Pity the Poor Child Molester

Imagine that you woke up one day and found, not that you had turned into a giant cockroach, but that you felt unacceptable sexual urges towards little girls or boys. What might you do? You might, possibly like Lewis Carroll, turn those urges to harmless ends, like writing books for children. Or you might accidentally stumble into a seemingly innocent way of gratifying those urges. All the while you would be telling yourself you weren’t really doing any harm, and besides, the other good you were doing for the children compensated for your guilt. Mightn’t that be the story of Jerry Sandusky, or Jimmy Savile, or any number of pedophile priests?

I’m not justifying child molestation. But must we demonize molesters; must we treat them as alien, irredeemable monsters? In so doing, we cut actual and potential offenders off from available, effective treatment. We deny any social responsibility for putting people in a position that enables harmful behavior. By denying the humanity of molesters, we deny our own propensity to do foolish or harmful things under the sway of powerful emotions.

Alcoholism, compulsive gambling, overeating, kleptomania, sex addiction and other obsessive-compulsive disorders are not destiny. They do respond successfully to cognitive or behavioral therapies, and/or medication.  At the very least, people can learn to avoid situations that trigger such behavior.

In fact, we already know situations that can induce misconduct by otherwise “normal” people. We know that under conditions of war, or drunken frat parties, ordinary young men may rape available women.  Then there are the lonely priests, desperate for human contact, who may cuddle the choirboys a little too closely.

The rest of us also lapse from time to time. How many of us long-time married adults, devoted to our husbands or wives, have found ourselves traveling or working late with a colleague—and then slipped guilt-ridden into a brief affair, as did David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell? How many of us have written angry or desperate messages to former lovers, or their partners, at least risking exposure and embarrassment—as happened with Broadwell’s snippy anonymous emails to a rival?

Malcolm Gladwell recently published an article in the New Yorker in which he described child molesters as cunning predators, cleverly structuring their entire lives around pursuing and concealing their deviant sexual needs. I don’t buy this. We are all multiple, conflicted personalities. Until recently, Dominique Strauss-Kahn—economist, lawyer, international political figure, husband to a beautiful, successful, wealthy, loyal wife—managed to carry on a shadowy second life as a libertine. So I say, let’s have some compassion for child molesters. They are human, like us.

9 thoughts on “Pity the Poor Child Molester”

  1. I agree that it is no useful to demonize people who sexually abuse children. There is a range–some abusers are able to restrain their impulses, some are not–they are the truly compulsive pedophiles, and I know of no treatment or medication (short of castration) which consistently works with this population. And to characterize pedophile priests as “cuddling the choirboys” is an indication that Cleveland has taken on the denial and minimization that abusers use to excuse their behavior–men who batter women do this all the time, and when the culture colludes by excusing the behavior the victimization continues. SO–yes, let us remember that sex abusers and pedophiles are human. BUT that does not make them less dangerous, and whatever good they may do in no way compensates for the harm they have done. Ask any victim.

  2. I completely agree that child molesters are dangerous, and do not intend to justify their (very human) denial and minimization. But we may compound the harm if we demonize molesters instead of offering treatment, and if we fail to recognize situations–like celibate priesthood–that facilitate abuse.

  3. The point is to prevent these crimes and rehabilitate the perpetrators with least harm to all parties involved. Who knows the best way to do this? Perhaps the threat of demonization by the public paired with a more rational approach to treatment by those who would be responsible is the best way do accomplish the objective. Like all complicated questions it would take some very careful thought and research. I wonder what an expert in the treatment of pedophilia would have to say?

  4. Pastor Lee McFarland (Radiant Church, Surprise AZ.) was finally caught. May hell keep him with those like him.

  5. You do not rehabilitate pedophiles. Chemical castration is the only cure… I am not being facetious.

    I read the study years back. Pedophiles who accepted castration in, I believe Mississippi, said they were free, for the first time in their lives – of the fantasies, obsessions, and urges.

    Fine by me… cut em off.

  6. Um, no. Alcoholism, compulsive gambling, overeating, kleptomania, sex addiction and other obsessive-compulsive disorders are not equivalent to a child molestor. A molestor is a preditor who hurts children for his own perverse sexual pleasure. He manipulates, lies, and physically and mentally hurts the child repeatedly with full knowledge that they are doing something demented and gravely illegal! Molestors are NOT normal people.The long term effects on the child who endures this are devastating!

    How many of us long-time married adults….slipped guilt-ridden into a brief affair. You didn’t just slipped into an affair. You willingly, purposely, repeatedly engaged in evening outings with someone of the opposite and you allowed and fully engaged in the building of a relationship. This is no slip up!

    The problem is we believe these excuses! As a culture, we have become way too casual I our conversation. We have no measure of what is inappropriate. We are entertained by scandal instead of appauled. We have come to believe that a person who preys on hurting innocent, defenseless children is no worse than a gambler or alcoholic. We have no measure of right or wrong. Truth, anyone who willingly physically and repeatedly hurts another person for their own pleasure is inhuman and should be locked in a cage. There is forgiveness for this person, but that doesn’t include allowing them to hold a position that could put children in danger. One time was enough. You fail that test you don’t get another chance.

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