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Paedophilia: Examining the societal response to a marginalised medical condition

By Dhruv Shekhar

The term Paedophilia denotes a condition where an adult individual desires for a pre-pubescent child or finds him/her sexually appealing. Upon reading this description, it appears to materialise in such a clinical manner that instead of inviting derision, it simply takes the form of a mental or psychological affliction to be treated accordingly. However, the narrative surrounding paedophilia takes on this role rarely, if ever. What we find is the painful and automatic association that paedophilia has with the heinous act of child sexual abuse.

How does paedophilia arise?

It is this persecutory attitude and stigmatisation that is attached to this condition which is what I seek to reflect upon. Simultaneously, it is an attempt to ascertain some of the misnomers attached to this mental affliction. Now, the biological basis for the incidence of paedophilic elements amongst individuals has been attributed to “cross-wiring” in the brain’s anatomy, which is responsible for controlling an individual’s desire. While this branch of research is still in its nascent stages, it hasn’t stopped people from asking if the basis of paedophilia is genetic i.e. people are born with it or it is something more prosaic by being contingent on their own choice (thus, by extension,  being something akin to homosexuality).

The answer to the above, according to experts, has often been the former rather than the latter aspect. Concurrently, instead of using the term “sexual orientation” to describe the condition, they have opted to use the term “age orientation”. This, in turn, begs the question: When a heterosexual man walks on the street and finds a woman attractive, is that wrong? The obvious answer would be no; however, it would be wrong on both legal and moral grounds, only if he coerced her to engage in any sexual act with him. A similar understanding of affliction of paedophilia, as prescribed by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) would do well to sensitise the approach towards individuals suffering from such an affliction. This is so since it is one thing to possess an organic desire to do something, however, it is quite another to act on it.

The horrendous outcomes

An understanding of the problem in such a schematic manner would prevent acts of child sexual abuse from actually transpiring in the long run. Many countries, such as certain states in the United States, have legislation which is incriminatory towards them. Even the realm of a psychologist’s/psychiatrist’s office is no longer a safe haven, for these medical officials are instructed to report on individuals showing paedophilic desires. Such an act results in two outcomes. Firstly, the person who suffers such a problem endures more suffering by losing out on his job, social status, personal esteem Secondly, it sets the precedent for people to not attempt to seek requisite support (psychological/physiological) to combat this problem. Thus, an unnecessary yet vicious circle pertaining to the dual issues of paedophilia and child sexual abuse is established. This particularly establishes an indelible relationship between paedophilia and child sexual abuse.

Has the media representation been appropriate?

The media representation through films/documentaries such as Police (2011) or Capturing the Friedman’s (2003) has made inadequate efforts to understand or document the previously mentioned dimension of paedophilia. The representation of this affliction has often centred on themes such as the post-facto life of the child sexual abuse victims or the officers of the law who deal with such matters, as witnessed in Police.

Upon a deeper examination of such a representation, it appears to be understandable. This is because defending those whose likely actions may place others in harm’s way might justifiably generate rancour and derision. It might turn out to be a prospect which would serve as a bane both in a creative and commercial sense. Thus, the intent is not to condone the acts of one Jimmy Saville, or the Catholic church sexual abuse cases in the Boston area, and the more recently apprehended Sunil Rastogi, amongst many. Instead, it is to encourage the imposition of accountability on a paedophile for his actions and not for the affliction he suffers.

A change in outlook

It is often the inexplicable yet contorted relation established between the terms of paedophilia and child sexual abuse that, more often than not, does more harm than good. For if the intent is to protect the children in true Foucauldian fashion, it is imperative that not only does paedophilia be posited as a mental disorder with a statutory and scholarly disposition, but also there needs to be an equivocal change in the societal understanding of the said condition as a medical disorder rather than a pre-emptive crime.

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This post first appeared on The Indian Economist | For The Curious Mind, please read the originial post: here

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Paedophilia: Examining the societal response to a marginalised medical condition


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