In September, Gawker featured a piece by Cord Jefferson about pedophilia as a "sexual orientation," which heavily sympathized with pedophiles and failed utterly to incorporate any perspective from or empathy with victims of childhood sexual abuse. At the time, I simply linked to this great piece by Grace, which explored the ethics of writing about sexual abuse.
I am going to point you there again, because the Guardian has now published a similar piece of apologia by Jon Henley.
Henley, like Jefferson, seeks to humanize pedophiles by normalizing their behavior. He is fascinated by the "experts" and their disagreement about how pedophilia is or should be defined and "even how much harm it causes."
There is, astonishingly, not even a full academic consensus on whether consensual paedophilic relations necessarily cause harm.That is not astonishing to anyone who has spent any time engaged with anti-rape advocacy. There is an endless parade of rape apologists, some of them with a trail of official academic letters behind their names, who will assert that sexual violence of all sorts does not cause harm to its survivors.
Their helpful footman, Henley eagerly reports that "not all experts are sure" that children cannot meaningfully consent to sexual interactions.
A Dutch study published in 1987 found that a sample of boys in paedophilic relationships felt positively about them. And a major if still controversial 1998-2000 meta-study suggests – as J Michael Bailey of Northwestern University, Chicago, says – that such relationships, entered into voluntarily, are "nearly uncorrelated with undesirable outcomes".That a sample of survivors of sexual abuse, of any age, "[feels] positively about" their abuse is not an argument for the harmlessness of abuse, but a predictable example of how many sexual abuse survivors employ an identifiable and common coping strategy of viewing their abuse as a loving act. This is especially common among child victims.
Who, for the record, are not capable of "entering voluntarily" into sexual interactions with adults, which are, for the record, not "pedophilic relationships," but instances of sexual violence.
Henley is, however, keen to tell us that pedophiles are not violent.
[N]ot all paedophiles are child molesters, and vice versa: by no means every paedophile acts on his impulses, and many people who sexually abuse children are not exclusively or primarily sexually attracted to them. In fact, "true" paedophiles are estimated by some experts to account for only 20% of sexual abusers. Nor are paedophiles necessarily violent: no firm links have so far been established between paedophilia and aggressive or psychotic symptoms.Only in the frame of a deeply cynical rape apologist who feigns wide-eyed astonishment at all these shiny new facts he's been carefully collating to make a case for pedophiles would the casual assertion be made there is no evidence of "aggression" in people who sexually abuse children, or that sexual abuse is itself not a form of violence.
After all, Henley observes, "Social perceptions do change. Child brides were once the norm; in the late 16th century the age of consent in England was 10." Henley seems unaware, or unconcerned, that trading girl children to adult men is still the norm, or very common, in some places (Unicef estimates there are still 60 million "child brides" around the world at any given time), and, further, that we protect children by inviting, promoting, and advocating empathy with children, not with their abusers.
But the agenda here is, of course, urging us to empathize with the poor beleaguered pedophile, because it is our hostility toward sexual predators that is the real problem:
We can help keep children safe, Goode argues, "by allowing paedophiles to be ordinary members of society, with moral standards like everyone else", and by "respecting and valuing those paedophiles who choose self-restraint". Only then will men tempted to abuse children "be able to be honest about their feelings, and perhaps find people around them who could support them and challenge their behaviour before children get harmed".I am firmly on the page that talking about sexual predators as if they are monsters, that dehumanizing them, is profoundly unhelpful. That said, I am also firmly on the page that ignoring the reality most pedophiles are dangerous predators who insinuate themselves into children's lives and carefully groom victims based on their circumstances, centering in on children whose need and neglect ensure their abusers' freedom, is also unhelpful, to put it politely.
As I have previously observed: "It is eminently possible to talk about rapists as complex human beings without talking about them (inaccurately) as 'good people who just happened to do a bad thing.' Rape is not an act that happens accidentally. Rapists, all rapists, are predators who are hostile to consent and spend plenty of time feeling out, as an explicit or unconscious strategy, how far they can push boundaries (sexual and otherwise) without consequence before they commit rape."
Pedophiles are not an exception. They are expert predators. And predators harm, despite Henley's argument that may not be so:
Bailey said that while he also found the notion "disturbing", he was forced to recognise that "persuasive evidence for the harmfulness of paedophilic relationships does not yet exist".Yes it does. But access to that persuasive evidence requires listening to and empathizing with victims.
[H/T to Jordan.]