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Moral Panic Does Not Protect Children from Pedophiles (Part 2)

we need to first separate feelings and behaviors

Forum: Private email
Date: 02/27/2007

Several months after posting "Moral Panic Does Not Protect Children from Pedophiles," I received two long emails from the original author of the note I criticized. Unfortunately, she does not seem to understand what I am trying to say. Below is my reply to her. I have not heard from her since.

Hi Kathleen,

Thanks for your email.

On Feb 25, 2007, at 6:11 AM, Kathleen Dunkelberger wrote:

We have never met and I know nothing about you or your work. I came upon your site purely accidently as I searched for an article I wrote in the past. To my surprise, you have used my name and part of one note on your site that I sent to several individuals. I am not sure how you would get a note that you claim was "rejected by the moderator" but I do know that note did appear on at least one other list related to child abuse and disability issues and there was much discussion and dialogue among the members. I also received numerous emails supporting my views.

You've misread my statement, or perhaps it was unclear. Your message obviously was approved by the moderator and sent to the entire membership. I received it because I'm on the same list. It was my response (reproduced on my website) that was rejected, with no explanation given.

Sadly, this note was one of hours of conversation and dialogue with others on this topic of child abuse and only using one may have not revealed the entire theme or exact messages.

If you feel that your message was quoted out of context, I invite you to send me an explanation/statement to be posted alongside my comments. That would give readers the full context so that your message is not misunderstood.

However, I do find that some of your response is contradictory as in one statement you claim that we are not able to control what we desire and "One should not be labeled for something that is beyond his or her control" Then later you state, "On the other hand we are in control and responsible for our behaviors"???

Simple. Desires are something that we feel, and like any other feeling they simply come to us. We can't control whether or not we feel attracted to certain people, or to members of the same sex or opposite sex, or whatnot. People should not be demonized for sexual attraction and desire.

However, how we deal with our desires and attractions in our behaviors is entirely chosen. For example, most of us don't sexually assault someone against their consent or will just because we are sexually attracted to them. If someone did, that person would be responsible for that behavior, and it would mean that she or he would be punished. But the punishment applies to her or his behaviors, not toward the attraction.

(Thoughts and behaviors are connected by the way and what we feed grows-one must control the thought if he or she WISHES and CHOOSES to control the behaviors! It is truly a choice and there are many books that discuss this to help you better understand.)

I agree that our thoughts and behaviors are connected. But I'm talking about emotions, not thoughts. Bad thoughts can be changed through persuasion, or more clinically, through cognitive therapy. Emotions and sexual attractions, on the other hand, simply come to us.

Attempts to control people's sexual attraction throughout the history have been nothing but failure: even the most inhumane, brutal persecution of gays and lesbians hasn't been successful at actually transforming them into heterosexuality; it only pushed them into hiding. Therapies designed to "cure" pedophiles have been likewise unsuccessful.

We need strategies to control behaviors, not emotions or sexual feelings. Cognitive behavioral therapy (which I am partial to) attempts to modify behavior through adjusting unhealthy cognitive errors. For example, a pedophile might think that children are enjoying having sex with him, which clearly is delusional. We could confront this pedophile with something written by adult survivors of child sexual abuse, for example, so that he can recognize that his original thought/cognition was a product of his own sexual fantasy, and not reality.

He can be helped to arrive such understanding further if the society were to stop demonizing sexual fantasy as long as he knows that it's just a fantasy and doesn't act on it. For them to understand and respect this all-important line between fantasy and reality, we must also recognize it too: nobody should be persecuted, demonized, targeted, discriminated, etc. for simply having a sexual fantasy, no matter how horrifying it might be; but if they act on it in reality, then we will punish them.

This is just a very simple example of how I believe that someone could stop behaviors that harm children, while fully respecting the humanity of the person who has sexual attraction toward them. If condemning someone for having certain sexual desires were a realistic strategy, homosexuality would have been extinct many centuries ago.

I also wrote that the gay and lesbian community should be outraged that this group uses the gay and lesbian rights issue to rationalize and hide behind this pedaphilia.

