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Could research into pedophilia help prevent child sex crimes?

There are aspects of human behavior and human thought considered so morally reprehensible that most people are unable to even discuss them objectively. High on the list of taboo topics is pedophilia. While it is rarely discussed, it is heavily prosecuted if acted upon. Individuals charged with child sex crimes face harsh criminal punishments and public condemnation.

Is it possible that sex crimes committed against children are common, in part, because the issue of pedophilia is not safe to discuss in a dispassionate way? This was a suggestion made in a controversial but riveting report on the National Public Radio program "This American Life." The TAM report featured an interview with a type of person few have ever heard from: an admitted pedophile who has never acted on his desires for moral reasons.

Pedophilia is commonly understood as a disorder in which adults/teens are sexually attracted to prepubescent children. But it is important to note that attraction alone is necessary for the diagnosis. There are pedophiles that recognize that they have the disorder and choose not to act on it, including the 19-year-old guest interviewed on TAM. His real name was not used and his voice was digitally altered to protect anonymity.

He sought help several years ago from a therapist, but ran into a difficult problem. Many therapists refuse to counsel even non-offending pedophiles because many states have laws requiring mental health professionals to report any patient who might pose a threat to children. As such, individuals who suspect or know they are pedophiles cannot safely seek therapy.

Another major problem caused by the stigma of this disorder is that very little is actually known about pedophilia within the scientific community. Few researchers are willing to conduct studies on pedophilia either because they cannot find funding, do not want to be labeled as a pedophile sympathizer or both.

There appears to be almost no research into what might cause pedophilia, whether it can be treated, which kinds of people may be predisposed to the disorder and whether all pedophiles are inherently dangerous around children.

To be clear, the TAM report was in no way excusing sex crimes against children. There is a clear distinction to be made between having pedophilic desires and acting upon them. But if we could set aside the stigma just enough to talk about and study pedophilia, perhaps we could prevent child sex abuse and find ways to treat potential abusers before they ever offend.

Source: Upworthy, "This 19-Year-Old Pedophile Has Never Gone Near A Child. And He Needs You To Hear His Story." Adam Mordecai, April 2014 

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