The classification of pedophiles in the media: ‘victims’ or ‘offenders’?

By Francesca Guerrera

The debate on the morality and ethics surrounding pedophiles generates an array of conflicting perspectives across an audience platform of self-confessed pedophiles, academics, psychologists and the general public. This underlying debate revolves around the legal, social and ethical classifications of such individuals: whether pedophiles are palpable criminals or the alternate facet, that these individuals are ‘born’ with this such a ‘disease’ or ‘disorder’ incapably determining their unconventional sexual attraction towards children.

The term paedophilia is medically refined as a disorder of adult personality and behaviour, according to the International Classification of Diseases (Buchanan, 2015). The media attributes to the scrutiny and stereotypification of pedophiles, summoning such versatile claims and perspectives on the matter.

A quick Google of ‘Pedophilia in the Media’ comes up with a list of articles that looks like this:

He is a Paedophile, but that Does Not Make Him a Child Molester. Huffington Post. 9/16/16.

What It’s Like to Be a Celibate Pedophile. New York Magazine. 8/18/16.

Shedding light on the dark field. The Economist. 8/13/16.

Should We Lift the Stigma on “Virtuous Pedophiles”? Verdict. 7/12/16.

Disclosing a sexual interest in children to others: The experience of a non-offending pedophile. Weblog. 6/12/16.

Beyond Choice & Reason: Non-Offending Paedophilia. Flint. 5/1/16.

“I’m not a monster”: A pedophile on attraction, love and a life of loneliness. Salon. 5/17/16.

How do we protect our children from the unthinkable? TEDX. Luke Broomhall. 4/1/16.

Pedophiles need help not hatred. Ana Lopez. YouTube. 2/11/16.

Are we all sex offenders? TEDX. 1/26/16.

Pedophiles vs. child molesters. YouTube. 10/20/15.

(Association for Sexual Abuse Prevention, 2016) And the list goes on…

These articles are contrary to our societal conception of pedophiles as:

  • Creepy, middle aged men.
  • Goggle-eyed freaks.
  • Child molesters.
  • Monsters.
  • Rapists.
  • Sex offenders.

Research on academic, biographical, hard news and opinion articles on pedophilia has seen the emergence of alternate perspectives of pedophiles, opposing such traditional media coverage.

Margo Kaplan, Assistant professor at Rutgers School of Law, Camden, presents an opinion article for the NY Times, titled Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime (2014) on the current status, misconceptions, and underlying consequences of pedophilic individuals through predominate appeals to authority and facts.

Opening definition of pedophilia:

“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines pedophilia as an intense and recurrent sexual interest in prepubescent children, and a disorder if it causes a person ‘marked distress or interpersonal difficulty’”.

Kaplan’s central argument articulates the failure of current legal systems to recognise the origin and prevention surrounding pedophiles, rather focusing solely on the criminal punishments of pedophilic individuals. This fundamental argument that opposes the current, one-sided perspective on pedophiles is articulated through multiple claims, and followed by sufficient justificatory support.

Kaplan presents these claims through addressing misconceptions on the matter: “Part of this failure [of the law] stems from the misconception[s]…”

Claim 1: “… the misconception that pedophilia is the same as child molestation.”

This claim is followed by justificatory support to reinforce Kaplan’s central argument that pedophiles are not instinctively deemed criminals, rather that “one can live with pedophilia and not act on it.” In other words, not all pedophiles ensue their desires to partake in devious encounters with children. This representation of pedophiles is supported through the example of pedophilic support website Virtuous Pedophiles (VirPed), an online community of self confessed pedophiles virtually connecting and supporting one another through their uniform belief that while they are announced pedophiles and sexually orientated towards children, molesting and imposing such sexual behaviour upon children is wrong.

Virped’s mission statement:

Our website is intended to reduce the stigma attached to pedophilia by letting people know that a substantial number of pedophiles DO NOT molest children, and to provide peer support and information about available resources to help virtuous pedophiles remain law-abiding, and lead happy, productive lives.

Kaplan implements this organisation as a relevant example to follow the claim that child molestation is not the same as being a pedophile. Nevertheless it strengthens her perspective on the matter to audiences and justifies that “it is not that these individuals [pedophiles] are ‘inactive’ or ‘nonpracticing’ pedophiles, but rather that pedophilia is a status and not an act.”

Claim 2: “A second misconception is that pedophilia is a choice.”