You should know that at least some gays and lesbians will be more offended by what you had stated in the post to the list than by NAMBLA's politics because your writing re-enacted many of the hateful and painful tropes against gays and lesbians. I believe that offense was not intended, but I ask that you be more careful when discussing controlling someone's sexuality, because gays and lesbians continue to face social and political pressures to control their own sexuality and your message was hurtful.

I think sites like NAMBLA also allow for sharing of information and ammunition for "grooming" (as perpatrators call it) and thus harming more children with increased abilities to perform these crimes.

It would have been ideal if nobody ever felt the sort of sexual urge members of NAMBLA must feel. But the fact is that they exist, and they will continue to exist for the foreseeable future whether they are visible or invisible. I'm more scared of invisible networks of pedophiles that do exist and will become more rampant once we remove them from visible areas of the internet.

It seems to me that you are more motivated by your own desire to make something go away because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Making websites like NAMBLA's will not reduce child abuse, and will probably increase it drastically. In order to truly reduce child abuse, I believe that we as the society engage with them in mutually respectful way and encourage them to address their sexual needs in ways that do not involve any children (and those who do involve children must face penalty).

You comment about group psychology and state if we push them underground and not let them discuss their desires or isolate them they will become more extreme. I believe this is exactly what is happening with these sites. I certainly didn't read anyone talking about trying to get help or counseling to stop their criminal behavior on the NAMBLA site! IN fact, it was quite different in that they fuel off of each other to rationalize and justify their behaviors and I do believe this will make their behaivors even more extreme.

No, because we as the society does not give them the basic respect as human beings. I am not arguing that NAMBLA's site is a good resource. I am arguing that attacking them as "sick" or "perverts" only pushes them to "rationalize and justify their behaviors" further. We can't stop that until we convince them that we respect them as fellow human beings and that our only concern is to protect children (as opposed to being sexual morality police).

By stating someone is not responsible for what they desire gives them an excuse and "greenlight" to continue their behavior. (Just like in domestic violence issues when we send the man to anger management or a batterers group...he thus has a "problem" and it sends the message that he is not responsible for his behavior when in fact he is!

That example actually helps my argument, and disproves yours. Men who abuse their partners are not having "emotional problem." Controlling their emotions through psychotherapy therefore is not a solution. It is their behavior--and erroneous cognitions, part of which involves sexist attitude and sense of entitlement-- must be controlled. Punishment, of course, can help change one's erroneous cognition, if he was thinking that the society won't take his actions seriously or that he was entitled to act in ways that hurt others. So, your own example shows that my strategy is what actually works.

This distorted attitude that society has and the messages we send by providing therapy for a CRIME predator just reinforces the behaviors and gives the criminals more power over the victims....

You seem to be motivated more by the desire to do something horrible in revenge to people you think are bad people. I am motivated by the desire to protect children. What's important to me is not that the perpetrator is condemned and demonized, but preventing and ending violent acts. Yes, I believe in accountability; but I also believe in respecting humanity in all people.

I am always amazed at how the attitudes in society constantly sympathize and empathize with the criminals/perpatrators of crimes while little to no focus, empathy, funding etc goes to the victims?

If you think that the society sympathizes with pedophiles and has no empathy for abuse victims, you must live in an entirely different planet. Get out into the street and ask 100 people which they feel more sympathetic toward: pedophiles, or child abuse victims. I bet that all 100 people say child abuse victims.

Much interest is invested into alleged "rehabilitation" of the predator, but we all know that rehabilitation is very rare in these cases if at all. There is such a high recidivism rate.

Because people like you prevent the real solution.

Many times they only go into court ordered treatment after they get caught and continue their behavior even after this "therapy" or rehabilitation.

Okay, here's one point I might agree with you: I oppose any reduction of criminal penalty in exchange for receiving therapy or rehabilitation in cases involving violence or abuse. My reason for that primarily is to protect the integrity of therapy itself. Imagine that there was an offenders' group counseling where 90% of the attendants weren't serious about changing their behaviors--not only will those people not get anything out of the therapy, they will ruin it for the remaining 10% of the people who actually want to change.

