Paedophiles in Society: Reflecting on Sexuality, Abuse and Hope

Goode, Sarah D.
Place PublishedNew York & Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Extent243 pp
  • Below this file is a link to the book as a .PDF file.

By Deborah Donovan Rice

Prepare to move beyond accepted notions about the sexual abuse of children in evidence in the media, in the classroom and in the halls of government. The author calls on her reader to grapple with the underpinnings of our current framework for thinking about this social problem. Much like an investigative reporter, she sorts out the threads of scientific research, ideological and religious history and cultural discourses which have influenced and continue to shape our response to what is a pervasive threat to the wellbeing of our children.

Not shy about calling out the disconnections between our espoused views of valuing children and our actions which indicate otherwise, she challenges us on a personal and professional level to be more careful about how we proceed in considering how best to prevent sexual abuse of children. Focusing on protecting children and punishing those who abuse them, as she states, can leave out the point of view of the child.
Often the policies and laws which are enacted privilege the adult needs over those of the child.

There is plenty for the mind to grapple with here and there are stories that speak directly to the heart. This blend of cited research juxtaposed with observations of the culture and reports of direct experience by individuals makes for a compelling read. Not something you find very often or necessarily expect in professional literature. In my work in the prevention of sexual abuse of children, I find this more holistic approach refreshing.

At the same time, the author adds new dimensions to our thinking with her bold assertions, carefully researched and deeply considered. Creating the space for numerous difficult questions to be brought to light gives the reader a chance to safely question and come to her or his own conclusions. How does our use of language impact on our understanding of the subject? How far are we willing to go to be open to new concepts that may challenge our supposed ethical point of view? I found myself welcoming the challenge and adding some of my own previously unconsidered questions.

The author successfully dispels some of the confusion so prevalent in our cultural responses to sexual abuse of children. As one example, in discussing pedophiles, she asks that we de-link adult sexual attraction to children from adult sexual contact with children. This will be seen as a radical concept by some. However, this clarification based on her research points to a way forward beyond the ‘us and them’ polarity.

It is this place of fear and paralysis that so many people find themselves in when faced with everyday situations where a child may be at risk – caring but not knowing what to do, as reported in Stop It Now!’s report: What Do U.S. Adults Think about Child Sexual Abuse? Measures of Knowledge and Attitudes among Six States (online, June 2010).

I find myself in a hopeful frame of mind, with potent recommendations made by the author which I will continue to consider and discuss with colleagues, friends and family. Above all, are we as individuals willing to work to create the communities which value children enough to make every effort to prevent and stop the abuse? Embracing the depth of empathy espoused within these pages is one way forward.

Deborah Donovan Rice
Executive Director of Stop It Now! USA

Preface by the Author

This book is not like any other book you may have read on paedophiles, or adult sexual attraction to children, or child protection. It is not about the medical, forensic, psychological, psychiatric, legal or criminological aspects of these phenomena. Those issues are adequately dealt with in other texts. Instead, this book is about ordinariness, about culture and society around us and about how people in everyday life think about
and make sense of men being sexually attracted to children

  • (the book says something too about women sexually attracted to children but the focus is predominantly on men).

We know that paedophiles exist, although we don’t yet have a clear idea of how many there may be. As far as we can tell from the small number of studies so far, in every group of a hundred men there will be at least a few – maybe two or three, maybe more – whose main or only sexual interest is in children. In addition, around one in five of all men find themselves, at least sometimes, sexually aroused to children.

How does society respond? This book argues that we respond with confusion and bafflement. There is little consensus on how to react when, for example, Michael Jackson is accused of sexually molesting boys, or Roman Polanski is arrested for the statutory rape of a minor.

The massive public distress when 3-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared from a holiday resort in Portugal in 2007 shows us, however, that our confusion is not caused by indifference. We care deeply. The protection of children matters to us, but we are just not sure how to make sense of it or what to do about it.

One of the most important innovations of the last few decades has been the internet. The internet has both been shaped by paedophiles (through, for example, ‘darknet’ sites for the dissemination of child sexual abuse images) and has itself profoundly shaped the experience of being a paedophile in contemporary society.

The internet is capable of acting as an amplifier for the ‘paedophile voice’, and this book, through a study of the online editing of the term ‘child grooming’ by paedophile activists, illustrates the ways in which knowledge is socially constructed and technical terms such as ‘paedophilia’ or ‘grooming’ become absorbed into popular culture.

Popular culture comprises all the ways in which a society shares and shapes its understanding. As the book argues, popular culture reflects the confusion felt over paedophiles. Newspapers, internet jokes, popular cartoon series, Hollywood films – all provide examples of different and conflicting responses to paedophilia. Drawing on history, anthropology and biology provide insights but leave us not much clearer.

Academic and cultural understandings of paedophilia tend to diverge into a ‘sexual liberation’ discourse and a ‘child protection’ discourse. In order to understand why this might be so, the book discusses the most influential text on human sexuality in the twentieth century, Alfred Kinsey’s Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and examines in detail what Kinsey actually said about ‘childhood sexuality’.

Kinsey’s work is of central importance in understanding contemporary views on paedophilia and adult sexual contact with children and his views have continued to be put forward in numerous books and articles. This book provides an overview of a selection of works (academic, lay and professional) which advocate a tolerant or positive view of adult sexual contact with children. The influence of such books is little-recognized but, I argue, has fundamentally shaped the perception of paedophiles in society.

A central thesis of this book is that paedophiles are not ‘outside’ culture or society. Rather, it is argued that they are part of our everyday human existence and that sexual attraction to children is part of human sexuality. This may help to explain both the powerful rage and fear we feel at the very word ‘paedophile’ and, at the same time, the paradoxical prevalence and tolerance of ‘pro-paedophile’ arguments within society – and thus our cultural bewilderment over how to respond.

I propose that what is needed is to disaggregate the discourse on ‘sexual liberation’ (the acceptance of sexualities alternative to penetrative heterosexuality) from the acceptance of child sexual abuse. This, in turn, requires us to make a careful distinction between the two phenomena of ‘adult sexual attraction to children’ and ‘adult sexual contact with children’ and, in order to do that, we need a more sophisticated understanding of normative adult male sexuality and the ways in which it has historically and culturally been constructed to be abusive and non-empathic.

This book is written to be a challenging and thought-provoking response to contemporary anxieties over paedophilia and child sexual abuse. It is written primarily for students and academics studying aspects of the phenomenon of paedophiles in contemporary society, but it will also be of value to others; for example, to adults who are themselves experiencing sexual attraction to children; to those who, as children, had sexual contact with an adult and now seek to understand that experience more clearly; and those who live with, care about or work with paedophiles. It aims to satisfy a need for information on paedophiles which does not assume that they are monsters, mad, evil or ‘other’, and which seeks to locate paedophiles in their everyday context, in society.