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Born this way
February 21, 2013 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Ethics of preemptive incarceration for deviant sexuality, specifically pedophila (Trigger warning)...recognizing as a society that certain individuals are intrinsically attracted to children need not and does not imply that we condone acting upon these desires. [Previously] Found via the excellent PsyDoctor8 [tumblr link].
posted by lonefrontranger (49 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is it wrong to imprison someone for a terrible crime that they have not yet committed but are at a “high risk” of committing in the future?

Um... Yes? Duh?
posted by ook at 8:40 AM on February 21, 2013 [27 favorites]


Well, I'd have to disagree with you then, ook.

You can read/watch interviews with plenty paedophiles who clearly recognise and are upset by the thought that they might be a risk to children, and are trying to live without acting on their impulses.

I think the obsession with paedophilia in the tabloid media is probably as much a danger as the condition itself. By treating certain classes of people as not-human or monstrous, we reduce our ability to deal with them rationally or fairly.

Society has to balance risk against freedom. So we allow reckless people to drive. We allow people to own sharp implements, and sometimes even guns. Preemptively depriving someone of their freedom because we're afraid of them, in the absence of any evidence of intention on their part, is just wrong.
posted by pipeski at 8:51 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean seriously how is this even a question. Ex-cons have greater than even odds of recidivism, so by this logic every sentence should be a life sentence, just in case. For that matter, bankers seem to be at very high risk of committing fraud; shall we preemptively throw them in jail as well?
posted by ook at 8:52 AM on February 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


I can't see how giving up on the pretence that people have free will and are thus responsible for their actions could possibly have any unwanted complications for the justice system.
posted by figurant at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Preemptively depriving someone of their freedom because we're afraid of them, in the absence of any evidence of intention on their part, is just wrong.

I think maybe you misread me; it doesn't sound like we disagree at all. I am opposed to jailing people for thoughtcrime.
posted by ook at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Recognizing as a society that certain individuals are at higher risk for x socially harmful behavior need not and does not imply that we condone acting upon their harmful desires, where x can be pedophilia, violent impulses, or whatever. That applies whether the impulse to socially harmful behavior is primarily biological or primarily learned.

We might have different ethical obligations as a society to provide pre-emptive psychological care to people with socially harmful inclinations, depending on whether those inclinations are primarily biological, learned in childhood (eg. not learning healthy models for interaction and communication due to growing up in an abusive household), or learned in adulthood (eg. obtaining a degree in economics from a Chicago school affiliated program). And there's the issue of separating things that are actually socially harmful (pedophilia, violent impulses) from things that are just opposed by some religious group (sexual relations outside of the context of straight, monogamous marriage). Aside from that issue, this is not really an ethically difficult question, though. Provide treatment options; concurrently, don't jail people for thoughtcrimes.

Sigh. The US sure has a long way to go before making truly ethical policy decisions on these sorts of issues, though, doesn't it?
posted by eviemath at 8:56 AM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


You can read/watch interviews with plenty paedophiles who clearly recognise and are upset by the thought that they might be a risk to children, and are trying to live without acting on their impulses.

But the question is whether incarceration is the best way to deal with them. Meaning, incarceration-in-the-regular-prison-system. I hear you that many pedophiles acknowledge that they're barely hanging on stopping themselves from acting out, but I really don't think that the best way to respond to that is "okay, then, in the jail with you!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


The FPP is nicely reasoned and provides a lot more detail and nuance than my comment, though:)
posted by eviemath at 8:59 AM on February 21, 2013


In an attempt to stave off the inevitable:

So far, everyone who has posted has the same position as everyone else who has posted. Every single person so far has agreed that preemptive incarceration is wrong.
posted by kyrademon at 9:02 AM on February 21, 2013 [21 favorites]


You can read/watch interviews with plenty paedophiles who clearly recognise and are upset by the thought that they might be a risk to children, and are trying to live without acting on their impulses.

The key word here seems to be "impulses". It's not so much what a person desires, it's whether they're on top of their impulses. I believe that this would apply to pretty much any kind of transgressive behavior.

Going after people because of alleged thoughtcrime -- that way lieth all manner of Orwellian horror. Go after them because they have repeatedly proven to lack impulse control -- we may be onto something.
posted by philip-random at 9:08 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


So far, everyone who has posted has the same position as everyone else who has posted. Every single person so far has agreed that preemptive incarceration is wrong.

