Mark Salling committed the most vile act, but think twice before you celebrate his death.


Before he died of an apparent suicide on Tuesday, Mark Salling pleaded guilty to one of the most inconceivable, abhorrent, disgusting crimes known to humankind.

The contents of the 35-year-old Glee actor’s computer and thumb drive – some 50,000 images of child exploitation material – actively propelled the cycle of child sex abuse forward, and that is unforgivable.

In defiling our world’s most vulnerable and precious lives, Salling earned a life of endlessly long days and nights in prison, far away from those he hurt, with nothing but the weight of his crimes to hold.

There is no defence for what Mark Salling did. (Image: Getty)

We can hate what he did. We can feel nauseated by it. But if you're rejoicing the death of a child sex offender, remember this: The death of Mark Salling does not make children safer.

For thousands of children here in Australia, the next assault is still just around the corner.

Between 2015 and 2016, the Australian Institute of Family Studies reported 5,559 children suffered sexual abuse - and those are just the ones who were in the position to file an official report. Given it takes, on average, more than 30 years for a child sex abuse victim to come forward, this number seems undoubtedly tiny; minuscule to what is a monumental issue.

A monumental issue that Australia has failed to quell for decades.

Our reluctance to stop child sex abuse is largely because doing so hinges on society accepting a terrifying reality: There is little credible evidence to suggest paedophiles like Mark Salling are 'made'. Rather, they are born. According to the University of Toronto's Dr James Cantor, who is renowned for leading the world's most sophisticated research in the area, a paedophile's brain exhibits physiological differences to the normal brain, something he describes as "a literal cross-wiring".

So, what does that mean in real life?

Research indicates between three and seven per cent of men would have sex with a prepubescent child if they were guaranteed to go undetected.


If that statistic is accurate, and further studies indicate it is, at least 362,000 Australian men feel sexually attracted to children. They might sit across from you at work. They might be beside you on the train. They might be seated at your dinner table tonight.

It's demonic and scary, but it's also the reality.

If there's one soothing reprieve, it's that being a paedophile and being a child sex offender are not one and the same. Some men born with an attraction to children commit to the life of a "non-offending paedophile", that is, someone who will never inappropriately touch a child, or engage with child pornography despite their sexual inclinations.

They are men who, despite being born with a twisted mind, want to live a virtuous life.

To protect children, we need to prevent paedophiles from offending in the first place. That means getting young men to talk about their feelings and thoughts with a loved one, and to pursue avenues of rehabilitation and therapy, that have been proven to alter child sexual offending behaviours.

It also means thinking twice before posting comments like this:


Dr Kelly Richards, a senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology's school of justice, put it best when she told me last year: "We need to ask ourselves, 'If that was my son who came home at 13 or 14 and began thinking these thoughts, what response would I want?' We would want him to speak to someone about it... we would want him to seek professional help without fear of being an outcast."

We would want our sons to get help before they destroy the innocent life of a child - before they become the next Mark Salling.

Child sex abuse survivor Manny Waks, who testified before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2016, told Mamamia last year “we need to talk about it and keep talking about it."

Redressing the language we use around paedophilia would be a good start, says Waks, who was assaulted while attending Melbourne's Yeshivah Centre when he was 11.


"It's not good to say 'lock them up and throw away the key' or 'shoot them all'.

"I can understand the passion and the anger, and all the emotions attached to such a sensitive and controversial issue, but it causes significant damage."

The more we revile those 362,000 people, the more we post those vitriolic comments, the more men stay silent. The more they sink into the shadows, and retreat from society, the less likely they are to get help. The less hope for a normal life they see, the more they disengage.

And when paedophiles disengage? The more likely they are to offend.

What Mark Salling did makes my skin crawl with contempt. I am so ferociously angry that young lives were abused in such a cruel way. The child sex abusers like him deserve no sympathy. None at all.

We all have a joint aim here: To keep children safe. So let's start by preventing child sexual abuse from happening in the first place; let's create an environment where the men who harbour these feelings can speak up and get help.

We owe it to today's victims, who we've already failed to protect.

You can read my 2017 cover story, where I spoke with psychologists, legal experts, non-offending paedophiles, and victims about how to prevent child sexual abuse here.