Monday, June 29, 2009

WARNING: Read this on your most open-minded day.

This post will infuriate some readers. Perhaps it will infuriate all readers. I ask only that you try to read what I have to say without prejudgment. Consider this a "check your preconceptions at the door" item.

I have three granddaughters and a grandson. (Pictured here is my sweet little Ava, the youngest of the four, playing without a care in the world
as all children shouldin the garden behind my son's house.) Not unlike any grandparent, I adore them all. I have alluded a number of times on this blog to my profound melancholy over my daughter's decision to move to Las Vegas with my grandson, Jordan. They had lived here, never more than five minutes away, from the time Jordan was 2 till the time he was 5, and I'm quite sure that at the end of it all, in those final reflective moments before everything goes black, I'll remember our daily excursionsto the park or "the rocks" or "the river" (where we'd spend hours getting ourselves gleefully soaked)as some of my life's most joyful, least stressful moments.

Also like any grandparent, I am extremely protective of my grandchildren. I cannot imagine how anyone could knowingly harm a child. And if someone were to harm one of my grandkids, I know I'd want to kill that person with my bare hands. I'd probably try to, if I could get to the person somehow. That is my visceral, gut reaction, and it's probably one shared by about 98.7 percent of parents and grandparents on earth.

All that said
—and less viscerally speakingI think our national approach to pedophilia is misguided and wrong. Policy isn't supposed to be rooted in irrationality and vengeance. It should be rooted in logic and pragmatism. The government's actions should never be as ugly and emotional as those of the criminal himself. If, as we're often told nowadays, sexual orientation and behavior are preordained at birth, or at least are firmly established by the time a person reaches puberty, then what's true for both straights and gays (and has been a major factor in the latter group's struggle for social acceptance and civil rights) is equally true for pedophiles. They're sexually drawn to kids. That is the nature of who they are and what they'd like to do, left to their own devices. They cannot help who and what they are. Therefore, I'm thinking that maybe the law should protect them from the raw fury of vengeful people like me.

Does that mean we should just let them run around having their way with our kids? Molesting and possibly torturing, say, my granddaughters or my grandson? Of course not. But at least to my mind, it probably does mean that our policies in that area should be rooted in resignation, not retribution; that the national dialogue on the subject should bespeak a level of understanding and yes, even a certain acceptance, rather than judgment per se.

It makes no sense to me to incarcerate someone for molesting a child. Not unless you're going to incarcerate the person for the rest of his life. Because when that person emerges from jail, in 16 months or 16 years or whatever the sentence was, he's still going to be a pedophile. This isn't a case of "correcting unacceptable behavior." This is a case of asking people, expecting people, to be something different from what they essentially are; like asking a tiger to stop being a tiger. So when the pedophile leaves jail at the end of his sentence, given the general risks and inherent indignities of prison time (especially for pedophiles), do you know what you now have on your hands? An angry, possibly homicidal pedophile. Hey, there's a plan.

Look at it this way: If you're a heterosexual male reading this, and you somehow got sentenced to five years in jail after being caught having sex with your girlfriend...would you be anything other than heterosexual when you got out? (We'll leave the expediency of "prison sex" off the table for now.)

So I'm open to suggestions about how we should handle all this. One idea that strikes me as workable is that we implant GPS-type devices on all pedophiles, once they're identified as such, so that we can always track their movements. That's not a panacea and has obvious drawbacks, but maybe it's a start; maybe as technology improves we'll find better ways of keeping tabs on pedophiles and preventing them from doing harm before we find them. I think that someone should also make a definitive determination about the effect of child porn on pedophiles: Does it help or hurt? Does it defuse their natural desires by giving them an outlet? Or does it inflame those desires? If the latter, I guess we should continue to pursue current policies that criminalize its use. But if the former, maybe we should encourage pedophiles to look at even more kiddie porn, in a controlled setting. (Relax, people. There's already plenty of it out there. Billions of photos' worth. No new children need to be conscripted into the cause.)

Of course, the other, probably more popular solution
picking up from something implied a few graphs backis to just lock them up and throw away the key. First offense = life in prison without parole. Or even death, if you're a fan of that particular recourse. But really, if you accept the basic plausibility of the arguments I make such treatment fair? I'm just asking.

Finally, to those of you who have privately (sometimes not so privately) wondered why I so often take such bizarre and unpopular positions on controversial issues, I can only say that it's easy to embrace the conventional, "authorized" view. It's the comfortable way of waltzing through life. There are times when we owe it to ourselves to challenge our assumptions; to be a little bit...uncomfortable. Even the Ten Commandments, as far as anyone can prove, are just some words on a tablet.

