Here's something I've put together which encapsulates and corrects some of the main misconceptions concerning paedophilia and paedophiles I've come across in the media and the popular imagination.
I know it's a bit long. I wish it were shorter. But I've tried to make it as clear and readable as possible, and I think that the list format breaks it down and makes it more accessible. Thanks to anyone who reads it through.
I'm hoping to use it in online debates and discussions - a way of maybe throwing a rock of 'truth' or at least 'doubt' into the stagnant waters of ignorance...
I'm posting it here as I'd really appreciate any feedback and comments, suggestions, criticisms, rewriting etc etc
18 common misconceptions about paedophiles and paedophilia
Contemporary western society's ideas concerning paedophilia and 'the paedophile' are wrong in almost every respect. What follows will address some of these misconceptions. But first it would be useful to consider how it is that we have found ourselves so far adrift from reality on an issue that so preoccupies and obsesses us.
History shows us that it is not unusual for a community or society to be grossly mistaken and misinformed about an issue with which it is intensely preoccupied. Some examples are the Nazi's understanding of Jews, McCarthyite Americans' ideas concerning communists and people of the left, the 'Satanic Ritual Abuse' furores of the 1980s, and Puritan New England's ideas about 'witches'.
One thing common to all of these examples is that the groups that are the focus of fear are rendered entirely invisible, deprived of a voice or of the capacity to defend themselves. The threat of ostracism, stigma, violence and death, and the pain that his loved-ones would suffer, have forced them to become 'invisible', they are unable to speak out when something inaccurate is said about them; anyone who dares defend their right to be understood or heard, through 'guilt by association', runs the same risks as those whose rights s/he is defending.
In such a situation there are no longer any voices that can act as correctives to mistaken ideas : the public imagination becomes over-heated : assumption trumps knowledge, rumours and conjecture become 'facts'; the worst actions of individual members of the persecuted group become understood as 'typical' behaviour for the whole group; the public starts to imagine 'facts' about the persecuted group, generally drawing on the worst that their imaginations can conjure up; the language used around the issue breaks down and no longer fits what it purports to describe, it becomes dishonest, hysterical, and twisted out of shape (see n° 6 below on the use of the word 'rape'). A positive feed-back loop is established : the more disconnected the image of the group becomes from 'reality', the more monstrous that image becomes, the greater become the public's fear and hate , and the less anyone can speak out to moderate or correct these ideas.
This is the situation in which the average paedophile finds himself in contemporary Anglo-Saxon societies. He sees himself portrayed as a libidinous, violent, manipulative monster he doesn't recognise. He is unable speak out and correct this disparity between what what is said about him and what he knows to be true. And so the myths remain unchallenged.
Surprisingly little scientific research has been done on the subject of paedophiles. Moreover nearly all studies are based on people found guilty of some crime against children, usually prisoners. Such studies don't discriminate between 'paedophiles' and 'non-paedophiles who've offended against children' (see n° 6 below). This results in very many biases and inaccuracies. The experiences and viewpoints of non-convicted paedophiles rarely reach popular discourse and debate. And when they do dishonest debating tricks are used to dismiss them. It is also impossible, given the climate of fear, to access a large enough random sample of non-convicted paedophiles for any statistics to be reliable.
It is with this in mind that I have compiled this abbreviated list addressing some of the more commonly held misconceptions concerning paedophiles and paedophilia. Where does this information come from? Some comes from research (I've tried to acknowledge the sources where possible), a lot has come from my own experience, and much has come from conversations, exchanges and experiences from various self-help and support networks that are found on the web.
1. Paedophiles are not like normal people
Paedophiles are people who one day find themselves to be sexually attracted to children. This is the only thing that sets paedophiles apart from 'normal' people. Otherwise they are essentially no different from any cross-section of the citizenship: they enjoy friendships with their peers, have interests that have nothing to do with their sexuality, love their families, do normal jobs, have normal ambitions, pursue their education, listen to music, watch films, do sport... Nor is this 'normality' a 'front' they use to 'blend into society in order to perpetrate their crimes'.
