Earlier this year some legislation slipped through in Victoria making it a crime for victims of a sexual assault or rape to speak to the media, publish autobiographies or do any advocacy work, under their real identities, once a guilty verdict is in place. So who does this protect? And why are we silencing the important stories of victims? This law protects convicted rapists and paedophiles by silencing the story of the victim. Why are we hiding our monsters? It’s like a game of make believe where, if we don’t talk about what happens, then we think it will go away. I guess in lieu of nothing changing when it comes to statistics on sexual assault, particularly with regards to assaults on children, this is the popular approach. We pretend it doesn’t happen, and then look surprised 20 years later when we find out someone’s trusted teacher, priest or friend assaulted children.
There is a quote from a Kathy Acker re-write of the classic fairytale Little Red Riding Hood where she talks of the wolf predator and gives young Red some sage advice: ‘The worst kind of men are hairy on the inside’.
That’s always stayed with me. Monsters don’t always look like monsters. Most look like regular people. Some are even high court judges.
So how does a just society manage its monsters? It’s clear, by the numbers of children harmed by sexual abuse, that our current approach is ineffective and doesn’t really go to the heart of the problem. We punish offenders with a jail sentence for a condition that is largely believed to be ‘incurable’. Then after a ridiculously small amount of jail time, we release them back into the community and hope they won’t re-offend. It’s like dropping an alcoholic off at the bottleshop, after a stint in rehab, and telling them to order lemonade. There are children in streets, and schools, and in families. There are children in pornographic pictures that can be downloaded from the dark web. It’s possible to hurt a child without ever leaving your home.
When a paedophile is eventually arrested and charged, usually decades after perpetuating the abuse, if convicted at all, the sentence is insultingly short – and very often there’s enough loopholes for the offender to be released on appeal. So often we hear stories of convicted paedophiles only getting one or two years behind bars. If you rob a bank you will get a longer sentence than if you rob a child of their innocence. Commercial crimes are viewed with more seriousness than crimes against children. And people who survive a robbery are allowed to talk about their experience without the threat of a jail term.
The impact of trauma from sexual assault by an adult affects that child for their entire life. It affects their capacity to form healthy relationships, to get jobs, and to feel safe in the world. Child sexual abuse is often the precursor to serious mental health issues, and drug and alcohol addiction. So, taking this into account, sentencing of child abusers seems to trivialise what most of our society sees as heinous.
As a mother, my reaction doesn’t align with my general humanitarian approach. The vigilante in me says ‘lock them up for life!’ I don’t believe in the death penalty, but I think – ‘Kill them? I’d support that.’ Perhaps if there are no long-term therapies that can reform behaviour, then lethal injection is not a bad option. Fuck, there are cases where I would like to administer it.
The stories fill me with rage, and like many, when it comes to paedophilia – I have no compassion for perpetrators.
But I am not sure capital punishment is the answer either. They are someone’s son. Someone’s daughter, and if it’s a psychiatric disorder listed in the DSM 5, then why can’t we attempt to identify the disorder in adolescence and treat it? Why do we wait until after children have been harmed? Is there not some diagnostic that captures the aberrant nature of a paedophile before harm to children is enacted? If paedophilia can’t be cured, can therapies focus on preventing a paedophile from acting on their desires?
Being attracted to children isn’t illegal. Acting on it is. We punish those who act, but don’t intervene in the initial attraction phase – which is where you could have an impact on protecting children.
There are no real figures of what percentage of the population are paedophiles, but it’s thought to be less than 5 per cent – mainly men, but yes some women too. 82 per cent of all victims under 18 years old are female. One in nine girls, and one in 53 boys will experience sexual assault at the hands of an adult. Despite being less than 5 per cent of the population, paedophiles manage to devastate over 12 per cent of the population.
There are some within the paedophile community who lobby for the condition to be accepted as a sexual orientation rather than a psychological disorder. But is it? There are some groups that offer hope; like Virtuous Paedophiles who believe child sexual abuse is wrong and raise awareness so that some paedophiles do not offend. This offers some insight into what harm reduction might look like.
Currently paedophiles operate in the shadows, in silence.
Perhaps it’s time to open the conversation. Shine light into humanity’s darkest corners…