The Progressing Normalization of Pedophilia in America
This article that I am writing is something that many have been dismissive of over the past decade and there hasn’t been much serious consideration given to this topic. I think many people saw the normalization of pedophilia as so wildly improbable that it wasn’t worth addressing the fringe conversations that were brewing. However, I think we are continuing to see small incremental shifts in ideology on a wider scale in our society that are cultivating an atmosphere where the normalization of pedophilia can be more easily progressed. As we continue to see these incremental shifts, it is important that we begin to take this topic more seriously while its development is still in its infancy.
Many people don’t realize that a shift like this happens slowly over a longer period of time. We won’t wake up tomorrow and suddenly see large groups of people who will be arguing for the normalization of pedophilia. Rather, it will be small steps and compromises on ideology over a long period of time that will lead to this outcome. Many smaller milestones must first be accomplished in order for the idea to firmly take root in our society, then it can cultivated into a more widely accepted idea. After some of these smaller milestones are achieved, the ones that follow become easier and easier to capture and eventually we will look at our social fabric and wonder, “How in the world did we get here?” It is these small incremental changes and compromises that we make over time that end up mattering the most. These types of milestones are important in our current social climate and if you can achieve these milestones you can go a long way in garnering social acceptability.
I truly believe that we are on a trajectory towards the normalization of pedophilia in our society. I want to be clear, I do not believe that society is on a trajectory to the acceptance of acting on one’s sexual desire for children, rather we are on a trajectory to the acceptance of having sexual desire for children. If we continue on this trajectory, we will be in a place where it will be socially acceptable and considered reasonable to be sexually attracted to minors. My goal in this article is to lay out the different milestones that I believe need to be accomplished in order to reach a place where pedophilia is normalized in our society and I want to demonstrate how these different milestones are currently being worked to achieve this particular end.
Much of this article is being stirred by a university professor at Old Dominion University by the name of Allyn Walker. This professor recently wrote a book titled, “A Long Dark Shadow: Minor-Attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity.” This professor is seen in a video interview on Prostasia defending their book. This video can be seen in its entirety below:
I will primarily be addressing direct comments made by this professor in this video rather than their book. This will be done to help frame out the different milestones being developed. Where necessary, I will provide information from to other sources to reflect the breadth of this ideological framework being developed to show that it is not just one lone professor pushing these ideas. The four most important milestones that need to be accomplished are (1) shifting the narrative from the desire to the person, (2) making pedophiles victims rather than victimizers, (3) eliminating responsibility for circumstances, and (4) emphasizing a lack of interpersonal impact.
Shifting the Narrative from the Desire to the Person
One way to adapt a narrative is to change the terminology that is being utilized. We see an adaptation of terms at play here to shift both the rhetoric and the focus of the conversation. This shift is an important theme that I will continue to develop as we examine this move to normalize pedophilia. To normalize pedophilia, the narrative is going to need to be shifted.
One way to shift the narrative is to transition the focus of the conversation from being about the desire, which is ultimately what we are concerned about, to the person who has the desire. When we change the conversation to being about the person who sexually desires children, you can begin to argue from different angles which is what we will see throughout the other milestones. This is the same thing that has happened in the abortion and homosexuality debates. The discussion of whether or not abortion or same-sex marriage should be legal has shifted from the act of aborting a baby or having intercourse with the same-sex to focusing on the person having the abortion or engaging in the intercourse and we can all see how gripping these shifts in narrative have been for these debates. This same narrative shift is happening in the conversation of pedophilia as we are moving from focusing on the sexual desire for children to the person who has the sexual desire.
We see this in the interview with Allyn. When defending the change in the terminology they offer two reasons for utilizing the term “Minor-attracted person.” They state that the term has been the term advocated for by pedophiles and they believe that “it’s important to use the terminology for groups that members of that group want others to use for them.” This serves to show that the term is not focused on reflecting what is occurring, rather, it is focused on reflecting an identity. This leads to the second point put forward for the terminology by Allyn that states that there is stigmatization with the term pedophile and the focus in the conversation should be on eliminating the stigma that comes with the term pedophile. This shift in terminology has a clear bend to merely focus on the individual.
This shift in terminology also does tremendous work to reduce the rhetorical weight of the terminology that we use. “Minor-attracted” weakens the idea of sexual desire, as it is now about an individual that is merely attracted to a child when in reality Pedophilia is about the sexual desire that goes alongside that attraction. This change in terminology also reduces the weight of the term as it shifts the object of desire from being a child to a minor which is strategically vague. We see this play out on B4U-ACTS website where they describe pedophiles as having a romantic attraction and desire for friendship with underage youth. This significantly waters down the reality that these individuals have sexual desires for children.
