Is our kneejerk reaction to paedophilia more harmful than helpful?

I’ve been bouncing this around in my head for a while, but I’m not really a debater (at least online) so I’ve somewhat avoided posting this. I get this feeling that we’re doing more harm than good by calling for the death of molesters, assuming kids are now traumatized and whatnot. Mostly I’m wondering about the latter.

I mean, is there any real reason to be traumatized? When you really get down to it, what exactly did the molester do? Took advantage of the kid, breached the trust barrier, now that’s bad, even worse when it’s a loved one, but is it really so much worse than, say, cheating on a spouse or walking out on your family when things get bad? Not if you accept (as people commonly seem to on this bored) that sex isn’t particularly sacred and we treat it with too many hush’s whispers and dodges.

The kid didn’t know what they were doing, as far as Jenny’s concerned all she did was make Uncle Ned feel good until he told her to stop, I’m not saying lie to them and say what Uncle Ned told her to do wasn’t bad, but when we overreact, coddle them, and tell them how it’s SO bad, and how everyone is SO sorry and then later in life seeing all these highly publicized trials and calls for death on molesters… well, it’s not a surprise they break down crying and BSOD as far as relationships go, because after seeing all that if they weren’t quite convinced they were a victim they’re DAMN sure now and will begin to think like a victim. I think we aggravate the issue too much, if we didn’t treat child sex crimes as such a be all end all issue I think the children could grow up a lot happier because they’d know they had trust broken and be hurt there, but wouldn’t be told they’re SUCH a victim all the time and probably wouldn’t have issues near as bad as they do when they’re convinced they had one of the Ultimate Crimes™ perpetrated against them. Not to mention these paralyzing issues don’t really seem to manifest until well after the incident, i.e. once they understand what happened (which is information entirely gleaned from people telling them what happened, like that they were victimized).

Now obviously this would require a major reworking of social mores, so this is more of a thought experiment, but do you think we needlessly aggravate paedophilia (and possibly ephebophilia) issues to the point where it hurts the children more than it deters the offenders (In other words, helps more than it hurts)?

I’m very surprised if clinical research hasn’t been done on this and It’d be interesting to know what the results have been.

As it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the kind of molestation you’ve described has negative effects only because of cultural facts–but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it has negative effects due to individualistic physio-psychological facts. (Besides, for all I know, human beings are hardwired, so to speak, to attach some kind of massively important even if subconscous significance to genital contact. Who knows?) I can imagine worlds like my own in which either of these is true, and I don’t know enough about my own world to eliminate either of these possibilities.


Wow, I am having a field day with unintentional homophone abuse today, board, board.

Frylock, I understand what you’re saying, and I’m also curious if there are any studies on this.

You seem to think that a child can have the same understanding of sex as an adult.

A child has not yet had much if any exposure to sex. A child is instinctively trusting of adults. When the child realizes that Uncle Ned took advantage of him/her, their perception of all adults and most sexcual activites is altered forever.

I have known 2 individuals who were molested as children by adult relatives. It was an era when it was hushed up when discovered. It took them years to create a normal sex life with their partners.

Pedophiles should just be taken behind the barn and executed to improve the future gene pool.

Er, yes, it’s much worse than being cheated on by a spouse. Daft thing to say.

I thought this thread was going to be about the way paedophiles are demonised so much that it’s difficult for someone who has sexual thoughts about children to seek help - that’s harmful, IMO. But I disagree with you saying that child molestation is no real reason to be traumatised. That’s one of the most inane sentences I’ve ever read.

By reading a statement into the OP where the OP actually had a question, you are participating in the hyperreactive reflex concerning paedophilia that you yourself just decried.


If someone had asked, “You know, I was just wondering, is there really any evidence that the Holocaust occurred?” or “You know, do we really have evidence that there’s such a thing as ‘global warming’?” would you not pick up on an implicit statement of the questioner’s views, there?

Yes, but despite the fact that I would have that impression, the fact is someone can ask “Is there really any evidence that the Holocaust occured” completely honestly and innocently. It’s rare, but it can happen.

In any case, my comment you were responding to was in error. Upon re-reading the OP I see he does express a position rather than simply asking questions. I interpret his expressions as tentative and mostly consisting in suspicions, and this seems to be confirmed by the OP’s second post, but I concede the first post by the OP does explicitly say the OP thinks molestation isn’t as bad as people think.


No I don’t think it’s as bad as people think, but it’s never happened to me, I’m willing to be swayed, haven’t seen much convincing this early on.

But again, wouldn’t it be easier to get over “Uncle Ned is sick and did something bad” more than “a trusted adult committed the most grievous sin imaginable against you” which is what we have now. Sure it may alter their sexual perceptions, it may give them trust issues, but it’s much easier to get over something you think of as a minor issue rather than an Earth-shattering one.