Okay then - how about a longer pull-quote then?

o what does it all mean? While most people I talked to in the wake of these stories (I include myself) were fascinated by the novel scientific evidence and the compelling profiles of self-described pedophiles presented in these articles, we all seemed to have a difficult time wrapping our minds around the ethical considerations at play. Why does it matter for our moral appraisal of pedophiles whether pedophilia is innate or acquired? Is it wrong to imprison someone for a terrible crime that they have not yet committed but are at a “high risk” of committing in the future? And if we say that we can’t “blame” pedophiles for their attraction to children because it is not their “fault” – they were “born this way” – is it problematic to condemn individuals for acting upon these (and other harmful) desires if it can be shown that poor impulse control is similarly genetically predisposed? While I don’t get around to fully answering most of these questions in the following post, my aim is to tease out the highly interrelated issues underlying these questions with the goal of working towards a framework by which the moral landscape of pedophilia can be understood.
posted by philip-random at 9:12 AM on February 21, 2013


A friend of mine works for a non-profit that addresses sexual violence, and in the course of her work often counsels victims of sexual violence but less often speaks to perpetrators.

One day, though, she took a call from somebody who confessed to her that he was fighting back powerful urges to do something inappropriate to a child. This person understood that his urges were bad and wrong, and had not -- so he claimed -- ever acted upon them before. He couldn't afford therapy and wanted to know if there were any kind of program he could check into that would help him to address and control his pedophilia. In other words, this is exactly the kind of person that we as a society should be helping and not shunning.

My friend spent an entire day on the phone with a laundry list of agencies and non-profits, trying to find a program that could take this person in and help him with this problem.

Her takeaway, after hours of work, was that the only way this person could get into a program would be for him to sexually abuse a child and get convicted for his crime. She didn't tell him this, of course.
posted by gauche at 9:13 AM on February 21, 2013 [37 favorites]


Perhaps the answer is not prison but a non-punitive voluntary seclusion; i.e., if those struggling with harmful desires (paedophilia, serial homicide, or whatever) could stick their hands up and be transferred to a secure yet comfortable facility, where they get to live out their lives contentedly and productively without being exposed to terrible temptations.

Of course, this would be impractical for various reasons. The tabloids would have a field day (imagine variants of “PAEDO SCUM GET TAXPAYER-FUNDED LUXURY RESORT” every day), and voters would soon move to preëmptively punish them, because GRAR. And even if not, what if in a highly unequal society, you get the poor pretending to be paedophiles to get a slice of the more comfortable life on the other side of the wall?
posted by acb at 9:17 AM on February 21, 2013


Clearly we should imprison all business majors. They are likely to harbor ill intent toward the working class.
posted by anarch at 9:20 AM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Sometimes the "born this way" argument allows us the luxury of never questioning the social structures that create criminals. "Context informs phenomenology and phenomenology informs context" -- Laura Brown. It's much easier to blame the individual pedophile as having predetermined urges that we can condemn than to ask, what will happen to these pedophiles who reach out and try to get help for their problems (just as one example)?

Just to be clear, I really, really don't believe we ought to lock up people for preemptive crimes. That's obviously insane. But it isn't just these pedophiles being sprung fully formed with these impulses, they exist in context. This concentration on the individual, and the predeterminedness of their criminality, lets us not ask the question, why does our society create so many pedophiles?
posted by Katine at 9:21 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sometimes the "born this way" argument allows us the luxury of never questioning the social structures that create criminals.

But isn't that framing of the problem simply begging the question? I mean, the etiology of criminal impulses is something that is seriously up for debate; we just do not know what causal weight the various different components (genetic, congenital, environmental, social) have in predisposing people to different criminal acts. It may, in fact, be the case that many pedophiles are "born" not "made"--or that they are "made" by various kinds of neurological changes rather than by social conditioning. It may not be the case, too. But in order to answer that question we need a whole lot more research, and it won't help to prejudge the issue by simply assuming that "social conditioning" is the essential determinant.
posted by yoink at 9:30 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is it wrong to imprison someone for a terrible crime that they have not yet committed but are at a “high risk” of committing in the future?

