Paedophilia is a stigmatised and misunderstood mental disorder that Australia needs to have more open conversations about if we are to help prevent it.
This is a serious mental illness that doesn’t have a uniform cause or cure, resulting in an unknown number of people unable to confront their mental health issue and seek support.
Support group, Virtuous Paedophiles states, “no one chooses to have paedophilia and no one knows how to make paedophilic preferences go away.”
The Australian Psychology Society states “many of our clients with paedophilia (exclusive type) do not want to harm children. They express their understanding that engaging in sexual activity with a child is not only illegal, but is illegal because of the recognised harm that sexual abuse causes children.”
Virtuous Paedophiles is an online community that provides support to paedophiles but in a social setting where paedophiles can connect with each other for support and mutual understanding.
It seeks to provide a support environment that does not subscribe to other websites and online communities saying adult sex with a willing child would be fine if only prejudicial attitudes and laws towards paedophiles could be abolished.
Such views were so strongly disagreed with by the founders of Virtuous Paedophiles, that they created, and continue to financially support, the operation of the group to provide advice to paedophiles and share uniform messages about not offending.
“Those of us who disagreed with that needed to come together,” co-founder of Virtuous Paedophiles, Ethan explained.
After speaking to Ethan in detail, understanding non – offending paedophiles as normal people with a mental disorder was not so far – fetched. Ethan is an educated American father to three girls and in his 50’s, gradually realised he was attracted to children through speaking with the psychiatrist he had been regularly seeing for depression.
Ethan states that he is an anomaly to have hidden his attraction towards children from himself for so long as most find out in their twenties and some as young as thirteen years old.
“Those who find out earlier of course tend to suffer a great deal more, as do those who continue in adulthood to think that thoughts and feelings are themselves a cause for shame or guilt” Ethan explained.
He believes only actions have moral weight but it is in the best interest to address thoughts and feelings.
In Australia we have the MAKO files listing sex offenders, information about how child sex rings operate, and the synonymous use of the terms ‘paedophile’ and ‘child sex offenders’. What we don’t have is adequate support services for paedophiles in Australia.
This means that it is largely up to paedophiles in Australia to help themselves. The fact that many paedophiles are left to their own devices to ‘self – help’ does nothing to prevent paedophiles at risk of offending, from sexually abusing a child.
During 2013 – August 2014, 54,438 child abuse cases were substantiated and of these cases, 5,581 were relating to sexual abuse (AIHW, 2015).
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, child sex abuse is an under-reported issue and therefore these statistics do not represent the full extent of child sex abuse in Australia. Additionally, not all child sex offenders are paedophiles.
Nevertheless, this number represents a large problem in Australia that requires preventive measures in place.
Apart from educating children about sexual predators and internet safety, professionals have said that providing paedophiles with support and services can prevent child sex abuse.
Such support and services should be available to all paedophiles- even the large proportion of paedophiles who state they will never offend as they may still require support or counselling services especially in relation to other mental illnesses that often come secondary to paedophilia such as depression and anxiety.
ForensiClinic Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, Doctor Georgina O’Donnell states that this (treating paedophiles) is a “specialist field” and “very few psychologists have relevant training to provide specific risk reduction interventions.”
Post – graduate training is usually sought in order to become a specialist in this area and Doctor O’Donnell states that it is currently very difficult to obtain such training in Australia.
ForensiClinic provides support to paedophiles in Tasmania and secondary consultation to service providers interstate. Doctor O’Donnell believes it should be a priority for Australia to ensure there are accessible services and treatment options available to paedophiles, nation – wide.
“We need a national website of service providers to guide people to appropriate services” she said.
A 2015 report from The Australian Institute of Family Studies explained that,
“Currently, there is no one established program that delivers developmental prevention against child sexual abuse offending at the four life stages, nor has there been an evaluation of whether or how this would work across a broad population.”
The report endorsed Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, which is Germany’s primary prevention strategy established in 2002 after a demand from self – diagnosed paedophiles and hebephiles asking for help to ensure they never become child sex offenders. The Prevention Network offers free and confidential therapy to paedophiles aiming to prevent them from abusing a child or accessing child sex materials such as child pornography.
The Prevention Network and its affiliated programs received a positive response from paedophiles in Germany seeking help for their mental disorder. However, it is not yet possible to model a similar prevention network in Australia because confidentiality can not be promised due to mandatory reporting laws if a paedophile admits to having had sexual fantasies involving children or have accessed child pornography.
It is important to note that if someone admits to sexually abusing a child, The Prevention Network reports this information.
Simon, a 26 year old from Czechia is attracted to women and young boys. He is a non – offending paedophile who gains most of his support, regarding paedophilia, online.
“I didn’t fully admit to myself the degree of attraction towards children I felt until I was 22 and found Czech online community of paedophiles.”
Simon feared telling his friends in real life about his attraction towards children but has slowly come out to some of his close friends and a psychiatrist he started seeing for anxiety.
Fortunately, all of the people Simon told about his attraction towards children reacted supportively.
Ethan from Virtuous Paedophiles has a number of recommendations for addressing situations where a person admits to being attracted to children.
Ethan suggests gently trying to find out if the person is abusing children or thinks they might be in serious danger of doing so as this calls for action to stop it immediately or prevent it from happening.