2. Paedophiles wish to impose 'adult sexuality' on the children
This is untrue. What paedophiles think of as 'sex' is different from what adult teleiophiles consider as 'sex' (teleiophile someone sexually attracted to adults). It is very much about allowing the child to determine what takes place and responding to the child's interest, rather than the adult imposing his desires on the child - just as an adult playing football with a 7-year old adapts his mode of play to ensure that the experience is enjoyable and constructive for the child so does a caring paedophile.
The most obvious difference is, of course, that intercourse, or any form of penetration, cannot have the same place it has in adult-adult relationships : the typical paedophile would not wish to do anything that the child would not enjoy, be hurt by or that would betray the trust and the friendship shared between the adult and child. Essentially what turns a paedophile on is a child who is happy, relaxed and her/himself 'turned-on'.
'Sexual' activities range from 'sensuality', such as tickling, kissing and stroking, to acts that would be classed as 'foreplay' in the context of adult-adult sex.
3. Paedophiles seek to have power over children
The paedophile/child relationship is one of the very few relationships in which the adult and the child are equals, unlike children's relationships with parents, teachers, policemen, and social workers. And, unlike in the afore-mentioned relationships, the child can end the relationship, or even reveal it to her parents or other authorities, if she is not happy. The paedophile will care deeply about what the child thinks of him/her and about the child's opinions and intentions. Generally paedophiles find a deep satisfaction and happiness in the equality of their relationship.
4. Child/adult sexual relationships are invariably damaging to the child.
Considered outside the context of our particular society and its hang-ups, trans-generational intimacy, sensuality and sex is not of itself harmful, and is probably beneficial.
It is however likely to be harmful in the context of our society though : if the relationship isn't discovered there's all the secrecy and possible guilt, if it is discovered then there are the parents pale-faced and screaming that the child has been 'damaged', the anxious relatives, the vilification of their friend/partner, the police interrogations, the doctor's physical examinations, the court case, the psychologist and then the gradual learning over the years that the entire society now considers them as having had their innocence stolen, that they are now some kind of freak.
This reaction can happen whether the child was brutally raped, or whether uncle Chester just once gave her a little tickle between her legs when she was sat on his lap after she'd she'd tasted his beer and gotten a bit over-excited - a one-off aberrant moment when his hand acted before his brain could stop him.
However, many good and caring relationships are not discovered (and it's generally the consensual and equal relationships, which both partners have a lot of interest in maintaining, that manage this) and flourish, despite the adverse context. (see The Trauma Myth by Susan A. Clancy Ph.D published by Perseus books).
5. Paedophiles are unable to control their urges
Most paedophiles are 'celibate', satisfying their love through non-contact means. The punishments and repercussion that the slightest loss of self-control could entrain are so great that in order too survive in contemporary western society the paedophile must control his/her urges and desires to a much greater degree than 'teleiophiles' need control theirs.
Many paedophiles who have a close friendship with a child will choose not to allow that relationship to become sexual, out of an awareness of the trauma and stigma the child would experience if the sexual activities were discovered. And out of an awareness that the child, once adult, because of the strong condemnation and stigma society directs at child/adult intimacy, may re-interpret such activities, though happily and consensually engaged in at the time, as having been 'abuse' (see n°4 above, and n° 14 + n° 15 below on the subject of 'consent').
6. Anyone who rapes a child or manipulates one into having sex is a paedophile.
Most rapes on children are committed by i/ non-paedophiles who find themselves depressed, drunk, drugged or otherwise disoriented, and are 'surprised' by an unfamiliar desire which they have not previously needed to learn to control (see n° 5), or ii/ 'opportunistic' offenders who direct their adult sexuality at whatever target is available. Moreover the exercise of power that is the essence of rape goes against the mindset of the typical paedophile, who is only interested in a consensual relationship in which the child enjoys the intimacy and has equal power in the relationship (see n° 3).
This explains why it has been estimated that only 2 to10 percent of child sexual abuse perpetrators meet the regular criteria for paedophilia (Kinsey-Report, Lautmann, Brongersma, Groth). To the normal paedophile the idea of causing a child distress, pain or to be afraid is absolute anathema.
The water is further muddied by an increasing tendency of the law, the popular imagination and the media to label any sexual, or even just 'sensual', interaction between a child and an adult as 'rape' or 'statutory rape', even if the interaction only consists of light, consensual touching. This is one of many examples of how the language used around this issue has broken down, no longer fitting what it purports to describe (see introductory comments).
