Warning: The following article deals with issues around child sexual abuse and could be triggering for some readers.
There is one group of people in society who are perhaps more reviled than any other. Pedophiles.
They are hated. They are stigmatised. When Mamamia publishes articles about this topic, many people call for capital punishment. Even those who would otherwise normally despise the death penalty.
That is because these people – and the discussion of pedophilia – is so stigmatised, it makes it difficult for pedophiles to seek help to try and stop them from acting on their urges.
And the truth is that some pedophiles genuinely do want help.
19-year-old Adam (and no, that’s not his real name) is one such person.
In a recent episode of This American Life, reporter Luke Malone set out to explore the topic of treatment for pedophiles.
Over the course of his investigation, he met Adam – a 19-year-old who is a pedophile, but has never acted upon his urges.
Adam runs a support group for young people who identify as pedophiles – but who strongly believe that their attraction is wrong. Everyone in the group is self-diagnosed.
They diagnosed themselves based off the definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which says that to be a pedophile, “you have to harbor sexual fantasies about or engage sexually with a prepubescent child for six months or more, and you have to be 16 or above and more than five years older than the child. You also need to have either acted on these urges, or the fantasies must cause distress or difficulty.”
Listen: This American Life's Tarred and Feathered episode. Post continues....
Malone says he found it difficult hearing about the specifics of Adam’s attraction, which are that “he's most attracted to kids between the ages of eight and three”. Malone explains that Adam “was 14 when he started watching porn, porn involving children”.
Adam explains that when he first started watching it, he was almost the age of the children in the pornography.
“What I thought as, I'd like to do these types of things. So it's great that I can watch other people who are closer to my age range do these types of things,” Adam says. “I just see two kids doing something that I fantasised about doing. So, you know, I'm one of the kids.”
He continues, “And it was a little while later, as I started watching this stuff more and more, when I kind of realised that I was getting older, and it wasn't some phase I was going through, but the children I was interested in weren't getting older, you know, to follow along with me, but they were actually getting younger.”
When he was 16, Adam suddenly had the realistion that child porn involved real children – and so its production was actually hurting somebody.
He had the realistion when he watched a particularly horrific porn video, involving an 18-month-old baby.
Adam was horrified himself, saying, “I wanted to reach through the computer screen and kill the person. I was just so horrified at what I saw. At that point, I knew something was really wrong.”
After that, Adam started researching child abuse, and decided he didn’t want to watch child porn anymore. However, he also decided he wanted to see a counsellor.
He stopped watching porn, but he was still having sexual thoughts about children – and he wanted help.
Adam says that when he finally saw someone, he was incredibly anxious, “But I uttered the words. I said, ‘well, this is difficult to say, but I'm a pedophile, and I'm addicted to child pornography’.”
“And I saw kind of a look of horror on her face, and she asked me to repeat that,” Adam continues.
“She must have thought that she misheard me for something like that. But I repeated it. Then, immediately, she went from being this very nice, gentle person to very harsh and critical.”
The second session Adam saw the therapist, she told him she couldn’t help him. But she helped him talk about the issue with his mother.
Adam’s mother told the reporter that, “I looked at him, and I said, ‘Adam, we're going to help with this. Whatever it is, we can help with it. And don't worry, I'm with you’.”
She also explains, “I have no earthly idea how Adam may have developed his attraction to children.”
Eventually, Adam’s mother found him a therapist who dealt with porn addiction. He was reluctant to treat Adam – a minor – but Adam’s mother begged him to take him on.
And that’s where Adam is now: seeing a therapist. Talking to people his own age who are pedophiles, in an online support group. And every day reaffirming his commitment to never act upon his urges.
Some professionals believe that with greater research, society might be able to figure out how to ‘cure’ pedophiles – particularly if treatment starts from a young age, as soon as such urges are identified.
Listen to the full episode of This American Life: Tarred And Feathered here.