Accidental Rapist

There's a piece up at our site right now by David Goldberg on his struggles with pedophilia. We pick up the story after Goldberg has been busted for watching child-porn:

I had never asked to be cursed with this sexual attraction, and I had never hurt a child. In fact, I was always a good role model as a coach, and an upstanding citizen throughout my days. It was the nights that were a problem.

Over the months that followed my arrest, my journalistic instincts took over. I wanted to know how a lifetime of lusting after young children could seem so normal to me on an emotional level, even though I knew rationally that it was a completely deviant lifestyle. I would spend my days longing to get back onto my computer, the way a gourmand anticipates a scrumptious feast. Yet when the computer was turned off, I despised myself for being so aroused while looking at pictures of young children whose lives had been destroyed thanks to their unwilling participation.

The most important thing I've discovered in the 15 months since my arrest isn't the why, but rather what can be done to change the preconceptions and misconceptions that society has when it comes to pedophiles. Most people hear that word and think of the Jerry Sanduskys and abusive Catholic priests of the world. Fewer people think about the millions who grapple with sexual feelings on which they can never act. When someone hears the word "pedophile", they immediately think of a child molester. Yet the majority of pedophiles do not molest, but instead spend hours looking at child pornography. And as those numbers grow, so does the number of child victims.

I am not advocating the cross-generational lifestyle. In fact, there is never an instance when an adult should engage in sexual behavior with a child. But until we as a society learn that help for those who view child pornography is a far better alternative to incarceration, we are doomed to see the continued proliferation of this problem. Scientists don't know for certain if there is a correlation between viewing child pornography and offending against children. Wouldn't it be nice to get pedophiles help before we find out for certain?

My feelings on this topic aren't much changed from a year ago. (See here and here.) Basically I think that we have an issue that could benefit from some nuance, but is, instead, being treated with callous contrarianism. I think a lot of us would agree that our current societal solutions for pedophilia are poor, and in some cases, may well be harming more than they are helping. I think lot of us would also agree that a "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach is not an actual strategy. I also think that many of us would also agree that when you patronize child pornography you patronize child rape. Admitting to patronizing child rape in one sentence, and claiming that you've never "hurt a child" in another is not complexity, it's obfuscation.

Obfuscation is a popular tool among rapists and those who patronize rape. In the case of adult women the rapist claims that by their manner or dress their victims have forfeited consent. In the case of children, the rapist pretends that they do not exist. I understand that Goldberg's piece is about pedophiles, but there is distinct strain of minimization running through—like the images on his screen were more figments than actual children. I don't know how one has a "cross generational lifestyle" with a child. The word is rape. It does not appear in this essay.

There's a kind of callousness at work here which is masking itself as intellectual provocation. It's very reminiscent of people who claim to want to start a "conversation" around racism, but really just wish you'd stop making them feel guilty. We're all very sorry that Goldberg is overcome by feelings of self-loathing. This does not change the fact that he supported an industry which takes as its premise the permanent injury of children and rape for profit. It may well be true that that Goldberg's participation in that industry was not the product of free-will. I suspect the same holds true for some portion of serial rapists. As a society, I'd like to see us better address that issue. But we don't get there by minimizing the problem, and acting as if the actual victims don't exist.
 
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Health

From This Author

Just In