Will Pedophilia Be 'Defined Down'?

Earlier this week, John Rossomando at The Daily Caller reported that a conference was being held to push to redefine pedophilia to curtail the stigma for "minor-attracted persons." They're pushing the American Psychological Association to redefine pedophilia in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. (The APA did not participate in the conference.)

The liberal media has been quiet, leaving this to social conservatives in the alternative media. But the liberals at Salon.com were willing to take a crack at an "emotionless" evaluation of definitions. While expressing some skepticism, Tracy Clark-Flory concluded:

There is a general consensus within the medical community that pedophilia is a sexual orientation and as such is unlikely to change, so treatment focuses on helping them to suppress their desires through psychotherapy and medication. Fred Berlin, director of the Sexual Behavior Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins and an expert presenter at today's event, compares it to the sort of treatment people with drug addiction or alcoholism go through. "They need to learn to not give in to cravings which are satisfying and very pleasurable but which their intellect and their conscience and society is telling them they ought not to act on," he told me by phone. "Now, can everybody succeed? No, but there are large numbers of people who experience these attractions and with proper help go on and don't continue to offend. There is good evidence to show that that's the case."

He says many pedophile activists are concerned that the term "has become a stigmatizing pejorative," a way of saying "that somebody is less than human." They're unlikely to get much sympathy from the general public for being stigmatized, but Berlin says it's in society's best interest to resist demonizing them. "The idea is to try to get folks who are sexually attracted to children to come forward and get help before acting so that children are not harmed," he said. "That's certainly a goal that I would fully support." He adds: "None of us as little children sit down and ask ourselves the question, 'Do I want to grow up to be attracted to men or to women, to boys or to girls?' Nobody sits down, reflects about that and then decides," he argues. "If someone realizes while growing up that they're attracted to pre-pubescent children, it seems to me it is very important for them to know that there are places they can go to get help before they act on those feelings."

This debate goes far beyond the push by pedo-activists, raising fundamental questions within the medical community about how we define mental illness. Controversially, the proposed DSM adds hebephilia (attraction to pubescent children) to the entry for pedophilia (attraction to pre-pubescents), creating the hybrid "pedohebephilic disorder." Psychiatry professor Richard Green, founding president of the International Academy of Sex Research, wrote in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, "In several European countries, the age of legal consent to have sex falls within the range proposed for the DSM as signifying mental disorder for the older participant," he writes. "If the general culture is accepting of participation by the younger party, but psychiatry pathologizes the participation by the older party, then the mental health profession pronounces a moralistic standard and, if successful, becomes an agent of social control."

Few of us in the general public are capable of thinking about pedophiles, or hebephiles, in emotionless, scientific terms -- but, luckily, we aren't the ones charged with treating them, or defining who "they" are.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis