Inclination, Action, and Justice: Gawker's Pedophilia Article and the Angry Reactions To It

If I snuck up on Gawker editor Cord Jefferson and struck him on the head with a chessboard, no serious person would say that we "played chess." If I jumped out of a dark alley and threw hand-carved rooks and bishops at him, nobody would say that I had "started a game of chess" with him.

Yet in his controversial article "Born This Way: Sympathy and Science for Those Who Want To Have Sex With Children," Cord Jefferson uses equally inappropriate terms to describe equally one-sided sexual aggression against children. Note the language in his opening paragraph, in which he tells the tale of a man named Terry who abused a child in his care. The emphasis is mine:

It's not easy to listen to Terry talk about the time he had sex with a seven-year-old girl. But after his psychotherapist put us in touch, he agreed to lay it all out for me during a phone call and email, and I was enthralled the way one might stare at a man falling from a bridge. Terry is 38, a small-business owner, and deeply religious—he ends all our correspondence by saying, "Blessings to you, Cord"—but back then when it happened Terry was 20 and a meth head. He was living with his then-wife, his marriage to whom had made him the co-guardian of her two nieces and a nephew. The one niece was a baby, but the other was seven, and it wasn't long before Terry, addicted and in a marriage he calls "abusive," fell for his niece and began a sexual relationship with her.

Consenting people — people capable of consent — "have sex." A thirty-eight-year-old man does not "have sex" with a seven-year-old girl; he rapes or molests her. To say that they "had sex" or "began a sexual relationship" is to adopt the minimizing, distorting language child abusers and their apologists, who are notorious for justifying abuse by attributing consent and co-equal participation to children.

I don't expect Gawker writers to avoid creepiness. Gawker and its ilk are proof positive that assuming a "progressive" sensibility is no defense against lapsing into leering misogyny or frankly disordered attitudes towards children. But in this article Gawker editor Cord Jefferson has crossed an event horizon of the belabored snark of literary poseurs and plunged into the genuinely scary black hole of people you would not allow in the same room as your kids. He has done so throughout the article — and not just in his opening, in which he applied the language of consensual relationships to the abuse of a seven-year-old, or in his follow up on (of course) Tumblr, in which he completely misses the point by arguing that it should have been obvious that by "had sex" he meant "raped." (Oddly enough, when Jefferson discusses prison rape later in the article; he calls it rape; he doesn't call it "sex" and leave the reader to infer the rape from the prison circumstances.) No, Jefferson also makes my skin crawl when he doggedly mixes and muddles people who are sexually attracted to children with people who sexually abuse children.

Jefferson creeps me out — and outrages many readers — by carelessly using the term pedophile sometimes to mean "someone who is sexually attracted to children but doesn't act on that attraction," and sometimes to mean "people who have been convicted of sexual assault of children," implying an equivalence between the two. Take the next section of his article:

When Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested last year and charged with 52 counts of molesting young boys, America's universal hatred for pedophiles was once again put on prominent display. A society is defined by what it despises as much as what it loves, and though the United States has a history of a great many scorned communities, none is as broadly reviled as men who have sex with children. When Sandusky was finally convicted earlier this year, Twitter exploded with people wishing for him to be raped or killed while incarcerated, both of which are good possibilities in our country's prison system. Outside of jail, it's not uncommon for average citizens to harass and assault pedophiles, crimes which courts have been known to ignore.

Then there's the problem of finding homes for pedophiles who are arrested and eventually put back into communities. In Florida, where Miami-Dade County has grown increasingly restrictive about where people who commit sexual crimes can live, the department of corrections once housed a small group of pedophiles under a bridge, like real-life trolls. Elsewhere in America, with neighborhoods both informed and alarmed by a growing number of sex-offender tracking sites, it's now become easier than ever to harass and intimidate a pedophile in your neighborhood until he moves away. But to where? Nobody seems to care as long as it's not near them.

Here Jefferson is using "pedophile" to mean "someone who has actually sexually assaulted a child," usually someone who has been convicted of it. But later, in discussing the science of pedophilia, Jefferson uses the term to refer to people who are attracted to children but haven't acted on it. Sometimes he uses it both ways in the same paragraph:

But there is a growing number of researchers, many of them out of Canada, whose work suggests that pedophilia is an illness deserving of the public's sympathy the way any brain disorder is. Some of the scientists say pedophilia is a sexual orientation, meaning that it's unchangeable, regardless of how much jail time or beatings or therapy someone is dealt. Others have reason to believe that pedophiles are born that way, and that some of them will suffer through entire lives without hurting a single child. If this research proves to be correct, it should help shape both our public policy and our public attitude, so that we're protecting kids while also protecting pedophiles from angry mobs, cellmates, and themselves.

Jefferson is conflating people who are something (specifically, people attracted to children, allegedly by illness or orientation) with people who have done something (specifically, people who have done something to go to jail under circumstances that let their cellmates know that they are pedophiles). This is either a window into a terrifying part of Cord Jefferson's psyche, or an example of unusually incompetent writing. Whether Jefferson is disordered or a bad writer, he bears a measure of responsibility for the outrage that his article has generated, because he has written it in a way suggesting that inclination and action are comparable when it comes to attraction to children. The difference between attraction to children and sexual assault of children is as meaningful and stark as the difference between being attracted to women and raping women, but that's a distinction that seems to elude Jefferson, or at least elude his ability to articulate:

The old adage is that the true mark of a society is how it treats the weakest in its ranks. Blacks, women, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and others are still in no way on wholly equal footing in America. But they're also not nearly as lowly and cursed as men attracted to children. One imagines that if Jesus ever came to Earth, he'd embrace the poor, the blind, the lepers, and, yes, the pedophiles. As a self-professed "progressive," when I think of the world I'd like to live in, I like to imagine that one day I'd be OK with a man like Terry moving next door to me and my children. I like to think that I could welcome him in for dinner, break bread with him, and offer him the same blessings he's offered me time and again. And what hurts to admit, even knowing all I know now, is that I'm not positive I could do that.

With the tag-line about Terry, Jefferson has made someone who actually abused a child equivalent to people who are attracted to children, and to minorities, gays, and lesbians. There's enough people comparing homosexuality to child molestation without Jefferson encouraging them in it.