7. Paedophiles shouldn't be allowed to work, or have contact, with children.
As asserted in n° 5 above paedophiles are generally very good and practised at controlling their desires, and as such pose no actual threat to children they work with. Moreover paedophiles often make the best youth workers, teachers, coaches etc because their sexuality can give them a deeper interest in, understanding of and sympathy with children than is generally found in non-paedophiles.
8. Paedophiles don't 'fall in love' with children but just want them for sex.
Paedophiles fall as deeply in love with a child as adults do with other adults. Even non-paedophiles will acknowledge that children can be beautiful, sweet, charming, quirky and stimulating company, and will have memories of being in love with a child from when they themselves were children. Is it really so ridiculous to find oneself thoroughly enchanted by a child?
Rather, the fact that society finds it so hard to imagine that an adult could experience an intense, non-parental, love for a child indicates the low esteem and value that society places on children as individuals, as humans with distinct personalities. Children are as much 'people' as adults are, and as such it shouldn't be thought ridiculous that someone could appreciate and love them for their individual qualities and character.
9. Paedophiles have below average IQ and are uneducated.
There are some studies that seem to indicate this but as these are based on prisoners, who on average have lower IQs than the general population, these statistics are meaningless (see introductory comments above).
Some famously intelligent and talented paedophiles include : Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander the Great, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Allen Ginsberg, Michael Jackson, Mohammed, Saint Augustine, Gandhi, John Ruskin, General Charles George Gordon, J.M Barrie, Benjamin Britten, Arthur C. Clarke, Mark Twain, Richard Hughes, Francis Kilvert, Eric Gill, L.S. Lowry, T.H. White, William van Gloeden, Ernest Dowson, John Cowper Powys, T.E. Lawrence, Wilfred Owen...
10. Being a paedophile is a matter of choice.
Given the all-pervasive misunderstanding and misrepresentation in the media and public discourse, given the stigma, the hatred, the risk of violence and prison, why would anyone actually choose to be a paedophile? Generally being a paedophile either entails a life of fear at having one's love detected if one is in, or has had, a relationship, or a life of celibacy, restraint and frustration. Many paedophiles, because of this, try to become 'normal : most succeed in leading a 'normal' life, but few, if any, manage to change the nature of their desires.
11. Paedophiles can't manage it with real women and choose children as an easy option.
Most paedophiles are not exclusive in their sexuality, being also attracted to adult women and/or men. Many marry and have families.
Nor is a relationship with a child by any means an 'easy option' over and above all the pressures and dangers imposed by society and the law mentioned above (n°10), any parent or teacher will tell you that children can be very demanding, tiring and challenging.
For what it's worth, and speaking purely for myself, the secondary sexual characteristics of an adult woman (breasts, wide hips, pubic hair...) certainly provoke a much stronger sexual response in me than does the sight of a naked little girl. The feelings that a little girl can arouse in me are rather ones of tenderness, fatherliness, nurturing, delight, love and affection. In fact there is little of any, stricly speaking, 'sexual' element in these feelings.
The reader may, with reason, ask what distinguishes me from any 'normal' male who has strong nurturing feelings towards children? The answer is that I feel and believe that there can be some sensual, or even sexual, element in the expression of those nurturing feelings, and that there is no intrinsic harm in this, provided that the child wishes it and the interaction is consensual (see n° 2 above about the nature of paedophile sexuality, see n°s 14 & 15 regarding 'consent').
12. An intimate relationship with an adult must bring 'the worst' out of a child.
As n° 11 mentions above : children can sometimes be demanding, tiring and challenging. However, as any teacher or psychologist will confirm, children treated with respect, and who feel liked and appreciated, behave better and more maturely than those who feel disliked or who are treated with disrespect. Paedophiles love and admire their little friends, and treat them with a respect that children are unaccustomed to receive from adults. The friendship is as much a partnership of equals as any relationship between an adult and a child can be (see n°3 above). Children engaged in a friendship with a paedophile will often flourish, regardless of whether the relationship has a sexual element or not.
13. Paedophiles will 'drop' the relationship once adolescence is reached.
As stated in n°11 the majority of paedophiles are non-exclusive in their sexual preferences and will not lose interest in their partner at the onset of adolescence. What can sometimes happen is that the child in the relationship loses interest in the adult and, as so often happens at puberty, become focused on people of his/her own age. In these cases any sexual component of the relationship usually stops, though the friendship and closeness often remains.