Can you expand on this? What exactly do you mean by “hushed up”? I mean, if anything that would just aggravate the problem by discovering that not only were you molested, you were LIED to by other people you trust.

Okay, convince me here, why is it so inane? Unless you can bring up a study (which I know is usually GD speak for “something I can read one line of and disagree with” but I give my word I’ll give it some deep consideration) it’s only really true if you postulate the crime is as grievous as we make it out to be, I’m having trouble seeing how a rather simple breach of trust/manipulation is any different than any other breach of trust/manipulation. Maybe a better example would be a FIRST spouse cheating since Fir does bring up a good point about first exposure, what if in your first relationship your spouse cheating on you? It would color your perceptions and possibly harm your dating ideals, but society dictates the cheater is a jerk and you should just write it off. And remember the cheater isn’t some random person, it’s one you’ve spent month tailoring a deep emotional attachment to. Why not take the same “just write it off as Uncle Ned being a jerk”? I might just be dense, but they seem like similar principles to me.

No cites but I think this can be argued outside of hard data. Not to mention I think hard data would be difficult to come by. How do you quantify psychological damage?

I think the problem here is equating a child’s mind with an adult’s mind. That they are as resilient, or at least inured, to trauma as an adult’s mind is.

I can recall the first time, as a teenager, a girl broke up with me. She went out with another dude and I was shattered. The freaking world was ending. I knew I’d never love again. As an adult when a woman breaks up with me I am still hurt but I am not suicidally certain the world has ended. Coping mechanisms have formed and I am more the captain of my own ship than I was as a teenager.

The damage done to a child by being violated in this fashion can be profound. While they may not understand exactly why getting touched “there” is wrong they sense it. They may not be able to define it or really grasp it but they know it is a violation in their bones. Unfortunately this sits deep inside them and can screw them up in later life in numerous ways.

It is a violation of trust. It is a violation of the person. It is a violation of someone uniquely incapable of defending themselves.

Judith Levine’s book “Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex”, University of Minnesota Press, 2002 came to the conclusion that arguably the children were more traumatized by the aftermath of sexual abuse than by the abuse itself. That the horrified & even murderous reactions of people, the testifying in court, the counseling sessions, etc. all made it a big, upsetting deal to the children, when before that it was just not that big a deal to the children.*

The book won the LA Times Book Award for 2002, but was extremely controversial. It was widely attacked by the conservative side of the political establishment. It was turned down by many publishers, until the University Press agreed to print it. Then conservatives in the Minnesota Legislature attacked them for printing it. (But it sold well, they had to order a second printing and the next year it was reprinted in a paperback edition.)

  • (This is my greatly simplified summary of the book.)

I’ve always wondered the same thing. It’s pretty similar to my line on rape recovery, actually. I don’t see why it should be much different for children. Children ARE more resilient than adults when it comes to actual trauma, like war and abuse. The everyday stuff like breakups, perhaps not so much, but kids can grow up in a war zone and not suffer the rates of PTSD their elders do.

One of the thing I hear a lot from grown survivors of sexual abuse as children is a literally whispered, “I know this is awful to say, but sometimes it kinda felt good.” The shame and humiliation dripping off them is palpable. That shame over a perfectly normal bodily reaction is, I think, directly attributable to the reactions of their family members and society as a whole, not to the abuse itself. The appalled reactions they get, the lessons about how much they’ve been hurt, are in direct contrast with the love, however inappropriate, they may feel for their abusers and the pleasurable sexual sensations they might have felt. What can be concluded except that they are as dirty, bad, perverted and evil as their abusers?

So if we just convince children it wasn’t so bad there won’t be any damage. Wow. Just wow.

I understand that this is in large part what this thread is addressing but I am no less than disturbed by your flat dismissal of what is a serious crime.

It is grievous.

Another poster has already pointed out that children do not comprehend, nor can they adequately consent, to an adult sexual relationship, yet you continue to compare sexual molestation to adult sexual relationships. Consenting adult sexual relationships, no less. Spousal relashionships, in fact. These types of relationships are not analogous.

Also, you assume that in order for a child to be traumatized by molestation, the event must be discovered and reacted to negatively by other adults, which is a fallacious assumption based on your lack of understanding of both these types of relationships and of the emotional development of young people.

This may explain it a bit for you.

You associate sex as a pleasurable act that is not morally repugnant or a cause for trauma. It does not follow however that sex between an adult and a child would be only pleasurable and without trauma.
The two sets are not comparable. The relationships are not the same.

Wow indeed. Who said that? I missed it.

