed him to his most vulnerable side?
Dealing with this topic raises more questions than answers. But it must be addressed, for we are talking about real people, who have not only been heavily stigmatized, but who are also living real moral dilemmas.
EDIT: I’ve found this highly educational and interesting video from TEDMED on the topic, enjoy!