There was this one video of a man sodomizing a doll in a shopping mall surfacing for quite a sometime on social media. It was no surprise that people were going gaga over him.
“Men can’t even leave dolls alone now”
“Even dolls are not safe”
With a preconceived and conventional opinion of judging the man, the one comment which tricked me into thinking from the other side of the table was
“What if this is his fetish? He is not harming anyone”
We, as a society, have our own conventional way of looking into things. But often the liberals, humanists (read feminists) have inherent tendencies of bracketing instances as victimization. We take offense on things which are probably not at all threatening. But all these complex discussions around the politics of pleasure and patriarchy lead us in no direction.
When I started working with an organization that works on child sexual abuse as a part of my India Fellow journey, I started scavenging offline and online for relevant documents on the issue. In most of the newspaper articles, the reporter addressed the sexual offender as a pedophile. But that didn’t drag my attention, until I landed upon a YouTube video by barcroft TV on virtuous pedophilia. From there I came to know about an online forum VirPed. Members of this support group Virtuous Pedophiles and believe that child sexual abuse is wrong and seek to raise awareness that some pedophiles do not offend; this is generally not considered in pedophile advocacy, as the Virtuous Pedophiles organization does not approve of the legalization of child pornography and does not support the age of consent reform.
This again tricked me into thinking from the other side. All pedophiles are not sex offenders and all the sexual offenders are not pedophiles. While we scream about destigmatizing minority groups, we consciously ignore people with pedophilia. We look at pedophiles as negative, and a threat to society. But we never tried to hear their side of the story.
The term pedophile is commonly used by the public to describe all child sexual abuse offenders. This usage is considered problematic by researchers, because many child molesters do not have a strong sexual interest in prepubescent children, and are consequently not pedophiles. For all those who are still confused, let me try to clear the air.
The typical definition of pedophilia is a strong and persistent sexual attraction to prepubescent children or those in the early stages of puberty. Let’s look at that statement again. It means that pedophilia doesn’t refer people who abuse children sexually, it only refers people who have “sexual attraction” to them. When we look at the term “virtuous pedophilia”- virtuous means that they are not going to do anything with a real child. There are some people who feel attracted to prepubescent children, and this is how they were made. It is self-discovered and not chosen. So unless they enact on their attraction, is it right to hate or outcast these people?
Now if we look at the scientific research so far, there are two popular theories regarding pedophilia – It is a sexual orientation and it is a disorder.
“Pedophilia can be described as a sexual preference that is phenomenologically similar to heterosexual or homosexual orientation, in that it emerges prior to or during puberty; is stable over time; and directs the person’s sexuality in terms of his thoughts, fantasies, urges, arousal, and behavior. But consent plays the key role here.” – Encyclopedia of Psychology and Law.
There are no suitable consenting partners for pedophiles, so they can never ethically express their sexuality with the people they are attracted to. According to POCSO (protection of children from sexual offenses, 2012), the main law dealing with child sexual abuse in India, a child can give consent only after the age of 18. So sexual contact with prepubescent children is illegal and unethical even if they give consent. Whereas queer people can find adult partners and form consensual relationships. That difference is all-important.
Again according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Pedophilia is termed pedophilic disorder and the manual defines it as “paraphilia involving intense and recurrent sexual urges towards and fantasies about prepubescent children that have either been acted upon or which causes the person with the attraction, distress or interpersonal difficulty.” The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) defines it as a sexual preference for children of prepubertal or early pubertal age. DSM-5 in its conclusion mentioned that pedophilia is not a disorder unless it also causes marked distress to an individual or leads to sexual abuse of children.
