Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Parent's Guide to Pedophilia: My child has what?!

Why Should You Care About Pedophiles?

Do you want the nice, tactful version with statistics, or the frank truth?
  • Nice And Tactful Facts
    • Researchers estimate about 30% of child molesters are pedophiles, and from the statistics we know about, around 25% or less of pedophiles molest children. In other words, most child molesters are not pedophiles, and most pedophiles do not molest children. Pedophilia does not appear to be a condition that can change, and from our best understanding of it, it acts as a sexual orientation. Pedophilia is not a dangerous diagnosis. Current estimates range from 1-5% of adolescent to adult men deal with pedophilia, or attractions to children generally under 12, and it is unknown how many deal with attractions to older children. Conservatively, around one in one hundred boys will develop pedophilia, and liberally, one in twenty will (again, not counting attractions towards teenagers). 
  • Frank Truth
    • Your child could develop an attraction to children or young teenagers. It could be your child. And if it is, you should know what to do so that you can help your child and make fact-based decisions that will help your child live a better life- without overreacting. If you overreact, you can scar them for the rest of their lives and even ruin the rest of their lives. There are real stories of pedophiles being outed to parents, friends, employers, even teenage pedophiles, and horror stories of the consequences. Some of them get kicked out of the house, some of them get driven out of their communities by neighbors, and some of them can never find a decent job. Some commit suicide for fear of people finding out. And yes, some molest children. Your reaction to this issue has a real impact. You need to know how to respond to this issue, because chances are, it already affects you... you just do not know it yet.
Introduction

This is a challenging article for me to write, because I have yet to be a parent. But chances are, if you are reading this, you have taken a huge step in overcoming your aversion to this topic. You have acknowledged that there may be something different about your child's sexuality. Maybe their behavior seems off to you, or they are harassing others. Maybe there has been incidents between your child and another, and you are concerned about it. Perhaps they asked you a question that had you wondering, or maybe you have seen things that make you ask the question: Does my child have an attraction to children?

Considering the idea that your child may have something "wrong" with them is always difficult, and anything related to mental illness always seems like something is "wrong". As I said, I have never been a parent. But I know how strongly I feel about protecting children, and how I might feel if I had children. I would want the best possible thing for them, period, and to shield them from things that could harm them. I would spend hours hunting down the facts, if it were me. The biggest thing I can say to you is that you are not alone or without help. Contrary to what most people think, there is help for attractions to children, and most people with these attractions who get help do not hurt children. Contrary to popular myth, there is no certainty that someone with these attractions will act on their attractions. In fact, the evidence we have says the opposite.

Definition

Pedophilia, the proper term for an attraction to children not yet at puberty by someone older than the child, is not fun. It is an extreme challenge to handle with a support system, with treatment, and with the resources to know how to handle it. I felt lost, alone, and hopeless before I entered treatment and started developing a support system. I thought I had to go it alone and never tell anyone that I am attracted to children, because of how they would react.

I first began noticing something different and unique about sex and sexuality when I was 6 years old. I did not have the terms for it, but I loved looking at other boys in the bathroom. I wanted to touch them- especially those younger than me. In a few instances, I did so, but it was considered experimenting and normal by those around me. When researchers in these fields say that it can be detected and diagnosed early, I believe them because I was there.

Incidentally, the first thing anyone with any level of attraction to children must hear is that they are not alone in their struggle, and their attractions can be managed and typically can be diverted to more appropriate things. I think in most cases, people do not have a 100% exclusive attraction to children, even with pedophilia. But there are some people who do not have any attraction for peers or adults. Knowing that your child is dealing with such a loaded disorder has to be excruciatingly confusing. The easiest thing to do would be to deny it.

What You Must Hear

A disorder, like any of the paraphilias I am about to describe, is something that significantly interferes with someone's life. It is separate from sexual attraction. There are many kinds of disorders. Some people have things that seem like a disorder, but do not meet the criteria for a disorder because they do not significantly affect someone's life. Just because your child might have an attraction they do not understand does not automatically mean they have a disorder. A disorder is not a death sentence, nor are these attraction.

Even if this is repetitive, if your child does indeed have pedophilia- or its relatives, hebephilia (persistent attraction to early adolescent children, typically 11-14, that causes significant distress) and ephebophilia (attraction to older adolescent children, typically 15-19, that causes significant distress).  Even if they have any of these disorders, they are not 'predestined' or 'predisposed' or even 'inclined towards' abusing children. Simply having the disorder does not automatically make them a risk to others. They have a quirk, and choices about what to do about it. You can help them make the right choice to get help in managing their quirk, and in knowing how to take care of themselves so that their quirk remains a quirk and not a risk. The quirk itself is not the risk. Failure to manage it, letting it interfere, believing the lies people say about pedophiles... those are the risks.

I hate using "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" as an example for anything. But I have seen my fair share of the show. One episode that stands out is an episode where a teenager goes to the police and asks for help because he has attractions to children. The police essentially tell him that they cannot help him unless he has hurt someone- and his father finds out that his son spoke with the police about "something something children something something sexual attraction". He assumes that his son molested a child, and sodomizes his son with a broom handle.