I don't know, but they should certainly lock up whoever did the UI design.
posted by The Bellman at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole ethics argument is super challenging, and I had difficulty in framing it as it's a highly loaded topic. I found this article, and the Practical Ethics blog, by way of this post on PsyDoctor8, which triggered the same train of thought EmpressCallypygos articulates so well here.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2013


gauche: Her takeaway, after hours of work, was that the only way this person could get into a program would be for him to sexually abuse a child and get convicted for his crime.

acb: Of course, this would be impractical for various reasons. The tabloids would have a field day (imagine variants of “PAEDO SCUM GET TAXPAYER-FUNDED LUXURY RESORT” every day), and voters would soon move to preëmptively punish them, because GRAR. And even if not, what if in a highly unequal society, you get the poor pretending to be paedophiles to get a slice of the more comfortable life on the other side of the wall?

exactly. It comes as no news to those of us living in the U.S. that our judiciary / penal system is deeply fucked up and frequently unethical to boot. I guess how could, or should, we go about fixing it?

GRAR indeed. sigh.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:39 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, just out of curiosity, If someone showed up at a mental hospital and said that they were a pedophile who wanted to be rid of their impulses, what would the procedure be for handling him? (provided he hadn't acted on his impulses, of course).
posted by jonmc at 9:44 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, just out of curiosity, If someone showed up at a mental hospital and said that they were a pedophile who wanted to be rid of their impulses, what would the procedure be for handling him?

I was about to answer that with great authority until I realised I was remembering an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, not something I'd read in the newspaper.
posted by jack_mo at 9:48 AM on February 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


I think maybe what gauche alluded to above is that there is no system in place to handle someone who admits to having these sorts of, for lack of a better description "monstrous" impulses. Because we are deeply conditioned by the society we live in to treat pedophiles (and certain other flavors of deviancy) as unimaginably, unforgivably monstrous, there's really no working system in place to address their urges or provide them any sort of functional help, they're simply shunned as "too unspeakably dirty to deal with" aka untouchable, until such time as they break and are tossed onto the shitheap of the penal system.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:55 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can read/watch interviews with plenty paedophiles who clearly recognise and are upset by the thought that they might be a risk to children, and are trying to live without acting on their impulses.

There was an amazing interview online maybe ten years ago -- I want to say in the Boston Globe, but I could be wrong -- with a pedophile as well as his mother, with whom he lived (IIRC). They both were of the view that child molesters should be punished as harshly as the law will allow, and he talked about how he struggled daily with desires and impulses that he knew he could never act on. I haven't read the piece in years, but if anyone else knows it, a link might be appropriate for this thread.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:58 AM on February 21, 2013


even more previously ...

The Science of Sex Abuse
Is it right to imprison people for heinous crimes they have not yet committed?


Although that thread just closed, this link seems better for a comment there.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:59 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is what bothers me: 30 arrested in Sarasota online sex offender sting. Another one of those online NBC sorta gotcha arrests. But what did these men actually do and are they sex offenders?
posted by robbyrobs at 10:00 AM on February 21, 2013


Here is what bothers me: 30 arrested in Sarasota online sex offender sting. Another one of those online NBC sorta gotcha arrests. But what did these men actually do and are they sex offenders?

"each of the men is charged with soliciting sex online from a child or child's guardian, and then traveling with the intent to have sex with a child."

ianal, but surely it must matter that the "child" in question does not exist in reality?

One man arrested in Sarasota's last sting was acquitted in November, telling the jury he did not believe a parent would allow an adult they met online to have sex with their child. He told the court he planned to report the parent to authorities if the parent was serious.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:07 AM on February 21, 2013


ianal, but surely it must matter that the "child" in question does not exist in reality?

No more than if you purchase fake crack from a police officer.
posted by Splunge at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


According to these discussions with Dan Savage, there is no legal, confidential, privileged way for a self-identified non-offending person to get help. Which I think is a major cultural-legal deficiency.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


bankers seem to be at very high risk of committing fraud; shall we preemptively throw them in jail as well?

We don't even imprison them after they have committed serious crimes. I'm all for a little postemptive justice.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:30 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


One man arrested in Sarasota's last sting was acquitted in November, telling the jury he did not believe a parent would allow an adult they met online to have sex with their child. He told the court he planned to report the parent to authorities if the parent was serious.

....Riiiiiiiiight.

"but Mom, I was just checking to see if maybe you'd screwed up the cookies without knowing it! I was just going to taste one and then tell you if it was bad!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:35 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


But in order to answer that question we need a whole lot more research, and it won't help to prejudge the issue by simply assuming that "social conditioning" is the essential determinant.

