This week’s Savage Love really made me stop and consider what it would be like to have an off-limits sexual desire / fetish / kink.I can’t imagine having to spend my entire life resisting my sexual interests and desires — desires which, as Dan points out — we don’t choose. This particular column features an individual struggling with one of the most taboo and potentially damaging attractions – pedophilia.
I particularly like that Dan commended this man for his determination to resist his desires, and encouraged society to be more compassionate towards him and others experiencing similar struggles. He also points out the huge gaps in service and support currently available to “gold star pedophiles” — and the potentially damaging regulations in place in many countries — including Canada and the US.
Dan’s response really made me stop and think, and I hope it does the same for you.
Note: I’ve added the emphasis in Dan’s response.
I’m a gay man in my late 20s who has been trying to deal with an attraction to young boys since I hit puberty. I know that what I feel is wrong and wish to Christ that I could have a normally wired brain. I have never abused a child; I do not look at child pornography. But I need to speak to a therapist because I can’t get through this on my own. Bottom line is I’m afraid. Seriously afraid. I don’t know what my legal rights are and I don’t know how to go about getting more information without incriminating myself. I’m sure there are more people than just me who need to talk about this. My problem is that I’m not financially stable enough to afford seeing someone for more than a few sessions. I just can’t keep saying I’m fine, and I can’t let healthy relationships fall apart because I’m unable to talk to anyone about my problem.
Can’t Wish It Away
I shared your letter with Dr. James Cantor, a psychologist, associate professor at the University of Toronto, and editor in chief of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. (Follow Dr. Cantor on Twitter @JamesCantorPhD.) The first thing he said, CWIA, was that you deserved praise—he called you “an ace”—for making it this far without having committed an offense.
But accessing the support you need to get through the next six or seven decades of life without sexually abusing a child—support the culture should provide to men and women like you in order to protect children—isn’t going to be easy, Dr. Cantor said, particularly if you live in the United States.
“Other countries have created programs to help people like CWIA,” said Dr. Cantor. “Germany has Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, which includes a hospital-based clinic and anonymous hotlines that people who are attracted to children can call when they need to talk to someone, vent, or debrief. In Canada, we have the Circles of Support and Accountability—groups of volunteers who provide assistance and social support and who, in turn, receive support and supervision from professionals.”
But Canada funds these programs only for people who committed a sexual offense. The Circles program isn’t open to “gold-star pedophiles,” my term for men and women who have successfully struggled against their attraction to children without any support or credit. (Yes, credit. Someone who is burdened with an attraction to children—no one chooses to be sexually attracted to children—and successfully battled that attraction all of his adult life deserves credit for his strength, self-control, and moral sense.)
Sadly, in the United States, we’ve taken steps that make it harder for pedophiles to get the support they need to avoid offending.
“One of the recent regulations in the United States is mandatory reporting,” said Dr. Cantor. “These regulations vary by region, but in general, if a client has children or provides care to children and admits to experiencing sexual attraction to children—any children—the therapist is required to report the client to the authorities, regardless of whether any abuse was actually occurring.”
The goal is to protect children, of course, and that is a goal I fully support as a parent and a human being. But broad mandatory reporting policies have an unintended consequence: People like CWIA—people who need help to avoid acting on their attraction to children—are cut off from mental health professionals who can give them the tools, insight, and support they need. Mandatory reporting policies, designed to protect children, may be making children less safe.
“The situation is not completely hopeless, however,” said Dr. Cantor. “Therapists with training and experience working with people attracted to children are keenly aware of the delicate legal situation that both they and their clients are in. A good therapist—a licensed therapist, please—will begin the very first session by outlining exactly what they must report and what they may not report.”
So long as there is no specific child in specific danger—so long as you don’t have children (please don’t), CWIA, and don’t work with children (please don’t)—your therapist is required to keep whatever information you share confidential.
“CWIA should ask questions about confidentiality before disclosing anything to a therapist,” said Dr. Cantor. “He can ask these questions over the phone before making an appointment or even revealing his name.”
To find a therapist, CWIA, you can contact—anonymously—the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (http://atsa.com/request-referral).
“Although that group is primarily about services to persons who have already committed an offense,” said Dr. Cantor, “the professionals in their referral network are able and willing to help people in CWIA’s situation as well.”
Even the few sessions you can afford will help, CWIA.