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Noting the difference between pedophilia and child sex crimes

| Oct 10, 2014 | Sex Crimes

Which is more important: Preventing crime or punishing those who commit it after the fact? Most of us would say that crime prevention is more important and a far more valuable use of law enforcement resources. Yet with certain sex crimes, laws and public attitudes make prevention practically impossible.

A recent New York Times opinion piece makes a strong argument for how to best prevent sex crimes against children. In that piece, Rutgers School of Law assistant professor Margo Kaplan notes that pedophilia is often treated the same as child molestation. But pedophilia is a mental disorder. Until or unless a person with pedophilia acts on their desires and harms a child, that person should be considered a patient and not a criminal.

There is surprisingly little research on what causes pedophilia, which is characterized as a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. This lack of research probably has a lot to do with how stigmatized this disorder is. Generally, the only diagnosed pedophiles who can be studied are those who have already committed child sex crimes.

Pedophilia is not a choice, but acting on it is. There are online support groups of self-identified “virtuous pedophiles” who believe that sex with children is wrong and have vowed never to pursue it. Yet these individuals may not be able to seek therapy or counseling because of laws in most states that require mental health professionals to report patients who could pose a threat to children.

Moreover, most pedophiles feel it necessary to hide this self-knowledge from everyone they know for fear of being discriminated against, shunned or suspected of a crime. Kaplan argues that “isolating individuals from appropriate employment and treatment only increases their risk of committing a crime.”

Pedophilia is not the same thing as a child sex crime and vice versa. In fact, research has shown that approximately 50 percent of individuals who commit child sex crimes are not sexually attracted to their victims. Rather, they are committing crimes of opportunity.

If we truly want to prevent sex crimes against children, it is important to focus on treating the underlying problems like pedophilia. To that end, we need to recognize that until or unless they have harmed a child, individuals with pedophilia are patients in need of access to humane treatment.

Source: The New York Times, “Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime,” Margo Kaplan, Oct. 5, 2014

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