I agree that social conditioning is not the primary determinant. But it is the interaction of the predisposition and the environment that often determines expression. I definitely believe it is an interplay of elements, but the focus on the predisposition tends to then outweigh the social role. They were "born to be pedophiles," so they are pedophiles and then we have questions like what are the ethics of locking up someone who might be predisposed to commit crimes.
posted by Katine at 10:51 AM on February 21, 2013


One man arrested in Sarasota's last sting was acquitted in November, telling the jury he did not believe a parent would allow an adult they met online to have sex with their child. He told the court he planned to report the parent to authorities if the parent was serious.

I would love to see two different law enforcement agencies arresting each other's people in a collision of sting operations.
posted by srboisvert at 10:52 AM on February 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Of course, another serious problem with preemptively jailing those "likely to commit crimes" is that the things we consider heinous are not the things that your neighbor, the religious-whack job, considers heinous.
posted by maxwelton at 10:58 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also the things that your neighbor, the religious-whack job, may consider heinous may be much healthier than what he considers right and proper.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:00 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


One man arrested in Sarasota's last sting was acquitted in November, telling the jury he did not believe a parent would allow an adult they met online to have sex with their child. He told the court he planned to report the parent to authorities if the parent was serious.

This reminds me of the first time I saw that sleazy "To Catch a Predator" show, I mentioned to my friends that a perfectly reasonable defense in court for any of these guys would be "I really wanted to be on TV."

Of course my friends, shocked that I would choose to imagine a defense for the creeps on the show, accused me of caring more about pedophiles than children, wanting monsters to walk the streets, and so on.

I don't spend much time with those people anymore.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:03 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm starting to wonder if I haven't fallen for what was intended as a deliberate reductio ad absurdum, starting at pedophilia and ending up with "But what about people who are just genetically predisposed to poor impulse control?"

But the nature-versus-nurture argument he keeps using as an underpinning -- that less "blame" should pertain to something which is a result of genetic predisposition -- I just don't buy at all. A social harm is a social harm regardless of whether it's the result of genetics or poor upbringing or deliberate choice.

By contrast, to a small extent I do accept the 'free will' argument: for example if someone's mental capacities are so far outside the norm that we can reasonably judge them to be incapable of making rational choices -- whether as the result of congenital insanity or age-related dementia or whatever is, again, irrelevant -- then incarceration (but not punishment) can be considered ethical. But that's a very high bar (and probably should be much higher than it is often set) which sexual preference of any type doesn't come even vaguely close to meeting.
posted by ook at 11:16 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


We all seem to agree that it's wrong. We seem to have a problem with the definition of "it".

Informed consent...legally described yet, otherwise, not definable, because we don't agree on what a child is. Sex is good, sex is bad. Static 99 offers a methodical approach to doing pre-emptive crime fighting. Reading the terms of Static 99 is like reading a PK Dick story.

What's wrong here is not with Static 99, but this entire level of analysis. The simple version of the argument (nature/nurture) is interesting, but is actually more of a tangent than a central argument: it doesn't matter whether you are born that way, only whether you act on the impulse. This applies to sexual orientation as well as to persons who like to shoot other persons. You are supposed to either find a legal outlet, or refrain. Our laws are our attempt to clarify society's position on these things. It's not a small thing that our laws often fail, or that even laws clearly stated are not always evenly enforced. It's also not a small thing that state laws on both these issues vary wildly.

Sex is okay, but not with children. Older folks can have sex with younger folks, but not always legally, depending on where they do it. Moreover: At some point children become adults, but the "when" is debatable. Same-sex sex is okay, but....(see the preceeding sentences.) Further complications forbid certain sex acts even between legal, consenting partners, even when they may otherwise be morally acceptable.

Pornography. Jeez. Not that debate again. Children are sexual critters, just like the rest of us. I've not seen any discussion that validates that reality. Admitting this doesn't open the floodgates for the perverted hoards. Clearly there are cases of sexual exploitation of children. Children have been damaged. Drawing the line between appropriate and inappropriate seems impossible when you think of childhood as an on/off continuum: Thursday's child is Friday's adult. It's even murkier when children's sexuality is totally ignored. Pictures of nude children are automatically pornographic?