But if Cord Jefferson's article is disturbing, so is the reaction to it — a reaction that reveals not just how we feel about child molesters in this society, but how we view people accused of crimes in general.

Matt Vespa at Hot Air has a fairly typical response: "Does this [referring to research into sexual attraction to children] sound like the kind of research you want funded by your taxpayer dollars?" Or consider the Examiner:

What many might agree with Jefferson on is the fact that treatment for pedophiles doesn’t work. Ask any parent of a child who has been raped and murdered by a pedophile, sexual offender and they will gladly share their suggested treatment methods. Creating a society that tolerates child rape on the premise that pedophiles are brain-damaged, left-handed, low IQ rapists therefore they get sympathy isn’t going to be one of them.

Or consider Newsbusters:

No matter how preposterous this Gawker editor's views, we learned in the very next sentence how someone could actually think this way.

"As a self-professed 'progressive.'"

That's all you needed to know, isn't it?

Or read Robert Stacy McCain, who attempts to draw a direct line between, on the one hand, limiting the government's right to jail consenting adults for what they do in the bedroom, and on the other, Cord Jefferson's blurring of the line between attraction and action:

Perhaps, as with homosexuality, our academic, legal, scientific and cultural elites can successfully destigmatize pedophilia, upending society’s moral consensus in such a way that our dread of child molesters is replaced by a horror at the benighted bigotry of those who fail to understand the science that proclaims that they’re “born that way,” and that this endows pedophiles with rights which no well-meaning person can oppose or criticize.

And then, God help us, there are the Twitter hashtag games.

Cord Jefferson's article is disturbing. But so is the reaction, in different ways, for different reasons.

First: I don't know whether sexual attraction to children is driven by biology. I don't know if it's a result of pre-natal defects or genetic drift or brain abnormalities. But it strikes me that those questions should be answered by applying the scientific method and testing the results through rigorous peer review. The question should not be answered by our visceral reaction or political opportunism. The human psyche is chock-full of some pretty hair-raising stuff, and we shouldn't turn away from exploring it because it revolts us.

Second: exploring the biological roots of thought or of resulting behavior is not the same as enacting a legal excuse for behavior. Whether some people are attracted to kids because of biology is a scientific question; whether biological roots of behavior should result in a legal defense is a legal, political, and public policy question. There is no danger that Americans are going to enact a justification or excuse for child molestation. There is no danger that juries will begin to acquit child molesters on the grounds that the molester's attraction was biologically determined. Empty and insipid "black robed tyrant" rhetoric aside, there's no danger that judges are going to starting setting child molesters loose wholesale because their attraction (as opposed to their action) was "not their fault." Scientific inquiry into the biological roots of violence or criminality has been common for a half-century, but there's no surge of murderers and rapists running free because of it; jurors usually reject biological determinism and judges are skeptical of its admissibility. The specter of the killer turned lose because of biology is more common in Dick Wolf plots than in real life. Violent people are getting out of prison, and they're getting out early, but it's not because of science, it's because our appetite for jailing as many people as possible for as many things as possible vastly exceeds our appetite for paying for it. "This inquiry is wrong because it will lead to a defense I don't like" is a bad argument.

Third, Jefferson is not the only one who conflates thought and action; some of his critics do as well. Just as Jefferson distributes sympathy uncritically among people who feel and people who do, some critics distribute anger and hatred just as carelessly. But the difference between thought and action is critical to how we interact as humans and to how we order the relationship between the individual and the state. Conservatives — who make up the noisiest of Jefferson's critics — grasp this under other circumstances; it's the basis for their opposition to hate crimes laws, which they condemn as punishing thought rather than action. There is, to be blunt, nothing wrong with the proposition that a man is to be pitied if he successfully struggles with a sexual attraction to children. If the mere thought is evil and makes the man unworthy of consideration as a human being, then how can we treat the greedy, the wrathful, the racists among us as fully human? How many of us are admirable if the question is not what we have done, but what we on our worst days would like to do?

Fourth, though it is just to criticize Jefferson's muddling of thought and action, it is unjust to use that criticism as an occasion to ignore genuine and grotesque problems in our criminal justice system. Prison rape exists, it is horrifying, and it does not become less horrifying depending on who suffers it. [Put another way: if you are indifferent to or amused by or secretly enthused by prison rape, kindly shut the fuck up about how burdensome and intrusive government is, would you? You're embarrassing yourself.] Sex offender laws can protect us from genuine dangers, but taken to irrational extremes can also lead to hideously unjust and irrational results, born on the tide of our fear and anger and our cultural intolerance for shades of gray. The fear of sexual assault of children leads as as close as we ever come to the irrational and hysterical days of the Salem witch trials, exceeding even post-9/11 abandonment of reason and credulous embrace of the security state. At its best the reaction to Jefferson can be summarized as "you asshole, being attracted to a child is not the same as raping a child," but at its worst, it can be described as "fuck nuance, it's for the children!"

Fifth, on a related point, the reaction to Jefferson's article involves themes familiar to those of us who follow the American approach to criminal justice: law and order means never having to say you are sorry. Being concerned about treatment of people accused of crimes is the same as excusing and justifying crimes. People who care about convicts don't care about their victims. People accused of crimes wouldn't be accused if they hadn't done it. If someone is part of a criminal class — a thief, or a junkie, or a drug dealer, or a gang member, or a pedophile — who cares if they did it this time, because surely they did something at some point. Whatever "it" is, they deserve it. People push these themes from one side of their mouth, and from the other talk about how government is too big and too powerful and too intrusive and has too much control and can't be trusted — as if there were two governments, an unreliable one for unpopular health care laws and regulations and dumbass limits on Big Gulps, and a second reliable government for shooting, prosecuting, and jailing people. But the two are actually one, made up of fallible humans upon whom we have conferred great power over our lives.

Cord Jefferson's article can be useful as an object lesson in the consequences of muddled expression, or the dangers of unclear thinking. But it can also be useful as an object lesson of how upsetting and emotional topics tickle some part of our lizard brains, parts that make us want to abandon questions, adopt easy answers, and even uncritically trust a state that we know cannot be trusted. There's a balance we should strike, and that balance is neither "child abusers are not responsible for abusing children" nor "anything the government wants to do to child abusers is good enough for me."

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. says

    I see the tactic, if it is that, backfiring. If anything, showing that child predators are biologically motivated isn't likely to cause molesters to go free — if anything, it will spawn a sort of pre-crime laws, where people will be confined on a biological predisposition to abuse children, not something that they have actually done.