I use that as an example of what not to do. First of all, the father gets arrested for a crime because he assumed his son did something to a child, for having attractions to children. Second, the police told the teenager that there is no help unless he has hurt someone: Not only untrue, but I personally do not think a real-life police officer would say something like that stupid. Finally, SVU perpetrates the same tired myths about child abuse and pedophilia that have been shown to be untrue over, and over, and over again. It is a very emotional topic- but you must handle it calmly with tact and a level head, not just for your sake, but for your child's sake.

A Parent's Concerns

Any parent wants the best for their child. I can speak to parental feelings because of the compassion and empathy I had and developed towards my victim, and towards other children. Knowing of my own thoughts and struggles makes me very aware that there are people who have attractions to children and have no resources, tools, or help- there are even some people who are so jaded that they do not care how their actions affect others.  Those people are like the 60-year-old coaches with multiple victims. Those people are not your child. Your child is someone you care about, and needs guidance with something they do not understand about their sexuality.

Your child is someone you care about and are concerned for. You may have misinformation about pedophilia, maybe from hearsay, maybe from the internet. To know what information is and is not true about pedophilia, please see the FAQ at the top of the page, or the resources on the side. The biggest bit of misinformation I can clear up right now is the idea that someone with attractions to children will inevitably molest a child. There are many people who have struggled with their attractions and never acted. Most people with attractions to children do not want them, and think that they are disgusting because that is what people tell them about pedophiles. The stigma is huge, and more than anything else it is the stigma that causes the interference with daily life.

You may be concerned about questions you have asked your child, and that your child may not have answered them truthfully. Know that most children are not prepared to deal with sexual abuse, either as a victim or an abuser, and will likely be honest if they are asked direct questions. It is more common for a child to withhold information that could hurt the adults, parents, and caregivers in their life than it is to withhold information that can help them. So if your questions have revolved around, 'What did you do?', they must be rephrased as 'I need to know if this is something you are concerned about so I can help you. I am worried about you. Can we talk?'

The Value of Therapy

Almost everything I know about how to manage my attraction to children came from therapy, and from applying what I know about myself. My biggest risks with my attraction are not the attraction itself, but how I react to it. The best course of action I can recommend to any parent is to get help from a sex-specific therapist. At the side of this blog, the second and third resources are two places you can go to for help in finding a therapist. Be aware of mandatory reporting, and learn what it is and what it is not. Click here, and go to the note about reporting laws, and here to learn what questions you should ask. I also have a post for pedophiles about the subject, which would be perfect for you to read with your child.

A therapist can help guide you through what it means for your child to have pedophilia, and how they can be helped. While therapists are mandated reporters, they are mandated to report specific threats to specific people: They will not report to the police unless they feel there is an imminent threat of danger to others, or unless they know of specific children who have been abused. The value of having a sex-specific therapist is that they will have experience in dealing with people with attractions to children and have a more accurate understanding of what an imminent threat actually looks like.

A therapist can also help your child understand their attraction: Whether it is something to be concerned about or just a passing phase, what their thoughts and attractions mean, and what disorders, if any, they actually have. Pedophilia is something that can be diagnosed in teenage years, sometimes earlier, and getting your child the help they need can mean the difference between getting help and resources and being able to manage their sexuality, and being where I was: Lost, hopeless, confused, depressed, and anxious about what I could do. Self-fulfilling prophecy is a real, proven phenomenon, and you do not want that happening.

A sex-specific therapist may have tactics you are not used to: At the beginning of my treatment, I had to role play one instance of abusing my victim. At the time, I was angry and scared. Sharing with a group of people what I did was traumatic for me, because it forced me to trust that they would not use the information to hurt me. It forced me to look at how my behavior affected others. But most of all, it forced me to experience, in a setting where I could actually identify what I was feeling during those events. I did not see the value of doing the role-play until I was almost done with treatment.

I share that because I need to make the point that the therapist will make your child uncomfortable, but that is a very good thing. Bear with it. For more information on getting therapy and why it is beneficial, click here. Just keep in mind: The therapists are the experts, and they are the best people in a position to help you with your questions, and your child with theirs.

What Your Child Must Hear

Your child must know that you care, and you want them to get the best help possible if they need it. They are not sick, they are not diseased, nor are they a risk to children. You cannot give them that message. They must know that there is help for their questions and fears, and that they can live a normal life. What they have no business hearing is that they are a pervert, they are a time bomb, or that they are a child molester in waiting. Even if you are concerned that they may have done something, let that kind of concern play itself out over time and do not ask them about it. Let the therapist be the one to ask the hard questions.

They must receive the message that you care about them, not just about their thoughts and the children they might hurt. Your concern, as with the warning signs, is that they are in a healthy place. If they hear that your concern is with anything they might do to someone else, you will shut them off from anything else you have to say to them and they will not listen to you. The worst thing for any parent to deal with is caring deeply about your child, but your child being unavailable to you. Do not let that happen.

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