Kaplan presents and justifies this claim alluding to pedophiles being helplessly ‘born’ with such a disorder, through numerous appeals to facts and authority:

  • Men with pedophilia are three times more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous, a finding that strongly suggests a neurological cause.
  • Studies have also shown that men with pedophilia have, on average, lower scores on tests of visual-spatial ability and verbal memory.
  • R.I.s of sex offenders with pedophilia show fewer of the neural pathways known as white matter in their brains.

These appeals to facts allude to Kaplan’s claim that pedophilia stems from neurological origin, and [Pedophilia] could result from a failure in the brain to identify which environmental stimuli could provoke a sexual response. Justifiably, the claim presented supports Kaplan’s perspective of pedophiles as instinctive and unchangeable, just as we are all born different.

Another method to reinforcing this perspective is seen through the introduction of authorial, academic sources to justify the underlying issue whereby pedophilic individuals are not seeking adequate awareness and treatment initiated by current legal systems towards specific sex offenders and pedophiles groupings:

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals with mental disabilities, in areas such as employment, education and medical care.

The psychologist Jesse Bering, author of “Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us,” writes that people with pedophilia “aren’t living their lives in the closet; they’re eternally hunkered down in a panic room.”

With reference to these examples of current American legal acts and psychologists on the matter, Kaplan progressively formulates a call for legal action and a shift in public perception on pedophilic individuals, by highlighting the immorality of the situation, whereby pedophiles are seen in an unjustified, blurred light.

Kaplan explicitly articulates the underlying issue through the stylistic writing approach of succinct, shortly constructed sentences:

But the reason we don’t know enough about effective treatment is because research has usually been limited to those who have committed crimes.

A pedophile should be held responsible for his conduct — but not for the underlying attraction.

The audience is immediately positioned into this perspective through these to-the-point claims, and particularly initially in the article headline: Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime.

This continual representation that the text offers on the legal and societal perception of pedophiles is also reflected in the article’s accompanying illustration:

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Illustration by Keith Negley 

This abstract illustration is positioned at the top of the article, underneath the heading, thereby automatically illustrating the author’s primary claim and article focus – pedophiles do not choose their sexual orientation by choice, they are often “eternally hunkered down in a panic room”, as psychologist Bering reinforces.

The positioning of the individual in the foreground and the children in the background visibly presents the scenario of a pedophile and children nearby (the subject of his attraction). This foreground positioning of the pedophile draws intended focus to the bodily shape and expression of the man – noticeably the features of twisted arms, torso and body, furrowed eyebrows, sweat, and worried eyes. The twisted body indicates a sense of hiding and heightened emotions of embarrassment from the individual, and the sweat and furrowed eyebrows similarly indicates stress, anxiety, and humiliation. These illustrated emotions and bodily language entail the psychological impact of the pedophiles themselves, helplessly sexually oriented towards children, and often feeling ashamed and judged by society. It aligns with Kaplan’s central claim that pedophiles are ‘victims’ and are obliged to legal and organisational help to control the temptations inflicted by the disorder.

The array of examples, supported statistics and the straightforward writing style presented by the author, formulates a diverse perspective on the ignorance of legal systems and the media to address and resolve the obstacles causing pedophiles to transgress into sex offenders, which thereafter classifies them as criminals. This is particularly summarised and accentuated in the final paragraphs of the article whereby Kaplan uses a direct, opinionated tone to deliver the central claim and conclude the article with a strong call of action for legal and social change for pedophiles:

Without legal protection, a pedophile cannot risk seeking treatment or disclosing his status to anyone for support… he could lose his job, and future job prospects…

Isolating individuals from appropriate employment and treatment only increases their risk of committing a crime.

The fact that pedophilia is so despised is precisely why our responses to it, in criminal justice and mental health, have been so inconsistent and counterproductive.

Acknowledging that pedophiles have a mental disorder, and removing the obstacles to their coming forward and seeking help, is not only the right thing to do, but it would also advance efforts to protect children from harm.

Kaplan conveys the current perception of pedophiles in the media and society as one that is made accountable for society’s inconsistent criminal justice and mental health responses towards pedophiles. Through these personalised passages, Kaplan expresses that the collective failure of society to ‘acknowledge that pedophiles have a mental disorder’ has resulted in these barriers (lack of legal protection, awareness, social acceptance and treatment options), hence creating employment and mental health issues for these individuals, and as a result inducing criminal transgressions, rather than protecting ‘children from harm.’

Let’s take a look at Rose Troup Buchanan’s 2015 article titled, In Germany, they treat paedophiles as victims… not offenders. This hard-news article published in the Independent UK reports on the perspective of Germany on pedophiles, drawing focus on pedophilic awareness initiative Dunkelfeld-Project.