* And please, I intend to implicit judgment/criticism of gays by that remark; nor are any subtle parallels being drawn between gays and pedophiles. I'm just making a point that strikes me as true.


Robert Wall said...

Steve, I'd like to say that given your presuppositions, I think your analysis is right-on. The key to this whole debate, I think, is whether or not these behaviors are actually ingrained into people the way many scientists believe they are. The further question is as to whether or not *all* of these desires are ingrained (is being homosexual genetic, but pedophilia an acquired lifestyle, for example)? Just because one behavior is believed to be a genetic condition doesn't mean that *all* related behaviors are genetic in origin. I think that as a society we've been very quick to take conditions resulting from poor choices and label in some way that removes personal responsibility (as you noted yourself in SHAM). If pedophilia is a choice, then we need to hold people responsible, punish, and rehabilitate as we do with other choices that infringe the rights of others. But if it's genetic (and thus logically incurable), we can't rehabilitate and we're wasting our time attempting to do so. We're basically limited to the trio of regulate (controlling environments and/or tracking the offenders), incarcerate (jail), or eliminate (death penalty for offenses). First, however, we need the answer to the underlying questions from science (real science - please, Oprah and Dr. Phil, stay out of this one!) to give us a firm basis from which to deliberate (and, ultimately, legislate).

Noadi said...

I think I see what you mean. My sister-in-law is pregnant and once my nephew is born I'm sure I'd personally throttle anyone who tried to harm him.

How to deal with pedophiles is a difficult question. I hope for a time when we have some effective treatments for pedophiles so they don't harm children. In the meantime tracking known pedophiles and preventing them from having contact with children via restrictions and background checks for jobs involving children is probably the best option. I have reservations about sex offender registries and their over use but violent rapists and pedophiles are a genuine danger so for them I think it's appropriate (compared to a dumb 20 year old sleeping with a 16 year old or a streaker not being a risk). For repeat offenders incarceration may be the only option right now.

Anonymous said...

no offender can be legally allowed to look at illegal childhood porn under any circumstances.
How would you feel if it were your child in those horrendous evil videos and photos?
Who would approve the photos, a judge?
So obviously, that is absurd.

But a good solution to convicted pedophiles, would be life-time imprisonment.
Their only option for highly monitored GPS parole being watched by computers, would be voluntary chemical-castration, or medical castration.

They go to a doctor at prescribed times to get their shots, or back to jail for life.

But it will never happen. They will never allow chips in them, and that level of monitoring.
They will never allow chemical castration.

Children will always be at risk.

But remember, the #1 threat for the sexual abuse of children is not some stranger on the street, its a family member.

Neuroskeptic said...

I'm outraged! How dare you be sensible and rational!

Steve Salerno said...

This is really only an obligue-ish response to Neuro's comment, but what drives me up a wall is when I'll spend a fair amount of time trying to construct an argument that, to me, is logical and self-consistent, and points out the possible flaws of some commonly held assumption...only to hear someone who thinks he/she knows me dismiss the whole thing with a wave of the hand and a glib remark like, "Oh, he just likes to shock people. Don't listen to him..."

That's why I don't even bother anymore at get-togethers and the occasional party or whatever; I just sit there and smile, and if I'm asked what I think, I usually deflect the question.

I say what I have to say here on the blog, and people can do with it (cognitively) what they will.

Yekaterina said...

My understanding of pedophilia is that a very large percentage of pedophiles were sexually abused as children, which doesn't fit in at all with the preordained at birth theory...although I actually don't care one way or the other to be honest.

The problem with comparing pedophiles with two consenting adults having sex, whatever their sexual orientation, is that no one is being forced --abused, raped-- in a consensual sexual relationship. Rapists (and that includes pedophiles, pedophilia being child-rape) should be locked away from society for life.

Okay, so they have an irresistible urge to rape. I do feel sorry for the people dealing with this irresistible urge...right up until the moment they act on it and harm another person. Once they cross that line I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. And why should I?

I mean really, Steve, asking a human being not to rape is not the same thing as asking a tiger not to be a tiger?

Anonymous said...

There also has to be a distinction between the real molestation and the kind we increasingly want to prosecute to protect supposedly innocent teenage girls. I'm talking about statutory rape. I know this is unpopular and we want to call everything rape now, but it's insane. Consensual sex between a 21 year old man and a 15 year old girl in the back of a car is NO WAY the same as a 21 year old molesting a 5 year old. For the guy in the first case (the back seat of the car) to come out of jail eventually with the mark of a "registered sex offender" is complete nonsense. Especially since some of these 15 year old girls could teach couples who have been married for 20 years a thing or two about sex!