    But then, perhaps that is the tactic. Start jailing people for things they might do, claim is is "for the children", and then just ride the slippery slope down.

  2. James Pollock says

    I think that some of the problem is that for several decades now, cop shows have told us that A) There is an inevitable progression for sex criminals, from someone who's interested in kids to someone who abuses kids to someone who repeatedly rapes and murders kids, and B) pedophiles are untreatable/incurable/incapable of controlling themselves. This makes the pedophile an ideal villain for the good guys to track down and capture.

    On the one hand, cop shows have made sure that every person in the U.S. over the age of about 8 can recide a Miranda warning. On the other, they give such a distorted view of the law-enforcement/criminal justice system, which many people use to form their world-view. This is bad for a couple of reasons, the first being that by labeling every person whose crime has anything at all to do with sex however tenuously as a "sex offender", the value of keeping track of where sex offenders are is diminished to uselessness, the second being that instead of focusing on things that work, might work, or even possibly might work, we apply the same approach to every offender. Finally, we wind up with prosecutions that make no sense (like prosecuting 17-year-old girls with cellphone cameras for creating "child pornography" consisting entirely of themselves.)

    It's such an icky subject, though, that no one really wants anything to do with it… even, say, trying to find methods to reduce the number of offenders (because of the aforementioned cop shows, parents are PARANOID about "stranger danger" and fail to recognize that the vast majority of people who actually molest children attack children in their own families, or seek positions of trust in community organizations that work with kids, youth sports, or religious organizations that work with kids.)

  3. Adrian Ratnapala says

    The failure to distinguish between "having done something" and being "inclined to do something" is probably not unique to the author of the original piece; though it usually leads to opposite conclusions about paedophiles. It is one of those bad mental habits bequeathed by evolution: expel the creepy guy from the tribe *before* he does anything. Of Jefferson turns this on it's head, while keeping the fundamental confusion.

    I suspect similar primitive feelings explain why people don't distinguish between "You shouldn't do/say that" and "You aught to be prevented from doing/saying that".

  4. Jules says

    I thought about this one, and yes, the article gave jaded old me who has seen it all on the internet a full body shudder. Do we punish for thought? No, but we do protect others from danger before it can happen. We often commit those who are potentially dangerous to mental institutions before they violate. I feel those who have an urge to molest children are a danger to society, just as those who have the urge to rape or kill. I believe society has a right to be safe from those who have these urges.

  5. Kat says

    RE: The legal side of this, pedophiles (who have molested children) will not be excused for biology the way we've (rightfully) excused homosexuality and the like, because homosexuality doesn't hurt people. Child rape hurts the child and his or her family–I would know, I was a victim of it too.

    The bits of the article you quoted here gave me the crawls. Thank you for summing it up. Ugh.

  6. a_random_guy says

    Another problem is the overexpansion of pedophilia to include crimes (or non-crimes) that really have nothing to do with it. Just yesterday there was an article on Fark: a guy has a habit of going out onto his front porch naked. Not, apparently, with any real intent of shocking people. This annoys the neighbors, but nothing came of it until now. This time a child happened to see him, so *now* he is a child-molester charged with a felony.

    Cases like this, cases of teenagers sexting, cases of teenagers on opposite sides of the age of consent having sex – these all serve to muddle the picture. The prosecutors get their conviction stats up, and meanwhile the real, criminal pedophiles are lost in a mass of convictions that really had nothing whatsoever to do with pedophilia.

  7. says

    I'm relieved to see that I'm not the only one who distinguishes between the inclination and the thought. As imprecision in language goes, it seems awfully dangerous to civil rights. If we're going to judge people for their fantasies, I should be on death row for the few dozen noisy neighbors who've been mentally dispatched.

    I had my first sexual experience at age seven, and while I consider it a positive thing for me personally, I wouldn't want the same to happen to anyone else.

  8. ngvrnd says

    This is a nice, balanced response to the critics of the Gawker piece, without in any way supporting what Cord Jefferson wrote at all. While my inclinations politically are towards the right, all too often I see commentators there making outrageous claims in the midst of valid criticisms, and those outrageous claims make it all too easy for people on the other side of the spectrum to dismiss the entire argument. Folks, you have to be fair, first and foremost, and if you have an irrational hatred of the left, that's going to remove the possibility of fairness.
    Good show, Ken, as always.

  9. Tarrou says

    Technically speaking, pedophilia is attraction and pederasty is the action, but that's a rather fine line to draw in such a delicate subject. As to the rest, I had to call the girlfriend over just now, because not two months ago I had told her I thought the great "civil rights" push of this century would be for pedophiles. For comparison, in 1912, there wasn't much support for public writings about gays, it was considered beyond the pale. The first wedge will be a separation of attraction and action, and to be honest, I get that part. Without the corresponding action, the attraction is creepy and wierd, but not criminal. One wonders where it ends though. Welcome to the new century of progress.

  10. says

    This is a complex, nuanced, piece on a complex, nuanced, issue, which means it will be summarily ignored by the vast majority who can't deal with any concept that can't be placed on a bumper sticker. This is why we can't have nice things.

    The comparison to homosexuality is interesting, because it brings up something I read, a while back, about some cover-ups and studied silence in the science fiction fan community, in the 1970s, regarding known pedophiles. The thinking at the time, according to the article I read, was along the lines of "They said being gay was evil, and that was false, so they're probably lying about pedophilia." This is equivalent to "They said pot was bad, and that was wrong, so they're lying about meth, too." It's a pretty common train of thought, and it points to one of the reasons that legislating morality is such a bad thing. As Kipling said, treating acts society deems merely immoral as equivalent to acts which are actually harmful and evil leads to "a people schooled to mock, in time, all laws — not one." It's a pattern I see over and over — when a trivial act is labeled the same as a severe one, you undermine the seriousness of the latter. (If you call a wolf whistle "rape", you do not make people take wolf whistles more seriously, you make them take rape less seriously.)