Buchanan’s news reporter perspective entails an article structure of a lead, opening, statistics and interviews/quotes to report on the initiative and more importantly convey the need for awareness and treatment of pedophiles, aligning with Kaplan’s claims on pedophilia as a disorder and not a crime.

The article opens with the following sentence:

Dunkelfeld-Project allows paedophiles to seek help anonymously.

Followed by an opening statistic: 1 in 100 men may be sexually attracted to children… And an attached 2013 YouTube video titled Don’t Offend, an organisation offering ‘people seeking therapeutic help with their sexual preference for children and/or early adolescents.’ (Don’t Offend, 2016).

In YouTube, the video is described as:

The new commercial of the Prevention Network “Kein Täter werden” (Don’t Offend) is to show that therapeutic treatment of people who feel sexually attracted to children is effective to prevent child sexual abuse.

This opening statement, statistic and YouTube video are implemented by Buchanan to present context within the reader: the prevalence of this ‘disorder’ and the significant importance of prevention and aid services offered to these individuals. These are the two focal points explicitly expressed throughout Buchanan’s article.

Throughout the article, we can also identify comparable similarities between this hard news article presented by Buchanan and Kaplan’s academic article above. Buchanan focuses on this notion of prevention and awareness through the example of the Dunkelfeld-Project, aligning closely with Kaplan’s claims, however this hard news article articulates this perspective in more depth by addressing the ‘how’ (what Dunkelfeld-Project offers to pedophilic individuals regarding their current perception and adversities), as opposed to the singular ‘what’ factor (that pedophiles are inherently born with this disorder and should seek support for the treatment they need) which Kaplan addresses.

Buchanan explicitly articulates the objectives and implications of Project Dunkelfeld:

Project Dunkelfeld (which translates as “Darkfield”), allows individuals to anonymously contact therapists who help them control their sexual urges towards children… first anonymously, through email or phone, then after… either group or single two-hour therapy sessions every week for approximately two years… started in Berlin in 2005, has outposts in ten different cities in Germany…

Buchanan positions this mission statement and brief summary of the initiative subsequent of the rhetorical question: So what do we do with approximately one per cent of the male population who are sexually attracted to children?

This aligns the reader with the author’s context and flow of arguments, notably a) the severity and commonality of this disorder, and b) a form of aid and prevention to address this issue (‘what’ and ‘how’ of the issue). Buchanan addresses these focal points through the continual integration and fusion of appealing to facts and authorities (similar to Kaplan), whereby authorities and academics present these significant statistics on the prevalence of pedophilic behaviour in correlation with Project Dunkelfeld’s mission.

Petya Schuhmann, a psychologist at the project managing 30 patients, says we need to start treating these men (it is mainly men – out of 1,000 contacts since 2005 only a “handful” have been women) as victims.

“I feel so much respect for our patients,” she told The Independent. “They are so brave to call us and to work with us and they are really suffering for their feelings [of paedophilia].”

Ms Schuhmann estimates that “80 to 85 per cent” are effectively “reformed.”

The synthesis of the professional, psychological perspective providing statistics and valid opinion on the matter creates conviction and places trust amongst readers – that these statements are valid according to Schuhman, hence further developing the overall claim that pedophiles deserve adequate treatment and support, as generated by Dunkelfeld.

The following series of quotes from Schuhmann, presents strong similarities with Kaplan’s claims and underlying argument – that pedophiles are victims of a medical disorder, and do not necessarily act upon their desires.

“It is a disease, it is a trait, it is not a choice. They haven’t chosen to change, but they can learn how to live responsibly with their sexual desires.”

You can have a sexual interest in children, and be a paedophile, but not offend a child. You can also offend a child and not be a paedophile.”

Another overlapping theme across both articles is the implementation of Virtuous Pedophiles, as presented by Kaplan. Buchanan similarly presents this example of VirPed to add context to her main argument – notably a g-chat interview with the founder of the organisation, “a well-off and respected man in his 60s’”who “has four grown male children and is sexually attracted to young boys, “typically aged 12 to 13”’ (Buchanan, 2015).

[He told The Independent] Realising he was a paedophile was an “incredibly traumatic” event… He insists he will never tell a soul where his alternative sexual fantasies lie.

His wife remains in the dark: “I can see how talking about it would hurt. I can’t see how talking to her would help.”

