Margo Kaplan is not very popular today. In the Monday edition of the New York Times, the Rutgers-Camden law professor, an NYU and Harvard graduate, takes to the op-ed pages to argue that we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to pedophilia. She writes that pedophiles don’t necessarily turn out to be child molesters and that pedophilia is not a choice, i.e. a pedophile might be born that way. We reached her in her office in Camden to discuss.
You really lit up the comments section of the op-ed page today.
Yes, but I have to be honest. I am getting more emails of support than I ever expected. I’m shocked. I expected to get maybe 95% negative emails, but I’ve gotten so many positive ones. The online comments, though, are pretty uniformly negative, and a lot of people haven’t even read the article.
I know your pain. Who are you getting these positive emails from?
A lot of people I don’t even know. There’s a former prosecutor, a judge, a nurse. Individuals with family members who have pedophilia.
How much of the population has pedophilia?
We’re not entirely sure, but the estimates are around one-percent of the male population, and those in the female population are assumed to be much smaller. As far as the number of people with pedophilia who do sex offend and who do not, there are a lot of assumptions but very little data, because we have very little treatment, very little information.
Why is that?
There is so much stigma. There is very little reason to come forth and identify as a pedophile. There are no large scale studies, no large treatment programs, no big research studies on this. I contacted the National Institutes of Health, and they don’t spend any money on pedophilia.
But you are basically saying, hey, let’s take it easy on pedophiles.
Well, but I am not saying that about sex offenders. I say that they remain responsible for their conduct. We need to treat pedophiles before they offend. People see the word “pedophile” and think “sex offender.” People choose to sex offend children. They do not choose to be pedophiles.
Since you say there are so many misconceptions, why don’t you tell us what a pedophile really is.
A person with an intense and recurrent sexual attraction to prepubescent children, children who have not yet entered any form of puberty. And according to the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders], it constitutes a mental disorder when you act on it, but not just that. It also constitutes a mental disorder if it causes “marked distress or interpersonal difficulty,” and, as you can imagine, pedophilia will cause this.
In your article, you open by saying that as a pedophile’s numerical age increases into teenage years and then adulthood, the numerical age of those he is attracted to does not. Are most pedophiles really starting that young?
For many individuals, it is really an onset in adolescence, similar to how many sexual attractions happen. Individuals who are heterosexual, you realize you are attracted to the opposite sex when you are a kid. For a pedophile, you get older, but you keep being attracted to little kids, and many people start to realize this during adolescence. So imagine trying to deal with that during adolescence in addition to the other confusing feelings that you’re having.
If America is totally off course on this issue, is there any country that is getting it right?
We’re not that unique. But Germany is ahead of the curve. They have a large scale treatment program called Prevention Project Dunkenfeld, which is probably the first large scale treatment project that also includes non-offenders. They have billboards everywhere: “Do you have attraction to children in ways that you shouldn’t? You are not responsible for your attraction, but you are responsible for your behavior.”
OK, so as a guy with two young kids, how do I protect them?
There’s no easy answer to that, but you want to protect them from sex offenders. Most people who offend are not actually pedophiles. It’s interesting: When you talk about pedophiles, people think about the children. And they’re right. But what about the children who are struggling with this disorder? We need to help them, too.
But you can understand if maybe I’ll just try to keep them away from pedophiles anyway.
I can understand that. We need to prevent pedophiles from sexually offending and to do that, we need to refocus on early intervention, treatment and prevention. It’s not always going to work. No treatment of any mental disorder will always work. Depression treatment, schizophrenia treatment — they don’t always work. But we don’t throw our hands into the air and wait until the consequences of those conditions become bad before we do something. With pedophiles, we’ve already thrown our hands into the air. We should not be taking this tactic. The dire consequences only make it more important that we reach out and treat early.
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