    I also have to suspect that the article in question is a form of status-seeking for Cord, in the sense that if you're in a social group which considers "tolerance" the highest possible virtue, you compete to see who can find the most obnoxious thing to be tolerant of. Again, it's a pattern of human behavior that you can see in many groups — fundamentalist Christians compete to find the most ridiculous thing they can denounce as the work of Satan and try to out-do each other when boasting about what they won't let their children read. ("I've banned Harry Potter." "Well, I've banned C.S Lewis!" "Well, I just blinded my children so that can't read anything, ever." "OK, you win.")

  11. AlphaCentauri says

    Pedophilia from a medical point of view is a paraphilia, an attraction to someone/something not normally considered sexually attractive. Homosexuality and foot fetishes would all fall under that. But given all the sexualization of pre-pubertal children we see in fashion and advertising, I suspect the inclination is much more common than we like to think, due to the taboo on speaking about it.

    Doing it is indeed an entirely different thing. We would probably have more effective ways to control it if people who have never abused children could come forward and say, "I'm attracted to kids. Please don't ask me to babysit," instead of trying to keep it hidden.

    The subset of pedophiles who actually rape children cannot claim any civil rights. It would be equivalent to saying that men have a right to rape women because they are sexually attracted to them.

  12. Tarrou says

    @Lizard, yes. Pedophilia is the last universally reviled group. "Tolerance" has already come to murderers, terrorists and misogynists (provided they live somewhere appropriately third-world and anti-America). There is little else left to be shockingly tolerant of. The other side is as you say, that because pedophilia is universally despised, it is used as an umbrella for a lot of behavior which isn't strictly speaking pedophilia. Two wrongs making a multitude.

  13. Pepper says

    Thank you for summarizing and criticizing the article, because reading the actual article might have been too… I don't have the word for it, but it would be too much for me to stomach.

    As a teacher of 13-16 year olds, I encounter on a fairly regular basis the childish use of "pedophile" as an insult hurled between my students. Perhaps it's because such cases are now more prominent in the media or they are desensitized to the enormity of the crime. The point made by Lizard is a good one: when a severe act is made equivalent to a lesser one, the severity of the former is reduced, and it's hard for me to get students to see *why* pederasty is wrong.

    However, I also encounter questions regarding sex with minors. (Thankfully my students have not been too silly as to have unprotected sex and thus far there has only been two cases of unplanned teen pregnancy at our school.) Should the issue of consent be considered in the same light when it comes to sexual relations with minors?

    I'm asking primarily because I was sexually violated by a cousin when I was a minor. When it happened, my mind blanked out and I didn't know how to react. In the end I made a police report after my friend counselled me. I remember little of that confusing period, but I do remember that in my cousin's statement, he claimed that I had given consent and I had responded to his advances. (Just to clarify: he was 32 at that time. I was 14.) He walked away from the charges of statutory rape, but I have never tried to find out why or how.

    Even with this experience, I can't explain the seriousness of statutory rape to my students without them thinking 'it's not as serious as pederasty/pedophilia, therefore it's not serious', and then the situation is exacerbated because students trivialize the crime of pederasty. I'll be more than glad for advice on how to address this problem.

  14. says

    If I jumped out of a dark alley and threw hand-carved rooks and bishops at him, nobody would say that I had "started a game of chess" with him.

    Right. For a legal opening, you're limited to a knight or a pawn.

  15. En Passant says

    Ken wrote

    This is either a window into a terrifying part of Cord Jefferson's psyche, or an example of unusually incompetent writing.

    Amen on all five of your enumerated points.

    On your question whether Jefferson's sloppy writing is due to incompetence or a horrifying psyche, I would add that such questions are best analyzed by first rebuttably presuming Hanlon's razor, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

    In practice to test the presumption, I have always added my own corollary, analogous to Clark's Third Law of Prediction: "A sufficiently advanced incompetence can be indistinguishable from malice."

    A decent indicia of what actually drives some statements is the author's answer to the obvious question "WTF did you mean by that? This? or This?", citing particulars. An evasive answer weighs toward malice.

  16. ShelbyC says

    I'm not sure I understand. The article uses pedophile to describe somone who is attracted to prepubescent children, and who may or may not have acted on it. Of course people who act on such desires, whether with pre- or post pubescent children, should spend a long time in jail. But we still have to deal with the desire that pedophiles have. I've always wondered why voluntary castration wasn't a more popular remedy.

    And of course the term sex encompasses both voluntary and non-voluntary activity. Many people would like the term to only be used to refer to voluntary activity, but that is not the definition.

  17. Grifter says

    @ShelbyC:

    But there are connotations to word choice. While, technically, murder committed by knife could be called "meat cutting", in that you aster cutting into meat, if you said "Oh, I'm just cutting up some meat" when asked what you're doing, you would be fairly disingenuous, no?

  18. delurking says

    On the topic of useless sex offender registries, I remember a report, I think it was from the DOJ (or at least used DOJ data), of prosecutions for sex crimes by age. There was a plot showing that, basically, 14-year-olds were the most prosecuted, followed by 15, then 16, etc. The upshot that there were too many sexting prosecutions. I have not been able to find that plot since. Does anyone have a link?

  19. says

    Thanks for writing this. Dan Savage used the phrase "gold star pedophiles" to refer to men who are attracted to children but realize it is wrong and make sure they never act on it. Some of them even go the extreme of chemical castration. Problems have emerged lately with mandatory reporting laws in that, in some state, therapists are required to report someone who admits to pedophilic desires even if they have not engaged or are about to engage in molestation. It keeps these guys from getting the help they need and preventing horrible events from ever happening.

  20. says

    As I read Cord's article I sensed that the thought/action distinction got muddled in his writing because he is sympathetic to what he perceives as the difficulty of the struggle against a potentially biologically determined (while also dangerous and deplorable) sexual attraction. The people who fail, in his mind, deserve both punishment AND pity because they aren't the first to fail to struggle against their own nature but are also cursed with a far more dangerous nature than most of us have to struggle against.

  21. John says

    Most of you are missing the point. For those of you so self-righteous you want to make the distinction between the innocuous pedophile's attraction and the criminal action — if a pedophile doesn't act on his attractions or make it public knowledge, he IS NOT DISCRIMINATED AGAINST nor is their retribution.

    So why is ANYBODY feeling sorry for pedophiles???

  22. Zaklog the Great says

    You say there's no real danger of pedophilia being normalized in our society. I think you're exhibiting genuine historical blindness. This sounds exactly like the process that homosexuality went through to be normalized, and pretending that we *couldn't possibly* do the same thing in this other case is wishful thinking.