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 9:12, I basically agree with you. In fact I posted on the subject some time back.

Steve Salerno said...

Okay, so they have an irresistible urge to rape...

Ykat, I ask you (and like-minded others) to focus on the key word in that sentence, which is the word you yourself picked to express the thought: irresistible. That means "incapable of being resisted or withstood." Put the unspeakable nature of the crime aside for a moment and ask yourself: Is it fair to punish someone, especially if you're going to inflict the kinds of ultimate penalties most law-and-order types argue for, if they were "incapable" of acting differently?

So yes, it is like asking a tiger not to be a tiger. By your own definition. And before anyone calls me a cold-hearted so-and-so, PLEASE reread the first few paragraphs, where I express my emotional agreement with you and everyone else who wants to see these people purged from society. But this shouldn't be about emotion. It should be about truth and logic. So let's find the truth. If these people are predators when they're born (or are turned into predators by horrible mistreatment against which they're defenseless), then it is simply unfair to treat them the way we do now--even if, in our heart of hearts, we'd all like to just wish them away. That is my argument.

Anonymous said...

OK - we agree. Don't let the pedophiles out of prison. You say they can't be "cured", so just keep them locked up. Why create more victims just because we refuse to realize that pedophiles can't change the way they act? They really have a compulsion to have sex with underage kids - and if the compulsion can't be controlled, more kids will be raped.

I agree. Keep them locked up and don't let them out. Or perform a state-sanctioned, 5th trimester abortion.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 10:33, look, I'm open to any ideas here. All I ask people to keep in mind is this: In many other settings in life, the argument that "that's just the way they are" or "that's just the way things are" is used as a cardinal justification for whatever cause is being advocated or defended. Is that going to be the standard...or not? Do we simply judge the final behavior on its own merits--or look behind the behavior to see what forces predisposed it? I think that's an important debate to have, and the implications of the answer are far-reaching.

Anonymous said...

Castration, chemical or surgical, seems a just and reasonable option in these cases. It is practiced in some countries.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 12:40, I thought of that too, but does it really solve the problem? Have studies been done on the efficacy of this? The absence of a penis does not, technically, prevent a pedophile from (a) abducting a child or (b) using foreign objects to violate the child. No more than the absence of a penis prevents lesbians from having penetrative sex. And, of course, there are other ways to have sex with a child (or force a child to have sex with you) that don't involve penetration.

Plus then there's the "vengeance factor" to think about on the part of the person who's been castrated. Does the law of unintended consequences kick in, where he does even worse things out of his rage at what was done to him?

I'm guessing there isn't much data on this, but I'd like to hear from anyone who has some reliable level of insight.

Neuroskeptic said...

Here is a thought-experiment that you can do to see how you feel about pedophiles -

Imagine a man who is sexually attracted to children, and only children, but he never touches one. He looks at child pornography, but only "pseudo-"pornography in which no children were involved (drawings, photoshopped pics...use your imagination.)

How would you feel about that? Most people would find it disgusting and wrong. Although no children would be harmed. Pseudo-child pornography is illegal, and most people would agree it should be.

But ask yourself - when I think about actual pedophilia - how much of my reaction to it is a justified response to the harm to children and how much is just disgust?

Anonymous said...

Castration does not involve removing the penis, but the testicles, which produce the sex hormones. You can keep your penis, and you need to, but your sex drive and aggression would be diminished or wiped out.

Tyro said...

Interesting comment about viewing child porn. There's an interesting discussion about the history of sharing child porn on wikileaks:

It sounds like there is room to push the definitions of child porn to allow for soft-core porn which might reduce the spread of the dangerous, harmful hard-core stuff that we all condemn.

Another less radical idea could be to legalize lolicon and other works which depict children in sexual situations but which do not involve any real children. There have been recent cases where comic book collectors have been arrested for child porn and even more shockingly, there was a man arrested for child porn based on the contents of a private diary he kept. I think that, by providing a legal, safe, acceptable outlet we may be able to reduce the compulsions and allow pedophiles to deal with their urges without harming others.

Of course these are pure speculation. I have no solid information on the impacts of these though I think some cross-cultural studies could be done relatively quickly & inexpensively to give us a general idea of what to expect.

Of course, this would require significant changes in US politics. There's little incentive for politicians to deal rationally with crime which is how you've ended up with more prisoners than any nation on earth. Let's face it, until you decriminalize drug use which a significant minority of Americans enjoy, you'll never deal with pedophilia which almost everyone reviles.