Human behavior ought to be viewed with nuance. This means to me that pre-emptive incarceration is not wrong, it's just stupid, for so many reasons that a discussion of it doesn't seem possible.
posted by mule98J at 11:54 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there's an argument to be made for the fact that, for certain flavors of behavior outside these (sometimes vague or arbitrary, as mule98J just noted) definitions of "normal", there exists such a knee-jerk emotional / moral judgement of "untouchable" (or however you want to define the "wrongness") that no reasonable debate or dialogue can be had after the label has been ascribed. It's Just Wrong. While that's fine, it doesn't do much to address real solutions.

There exist in the U.S. state and local laws that enforce perimeters around schools and ID sex offenders on public databases. I'm not making a moral or ethical judgement on this practice; certainly if I were a parent, I'd want to be informed of potential predators in my area.

However, this kind of seems to dump the problem into the public domain without actually providing any further resources to address where these people should actually go? "Who cares, so long as they're not in my backyard", right?

Well okay, but we don't really do the whole "shipping irredeemable criminal types to Australia" thing anymore. A desert island in the Pacific might be a desirable solution, but we're running low on those, and we're apparently still short of technological solutions to ship them to penal colonies on other planets, so now what...?
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is what bothers me: 30 arrested in Sarasota online sex offender sting. Another one of those online NBC sorta gotcha arrests. But what did these men actually do and are they sex offenders?

ianal, but surely it must matter that the "child" in question does not exist in reality?

Most crimes are based on the concept of "mens rea" -- criminal intent -- a subjective intention to do something that is considered criminal by the state. This can cut both ways -- you could actually do something heinous without intent, and not be guilty of a crime. Or you can act with the intent to commit a crime even if there is no possibility of an actual adverse real-world consequence. But to avoid the "thought crime" situation, intent alone isn't enough -- you have to take some action in furtherance of the crime. In this case, these people solicited sex with a child and took active steps in furtherance of that crime. They had subjective intent to commit a crime -- they believed they were soliciting a child and going to meet the child -- and are therefore (allegedly) guilty of the crime, regardless of the fact that there was no actual "child."

So "there was no child" isn't going to be a defense. However, "I knew this was fake and I was just playing along (to get on TV, to expose the person who was doing this, etc.)" could be a defense, since (if believed by the jury), there was no mens rea.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:26 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regarding the pedophiles who "merely" had child pornography: the making of that child pornography was a criminal act, so they end up being accessories to a crime, much like the person who knowingly receives stolen property. I think it's fair to say that the action of seeking out and obtaining child pornography is one of the behaviors that we can ethically condemn.

I don't see that this is a tricky ethical situation. People can think whatever they want in the privacy of their own brains(*). Wrong behaviors are wrong. Having adequate mental health supports including for people who have not committed crimes is, both practically and in a broader ethical context, a good thing.

(* On a side note, I would say that it's also not unethical for me to be creeped out by someone's private thoughts that they haven't acted on but have shared with me, and to decide that I'm not comfortable having a close personal relationship with that person. If, as the link indicates, scientific evidence really does support the claim that being attracted to children has a significant innate/biological basis(**), that maybe sucks for the law-abiding people who have that inclination; and provided they do not act on their attraction in any way, as a society we owe them the same respect and rights that any other human being who hasn't committed a crime is owed - we shouldn't go out of our way to shun them; but no one is owed a romantic relationship or partner as an inalienable right.)

(** While there are certainly sex-based differences in the prevalence of a number of medical conditions, the fact that pedophiles are reportedly so predominantly male makes me highly suspicious that either there is more of a social component to this, or, if pedophilia is primarily biological, that cases of pedophilia in females are significantly under-reported. Certainly we primarily encounter pedophiles when they've engaged in harmful and criminal behavior, and that is likely skewing the data on reported cases. There's a lot more societal acceptance of the claim that men somehow can't control their sexual urges; and there's the myth that women don't have (strong) sexual urges, and I suspect this whole context has a lot to do with the prevalence of harmful and criminal pedophilia-related behaviors by sex. I'm as suspicious of this "oh, I'm just having such a hard time controlling myself" argument when applied to child molestation as when applied to rape of adults.(***))

