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An anonymous prosecutor emails:


I'm a couple of days behind on this, but I saw your post on pedophiles who never act out on their desires.  First, let me say that I am a prosecutor who has seen some of the worst stuff imaginable in the last ten years, including horrible sex crimes that went unpunished.  I have seen a good number of men go to prison for child pornography that is found on their computers, and I must say that I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it.  During my first few years as a prosecutor I wanted them locked up for as long as possible for two obvious reasons: first, they may very likely act out on their desires and victimize a child (who will of course be likely to victimize another child when they reach adult age).  Second, as a way to deter the manufacturing of child pornography by removing the possible market.  I've come to realize that the second reason is about as hopeless as thinking that by locking up drug users I can stop drug dealers.  The market will always be there.
 
As far as locking them up, I even question whether that accomplishes anything at all, unless the person is locked up for their entire natural life, which seems disproportionate.  Nobody chooses to be a pedophile, as you note.  I can't relate to it, neither can you, but we both understand that these folks need help and would probably be very receptive to it if it weren't for the shame associated with it.
 
Recently Salon published an interview with a researcher who rather boldly suggested that we rethink how we approach some sex crimes.  It can be found here: http://www.salon.com/books/int/2010/01/18/trauma_myth_interview/.  Now I understand this article doesn't touch on pedophiles themselves, but it does relate to how our casting things as shameful is understandable, but perhaps ineffective.  Don't get me wrong, I want some dude to be ashamed of his desire to do intimate things with children, but I don't want him to be so ashamed that he not even seek help.  It's not popular or rewarding to extend some compassion to people we label as "deviant", but I do think that if we can transcend some of our instincts about sex crimes and sex abuse, we may actually save some people from either being victimized, or victimizing someone else.
 

 

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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