14. Children cannot consent to sex.
'Consent' is not a one-off act but a process: but is a process, something that is constantly being either renewed or withdrawn in any interaction (not just sexual): when adults have sex they don't break off from their kissing to ask each other "do you consent to progress to light foreplay?" - no, the consent is signaled in a willingness to continue and enjoyment of the activity. A show of unwillingness or lack of enjoyment signals withdrawal of consent, and the activity stops.
Children are very good at knowing what they want and don't want, like or don't like. If you've ever tried to persuade a reluctant child to eat its sprouts, or offered a hot child an ice-lolly on a summer's day you will see how capable children are of consenting. Likewise with intimacy and sensuality : a child will make it perfectly clear, either verbally or with body-language, whether or not she is enjoying and feeling comfortable and happy with what she is doing. An ethical paedophile will be very alert to such signals.
Ironically it seems that the paedophile-child relationship is maybe the only adult-child relationship where consent is actually crucial and central to the success and continuation of the relationship. Think of the relationships between children and parents, teachers, social workers, police etc. : in none of these relationships is the child's 'consent' taken seriously or required. This is one of several factors in the paedophile-child relationship that leads to an equality of power that is not found in other adult-child relationships. (see n° 3)
15. Children cannot give informed consent to sex.
A child may not know much about sex and intimacy but if they engage themselves willingly and enthusiastically in an intimate relationship with an adult they are certainly showing an eagerness to become 'informed'. Moreover some children are quite well informed about sex, either from being brought up in a context open about sex or from having previous experiences either with other children and/or adults.
Society normally encourages this 'eagerness to become informed', this progression from 'ignorance' to 'knowledge' - calling it 'learning' and 'education'.
However it is ironic that when it comes to 'sex and sensuality' society does everything it can to maintain children in a condition of ignorance, of being 'uninformed'; and then raises the idea that they are 'uninformed' as an objection to them satisfying their natural curiosity and desires.
16. Children don't like paedophiles.
Children, like all other humans, like and are attracted to people whom they feel loved, liked and appreciated by. Even 'child protection' literature repeats that it's often the person who is good with children, whom children love, who is the 'threat', whom parents should 'watch out for'.
17. Children cannot be interested in sex or intimacy with an adult.
More than 100 years after Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and after a wealth of anthropological studies conducted amongst Trobriand Islanders, Inuits, Namibian Bushmen, after explorers' reports from the Marquesas and Tahiti - all of which describe societies in which displays of child sexuality and intergenerational sexual relations were common and accepted - western society is still desperately trying to persuade itself that children are not sexual beings.
But why is that we have to go to far away societies from another time to find admissible evidence of child sexuality? Where is the evidence that children can be attracted to adults in contemporary western societies?
Well, who is there in our society that can bring real-world knowledge and experience of child sexuality? Parents (who by-and-large shame their children so by the age of 5 or 6 most children are fully aware that 'sex-things' are a taboo subject about which their parents are not willing to be open)? Teachers, police, doctors, psychologists, social workers? Which of these could a child be sufficiently at ease with to express their sexuality towards? The answer is, of course, 'None of them'.
The fact is that in our society it's only the 'paedophile' who is accepts child sexuality, who, when a child displays sexual behaviour, doesn't react negatively, doesn't shame the child, doesn't make her feel that her sexuality is 'bad'. Even celibate paedophiles will have often had the experience of being the object of a child's sensual or sexual interest.
Unfortunately Society and the Law have, a priori, defined this knowledge and these experience as 'inadmissible evidence' thus depriving society, sociology, psychology and the law of the most significant insights into the important subject of child sexuality, and maintaining the false belief that children are not sexual or interested in sex. The means and mechanisms for gathering such knowledge have been deemed 'illegal'.
18. Paedophiles 'groom' children.
Tom O'Carroll (https://tomocarroll.wordpress.com) makes the following comment Grooming [is] a word in search of a meaning, an essentially empty propaganda concept. It [is] just a way of talking about a pleasant thing spending time with a child you like and finding they enjoy your company too, with a growing bond of mutual affection and trust and making it sound nasty, reducing it to a cynically exploitative exercise.