Athol Kay said...

As long as the GPS monitoring is tamperproof and say attached to a brightly colored "road cone orange" jumpsuit...

Though in reality this sort of monitoring in the community takes continual staffing 24/7. Usually 1:1 staffing. It's pretty expensive to maintain, and very few people are willing to work with these adults.

Steve Salerno said...

Athol, I see your point (and get the overarching message as well), but would we accept that argument in any other realm? "Yanno, it's just too expensive to ensure that minorities receive equal schooling or fair treatment in restaurants, so the heck with it...." I realize that most people don't think pedophiles are deserving of any consideration at all--which is the whole point of the post. If we're going to lock them up and throw away the key (or worse), we should recognize that such behavior is out of conformity with other practices in wide use throughout society.

Anonymous said...

Just read this -- been away for a few days. First, I'm not convinced that people are born pedophiles, so this whole argument may not even be relevant to the issues involved. For example, many child molestors, or at least the violent serial ones (serial killers etc) have a commonality of backgrounds that would seem to cut against the "nature" argument, at least regarding violent offenders. Not sure if the same is true of non-violent (as if any molestation can be seen as such). Second, there are many theories of why we incarcerate; "revenge" is not high on the list. Punishment is, removal from society is. We are punishing the conduct -- just because you may be "born" that way (if true), you do not have to act on it. Remember, we aren't talking consenting individuals here, we're talking kids. I think the societal interests involved (i.e. protection of children) are great enough to warrant incarceration. And yes, even if you are born that way. Nothing is preventing these people, if born that way, from fantasizing in their own bathroom. But, the goal behind the laws is to stop people from acting on that behavior with someone not capable of forming consent, which is fine with me. As far as tigers being tigers, we put them in cages, do we not?

Yekaterina said...

Actually, Steve, it was by your definition. :-) Our STRONG AND OVERWHELMING urges are not irresistible...even if subjectively they might seem to be so. A tiger can not help, say, killing a man when he's hungry. If one ate my daughter I can assure you, I would not seek vengeance. A man has a choice about keeping his dick in his pants or not. ¿No?

Steve Salerno said...

Ykat: Depends on the man.

Steve Salerno said...

And let me use as an example our current newsmaker, Gov. Sanford. With all that's at stake for him, politically, personally and financially--do you really think he would've done what he did, if he had any choice in the matter? The same could be said of Slick Willie and his escapades in the White House with Monica. The rest of his body was just a helpless pawn to the little drama being played out in his pants.

Yekaterina said...

Good experiment.
Personally, I don't see how a person's sexual fantasies are anyone else's long as no one is being harmed. I guess that's the bottom line for me.

Yekaterina said...

I don't believe that Steve, that it depends on the man. (I'm talking about both men and women here, btw.)

Hypersexuality (call it a strong, overwhelming, almost irresistible urge to have sex) is not unknown to me, and I can tell you from experience that the choice to act on that urge (or not) definitely takes place.

I don't disagree that Slick Willy's sex drive is probably way stronger than the "average" man's, to risk all that he did, but he still had a choice.

Anonymous said...

Steve. I remember seeing this documentary about a prison for paedophiles who were receiving treatment and could not leave until deemed cured. Even those that were cured could not leave as they had no appropriate places to go to. This is in contrast to the rapists,killers and those tat just beat the shit out of another human being, that can walk free without a problem.

Is sex worse then murder? I just don't get it.


Mike Cane said...

See, Steve, the thing is that I tend to show up here in between your posts, so I wind up reading more than just one at a time, unlike most of your regulars.


>>> I can only say that it's easy to embrace the conventional, "authorized" view. It's the comfortable way of waltzing through life. There are times when we owe it to ourselves to challenge our assumptions; to be a little bit...uncomfortable.

-- would have seemed genuine had I not seen this in the post just before it:

>>>a noseless freak who got famous by wearing costumes that looked like a cross between a Captain Marvel outfit and a level-4 biohazard suit (not to mention that silly glove)

Someone here is trying to have his cake and eat it. And that's not me.

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, Mike, but I'm comfortable in my state of schizophrenia. Besides, can't a guy be a wise-ass sometimes? ;)

Also, see my standing caveat at the top right of the sidebar about the difference between the two realities (or multiple realities) presented on this blog.

We try, anyway. That's more than I can say for a lot of people.

Mike Cane said...

When you are going to be Socratic, state so. There's a big difference between teasing apart an idea and seeming to advocate something that I think even the Left here would balk at.