(*** There are valid instances of criminal insanity/people being not criminally liable for their actions for various mental health reasons. The criteria is generally that the person was unable to understand that what they were doing was wrong, unable to determine cause and effect, so completely out of it that they didn't understand or realize what they were doing, or similar situations. That's different from a situation where someone knows that something is wrong yet still gives in to an urge to do the wrong thing. Now, one could get into a discussion of how much impulse control is biologically determined. In the context of creating an ethical and consistent legal system, I think it suffices to assume that almost everyone meets or exceeds some basic level of impulse control and can thus be held both ethically and legally liable for their actions. In the few cases where, for whatever reason, a person does not possess sufficient impulse control, well, they're probably going to get into trouble for more minor things long before they get the opportunity to commit a serious harm. Here again, the best and most ethical solution would be an adequate mental health care system. There might be cases where it might be best and least unethical to involuntarily restrain someone in the context of mental health care - if an adequately trained professional observes that they have a consistent pattern of behavior indicating that they are a danger to themself and/or others. I think that this is trickier ethical territory, and each of these sort of situations would need to be weighed separately. My impression is that if we actually had adequate mental health care, then the number of these sort of borderline cases that couldn't be managed with outpatient and community care would be much smaller, and we wouldn't have to consider difficult questions of, given the current state of mental health care in the US, what's the least bad option. Adequate mental health care is the proactively ethical option.)
posted by eviemath at 1:29 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


ook: "I'm starting to wonder if I haven't fallen for what was intended as a deliberate reductio ad absurdum..." Yeah, and I kinda wish you hadn't kicked off the thread with a quippy one-liner that basically frames the topic in dismissive snark, but c'est la vie. I hope others coming in later RTFA without too much prejudice because I think there maybe a more nuanced discussion to be had beyond HURF DURF THOUGHTCRIMEZ.

Once we as a society can begin to have more open and nuanced discussions around these kinds of really difficult and sensitive and challenging topics, then maybe just perhaps we can move towards actually providing resource framework to help address the root of the problem and help offenders learn productive coping skills (despite as I noted above that there's copious evidence to the contrary here in the old U S of A; go me the eternal optimist I suppose). I dunno if it's giving deviants a sheltered place where they won't be triggered, or helping them develop better impulse control, or what... I really don't know - that's probably more for people with lots of letters behind their names who are much smarter at neuroscience and psychology and social services than I am, but I'd also be very curious to see more of that discussion.

Really all I know is that simply because I feel an impulse to kill that asshole that cut me off in traffic, doesn't mean I actually do it. Mostly because I was raised and socialized with open awareness that rage is a common and fundamental human emotional impulse, and that impulse was constructively curbed and openly discussed and productively redirected with me, starting from back when I was a toddler learning empathy for my fellow humans.

I want to be crystal clear that I'm not in the apologist camp here, but if pedophilia is something that's a pretty common biological fact of adolescent/adult sexuality and without going into graphic detail, my personal experience dictates that it's fairly damn common then we owe it to ourselves as a society to deal with that in a way that fundamentally addresses it as a common problem, not as OMG-too-scary-to-contemplate, and oh btw you pervert scumbags if you ever raise a shadow of a doubt you've got these issues, well then off to the hole with you, we'll just sweep you under the rug with the rest of the trash we don't care to think about.

idk I guess I just think we do a shitty job in general of dealing with controversial moral and ethical issues in this society (speaking as a US citizen, not sure how well or poorly this stuff works elsewhere) and I just fervently wish that wasn't the case.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:14 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I kinda wish you hadn't kicked off the thread with a quippy one-liner that basically frames the topic in dismissive snark

I don't think the author did himself any favors by leading off with those rhetorical questions, but point taken. Sorry about that.
posted by ook at 6:58 PM on February 21, 2013


Once we as a society can begin to have more open and nuanced discussions around these kinds of really difficult and sensitive and challenging topics, then maybe just perhaps we can move towards actually providing resource framework to help address the root of the problem and help offenders learn productive coping skills

Do you think this is possible? Honest question here. I'm not sure it is. I think the people willing to have an open mind and think about these issues rationally will always be a subset of society as a whole. And as long as that's the way things are, allocating public resources to treat people or even do meaningful research on them will be difficult to say the least.

And even if not, what if in a highly unequal society, you get the poor pretending to be paedophiles to get a slice of the more comfortable life on the other side of the wall?

This already happens in every psych unit/behavioral health center during the winter, bad storms or extreme heat. Suddenly the homeless population becomes suicidal (not that I wouldn't too) and requires 15 days of inpatient care. It's a hindrance to those truly in need of psych care and sucks up beds for those truly sick. But what can you do? You have to take seriously every expressed desire to self harm or you risk missing the ones who really will do it.
posted by dave78981 at 8:51 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you think this is possible? Honest question here to be completely honest?