No, I think that the gist of the sentiment in the OP and some of the other posts is one of harm reduction. The reaction of others to the act is somehow more damaging than the act itself and if everyone weren’t so screwed up about sex to begin with there wouldn’t be extra stigma attached to the victims. A loss of trust is bad enough, but for everyone to start treating someone like a paraiah for it might be even worse.

Actually, if you reread, the OP implied molestation was not harmful and that it was only the reactions that made it so.

Also, to add, how would this “extra stigma” be avoided while everyone is blowing this off, but good ol’ Uncle Ned is chucked in jail. “Don’t worry little one, it’s not such a big deal, it’s only sex and sex is wonderful. Sex is ok. Where’s Uncle Ned? He’s out… For milk. Forever.”
So now not only is the implication that child molestation is not traumatic unless the child is treated like a victim, but that everyone who thinks it is horrible must be a sexual prude?

Wouldn’t the OP be a classic example of the excluded middle fallacy?

How so?

That’s not exactly what I meant, what I’m saying is children don’t KNOW how to feel about what happened, you’re not convincing them the experience wasn’t bad so much as framing the experience as not TRAUMATIC. If the child has no idea how to feel about an incident they’re going to take cues from the people that are reacting in an observable manner.

If a child’s dog dies what’s going to be better for the child, “I’m sorry, but Buddy’s dead, but we can get through this.” Or “oh my God I’m sooo sorry, Buddy died, is there anything I can do, you poor thing? I can’t believe this happened, we need to plan for a doggy funeral and have an autopsy and figure out what happened so you know what went wrong and I’m sooooo sorry this happened to you, please, please don’t be hurt! I’m soooory!” The point is they’re going to feel bad either way, but the way you frame something, especially to someone who’s just learning how to deal with a new aspect of life, is going to shape their long term perceptions in a very noticeable way. If they see adults panicking, they’re going take cues and panic, if they see the adults being calm and collected and rationally explaining what’s going on even if they’re scared themselves they’re going to learn how you’re supposed to act in a situation like that and not be so freaked out by it in 10 or 20 years and learn how to deal with it in the long run.

That’s a good point, the demonization of the paedophile could result in some of it, because if they enjoyed some of it in any way then they’re as bad. However, I think this issue would still exist even if we did calm down a bit, it’s bad whatever way you frame it, so I think it’s natural that if they did have some sort of feeling like this it may still occur to have a sort of guilty feeling about being perverted for feeling that way. I don’t think there’s any really good way to deal with this other than psychological treatment, which would happen no matter what society does.

I guess the fact that I’ve never been in a sexual relationship is coloring my perceptions somewhat, as I’m entirely going on other people’s descriptions here. I guess I see pleasuring someone sexually as only maybe a rung or two higher than singing to someone, feeding them, tickling them or favorably stimulating any other bodily sense and that may be messing with my interpretation of the issue a great deal. I guess I’m just having trouble comprehending how it’s any different at anything more than a basic, idiomatic “it’s before they’re not yet physiologically and mentally ready” sort of level. I mean, you can make they argument they don’t understand what they’re doing, but do they understand why they’re going to school or why mommy feeds them either? Not really, they don’t understand ANYTHING at that deep a level, so I’m having trouble separating them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not arguing for legalization of paedophilic acts by any means, I just don’t see it as different ENOUGH to be particularly traumatizing when compared to other breaches of trust.

I’m looking over the article, and as far as I can comprehend the article it seems to link the issues to the fight or flight mechanism. Paedophilia is a somewhat unique crime in that it can be perpetrated over and over, but with the addition that “consent” is involved (albeit ill-informed consent, meaning consent as far as a child can give it). The child isn’t feeling scared or threatened, they’re doing it willingly but because of bad, dishonestly presented reasons (in other words, manipulated, not forced). This is different from traditional scar-leaving physical abuse in that there’s a definite correlation with “daddy hits me, I feel pain” and “I’m scared.” The fight or flight mechanism isn’t going to turn on for sexual acts until someone tells them that was bad because there’s no real harm (in the fight or flight sense) coming to them, no raised voices, yelling, hitting, etc that would turn on alarm bells, outside of maybe a gut “are you sure we should be doing this?” feeling.

I didn’t mean to imply that, I’m having trouble phrasing it well, it is wrong on a sort of idiomatic level, but not so much so to warrant the (obviously in my opinion) rather extreme stigma.

No, you make it clear what happened is BAD, you don’t just blow it off, but you go about explaining this in a calm manner and don’t over-inflate the issue and freak out on their behalf, act hysteric, and have the lawyer apologize to them 600 times when giving a testimony. You can explain Uncle Ned is in jail, it was a bad thing to do, but so would be stealing which also can get you in jail, when they’re testifying against them it’s not much different than testifying that you saw them taking mommy’s priceless diamond necklace for crack money, just with a different victim and a different issue.