    As little as fifteen years ago, asking if two men should be able to "marry" one another would have almost universally gotten you laughed at. Pretending that moral relativism won't accept this deviance just because you personally find it distasteful is silliness.

    If today's trends continue, in another ten or fifteen years, this article and today's laws will be labelled "pedophobic" or some similar bs term. I hope I'm wrong, and I hope enough sane people try to turn back the clock, but it's a scary possibility.

  23. says

    Zaklog: do you have evidence that increased social acceptance of homosexuality has resulted in increased social acceptance of homosexual rape?

    Also, given recent focus on clerical abuse scandals, do you have any facts suggesting that tolerance for sexual abuse of children is increasing rather than decreasing?

    Your comment seems to do the same thing that the article does — conflate status and conduct.

  24. says

    do you have evidence that increased social acceptance of homosexuality has resulted in increased social acceptance of homosexual rape?

    I think it is part of the acceptance of prison rape.

  25. Gavin says

    At some point we need to realize that being naturally or biologically inclined to do something doesn't make it "not their fault". It is a dangerous trend to follow as it can remove guilt from any action. We are truly products of our biology and environment. Without either we wouldn't exist.

    So to use them to say that this is only natural is ridiculous. Having an inclination, natural or otherwise, does not make the act any less heinous. Yes, for the sake of protecting potential victims we need to look at these so-called "natural" inclinations some people express and learn how to help people overcome/reject them, but any actions they take are their own fault and justice should be had.

  26. says

    Congratulations, Ken. You linked to an article whose excerpt is so creepy that I _won't_ read the whole things because I _know_ how angry I'd get. I wonder if he ever supported his meth habit by beginning "financial relationships" with banks or other v/i/c/t/i/m/s/ contributors.

    Would it be an affirmative defense for a helpless child's protector to argue that he merely established a "sadistic relationship" with "Terry"?

    The hell with biological disposition. Humans are biologically disposed to eating meat, but vegans manage to overcome _that_.

  27. Gavin says

    The only thing I will point out that I disagree with in Ken's article is the pouncing on the use of sexual relationship instead of rape. While I understand how the word is too ambiguous, I don't think it necessarily implies that it was not rape. I see "sexual relationships" as a set that contains the subset of rape. But perhaps I misunderstand the term even despite your elaboration of it.

    Perhaps he intended to lighten the phrasing to prevent the audience from having our natural gut reaction to it. I mean, it's about the nicest way to say someone did such a thing to a child without using non-sexual terminology as some have been guilty of doing.

    I disagree with making the action sound "softer" too, but I can't say that sexual relations are mutually exclusive from rape. It's just a much broader term.

  28. Ancel De Lambert says

    Research is research. Every scientist and scientifically inclined citizen understands this. Knowing is better than assuming. So I don't care what it's for, I'm happy my taxes are paying for it, especially if we haven't done a comprehensive study of it before.

  29. different Jess says

    This one was just brought to my attention the other day: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/11/how-pedophilia-lost-its-cool.

    I love it when an article inserts an turgid apologia for the Catholic Church into a righteous moral condemnation of pedophilia. Delicious!

    Were I serving on a jury, however, the continued reprehensible behavior of prosecutors in cases of alleged pedophiles would cause me to presume innocence in the face of quite a bit of evidence of guilt.

  30. Orv says

    Conservatives aren't confused about the difference between thought and action; they actually believe they're equivalent. The Bible explicitly supports the idea of thought crimes:
    Matthew 5:28: "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

  31. ShelbyC says

    @Grifter, if you said, Oh, I'm just cutting somebody's body open, I'm sure the connotion would be the same. To me, in this context, "raping" would connote holding a screaming girl down the girl down, while "having a sexual relationship" with a seven year old girl connotes accomplishing the abuse in another manner. It's not like any facts are being left out, we know exactly what is happening.

  32. Naproxen says

    @Jules: So what you are saying, Jules, is that we should adopt a 1984 society and institute the thought police? Urges and thoughts are enough to warrant criminal behavior? I have the urge to punch my boss in the face sometimes. Should I be arrested or instituted for his "protection" even though I would never act on those urges?

    @Phelps: I don't think that the acceptance of homosexuality would have anything to do with an increase in acceptance of prison rape. It probably has more to do with people holding the belief that "bad things deserve to happen to bad people."

  33. says

    Conservatives aren't confused about the difference between thought and action; they actually believe they're equivalent.

    I'm so glad I have Orv around to tell me what I really think. I get so confused weighing the various sides of an issue on my own.

  34. Orv says

    @Phelps: Well, isn't the whole point of conservatism that you can figure out your entire morality from one book? I know how to read it, too.

  35. Grifter says

    @ShelbyC:

    So you're saying that, connotatively you only think of "forcible rape" when you're thinking of rape? Personally (and this is just personally), I connotatively think of "forced", i.e. "done without concsent" (and, of course, children can't consent).

  36. ShelbyC says

    @Grifter: So you're saying that, connotatively you only think of "forcible rape" when you're thinking of rape?

    I'm saying that when I hear "rape" forcible rape is the first thing comes to mind. So for a non-violent encounter, "had sex with" is actually clearer than "raped" if the circumstances are clear enough to indicate that this is indeed abusive conduct, as they were here, since the girl's age was known.

  37. princessartemis says

    @ShelbyC, this connotation may work for you, though there are a good many people who do not understand that there is anything abusive or inherently violent about "beginning a sexual relationship" with someone passed out drunk, or too scared to fight back, or in a coma. That's why it's called what it is: rape.

  38. says

    I think it is part of the acceptance of prison rape.

    Phelps, did you have any actual evidence – you know like a scientifically done study (even a shitty one, if it's poor work the light of day will prove it so) that societal acceptance of homosexuality has brought about a greater acceptance of prison rape besides "well, that's what I think anyway"? Never mind that this was Ken's actual point.

    I wouldn't call society's view of prison rape "acceptance". It's certainly a product of how we treat "criminals" (innocent or guilty, regardless of crime). Individual views on that vary.

    And I'll wager they go back a spell farther than "acceptance of homosexuality", since we didn't really start sniffing a societal level on that one until the 90s. And let's be honest, we've miles to go before we can sleep on that one.

