Once you get past the sweeping generalisation that anyone who’d do anything so horrid to our poor kiddies is an inhuman monster, and grow up beyond an automatic guttural lurch of disgust and vengeance at the mere mention of childhood and sexuality in the same breath, you can start to imagine why paedophiles might deserve your compassion.
You’re not supposed to draw a parallel between homosexuality and a predilection for pre-teens, because it’s usually only homophobic idiots who make them. But consider one similarity that can exist.
Many gay people go through much of their life being told by the world, and believing profoundly, that their innate and unavoidable sexual drives are sinful, dirty, wrong, and evil. Some are driven to denial, or celibacy, or suicide. Some try to resist engaging in the sexual practices in question, and fail, and fall further into deep self-loathing. Some come to accept that this is just the way they are.
I daresay a lot of child abusers feel the same. Many try to repress their feelings; many can’t; many convince themselves that there are no ethical issues worth worrying themselves about in what they do, or are driven so strongly that their moral concerns get pushed aside and ignored, at least some of the time.
In neither case is demonisation of individuals a satisfactory solution. Telling people that something inside them corrupts their very being and renders them irredeemably evil is best left to Christianity. So how best to address these sexual drives?
For homosexuality, the answer’s simple (at least in theory; the execution is taking some time). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with same-sex attraction. It can be embraced as fully as any other expression of positive feelings between consenting adults, and all guilt about it can be abandoned entirely. Take the same care as anyone else would for safety and respect for personal autonomy, and you’re grand.
Those who are sexually attracted to children don’t get quite such an easy answer. The actions to which their urges drive them are simply unacceptable. Children cannot knowingly consent to sexual acts. If we tell people who experience such drives that, while we can’t condone them acting on their natural urges, we feel no less respect or love for them as human beings, they’re probably not going to be wholly content to leave it there.
There’s a pilot study being conducted at the moment in Nottingham, on around 100 male sex offenders. They’re being treated with a drug which inhibits testosterone production, and early evidence from Europe provides hope about its effects on decreasing recidivism.
(Incidentally, I think the label “chemical castration” is an unfortunate one. I’m not aware of the details of either procedure, but there seems to be about as much connection between this drug treatment and surgical orchidectomy, as there is between male and female “circumcision”.)
I know that not all sex offenders are very like the tortured souls I’ve described. Maybe of them engage in morally reprehensible behaviours without compunction, and concerns have been raised that this procedure won’t kerb underlying violent attitudes. There’s no doubt this is a partial solution at best, but you don’t have to look far among any gay community to find members who fervently wish they could just take a pill to make their “sin” disappear, and be “normal”. It’s hard not to extrapolate and wonder how many child abusers want the same thing, and would jump at the chance to quash the desires that they know only cause anguish, to themselves and others.
The offenders all currently being treated have volunteered, and I suspect this will remain a crucial aspect. Forcing such a biological change on people for society’s benefit is a very touch one to justify, and not a conversation I’m going to attempt here. But there’s a long and noble history behind temporarily hobbling yourself in some small way to stop yourself getting distracted, helping yourself reach your goals when temptation looms by simply taking will-power out of the picture.
Unplug the internet when you’ve got writing to do, so you can’t keep checking Twitter. Give your car keys to a friend, so you can’t drive home no matter how sober you know you are. Take some hormone-suppressing medication so that you don’t even think of luring a child away to do anything inappropriate.
For some people, it might be just what they need.