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Pedophiles Need Help More Than Handcuffs

Maybe, just maybe, pedophiles -- especially the ones who manage to live their lives without offending -- deserve our sympathy. Imagine being born into this sex-obsessed world with one of the only universally unacceptable sexual desires, and no way of talking about it without incriminating yourself.
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Do you ever wish you could get inside the head of someone like a serial killer, or a sociopath and just see what's going on in his brain? Of course you do -- we all do, because the thought process of a person some might call a "monster" is a total mystery to most of us. It's really a shame that when people do decide to speak out, and deliver their angle, they so often get crucified by the closed-minded among us.

This week an article in The Atlantic, "I, Pedophile" piqued my interest -- just what does a pedophile think about himself?

The answer: He feels like he needs help to work through the hand he's been dealt.

One response I read on Facebook: "They should be executed en masse."

This is exactly the kind of attitude that precludes pedophiles from asking for help -- what will people think? Say? Do to me? That kind of attitude towards someone seeking help -- even if that someone is a pedophile -- is part of the problem.

The author of the Atlantic piece, while he has never harmed a child, is certainly not free from guilt. He was arrested and jailed for possession of child pornography, and rightly so. You won't find me defending the exploitation of children in this post, or wishing that all pedophiles could just run wild and free. What you will find is concern for the fact that there are virtually no programs to help those who are attracted to children deal with their urges before an offense occurs.

I'm talking about the pedophiles that most of us don't know that we know. The ones who have never offended, who may never offend, but who carry with them a terrible secret.

As the author of the article, David Goldberg, puts it:

"Most people hear that word and think of the Jerry Sanduskys and abusive Catholic priests of the world. Fewer people think about the millions who grapple with sexual feelings on which they can never act."

The price of this terrible secret is that most pedophiles live in silence due to the stigma they encounter and are only identified through the criminal justice system. At this point, they've already exploited someone -- at the very least, though the consumption of child pornography. Those children are exploited. They have no ability to consent, and they are victims. Rightfully, these men are treated as criminals.

But it's my opinion that if we track the sharing of those photographs and videos, as police do, and they lead us to someone, that prison might not be the best option for that person -- or at least shouldn't be the only option. These people need intense rehabilitation and therapy, and if you've seen the state of our prisons these days you know they're not likely to get it while locked up.

To those who think these men deserve no "special treatment," who should instead be released into the general population for a little inmate justice, I ask: what then happens when these men are released back into society? With no coping mechanisms, no support network, and only the memory of the violence inflicted upon them from people who knew "what they were." Why come forward and ask for help at your darkest hour when talking about your affliction has only ever brought you pain?

In his article, Goldberg describes pedophilia as being similar to homosexuality in that you can't choose who you're attracted to. While it's not my comparison to make, I'm not sure it's apt. Beyond the fact that the comparison pathologizes the queer community, I think pedophilia seems more akin to a mental health disorder. Both are chemical, both misunderstood, both can be frightening to the general public and both require treatment of some kind.

A dedicated treatment centre would have the ability to give sex offenders, and those who have thoughts of offending, both a space to discuss their thoughts openly in a non-judgmental environment, and assembles a group of people who will hold an offender accountable for his thoughts and actions once he re-enters society. Some of that treatment can include drug therapy, lowering the testosterone and thus the sex drive of the offender.

One such treatment facility, the Clearwater sex offender treatment program at the Correctional Service of Canada's Regional Psychiatric Centre (Prairies) conducted a study that proves the program's statistically significant effect on sex offenders. In their sample group of 80 high-risk offenders -- people who had been convicted of a sexual crime previously -- about 13 men were pedophiles. Five years post-release, the group as a whole had a 6 per cent rate of sexual reconviction, compared to the national sample of almost 15 per cent. However, pedophiles who did not complete treatment were twice as likely to re-offend.

And because pedophiles and sex offenders are often cut completely out of the community when they return to it, creating a community of their own in order to support each other is one option detailed in a 2007 New York Magazine feature (which I highly recommend).

In a Long Island town, where as of 2007 there were 45 registered sex offenders, seven of them lived in one home together. They paid rent, were visited by parole officers, had group therapy and followed all the house rules on pain of being evicted from the home. Mickey, the de facto house mother, himself a convicted sex offender, turned the place into a parole home for others getting out of prison with nowhere to go. This is a great example of how community, and being able to talk about what ails you, helps people learn and grow.

In the article he has one quote that really stuck out to me: "Nobody would help one bit. So we just did it on our own."

Maybe, just maybe, these people -- especially the ones who manage to live their lives without offending -- deserve our sympathy. Imagine being born into this sex-obsessed world with one of the only universally unacceptable sexual desires, and no way of talking about it without incriminating yourself. These are people who, through no fault of their own, must try to spend their lives actively avoiding what so many of us think about day in and day out -- sex with a partner we desire. That kind of silent struggle is enough to make any person implode, and we should take steps to create a space to talk about that struggle to alleviate some of the pressure.

Wouldn't the world be a safer place if people who were attracted to children could come right out and say it, and seek help to repress the urge to do something about it?

You can read any number of pieces I've written on the topic of women and rape, and my horror at the thought of it -- let alone the sexual abuse of a child. But I'm a firm believer that locking people up and moving on without discussion or any form of education is no way to solve anything. The more we understand about pedophiles -- and we can learn if we truly listen -- the easier it will be to help them help themselves.

We often scoff at those who don't go straight to the source when discussing a topic. Well, I think the author of "I, Pedophile" said it best himself: "Will the day ever come when we, as a society, reach out and offer [pedophiles] the help they so desperately need?"

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