    The War on Drugs is over 4 decades old, and we've got more than a few issues in terms of incarcerating our citizens beyond that. That's well before you could make any sort of claim towards acceptance of homosexuality.

  39. says

    Phelps, did you have any actual evidence – you know like a scientifically done study (even a shitty one, if it's poor work the light of day will prove it so) that societal acceptance of homosexuality has brought about a greater acceptance of prison rape besides "well, that's what I think anyway"? Never mind that this was Ken's actual point.

    http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/prison/report4.html#_1_27

    "The belief that all or most white men are effete or gay is very prevalent, & that whites are cowards who have to have 5 or 6 more to take down one dude . . . ."

    http://open.salon.com/blog/moses_mendoza/2009/06/04/plight_of_the_punks_prison_rape_in_the_united_states

    "There is a dangerous assumption within the correctional administration and collective American conscience that prison rape is the result of homosexuality among incarcerated populations. This results in inaction and apathy from correctional officers. One study found that 46% of correctional officers thought that those inmates involved in prison sex deserved to be assaulted, on the basis of their sexuality."

  40. says

    Phelps, doesn't that show that hostility towards homosexuality, as opposed to acceptance of it, increases acceptance of prison rape?

  41. James Pollock says

    Responding to a point way upthread:
    Castration isn't used to limit child sexual abuse for the same two reasons it isn't used to limit adult sexual abuse. First, the Supreme Court ruled that forced sterilization is unconstitutional, and second, it doesn't actually work. (Much the same way that fixing a tomcat after he's started spraying the walls won't make him stop spraying the walls.)

  42. Richard says

    I think that the focus on word-choice in the first half of the article is overshadowing the more important discussion from the second half. (Ironically, I wrote my thoughts on the word-choice, and then wrote that line, without realizing that I was doing the same thing)

    I would feel a lot safer in a world without paedophiles – by which I mean all those who feel the urges, not just those who act on them. I would feel a lot safer about who I will let my eventual children be around. If I knew that every child molester (those who act on the urges) had been caught, but there were still paedophiles out there, I would always worry that my child would be the one to start the next serial molester's crimes. If there were no paedophiles at all, I could cross one worry off of the long list of worries that come with being a parent.

    However, I would also feel safer in a world without sociopaths, racists, religious fanatics, and a host of other people who think in certain ways that often lead to unspeakable deeds. You can't weed out every type of human who is a danger to other humans, because we all have to exercise some form of self-control to keep ourselves from hurting others. If you removed every human from the planet who was capable of unspeakable deeds, I doubt you'd have many left. We might last one more generation before going extinct from population collapse.

    What does not make me feel safer is driving those people who are members of the "high-risk" groups into hiding. A person with urges they have difficulty controlling almost always does better when surrounded by a support network who can understand their problem without judging them. That's why the "[Insert Addiction] Anonymous" groups are so popular; you can come in and be surrounded by people who are facing the same difficulty as you, who are dealing with it, and gain strength from them.

    If you drive them into hiding, if you make them hide their problems even from themselves, you're setting them up to fail, and that kind of failure is what turns a paedophile into a child molester.

    I really would feel much safer if there was no one out there who ever had an urge to hurt me, or my family – but that is never going to happen (barring apocalypse, or my family dying out). Since we can't stop every sinister urge, I would feel a bit safer knowing that people could always come forward and get help resisting their sinister urges, without being judged (provided they haven't acted on those urges).

    Suppose a vicious stray dog attacks a child. In my opinion, if we just hunt down the strays, we will surely miss a few, and more will always turn up. But if we try to prevent dogs from being turned out into the street in the first place, maybe we can prevent this kind of attack in future.

  43. Grifter says

    @Richard:

    Unfortunately, what little evidence we have seems to point to the idea that AA doesn't work any better than quitting on one's own with no support structure. Some people just shouldn't drink. And some people just shouldn't be near kids.

  44. says

    Everyone's a little bit raciest, sometimes
    Doesn't mean we go around committing hate cri-i-imes
    If we all could just admit
    That we were raciest, a little bit
    Even thought we all think its wro-o-ong
    Maybe it would help us (duh dum) get along.
    — Avenue Q.

    =====

    When I was thirteen…
    (TMI true personal story follows, it doesn't end up where you think…)
    … I wanted to get into my English Teacher's life, and pants, and whatnot. I figured out several plots to make this happen. These were not cute and clever little maneuvers you would see on the Brady Bunch. This was some bad, evil plotting.

    Thing was, I genuinely liked the guy. I was able to see that every single one of my ideas ended up with someone getting totally screwed (in bad ways). I never enacted any of these ideas because for all that I was kind-of a wreck at that age, to put it mildly, I was a considerate wreck when possible.

    Do I know that I was right about things? Yes. How? When I was eight-through-eleven my (same age) best friend would show me the stuff his older brothers's friends had taught him. [I realized some years later that his older brothers were _probably_ selling him for drugs. At the least they were encouraging or allowing bad things to happen to him involving multiple older males.]

    At twelve or so he confided in me that he didn't really want to do any of that stuff any more with me or the older boys. I still wanted to do stuff with him (which is how I knew I was gay at that point) but since he didn't want to, things were over sexually, with no harm and no foul _between_ _us_.

    Clearly he was damaged, but my damage from being sexualized to soon, but by a peer and with nothing but full consent and no pressure, I was just kind of lost.

    That "lost" was not a "oh poor me, the lost boy" lost, but something not atypical of people in puberty "why the hell isn't there an instruction manual and adult guidance for all this stuff" lost.

    So when we moved that summer, and I started school, and the one adult suddenly in my life who treated me like a person, was a guy who looked just like the incredible hulk from TV and was super nice, the part of me that was lost started looking for a way to make this particular man into that missing guide.

    I had and have no belief that this man was in any way anything but a good teacher taking an honest professorial interest.

    And indeed, nothing happened. (But I still like big muscular guys because they remind me of that guy.)

    So here is the thing…

    After years of consideration, I believe that a child of thirteen _could_ maneuver and blackmail an adult into sexual compromise. I am pretty sure a non-creep would make sure it never happened twice (e.g. with a second kid etc.). I don't generally believe it when I hear guys plead "he/she seduced me", but I know I could have done.

    Thing is, if we lived in a world where I could have just said to my parents, friends, and anybody at all "I really want to (verb) Mr. (redacted)" then my life would have been better.

