Slowly but surely, society’s view of pedophilia is changing. It’s not that anyone — or anyone reasonable — is doubting that pedophiles can be and often are dangerous to children. Rather, there’s a growing awareness that no one chooses to be attracted to children, and that endlessly shaming, ostracizing, and punishing pedophiles may do more harm than good.
A growing group of researchers and activists are trying to better understand the behavior of so-called virtuous pedophiles — those who are attracted to children but committed to not acting on that attraction, since they realize the damage it could cause. Last week, the BBC ran an interesting article about one particular effort to help this group: Stop it Now, a helpline operated by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which pedophiles can call into if they are worried they might be at risk of harming a child.
The charity is based in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, in the U.K., and it’s been facing rising demand ever since it launched in June 2002: In its first 12 months, the BBC writes, the line got 58 calls, but in the 12 months leading up to May of this year, it got 1,658. It also misses about 2,000 calls a month due to being under-staffed.
“Quite a number of [callers] were very clear that they didn’t want these thoughts but that there was nowhere that you could get help,” Donald Findlater, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s director of research and development, told the BBC. He added: “If there are even a handful of those men troubled by their sexual thoughts today, who don’t want to do the harm they might do, then we have to give them a place to go.”
For a helpline like this to work, of course, it requires treating people with pedophilic interests like human beings who can be reasoned and empathized with. The U.S. doesn’t have a great track record on this front — or on its handling of sex offenders in general — so it’s good to see that elsewhere, at least, some groups are taking a more humane approach. In the end, efforts like Stop it Now probably do more to help children than the more hysterical, hyperpunitive approaches to which we’ve grown accustomed.
Update: Michael Seto, a sex researcher and friend of Science of Us, has a bit more background:
Henry’s story is, in fact, inspiring, and you can read more about it here.