Scourging Jackson in one breath (really, he's a frikkin *entertainer* and it's all of a piece, that) and in the next breath seeming to advocate a gooey acceptance of people who prey on the innocent is the kind of thing that short-circuits minds (fine, even if that mind is only *mine*, which, damn it, I tend to actually *like* at times).

At least I can take some small comfort you have no governmental power. Look at what happens with those who do.

Steve Salerno said...

Mike: Once again here, some folks fail to perceive the difference between tastes and laws, and/or the difference between our subjective individual perceptions of things ("I hate pedophiles") and the more enlightened, overarching stance a government ought to consider taking ("if they can't help being peds, even if we hate 'em, can we really justify the kinds of punishments we'd like to inflict on 'em?") I go back--for the how-manyth-time?--to Mario Cuomo's classic line about capital punishment: "Government should not be in the business of elevating people's most base emotions to the status of law."

Mike Cane said...

Cuomo was an eejit, period. You recall that dope Dukakis not being able to clearly answer the Presidential debate question, "What if someone murdered Kitty? Would you be in favor of a death penalty then?"

Don't give me this "base instinct" crap. How dare he elevate himself above the rest of humankind, as if he was some Jesus Christ. He isn't, wasn't, never could be.

This is the attitude that's causing newspapers to fail all across the nation. People are disgusted with a group of reporters elevating themselves over the readers and instead of recording the events of the day setting themselves up as holier-than-you preachers.

People can't understand the appeal of exploitative whackjobs such as Limbaugh, Savage, etc? Well, that's part of it.

Instead of looking at everyone else and disapprovingly uttering, "Tch, tch," maybe these groups who fear their fellow men should come down off their sugar pedestals and re-examine their beliefs.

Your line of thought leads to utter insanity. Rapists, pedophiles, serial murderers, embezzlers, et al, all get a Free Pass under, "Well, that's just HOW THEY ARE!"

It's a prescription for undoing all the progress this country once made. Go back in history, see what "reformers" produced. We could use some of that today. They didn't make wan excuses for the intolerable behavior of their fellow citizens, they pushed for progress.

Steve Salerno said...

Mike: If someone murdered Kitty he would want a death penalty, and if someone abused my grandkids I would want to strangle the guy myself. (And you know, maybe I'm wrong, but I seem to recall saying something like that in this post.) That's why the relatively small universe of victims (or anyone in a highly emotional state) should not be involved in formulating policy, in my view. Policy should conform as much as possible to the broad, proven realities of life. And if it is true, as I believe, that people simply are what they are--trapped by themselves, one might say--then punishment must take that into account. I could see an argument for Draconian punishment if it could be demonstrated that it serves a deterrent effect. ("If we cut a guy's head off in public, that'll teach drivers not to go through red lights anymore...") But that effect has never been meaningfully documented here in the U.S.

It seems absurd to me that we have any more control over our thoughts and feelings (that's assuming we even know which is which) than we do over our physical realities. Did you choose your height? Your eye color? I realize that those elements appear to be much more "fixed" than thoughts--and it's true that thoughts can change. But as I see it, at any given moment, what we think or feel is as immutable in that moment as height or eye color. I truly believe that. If you don't like the idea--if it makes you feel disempowered--so be it. I'm reminded of what the psychologist told me about the Susan Smith case (the mother who drove her kids into that lake or whatever). She was obviously nuts, but the powers-that-be felt an incredible pressure to adjudge her "competent," otherwise everyone would've been outraged. The mentality was, Somebody has to pay for this! Is that really the ethic that should guide the justice system?

Further, if we're going to talk about pedestals and condescension, I invite you to start by revisiting your own comment. ("Eejit." "Base instinct crap." And the overall tone.) Which one of us is astride a higher horse, Mike?

Mike Cane said...

>>>That's why the relatively small universe of victims (or anyone in a highly emotional state) should not be involved in formulating policy, in my view.

Hey, the universe of the pointy-heads who formulate the destructive policies is smaller than that of the victims. This is democratic process? This is anything resembling a reflection of the citizenry?

>>>The mentality was, Somebody has to pay for this!

OMFG! Imagine holding the person who DID it accountable. What, they should have held a lottery to see who to pin it on? Really, Steve, what planet are you living on where the murder of several children "just happens" out of the blue?

And goddam, yes, Steve, I'll call them eejits and such. Eff the high horse. The other term for it is Ivory Tower. And I piss on its wall whenever I can and will continue to do so. The better to help it crumble and fall and go unmourned.