    More significantly, if we lived in a world where any kid could say the same, then they could also say "I really _don't_ want to (verb) (whomever)" just as easily and freely. And there would be no real chance for misuse of children of speaking age.

    Even more significantly, if we lived in that world, then Mister or Miss (whomever) could say "I really want to (verb) (kid or whatever)" with equal clarity.

    I call that world Full Disclosure World™. We don't live there. We live in sad little Partial Disclosure World, where some verbs are okay like "call" or "visit" or "punch" but "the naughty words" are verboten.

    And you know, in Full Disclosure World™ we would likely have a socially normative response to the very rare case that Mr. (redacted) and thirteen-year-old me expressed symmetric interest. And that socially normative interest would not be revilement and stoning.

    Then again, in Full Disclosure World™, chances are my friend back in eight-year-old times wouldn't have had all that fun stuff to show me that his brothers' friends showed him.

    ===

    Shame is the enemy of society. If we all lived in Full Disclosure World™, the child abuse would virtually impossible.

    So I have a problem with having a problem with this article. Sure it was a little mealy-mouthed, but the author just seemed to be broaching a topic while trying to avoid the unavoidable trigger words that lead to class 1 incineration of a topic. Here we are having class 2 bonfires of loathing and disgust, but at least people are talking. Some disclosure is taking place.

    The _author_ of the article isn't _capable_ of undoing what the _subject_ of the article did, in fact, do.

    But the _author_ doesn't seem to be an apologist either.

    So the asbestos glove wording of the article is completely understandable to me. When the author said "had sex with" he _knew_ you would know it for rape. Duh. And someone who _wouldn't_ could read the article without feeling as accused, and maybe thereby move further from "would do" to "might do" to "maybe a therapast would treat me instead of shame me, so maybe I can talk about this and get help" by the very tactful word choices.

    You lambaste the author for various things, but you know, if it makes just one "perv" decide that he can get professional help instead of just stewing in boiling, jucy shame, then the article is justified far beyond your approbation.

    Talking someone down from a ledge requires careful intercession.

    We live in a society where Drugs, Child Porn, and Terrorism have become the root passwords for bypassing our constitution. People gather up the pitchforks when a "sexual offender" moves into their neighborhood because they see the name, but don't bother to discover that his sexual offense was having birthday sex on his 18th when his girlfriend was seventeen years and eleven months old, or the guy got reamed on a "soliciting" charge.

    Our entire culture is on a ledge, ready to jump into a flaming pit, over things like a reasonably objective analysis of one man's issues; presented in a way that might get others to seek help.

    These visceral reactions, with their hue and cry, do not help us get to Full Disclosure World™, they keep us in the shame spirals that facilitate this and far worse crimes.

    For Shame.

  45. says

    BTW: Increased acceptance of homosexuality has lead to increased _reporting_ of homosexual rape.

    It's worse than that, in the late eighties there was a serial killer of gay men in San Deigo that turned out to be two guys from a navy ship. This got no report in the mainstream press. It was only in the "gay bar rags" (free papers). When a straight kid was "mistaken for gay" then suddenly the serial killers were caught. But it was never reported in the mainstream papers as the end of a local serial killing run that lasted for several years. If they'd reported that, then someone might have asked why nobody reported the previous killings as a serial killer. The killers were caught in like a week since they only had to correlate which ships were in town during each killing.

    There was another guy who would lure guys into compromised positions (play bondage etc) then rape them and set their genitals on fire. The person was alegedy known and of sufficently strong local influence that the papers just warned you to beware and maybe to ask your bartender before you went home with anybody of (vague discription). The papers were too afraid to print the name for fear of retaliation. The witnesses, when reporting to the police from their hospital beds, would name the guy by name.

    Police in the greater DC area used to regularly tell gay guys that to report that rape, or burglary, or beating they would have to admit to the gay sex and then point out the typical sentence for admitting gay sex or attempted gay sex etc.

    So yes, "gay rape is more accepted now that homosexuality is more accepted" because now you can actually report it.

    I watched an episode of Cops (if memory serves) and the Houston cops were out to catch gay bashers. They caught this one guy who tried to jump the cop. He kept saying he was really sorry, but "I thought you were a fag" in the "so you should let me go because my actions were perfectly understandable" plaintive tone of voice.

    All of these "accepting homosexuality has lead to (whatever)" people need to know that it has only lead to _you_ finally knowing about the atrocities that were otherwise happening to those previously treated as unworthy and untouchable.

    Imagine the horrors you would learn about if the people involved in drugs, prostitution, immigration, being poor, being non-white, and all those other "social crimes" were suddenly treated like people too…

  46. says

    Phelps, doesn't that show that hostility towards homosexuality, as opposed to acceptance of it, increases acceptance of prison rape?

    Despite claims to the contrary, I'd say that yes this is what his two links suggest. I don't believe the prison guards these studies represent have the slightest idea what an actual homosexual realtionship looks like (here's a hint: what goes on in prison ain't it).

    Further, it doesn't speak to the fact that prisons have been like this for far longer than we've been "accepting of homosexuality".

  47. Gavin says

    @Robert White:

    I don't necessarily think that this really impacted the reporting of homosexual rape. There was an issue with cops following up with stuff, but it still got reported. The DC example does produce evidence of an actual hinderance of it, I admit, but I think the reason was something more basic. Shame.

    My actual guess is that it already feels shameful enough for someone to report rape in general. This is why we have so much marketing telling people who have been in that situation that they haven't done anything wrong and should report the person immediately. Combine that already existing (albeit unwarranted) shame with the stigma that existed around homosexuality and you have a two hit combo. Then there's the idea of a man being too weak to fight it off. It's even harder for a man to admit rape in general for this reason.

    So, rape already being an under-reported crime is just becoming de-stigmatized. From the perspective of the victim, that is, rapists deserve any stigma they get.

  48. says

    @Gavin — No, it's not really "reported" if nobody writes it down because the victim doesn't want to go to jail. And then anybody who talked to that victim, who would be very vocal about the police at the local watering hole, would know that they best not go to the police with their issues since, instead of finding help they will be threatened with jail time.

    "Homosexual Rape" is _way_ underreported.

    If your house was robbed and you went to the cops and the guy was all "okay, sure buddy, whatever" and you could see that he didn't do more than doodle on napkin while you were speaking, how likely would you think it that your incident made it into the local crime statistics?