Therapy should be offered, but without any incentives such as reduced sentences so that only those who are truly eager to change their behaviors (small minority, unfortunately) are given it. In fact, they shouldn't just be given it--they should sacrifice something in order to have the privilege to receive therapy, to make sure that only truly serious ones would show up. Counseling only works when clients' goals completely align with the therapist's goal. I'm willing to give them a chance to

As you know, many times in courts the entire focus ends up being on the victim's behavior (past or present) and the facts are twisted to determine the victim ASKED for or deserved the rape/assault etc.

Yes, that's the job of the criminal defense attorney. Due process is generally a good thing, although it means that the court would err on the side of letting guilty ones off the hook rather than punishing innocent ones.

IF you have ever worked with victims and perpatrators (or even watched one evening of to catch a predator) you will realize that these guys actually blame the child...almost every time and innocent childish acts such as a five year old doing a cartwheel in a dress will be twisted by the predator as if this child is acting sexually toward him and wants him sexually. So, if we actually believe that these guys have no control and send them to therapy, we too are feeding into their lies and this is not helping them and certainly we are not helping hte millions of children that are abused in our world.

First, their cognition is erroneous, which can be addressed through cognitive behavioral therapy before or after he or she actually commits the crime (preferably before). Second, demonizing their sexual desire does nothing to stop their abuse. Third, they should be held accountable for their actions, because it's not true that they "can't help" their behaviors; they can.

Another concern is that what we focus on and "feed" in our minds grows.... MAny times perpatrators will have thoughts first and then step up to pornography, telling others wiht similar thoughts etc then acting on it.... So my concern again with the sites like nambla is that this is an avenue to again, fuel this fire and to rationalize as if it is normal and appropriate because now they are getting the support of each other AND growing stronger with more in numbers. What about the guys that also end up on this site with allegedly no intent to act but because of the "support" they do???

My question is, how come there aren't just as big websites where these "guys with no intent to act" can share their feelings in safety to keep themselves and each other in check? Well, there isn't such a website, because they would be severely attacked, demonized and cut off from most of the society once they admit to their sexual attraction. Once they are isolated and have little to lose, it doesn't take much to cross over the line to the fantasyland. In this way, I believe that the society is complicit in the abuse of children.

Also, these guys know they are wrong. That is why they hide their faces on to catch a predator, that is why they rarely list their names on the sites they write into, they do not share this with coworkers or families and THEY isolate the child.

They are afraid of being persecuted, because even if they don't act on it, just by admitting having sexual desire for children they would be demonized. We need to end the persecution of those who do not act on their pedophilia before they would feel safe discussing their sexuality openly--which opens the door to their receiving the psychological care they need.

We in society need to step up to stop this nonsense of enabling the predators.

As I see it, people like you enable the predators by blending them with those who are pedophiles but do not act on that sexual desire. Your statements reads like "just do it, because whether or not you actually hurt the children we'll persecute you just the same."

Some people learn from the stick and others the carrot as one psychiatrist once told me....these people will only learn from facing the accountability of negative consequences for their actions....NOT thru therapy or rehabilitation which clearly gives them more power to harm others.

Again, I don't disagree that people must face consequences for their *actions*. An action is where one engages in sexual contact with the child; for the person to be attracted to children is in and itself not a crime, nor does it harm any child.

And if your sympathy lies with the criminals (UNLIKE MINE) - how do you think enabling them will help them???

I don't particularly have sympathy for "the criminals"-- although I believe in having empathy for all people, even those most despised by the society. My primary goal is to reduce harms done to children. Yours seems to be getting back at the bad guys and thereby releasing your own anger.

Part of rehabilitation is to have remorse and take responsibility AND TO NEVER DO THE CRIME AGAIN. IF they do not htink they are wrong because we enable them, we are not helping them to change.

Again, I don't disagree that one has to take responsibility for his or her actions. As I've explained, I also believe that erroneous cognitions are often at the roots of bad behaviors, and there are therapeutic techniques specifically designed to address that. Calling someone "sicko" or "perverted" as you do is simply unhelpful.