These direct quotes from VirPed’s anonymous founder strengthens Buchanan’s argument for necessary awareness and support provided for pedophilic individuals. They simultaneously serve to reinforce the current barriers faced by pedophiles – their reluctance to open up about their unconventional sexual orientation in a world of limited safe zones of acceptance and support, as a result of negative media perception.

Further onto this, Buchanan presents a dichotomy by instilling a positive appeal to authority on the matter, through academic Dr Sarah Goode, an expert in examining pedophiles and the views surrounding them.

“[Goode] thinks our attitudes are finally undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ and that as ‘a society we can begin to understand that sexual attraction to kids is something that seems to be a part of human sexuality’”.

These positive references to the ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘part of human sexuality’ adhere to the perception that Buchanan is articulating – pedophiles are a collective commonality with a dissimilar human sexuality that can be controlled through sufficient support and treatment.

“With one in five [men] “sexually aroused to children under certain circumstances”… Such numbers, she claims, are important because the gulf between the reality of a child sexual predator and someone with paedophilic tendencies is huge.”

Furthermore, Goode’s academic insight continually reinforces the common prevalence of pedophilic tendencies within society, as opposed to society’s accusation of pedophiles as sexual predators due to their peculiar sexual orientation.

It is also necessary to assess current, conflicting perceptions of pedophiles among society, through the eyes of pedophiles themselves.

Self-confessed pedophile Todd Nickerson writes a first person, bibliographical style article for online arts and culture magazine Salon, titled I’m a pedophile, but not a monster (2015).

Nickerson writes primarily on his status as a pedophile throughout the duration of his life, providing context to audiences on how pedophiles ‘see the world’ through their orientation. Nickerson also argues against the discriminated public perception of pedophiles collectively within the media and society.

The first person tone and personal ‘I’ pronoun throughout the article, is used by Nickerson to not only tell his personal story, but to resonate on a personal and authentic level with the audience, contrasting to opinion and hard news articles on pedophilia.

“Pedophile” and “child molester” have often been used interchangeably in the media, and there is some overlap, at base… a pedophile is someone who’s sexually attracted to children. That’s it. There’s no inherent reason he must act on those desires with real children.

Some pedophiles certainly do, but many of us don’t.

Because the powerful taboo keeps us in hiding, it’s impossible to know how many non-offending pedophiles are out there, but signs indicate there are a lot of us, and too often we suffer in silence.  That’s why I decided to speak up.

Nickerson uses colloquial language and a conversational tone to appeal to readers, as an advocate for the pedophilic community, whereby the perception and societal definition of pedophiles as sex offenders and rapists is immoral under certain circumstances, according to Nickerson. Nickerson uses his experiences and narrative argument to portray a ‘lighter’ perception of pedophiles and all the factors to consider before judgment.

In conclusion, the comparison of these diverse media materials and article styles relating to the perception of pedophiles in the eyes of the public and the media, demonstrate a shift from traditional media and the emergence of controversial perspectives on popular, newsworthy matters. All authors articulate aligned ideas and arguments – that pedophilia is an invariable condition that can be monitored and treated though legal and social action. These articles aim to present the issue in a more positive light and generate a ‘paradigm shift’ in how the media and society recognises pedophiles.

 

References

Association for Sexual Abuse Prevention, 2016, ‘Pedophilia in the Media’, Association for Sexual Abuse Prevention, 12 October, accessed 29 October, <http://www.ilovechildren.net/pedophilia-in-the-media.html>

Buchanan, R, 2015, ‘In Germany, they treat paedophiles as victims… not offenders’, The Independent UK, 14 July, accessed 15 October 2016, <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/in-germany-they-treat-paedophiles-as-victims-not-offenders-10387468.html>

Don’t Offend Organisation, 2015, Don’t Offend, accessed 20 October 2016, <https://www.dont-offend.org>

Kaplan, M, 2014, ‘Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime’, The New York Times, 5 October, accessed 15 October 2016, <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/06/opinion/pedophilia-a-disorder-not-a-crime.html>

KeinTaeterWerden, 2013, Don’t Offend (English subtitled), YouTube [Online Video], 17 June, accessed 20 October, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck3uOCyWB50>

Nickerson, T, 2015, ‘I’m a pedophile, but not a monster’, Salon, 22 September, accessed 16 October 2016, <http://www.salon.com/2015/09/21/im_a_pedophile_but_not_a_monster/>

Virtuous Pedophiles Organisation, 2016, ‘Who we Are’, Virtuous Pedophiles, accessed 20 October 2016, <http://www.virped.org/index.php/who-we-are>

 

 

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