This adaption in terminology will go a long way in normalizing pedophilia if it takes root, as it builds on both the person-focused emphasis on this conversation and limits the reality of what that person is experiencing. This shifts the conversation both in intensity and in focus and sets up advocates to lay the groundwork and argue for the other milestones that are necessary for the normalization of pedophilia.
Making Pedophiles Victims Rather Than Victimizers
After the conversation has been shifted from the desire to the person with the desire, you are then able to work on the next milestone. The next milestone that will need to be accomplished is to make the pedophile a victim rather than a victimizer. This is why the move in terminology is important; if you can shift the focus to the person, you can build an emotional case for the person. You can demonstrate instances or opportunities for oppression for someone who sexually desires minors. You can provide persuasive case studies regarding hardships and struggles for individuals who have this desire. When you take this step to make this about a person who “just so happens to be attracted to a minor”, you can generate compassion for the individual. This can be incredibly efficacious in our current social climate because if you can build a case that these individuals are in some way marginalized, you can easily persuade a group of individuals to advocate for and defend them.
Allyn in the interview reiterates many times throughout the interview the different instances of victimization that pedophiles experience. In discussing the people they interviewed for their book, they say “I’ve encountered people who have told them that they’re bad people or monsters just because of their attractions. Or they feel that same way about themselves. And it’s often a process for them to just stop feeling internally like they’re monsters.” When discussing the incorrect assumptions that are made against MAP’s who do not commit sexual offenses against a minor, Allyn goes forward to say that “this leads to people believing that just because someone is attracted to minors, they’re likely to commit an offense. And we start to criminalize a population just because of their attractions. Not only is this a problem in terms of criminalization, but it also serves to heighten stigma against MAPs in general, which is a huge problem.” This same attempt to demonstrate marginalization is evidence in B4U-ACT discussion of “the facts” on their website where they state “Because of the stigma they face from society, minor-attracted persons often feel negatively about themselves. Loneliness, distress, suicidal ideation, and low self-esteem are common themes, particularly for young MAPs coming to terms with their attraction for the first time.” It’s clear that in these and other examples that there is an effort to paint pedophiles as victims who are marginalized by stigma and unfair assumptions that lead to unfair consequences that must be corrected by validating the identity of the individual.
Eliminating Responsibility for Circumstances
Another important milestone is to eliminate the responsibility of the individual. After you have made the conversation about the individual that is attracted to a minor and you have demonstrated that the individual is a victim and not a victimizer, you can further strengthen the case by eliminating any responsibility that the individual has for their circumstances. If the attractions that the individual is experiencing are no more than a manifestation of social and biological determinations, then the individual has no responsibility for their circumstances. When you argue for this, you begin to justify the individual. If the individual could not do otherwise, then they should not be held accountable to that which they could not have control over. Under this determinative framework, they had no more control over their attraction to minors than I did to attraction to adults, therefore, we should treat them no differently than anyone else.
This is a point that Allyn makes several times in the interview. Throughout the interview, they make parenthetical statements about the attractions that pedophiles have being outside of their control and in doing so alluding to the idea that they have no culpability in the matter. At one point, Allyn makes a strong statement that sexually desiring children is morally neutral because “no one can control who they’re attracted to at all.” Allyn pushes this distinction between attraction and behavior where their attraction is acceptable so long as the behavior doesn’t follow it. This leads to the idea further in the interview that because they can not willingly change their attraction, the solution is not to attempt to change, rather it is to engage in an “affirming therapy” which helps them to understand that their attraction is okay and their focus should be only on not acting on those attractions.
We see this attempt to eliminate the responsibility by other proponents of normalizing pedophilia. In a since-removed TEDx talk, Mirjam Heine gave a talk where she attempted to normalize pedophilia as an unchangeable sexual orientation. In this talk, she states that “We should accept that pedophiles are people who have not chosen their sexuality and who, unlike most of us, will never be able to live it out freely…. Most of us feel discomfort when we think about pedophiles. But just like pedophiles, we are not responsible for our feelings. We do not choose them but we are responsible for our actions.”
These clear attempts to remove responsibility create the space for the normalization of the sexual desire of children. If you are not responsible for the attraction then you can not be blamed for the attraction. If you can not be blamed for the attraction then you should not be marginalized for the attraction. If you should not be marginalized for the attraction then you should be normalized for the attraction. The path is very short from eliminating responsibility to normalizing pedophilia and it’s one that is being progressed and we must push back on it.
