Changing our attitude to paedophiles could help end child abuse

7th December 2017

This article contains no detail on or descriptions of child abuse but includes multiple mentions of attraction to children.

The word “paedophile” is a taboo, just a mention of the word makes people recoil in disgust. It’s understandable: sexual abuse is disgusting and sexual abuse of children is even worse.

According to the World Health Organisation, paedophilia is “a persistent or a predominant preference for sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children”.

This definition does not mean the person with the disorder has ever acted on it. There are groups of paedophiles who accept they are in fact paedophiles but they are not child abusers. Having these feelings is not illegal; how could it be? But acting on these feelings is.

Paedophilia is more widespread than we realise and many people with this disorder do not seek help because of the immense shame surrounding their feelings. In the past few years, a huge number of high profile child abuse cases have come out of the woodwork. The uncovering of Jimmy Savile’s abuse was wake up call for the UK and its attitude towards child abuse. This was followed by an outpour of child abuse cases as people felt more able to talk about their experiences. But the problem is by no means solved. Figures show child abuse in the UK has increased by around 80% in the past three years and around 100,000 Brits look at indecent images of under 18s online, according to a study by Stop It Now.

What has the UK done to combat child abuse?

It is estimated by the Medical Republic that around 2%-9% of the adult male population and 1% to 5% of the female population have paedophilic urges. Yet, in Britain, we are very unwilling to talk about child abuse – it’s unthinkable. But child abuse victim Ian McFayden in documentary The Paedophile Next Door, urged people to talk, saying that talking about child abuse and finding ways to prevent it is much less uncomfortable than it actually happening.

There are groups across the world consisting of paedophiles who refuse to act on their desires and live normal lives. One group is called Virtuous Pedophiles who “don’t think we are better than the average person, just not worse”. These groups are widespread and offer support to people struggling to come to terms with their condition. Ethan Edwards, co-founder of Virtuous Pedophiles speaks to The Overtake.

“I was married for many years and raised three daughters. I’m also a paedophile,” he says.

“My strongest attraction is to girls as young as four. I’m also attracted to older females, though the attraction drops off sharply above age 30. I’m very fortunate in this regard, because I’ve been able to form loving relationships with adult women. This wider range of attraction also let me deny the reality of my paedophilia until I was about 50.”

I’m fortunate to have a therapist I can discuss my paedophilia with. But not one other person in my life knows of my attraction

Ethan continues to talk about how being a paedophile can be very lonely, and without help or a community to talk to, could become something dangerous.

“I’m fortunate to have a therapist I can discuss my paedophilia with. But not one other person in my life knows of my attraction. Although I’ve never had sexual contact with a child and never will, I could lose all my friends and social supports if anyone found out. The need for secrecy weighs on me. My heart goes out to other paedophiles who have it much worse: those who feel that their thoughts alone make them evil… I’m hoping that in creating Virtuous Pedophiles, Nick and I can make life easier for other celibate paedophiles.”

Generally, in society we look at paedophiles and assume they’re child sex offenders. Understandably, people are afraid, they’re angry and they cannot begin to understand. But the Virtuous Pedophile community is an example of people suffering with a condition and leading a normal life. Sociologist and author Dr Sarah Goode says the terms “paedophile” and “sex offender” have become “interchangeable”. She believes that we should encourage these people to seek help before they become offenders, in turn, this will only reduce the number of children who become abused.

To suggest paedophiles may be struggling with a condition could be a rather alarming statement. But in truth, the majority of paedophiles do not choose to have these feelings and if we tackle them before they’re acted upon, then it’s stopping the abuse. Parents of five-year-old April Jones, who was raped and murdered by Mark Bridger appealed to help these paedophiles in their book, April. Speaking to the BBC, April’s father, Paul Jones said: “If you are thinking that way and you haven’t committed any crime, if you call out for help that can only be a good thing.”

Taking a different approach

In Germany, the attitude towards paedophilia follows this principle, with a scheme called Dunkelfeld. It encourages people with paedophilic feelings to come forward and receive cognitive behavioural therapy to stop them carrying out any abuse. Their motto “Kien Täter Weden” means “don’t offend”. For Germany, the approach is about tackling the problem before it manifests into something more sinister.

We have no such alternative in Britain, instead, choosing to face the problem after the abuse has occurred. There are COSA groups (circles of support and accountability), which are volunteer-led groups for child abusers when they’ve been released from prison. In 2012, there were 72 circles and, only five years later in 2017, there are 137 – so either the problem or the solution, or both, are continuing to grow. It’s said that these circles will reduce the likelihood of a second crime by 70% but Germans are tackling the problem before the first crime is committed. Since 2005, the project has expanded all over Germany with huge support from Angela Merkel and her party, the Christian Democratic Union. This is in stark contrast to Britain, where the NHS doesn’t have the funding to tackle the issue. Paedophiles, being shunned by society are forced into the shadows, their impulses suppressed and in many cases coming to a dangerous head: watching child pornography or acting on their sexual impulses and abusing a child.

What we do most often is help people feel less despair, less isolated, less lonely, and more like living

Edwards explains more about how his organisation helps people suffering from paedophilia: “What we do most often is help people feel less despair, less isolated, less lonely, and more like living. That is never at the cost of doing anything sexual with a child (the possibility almost never comes up). But what we help with most is people’s own private mental health. Much less often people do want to know how to control themselves in certain situations, and we offer advice, as well as just listening while they convince themselves they want to do the right thing.”

The group mostly receives messages from men from as young as 14-years-old up to 25. “We can’t take anyone under 18 but have a chat service to refer them to that was founded on the same principles,” he says.

Boys as young as 14 are still children themselves so intervention at this stage can ensure these desires are never acted upon. Ethan suggested: “Getting rid of mandated reporting laws would help a lot. So would creating and funding programs to help people before they molest anyone. The worst part of mandated reporting laws are ones that call for a report based on what might happen in the future.”

With public opinion on paedophiles still largely in the disgusted and afraid camp, it seems unimaginable that paedophiles might one day be able to speak about their feelings publicly. However, with more help schemes in place, these desires are less likely to manifest as abuse, protecting both children and potential offenders.

7th December 2017