    When the cop's "lack of follow up" is "threaten victim with jail time if they force the cop to take the report", its kind of obviously a factor.

  49. Gavin says

    Oh, I don't disagree with it being a factor, I'm just saying that rape by itself carries a stigma that already makes it underreported and homosexuality carried its own stigma in the same way. The two punch combo would have done more for not reporting it than a lot of other things.

    Keep in mind, people fail to report rape all the time today. They feel like it's somehow their fault. We do everything we can with educating potential victims to encourage their reporting it and yet it still goes unreported quite a bit or reported when it's far too late.

    I understand that some areas had a particular bit of trouble, but I think the societal pressures that created that environment would have also played on the minds of victims long before they went to the police department.

    Do you disagree with the significance that shame/conflicting emotions bear on the underreporting of rape? Do you disagree with the significant stigma associated with homosexuality that has begun to be lifted only recently?

    Combine the two and I think you have a more significant problem than just difficulty with the police department. I'd compare areas where the police department correctly responded with today's numbers to get a valid sample size for study. Do you have any numbers from those or is the claim that all police departments everywhere turned a blind eye?

  50. princessartemis says

    @Gavin, consider also that at least part of the issue with under-reporting of any rape is cultural: look how the world lionized Polanski, for example, while spending inordinate amounts of time attempting to discover exactly how and in what way the victim deserved to be victimized. Some people just don't feel like volunteering for that bullshit after a traumatic experience.

  51. silverjon says

    Sorry if I'm repeating something already pointed out, but not only is it true that not all pedophiles are child molesters, but not all child molesters are pedophiles. Often, a child molester is simply an opportunistic predator, not specifically attracted to children at all, but attracted to an easy victim.

    @John
    Why is anybody feeling sorry for "Gold star pedophiles"? Well, because they probably hate who they are, for a start. Can you imagine living with an abominable inclination, agreeing with the people who would ostracize you if they knew, and embattled with yourself daily to keep it in check?

  52. NodAndSmile says

    There's been a few comments about the use of 'have sex' or 'sexual relationship' _including_ rape.

    But isn't rape usually considered more a _power_ act than a sexual one.

    I, for one, would never include, or consider, rape if I was informed two people (not talking about children of course) were having sex. Not without a bit of additional subtext.

  53. says

    Ken's post was very well-written and covered essentially everything I wanted to say about the Gawker article. My personal opinion is that the author of the Gawker piece is a poor writer who is incapable of anticipating and addressing reactions to their piece, or of carefully choosing words with the intended connotation on a sensitive subject. Nevertheless, I feel like the discussion is an important one to have, and that it created the opportunity for level-headed folks like Ken to speak on this issue is a good thing.

    While we need to be very clear that convicted child sex abusers must be punished for their crimes, as a deterrent to others, and that it's perfectly rational for people to take measures to keep their children safe from persons with a history of abuse, and that legalizing such abuse would be a grave error, I largely agree with the other points in the article, that we live in a society that has made it almost impossible for a pedophile to seek help in controlling their behavior. Therapist-patient privilege goes out the window with mandatory reporting laws, and no Internet provider would be willing to host a virtual support community. It is no small task for such a person to repress such urges for their entire life and asking them to go it alone is an excellent way to increase the rate of abuse.

  54. silverjon says

    @NodAndSmile
    Well, there's statutory rape, which includes consensual sex on the premise that one participant is too young to grant consent, however arbitrary that cut-off may be in some cases. And there's forcible rape. Most people think of this as a stranger violently dragging someone into an alley, but forcible rape could happen between acquaintances… or spouses. And then there are the rapes that occur less forcibly but are still rape. Regardless, in the context of an article about sex with young children, "rape" does seem implicit (whatever you feel about the motivation of the writer), and "began a sexual relationship" indicates to me that it was systemic rather than a one-time incident.

    With regard to rape being an act of power, that's a component, but it's also an oversimplification. There are many ways of trying to establish power over someone. Rape does this through sex. Therefore, rape is inherently about sex, or it would be something other than rape. A lot of it is about the commodification of sex, that it's something to which women are supposed to restrict access and men are supposed to go to great lengths to get. There's a power dynamic there, but it's based on men needing to exert power over women to get access to sex, because women are not supposed to exercise their own power to participate willingly in sex, without being negatively judged over it. I'm oversimplifying as well because I'm trying to be brief-ish here. Robert White's Full Disclosure World would do a lot to defuse this situation. We can all dream.

  55. Gavin says

    @princessartemis,

    Good point, I'm sure the whole ordeal has got to be awful. Not only if it deserves media attention but also if you live in a small city/town where word gets around or even just if you have common friends with the rapist. Public opinion is still generally unfavorable towards rape victims and that has got to change. There are many reasons for these feelings and not all are just biggotry (e.g. I know a girl who has decided that it's ok to claim random men have raped her. We, my wife and I, know she is lying about at least one of them because we were keeping an eye on her to make sure the "allegedly" dangerous boyfriend didn't harm her when they broke up. She didn't know she'd been watched when she came back claiming that he'd just raped her, made a sucker out of me, *sigh*), but all this prejudice does is hurt the real victims and make reporting that much more difficult.

    @silverjon:

    It does sound like a really shitty situation, yes. But you also have to see why even the looking at kids in that manner would generate an extreme anger response. There may be some sort of natural inclination for whatever reason (for example, people who have been molested themselves may undergo these struggles), but that doesn't mean the inclination is a neutral position that doesn't carry its own emotional attachments.

    If you have any kids, how would you feel about a man or woman having lustful thoughts towards them, even if they never act on it?

  56. silverjon says

    Me? I read widely in the fields of psychology, trauma, and all kinds of sexual and relationship behaviors, positive and negative. Most people don't have that background to work with. The more you know about something, the less likely you are to have an irrational fear reaction. Counterpoint is that the more you know, the more reason you may have to rationally fear something dangerous, of course.

    If I *knew* someone was having lustful thoughts about my own kids, I'd be cautious in order to protect them, but I wouldn't be leading a mob with pitchforks. Prevent harm without causing harm to someone who doesn't deserve it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Inclination, Action, and Justice: Gawker's Pedophilia Article and the Angry Reactions To It Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping, and unintelligent. — H.L. Mencken […]