Many homosexuals – gay men in particular – go to great lengths to distance ourselves from paedophiles. And so we should. We have been maliciously misrepresented as kiddie diddlers since time immemorial.
But here’s a challenge: Try identifying with a paedophile. Walk a mile in his shoes, as it were. Pretend you’re Jodie Foster in the movie Freaky Friday, and you woke up this morning to find yourself another person – in this case, one aroused by youthful flesh.
Homosexuals are more able to identify than most. We, too, harbour desires deemed monstrous by the larger society. Of late, our yearnings are more acceptable, but we can, at least, understand the pain of universal scorn.
Of course, we argue that no one gets hurt in consenting homosexual liaisons (though many religious types say there is spiritual damage, and certainly there are health and emotional risks involved with all sex). Meanwhile, sex between adults and children raises thorny issues of consent – can children genuinely consent to sex with adults, should they, and why would they?
Most people say they believe that children can never consent to sex. Still, paedophilic desire itself is morally neutral.
Even our darkest, most murderous desires are simply part of us – drives that we experience as we try to understand the mysteries of our existence. That’s why we are fascinated with warring dictators, serial killers and rapists.
We think about these things a lot, though usually from the safe space of smug armchair critics.
Recently, a BC Supreme Court judge struck down Canada’s six-year-old child porn law, ruling it violates freedom of expression. Foes of the law have focussed on its breadth – that it casts its net far enough to anyone who broaches the topic of child sexuality.
The law purports to allow for materials with artistic merit – but Toronto artist Eli Langer was charged under it. The law’s purpose should be to prevent the sexual abuse of children by adults – but two Toronto teenagers were charged with making a video of themselves having sex. Archivists, journalists and collectors with no sexual interest in children are also vulnerable under such a law.
These problems are significant. But in focusing on them, critics attempt to establish the legitimate use of these materials, and skirt around the reality of paedophilia.
So, Jodie, it’s Friday. You’re a paedophile. What are you going to do about it? Kill yourself? Castrate yourself? Become a priest (ohÉ let’s not go there)?
Maybe you keep a journal of your sexual fantasies. Maybe you draw sexy pictures of kids, or make collages, or you have some photos of kids in bathtubs. Maybe you show them to your friends.
Certainly, you must be allowed to think your thoughts, to express them, and to share them. We cannot legislate away the sexual desire for children. And laws which prohibit the possession of explicit representations of children seek to regulate desire, not just behaviour.
How else would you distinguish between two people in possession of the same child porn video: a journalist working on a story, and a paedophile? The act is the same, but one involves a thought crime, or a crime of sexual response. Neither constitutes the actual abuse of a child – even if the video documents the abuse of a child.
We don’t, by comparison, make it a crime to wear a pair of running shoes produced through the abuse of children in sweatshops.
Laws that don’t specifically target acts of abuse will assume lives of their own, and hurt people – including paedophiles – who aren’t hurting children.
Like it or not, a society that cares about protecting cute, cuddly children must also care about freedom of conscience for creepy crawly old paedophiles.
David Walberg is Publisher for Xtra.