Emphasizing a Lack of Interpersonal Impact
The final milestone that is necessary, and this is important in our American individualistic mindset, is the demonstration that there is no harm done to others. After you have changed the conversation to be about the person, you have made that person a victim rather than a victimizer, you have eliminated responsibility for that person in their circumstances, then you can seal the deal by demonstrating that what they are doing isn’t harming anyone. We have a type of “Do No Harm” morality in America where anything can be considered morally acceptable, so long as it doesn’t impinge on another individual. If we apply this same moral principle to individuals who sexually desire children, but do not act on it, then per this principle, there is really nothing wrong with these individuals having this desire. This notion that it is okay to sexually desire children is counterintuitive, yet it is a narrative being pushed. Those who want to normalize pedophilia will often say, there is nothing immoral about having the desire.
This is peppered throughout Allyn’s interview as they reiterate multiple times that the restraint in the behavior is what matters most. So long as they don’t act on the behavior then there is no concern for someone who sexually desires children. Allyn makes this point fairly explicit when they state “I want to be extremely clear that child sexual abuse is never ever okay. But having an attraction to minors as long as it isn’t acted on, doesn’t mean that the person who has those attractions is doing something wrong.” They rely heavily on this distinction between attraction and behavior to provide justification and grounds for normalizing the attraction. In an earlier part of the interview, Allyn states that “using a term that communicates who someone is attracted to doesn’t indicate anything about the morality of that attraction. From my perspective, there is no morality or immorality attached to attraction to anyone because no one can control who they’re attracted to at all. In other words, it’s not who we’re attracted to that’s either okay or not, okay. It’s our behaviors and responding to that attraction that are either okay or not okay.”
Under this description, it is the act of child abuse that is immoral, but the desire is either moral or at the very least value-neutral because of one’s inability to do anything about it. Other advocacy groups such as B4U-ACT continue to push for this same distinction between attraction and behavior and it will serve as one of the most important arguing points for those that want to normalize pedophilia.
If these four milestones can be achieved, then you have successfully shifted the entire narrative. The conversation is no longer about sexually desiring a child. It is now about an individual who just happens to have a preferential attraction to minors, who could not do anything about their circumstances, and who isn’t hurting anyone, yet they are being oppressed and marginalized by society at large. To correct this “wrong” that pedophiles experience, we need to come alongside them and celebrate them and normalize their identity so that they can feel and be accepted for who they are. When that narrative is firmly shifted, we will be well on our way as a society to normalizing the sexual desire for children. We will know that we have reached that end when we begin to publicly celebrate those who sexually desire minors, but don’t act on it. We see the beginnings of this in the interview with Allyn when they are discussing why pedophiles in their study have not acted on their desire. Allyn paints the picture of individuals who out of tremendous love for children would never dare harm a child because they know how deeply hurtful it would be to a child. On the website of B4U-ACT, they discuss pedophiles as having a “desire to protect children and make them happy.” When we see the heroization of pedophiles on a larger scale, it will have achieved normalcy in our society.
I hope that I have demonstrated that the path to normalizing pedophilia in our society is not so absurd, especially considering the social climate and other similar shifts we have seen in our society in the past few decades. This normalization is a real possibility and it appears to be happening right before our eyes, yet we don’t quite seem to recognize its occurrence. If we are going to combat this shift in ideology, we must engage it in its infancy and we must keep the conversation firmly oriented, not on the person who has a sexual desire for children, but on the moral character of the sexual desire of children in and of itself.
The root of this whole discussion is going to boil down to engaging a question related to ethics and morality.
Is it immoral for an individual to desire a child sexually if they do not act on it?
The battle for the normalization of pedophilia in our society will be won or lost on how we deal with this question. Part of the motivation for writing this article is to point out the importance of dealing with this question. If it can be successfully argued and reasoned that the sexual desire of a child is morally wrong, even if one does not act on it, then there will continue to be no place for the acceptance of pedophilia in our society. However, if we as a society remove the moral content of desire, this discussion will be entirely lost and the social ramifications will be disastrous.
There is a possibility that I could be wrong and I could be making too much of this, however, the more I watch the narrative slowly change and progress, the more convinced I am that this is a present reality that we must address. If I am right, and we don’t address this now, it will pick up steam and it will be a much larger and more difficult fight in the future. If I am right, we absolutely must take this matter seriously and engage thoughtfully and thoroughly on this topic.