Pedophilia is one of the most stigmatized mental disorders. One study reported high levels of anger, fear and social rejection towards pedophiles who have not committed a crime. Such attitudes could negatively impact child sexual abuse prevention by reducing pedophiles’ mental stability and discouraging them from seeking help. Terms such as mental illness and mental disorder are not precisely defined, and I doubt that they can be defined based on science alone. According to VirPed
Pedophilia is undesirable to the extent that it predisposes some people to sexually abuse children. It is undesirable to have a condition requiring lifelong celibacy. But as long as pedophiles are celibate, they should not have to think of themselves as having a disorder. They did not choose pedophilia and they cannot make it go away. We should encourage celibate pedophiles to let go of feelings of shame and distress. If they can, they no longer have a disorder according to DSM-5.
Either it’s a sexual orientation or a disorder, as given in these research platforms. That is not the point. The argument is not to justify sexual abuse, but to look at these people as people. Nobody is a monster without committing a crime. A society which has different kinds of people need to take responsibility for their care. Having said that I am not dismissing the violence and sexual abuse that happens against children but what about those people, who, because of no fault of theirs are being stigmatized and discriminated against. Often, they are suppressed, without being able to talk about their condition. Virtuous pedophiles develop other forms of psychological disorders. They become suicidal, depressed, withdrawal, and anti-societal.
The point here is not to bracket them all or justify sexual abuse of children, but to create a space for them where they can at least ask for help, talk about their feelings and go to a psychiatrist. In a nation where addressing psychological health is predominantly ignored, where discussing sex and sexuality is a taboo, for these people it becomes more difficult to go to a psychologist and say “I feel attracted towards children”. They are afraid of being judged and even to be suspected as child predators. Now, consciously or unconsciously when we imagine a pedophile, a dark monster-like figure appears in our vision. In reality, even a college-going soft-spoken timid girl can be a pedophile or the religious mid-aged father in your colony. Again, not every pedophile abuses children, but being confused and not being able to talk about it to anyone leaves these people with their own battles. What if they lose the battle? Won’t be we responsible for that?
So what is the policy solution? If a pedophile wants help, society should make sure they can get it – before they harm a child. In Germany, the Dunkelfeld project is open to those who have not broken the law, and in the United Kingdom, there is a program known as StopSO. Globally, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) has become more welcoming of non-offending pedophiles. Whereas in India there is no law in particular which addresses the visibility of pedophiles.
Mandatory reporter laws need to be reexamined. Mandatory reporting stands for people of certain professions to mandatory report cases of child abuse and neglect. Such laws are vital in helping to protect children from abuse. But there is one component that is definitely counterproductive. Especially which mandatory reporting an obligation for every citizen. In most states of USA, Australia and most member states of the EU, only certain professionals such as doctors, teachers, counselors, social workers, psychologists are mandated reporters. These are categories of people who are frequently in contact with children and are sensitive to the manifestations of sexual abuse in the form of behavioral changes, low self-esteem, and aggression among others. This advantage is lost when every citizen is a mandated reporter, which may result in the lodging of false complaints. Such ambiguous law pushes the virtuous pedophiles further in the darkness. They will be more afraid of confronting their feelings to anyone as people with no information about pedophilia will look at them as a possible threat and report them as sexual offenders.
Child sexual abuse is an unacceptable heinous crime and the perpetrators definitely should be punished. But it is equally important to stop stigmatizing virtuous pedophiles and help them to live a healthy life to make a world free from child sexual abuse and abusers. It is even more important for us, as responsible citizens to use such terms after careful thought, to restrict the misdirected perpetuation of irrational fears.
Photo: (Subject: Anamika. Created By: Lavish Motani and Sudipta Das)
Cutler, Brian L. (2008). Encyclopedia of Psychology and Law
“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition”. American Psychiatric Publishing
Jahnke, S.,Hoyer, J. (2013). “Stigma against people with pedophilia: A blind spot in stigma research?” International Journal of Sexual Health
Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R., Hoyer, J. (2015). “Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys”. Archives of Sexual Behavior
“Virtuous Pedophiles – Welcome” – VirPed
Mandatory Reporting Under POCSO: Are We Ready? – by Mansi Binjrajka
Love and Sex in the time of the POCSO Act, 2012 by Swagata Raha