Can child sexual abuse be prevented?

Trigger Warning: Discussions of pedophilia and child sexual assault

Before I start, I have to stress that child sexual assault is never ok. I am not defending those who sexually assault minors. I am simply arguing that our alienation of non-offending pedophiles may be increasing the amount of child sexual assaults.

Ok, so I know you probably saw the title of this article and got ready to put on your keyboard warrior hat. Pedophilia and child sexual abuse are touchy subjects, especially because we as a society are extremely protective of children, and as a result harshly punish those who violate that (and rightly so).

However, I believe that society functions best when we challenge our thinking. I’m merely considering the idea that our current alienation of non-offending pedophiles may not be achieving our common goal of eliminating child sexual offences.

Pedophilia and child sex offenders are often used for the same thing, but they are actually two very different things. Pedophilia refers to an enduring sexual interest in kids under 13. Child sex offenders are people who either by possess explicit material depicting children or sexually assault children. Not all pedophiles are sex offenders, and not all sex offenders are pedophiles. Pedophiles can still be pedophiles without committing child sexual assault.

If pedophiles are able to refrain from offending, then why can’t they just stop thinking about kids in a sexual way?

It’s complicated.

Pedophilia is not a choice

While the exact origins of pedophilia are unknown, new research suggests that atypical wiring in the social instincts section of the brain may be at least partly to blame for pedophilia. Long story short, pedophiles are likely born that way. Pedophilia is something that can be subdued with treatments such as antidepressants, medical castration and talk therapy. However, it cannot be cured.

Feeling sexually attracted to children is a feeling, not a choice. As much as pedophiles can try to get rid of their thoughts, the attraction will always remain. If this is true, then why are we as a society so quick to reject pedophiles for feelings (not actions) they cannot control?

Because we don’t want to see kids getting sexually assaulted, right? Of course. But if that is the end goal, demonising non-offending pedophiles might not be very effective.

Alienation and prior abuse are risk factors for future offences

Time and time again, research has proved that alienation is detrimental to the human brain. In fact, shame is pretty ineffective when it comes to changing behaviour. Pedophilia is no exception. In fact, pedophiles are more likely to sexually assault kids if they feel marginalised by their community.

Not only this, but people are more likely to be pedophiles if they were sexually assaulted as kids. If we as a society become harsher on non-offending pedophiles, more kids could potentially be assaulted, and some will go on to do the same to future generations. The cycle repeats, and the catalyst is us. Not only does our alienation affect present pedophiles, it affects kids now and kids in the future.

Discussion helps pedophiles refrain from offending

Various websites act as support groups for non-offending pedophiles, with one major example being the Virtuous Pedophiles website. Here, pedophiles are open with each other about their attractions and are welcomed. Pedophiles will likely never be openly accepted by society, meaning that they need a place to work through their issues outside of the society that is unwilling to accept them.

This forum has shown great results as they encourage pedophiles to refrain from committing child sexual assault. It is worth mentioning that these websites are not child pornography websites. The rules state that users can only use the website to discuss their feelings so that they can work through their desires.

While these sites should be monitored so that they remain purely therapeutic, they are crucial in creating a place for pedophiles to go to openly discuss their desires and address the underlying issues that may push pedophiles to commit child sexual abuse.

Laws focus on punishment over prevention

Improvement doesn’t only have to come from our society. These positive changes also have to be reflected in the law.

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) laid out a few important points when it comes to preventing pedophiles from committing acts of violence. Firstly, we need to change individual and community attitudes and beliefs that allow abuse to occur. This means making it extraordinarily difficult for pedophiles to be tempted to offend. One major way this can be achieved is by teaching kids not only how to speak up about their experiences, but also emphasising that it is okay for them to speak up. Empowering victims is an excellent way to take the power away from their abusers. Abuse thrives in silence.

Finally, adults who experienced child sexual abuse should have access to therapy where they learn how to break the cycle and “not reproduce the anti-social experiences of their own childhood”. Psychological therapy has been proven to be very effective in reducing child sexual assault. There are almost always underlying issues that make pedophiles feel compelled to commit acts of sexual violence, and therapy is a great way to address these issues before they cause harm.

Should the law change?

Sentencing of offending pedophiles should include therapy and rehabilitation to prevent further offences from offending pedophiles. The AIC recommends that therapy should be a mandatory condition of parole so that pedophiles are able to adjust to the freedoms outside of prison with adequate supervision while resolving the underlying issues that may cause them to offend again.

What I’m getting at here is that the amount of cases of child sexual abuse could potentially be reduced if we as a society incite change. Limiting our harsh treatment of non-offending pedophiles does not eliminate all harm, but it can minimise the amount of people hurt by preventable harm.

Our attitudes and laws can easily do more to prevent child sexual abuse. There is a big difference between pedophiles and child sex offenders. Our harsh treatment of pedophiles is not only unhelpful, but is also giving unoffending pedophiles more reason to act on their desires. If our final aim is to prevent kids from sexual abuse, we as a society need to consider limiting our harshness on pedophiles to stop the cycle of abuse.

If you have been sexually assaulted as a child or know someone who needs help, here are a few 24-hour hotlines that may help:

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

No to Violence: 1300 766 491

Australian Childhood Foundation: 1800 176 453


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