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Can Pedophiles Be Redeemed?

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What does a pedophile look like — the same as a rapist, the same as a teacher, the same as a politician? Maintaining the fact that we can’t identify a pedophile by physical characteristics, we also believe that we can’t prevent this unknown predator from attacking.

But what if we could?

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In a recent Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times, Margo Kaplan, assistant professor at Rutgers School of Law, poses an interesting position concerning a population that is often deemed evil and unredeemable: pedophiles. Kaplan wonders if those who understand themselves to be pedophiles should be treated as though they have a mental disability instead of being shamed and treated as criminals, especially when they have not actually committed an act of child molestation.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which defines mental illness and disorders, defines pedophilia as an intense and recurrent sexual interest in prepubescent children. People who are characterized by this disorder experience a vivid sexual attraction that, much like more common sexual attraction, is uncontrollable. While they cannot control the type of person that excites them sexually, they can control whether or not they follow through with this attraction.

We must remember that pedophiles are people too and they will never disappear.

Kaplan brings up the point that there should be treatment available for people who identify as pedophiles. Instead the mere mention of the term, or worse, an admission, would have life-altering negative effects on the individual who seeks help, deterring them from sharing their fantasy.

Should we normalize pedophilia, allowing an open dialogue about the disorder, protective laws set in place for those seeking treatment and a bridge of safety toward treatment for those who know that this is an issue that they face? Absolutely.

While the idea of standing face-to-face with someone who is naturally sexually attracted to the very little ones we have vowed to love and protect may trigger our defenses, sending us into a rage-filled attack, we must remember that pedophiles are people too and they will never disappear.

Not long ago the DSM classified homosexuality as a mental disorder as well, sending people who experience a natural sexual attraction to members of the same sex into panic and a self-imposed emotional prison. It would be insane to compare homosexuality to pedophilia since the root of homosexuality does not intend to violate an innocent. But the two are comparable because they were both stigmatized by society, reviled just as equally even though homosexuality is not rooted in malice towards anyone. Surprisingly, neither is pedophilia. Pedophiles do not overtly desire to hurt children, pedophilia is a misdirected expression of love.

As our nation moves beyond a one-size-fits-all attitude concerning sexuality, allowing homosexuals protection and freedom under law to embrace who they are and come to terms with their sexuality without the added pressure of society’s wagging finger, pedophilia should be treated in the same manner.

Until we can create a dialogue surrounding pedophilia we will always look over our shoulder at every smiling face that welcomes our children.

Yes, we have to protect our children from those who seek to introduce them to behaviors that are beyond their comprehension. Yes, we need to punish those who cross boundaries and use their authority to take advantage of our children. We must also understand that creating a taboo around a subject forces it into secrecy. Those things we keep hidden can never heal.

Maybe pedophilia can’t be corrected, but if we allow those who express these sentiments of attraction to discuss them openly before taking action without advanced retribution, we may be able to create an alternative way for them to express their sexual desires without harming our children. Until we can create a dialogue surrounding pedophilia we will always look over our shoulder at every smiling face that welcomes our children, wondering what secrets they hold.

Imagine if we didn’t have to do that. Imagine if we could redirect the pedophile’s sexual interest and create alternatives to kidnapping, molesting or sexually abusing children. Imagine if each adult were encouraged and applauded for owning up to their personal preferences and desires, acknowledging those that harm others. Imagine if it were honorable to seek help instead of being shamed for not fitting into the mold of perfection that we all strive for, yet no one, not one, can claim to have attained.

We all have secrets. We all have hidden desires and interests that we keep contained, even from ourselves. It is time to face those desires and analyze them, owning up to those that are harmful to ourselves and others. In order to heal as a nation and truly protect our children, we must do the hard work of seeing ourselves in others, recognizing that we are all a part of the same fabric, accepting that there is no cookie cutter way to “be” and every individual will have their time in the hot seat to examine and redirect certain behaviors that harm others.

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When we shame others for desires that they cannot shift on their own like pedophilia, we unknowingly contribute to the secretive culture of abuse. When we force pedophiles to hide in secret, we force them to abuse our children in secret as well. Our children then carry the weight of their predator’s secret with them; it becomes their own dark secret, often repeated, and then, the cycle continues.

Take a moment to try to understand the person who causes harm to others. You don’t have to condone their behavior in order to seek understanding. Through understanding we strip them of their power. Through analysis we can disarm them. Through unconditional love instead of repulsion, we can walk with them down a more productive path.

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