Tue Apr 22nd, 2014 at 07:38:51 PM EST
Last Sunday, the weekly American radio program This American Life did an episode about stories of people being threatened and punished with public shame. The first segment in that episode was about the pernicious power of malicious online gossip in small towns. While that segment was very good, the second segment stunned me:
There's one group of people that is universally tarred and feathered in the United States and most of the world. We never hear from them, because they can't identify themselves without putting their livelihoods and reputations at risk. That group is pedophiles. It turns out lots of them desperately want help, but because it's so hard to talk about their situation it's almost impossible for them to find it. Reporter Luke Malone spent a year and a half talking to people in this situation, and he has this story about one of them. More of Luke Malone's reporting on this topic will appear next month on Medium.com. (27 minutes)
The reporter got interested in the issue during the 2011 Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. Investigating the phenomenon, he somehow found online a 18-year old man who realized he was sexually attracted to young children and met the DSM criteria for pedophilia. He had never acted on those attractions, but from 14 to 16 years old he had a pornography addiction which he abruptly ended when one video involving the abuse of an 18-month old made him want to "reach into the screen and kill the man" hurting the child.
He writes a letter to his mother asking her to take him to a psychologist, which she does, and after an absolutely infuriating scene with a completely ill-equipped counselor as well as further research and commentary by the journalist, it becomes clear that the U.S. (and probably modern society in general) a has "huge black hole" in its understanding of this issue, the people involved, and especially the capacity to help those who recognize the condition within themselves, firmly believe it is morally wrong, and commit never to acting on it.
I am not doing justice to the piece itself, so if you do have 20 minutes, I highly recommend listening to it. But here are some points and thoughts that jumped out at me:
- Thank God that guy's mother loved him enough to support him when this situation became known to her.
- The shocking scarcity of support groups (online or offline) for people like him.
- His courage and initiative in starting one on his own at the age of 18.
- The relative abundance of online support groups for people advocating the abolition of age of consent.
- The guy's admission that when he first discovered these sexual attractions and the pornography, he was not aware of anything being wrong about it ("it was just two children like himself [14 at the time] acting out fantasies" that he had), though he was aware somehow society labeled it as "wrong".
- His feeling that he was basically born this way.
- His personal conviction that there is no way to "cure" him of this attraction.
- His feeling that he is somehow "better" than other people who (a) acted on similar attractions, and especially those who (b) had or showed no moral compunctions about it, e.g. those who advocated the abolition of age of consent laws.
- The initiative and courage of the reporter who investigated this topic for a year and a half.
- The fact that there is little money being allocated or donated for research into this area because the stigma associated with it is so strong.
- That one of the world's top researchers in this field had never met a person who had these attractions but had not acted on them, and that she learned about the support group featured in this piece through the reporter who contacted her.
- The journalist's observation that basically society is demanding that people with these attractions go their entire lives repressing their (presumably) in-born sexual attractions. (He mentions but soft of glosses over the point that a significant proportion of these people are also attracted to their peers and older people as well as to children.)
A tough piece. Props to Luke Malone and This American Life for putting some light on this harrowing problem.