AND finally, what about the parental rights to raise our kids in ways we feel are appropriate and safe? That is a right that is not discussed nearly enough in our think these predators are only robbing the children of rights is a lie and a huge understatement...their behaviors violate the rights of individuals, entire families AND communities!

You are forgetting the fact that most child sexual abuse are perpetuated by parents or close relatives.

This is another theme in society...let's not offend the poor criminal / predator! They have just ruined the lives of numerous people thru their horrid and violentacts but let's be careful not to hurt their feelings by calling them a name or prosecuting them.

That is a distortion of what I wrote on at least two fronts. First, I'm not talking about "not offending" predators; I'm arguing that moral panics don't solve problems, but it further complicates it. I care less about whether or not I offend pedophiles--but I do care that we reduce child abuse, and I believe that statements such as yours are harmful in that way. Simply put: if we call someone a monster, don't be surprised that he/she would act like one.

Second, I never opposed prosecuting those who abuse children. You are making that part up out of nowhere.

What is! Instead of focusing on the real issues, society also plays into the manipulation by having to be very careful not to offend the criminal/rapist/child abuser.....

No, you are the one who is so caught up in attacking the perpetrator that you've lost sight of the real issue, which is how we as the society can reduce child abuse.

I hope you see how twisted, alarming and dangerous your thinking is to defend them?

I do not defend those who abuse children. I would however defend those who are struggling with sexual desires toward children and yet are finding ways to stay away from abusing children. I imagine that they did not choose to have such sexual desires any more than gays choose to be gay, or straight people choose to be straight for that matter, and that they realize that it would be wrong to use children to satisfy their own sexual needs. If we as the society were truly serious about preventing abuse, we should be accepting, supporting and providing assistance to these people so that they can continue to behave responsibly.

I do not hate anyone despite what they do but I do hate these violent acts and the indifference in our society to make social changes. I I am just saying we need to focus more on being proactive - justice - peace and healing OF THE VICTIMS...and less time and money and energy on consoling the perpatrators.

Your comments betray some of the sentiments expressed here: your statements were hateful, even if you did not intend hatred; they were violent, in the sense Coretta Scott King uses the word "violence," despite your peaceful intention. And your statements focused on attacking and vilifying the bad guys--which is sometimes necessary and understandable, but I wouldn't call that a proactive stance.

In your response,you relate it to how gays and lesbians were treated in the past....when in fact this is entirely different.

Yes, they are entirely different--and yet your attitude was the same. It is called moral panic--which is where public's emotional reaction is so strong that it precludes any realistic analyses or solutions, further complicating the original problem.

This is not an adult gay/lesbian or adult heterosexual issue so let's not make it one...

You've turned into one by your choice of rhetoric. If that was not your intention, you should be more careful next time.

I also have been thinking more about what you claim in the response to my note that these individuals that violate and commit these violent acts onto kids do not have control over what they desire... if that is in fact true (I disagree)...but if it is true as you state, that should be all the more reason to lock them up for good, perhaps castrate them and cut off their hands then throw away the key to protect society including the hundreds of children they will continue to rape since they just are so primitive that they have no control over their desires!

Now you sound more like a fascist than a feminist. I'm assuming that they don't choose to feel attracted to children any more than heterosexuals choose to fall in love with the opposite sex, but of course each heterosexual person has a choice to make about what to do about her or his sexual desire. Some go ahead and engage in sexual contact without consent (i.e. rape), and they should be punished. But most of us don't do that. That we do not choose target of our own sexual desires does not mean that we don't choose our own behaviors.

That is all the more reason NOT to pay millions to attempt to rehabilitate them, right?

That is the reason to stop spending money in attempt to change their sexual desires. We can focus our resources on helping them maintain healthy sense of reality (cognition) in order to control their behaviors.

Any parent that has a child that was raped and/or killed would probably agree that more needs to be done....

Which is why we have the court system and does not allow victims or their families to simply go after the offender.

We in society must dictate what will be tolerated and some things are just not negotiable!

Remember, we already agree that adults having sexual contact with children is not okay, so no disagreement here.

We need to send a clear message and not allow people to turn this into something other than what it actually is!

As I've stated above, the only message you are sending is: "just do it, because you've got nothing to lose anyway."

- ek