No idea, personally, sorry. I'm a secretary with a high school education, not a psych doctorate or neuroscience grad or anything special. You know, just your average internet smartass that's read some stuff and has an opinion, worth what you just paid for it.

What I can guess about social science from what history tells me is that we've come a decently long way in human, gender and race relations as a society over the past century or so, and even further along in understanding and frank discussions of human sexuality. Do we need to do better still? Absolutely. Does bad shit still happen? All the time, sadly, kind of how life works; c.f. every big discussion of rape on the internet basically ever - but you know just to riff on that a bit, it sure seems like most 15-year-old kids in 2013 are a hell of a lot more well-informed and self-aware and understanding of these issues than I or my peers of 1983 were, and that's progress at least. Do uncomfortable moral/ethical issues ever get honestly or productively addressed when they're treated as hideous, unspeakable, monstrous, shameful or Other? No, not really.

You don't have to be any kind of genius or even have empathy with the offenders so much as a bit of common sense to understand that the path towards solutions lies first in admitting that there's a problem, and as uncomfortable as it may be, to try to offer hope and assistance to those truly desirous of it.

I guess if we can equip most of your more headstrong 2-year olds with the understanding that, while pooping is a necessary function and there's no shame in it, you can't just drop trou in public and take a shit on the street, then we should be able to have some kind of coping mechanism to genuinely, non-judgmentally help acknowledged pedophiles who want to control themselves to do so.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:30 PM on February 21, 2013


I was actually serious about my question upthread. If somebody walked into a hospital saying that they wanted to shoot up the town square, he'd be committed on the basis that he's a danger to others and hopefully get some treatment. Wouldn't the same principle apply?
posted by jonmc at 6:33 AM on February 22, 2013


From what the expert social services guy said in the 2 Dan Savage articles cited upthread jonmc, no, not in the USA at least. Because of mandatory reporting laws, ironically enacted to protect kids, there exists no safe, confidential / anonymous reporting structure. Medical and social services professionals appear to be required by law to report confessors to pedophilic urges, even if they haven't acted. This is the core of what is wrong with the system. These laws are well-intentioned but utterly meaningless and ultimately far more socially harmful in practice as what they do is drive pedos underground and remove any meaningful paths to offer them coping methods or solutions.

And because US culture is so heavily puritanical / moralistic / judgmental, and we're socially conditioned to consider these people monsters, etc., you damn well better bet it would be political and professional suicide to try to change that. Which is why we need to figure out how to have rational dialogue about the issue, and get beyond the knee jerk emotional othering response.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:51 AM on February 22, 2013


Here's underlying problem of the underlying problem: we don't 'treat' people in these scenarios. We treat murderers the same as drug dealers the same as pedophiles. Meaning, we put them in a box and forget about them.

When there's no rational way to help these people achieve the culturally defined values and behaviors of "normal" then the concept of "before" or "after" is moot.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:25 AM on February 22, 2013


Devil's Advocate: we do lock up mentally ill people who are judged to be a danger to themselves or others pre-emptively, some in a life sentence which (almost uniquely in the UK, usu. 20 yrs i believe) is for life. Why is that different? (There are plenty of people who draw the obvious, other, conclusion.)
posted by maiamaia at 1:38 PM on February 22, 2013


Regarding the pedophiles who "merely" had child pornography: the making of that child pornography was a criminal act, so they end up being accessories to a crime, much like the person who knowingly receives stolen property.

That's not true. As Rachel Aviv points out in a New Yorker article that Practical Ethics links to, Controlling the flow of images is nearly impossible, because pornography is posted online from other nations, which have different definitions of who is a child and what is obscene. You can be prosecuted for possession of child pornography based on material that was legal where (or when) it was produced.

And to respond to the Devil's Advocate point, consider the position of the American Psychiatric Association reported in Aviv's article: “confinement without a reasonable prospect of beneficial treatment of the underlying disorder is nothing more than preventative detention.

Despite the universal agreement here that such preventative detention is wrong, Aviv's piece demonstrates that it's currently practiced in the U.S. and has survived a challenge at the Supreme Court level.

posted by layceepee at 4:28 PM on February 22, 2013


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