This content may be triggering. I'm sharing it because, as a victim of sexual abuse as a child, it really affected me and I feel the need to talk about it. I thought maybe some of you may feel the same.
I just came across a recent This American Life story about teenagers and young adults struggling to manage their attraction to pre-pubescent children. In case you don't feel comfortable listening to the whole thing or are otherwise unable to, here's a short recap:
The story is about a support group formed by and for young pedophiles who have never acted on their attractions and agree that sexual activity with children is absolutely unethical. It outlines how psychologists and researchers are discouraged from engaging with them because of stigma, liability, and lack of information. These kids are growing up without understanding the how and why they have these desires, and without the psychological support they need to keep from hurting themselves and others.
My abuser was a hebephile (attracted to individuals aged 11-14), not a pedophile, but for practical purposes the effect is similar. Listening to this story, feeling sympathy for these kids, was an indescribably off-balancing experience for me.
We talk about the pros and cons of sex-offender registries and sterilization treatments for sexual abusers of children, but we don't talk about those who go their whole lives struggling with their attraction and NOT acting. The podcast threw out this statistic from research done at the University of Ottawa:
"[H]e goes on to estimate that 1% to 3% of men would meet the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia, which equates to anywhere between 1.2 million and 3.4 million pedophiles in the US alone. That means there are lots of people out there who presumably try not to offend, with nowhere to turn to for help. There's almost no research to explain why they are the way they are, and no known treatment."
It had never even occurred to me that such people existed. I'd never felt the need to think any more about the experience of pedophiles than was necessary to recover from my own experience at the hands of one, since the topic has been (and still can be) triggering for me. But if there are men and women out there who are DSM-certified pedophiles, who are non-offenders, and who need support to stay that way, I am 100% for developing those programs. If there is even a modicum of a possibility that my abuser could have been treated for his illness in such a way that would have kept him from hurting my entire family in the way he did, I want to see those programs exist. Yesterday.
I am sad and angry about this. I am frustrated that my thoughts and emotions are so muddied because of my own experience. I am resigned to feeling like noone can approach this topic with a clear mind toward fixing the problem. I want to believe my abuser was a monster and that all people like him are monsters too. On a primal level it makes me feel better and safer to shut them out of the human race completely, and I'm sure most victims of abuse and their loved ones would agree. I also believe that those who hurt children should be punished for the damage they do, because I very strongly feel that there is a line to be draw between thoughts and actions. However, I know pedophilia is an illness, and, though I don't know how or if it's treatable, I don't feel like it's okay to put them in prison, sterilize them, or drag them through the streets if they haven't hurt anybody and genuinely want help.
I don't know that there's a solution to this problem. All I can think of is prevention, which can only come from more research. But navigating the stigma is nearly impossible, because even now after listening to this podcast, "stigma" still doesn't quite cover how I feel about the topic. I don't know if I want people to feel differently about pedophiles, I just want the problem acknowledged and handled.
What do you think about all this? Help me figure out how to feel, please.
*name changed by reporter
ETA Snacktastic's comment helped me distinguish between pedophiles and child rapists, which was kind of a breakthrough for me. Could be for you too.