I took a call from a young help seeker who thought she might be a paedophile (UK standard spelling of Pedophile). She was a 14 year old girl, in High School, and struggling to admit what her thoughts meant. It wasn’t a comfortable thing to hear nor something I knew how to respond with. But this wasn’t the first teenage paedophile I had heard of. Luke Malone, back in 2014 wrote an article on Matter called “You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?”. It’s an account of a boy struggling to find support for his own paedophilic fantasies (watching child porn).
My help-seeker hesitantly described the thoughts she had been having. After a pause she asked, “do you think I’m a p-word?” This is not a question I’m prepared to answer. What I do know is there’s a difference between fantasy and behaviour in regards to paedophilia. This is supported by the Australian Institue of Criminology which states in one of its misconception articles, that “not all child sex offenders are paedophiles and conversely, not all paedophiles are child sex offenders.” So, what I could have told her was: just because you’re having these thoughts does not make you a bad person. But it’s difficult to be empathetic towards a person who has the potential to be abusive. However, as a crisis supporter we must uphold total positive regard, even if we don’t like the individual calling. There may be no one they believe can support them. In response to my helpseeker, I asked “how would you feel if you were a paedophile?”
I allowed my helpseeker to talk through how she felt. She’s rarely felt comfortable talking about it. In the story, the boy conflicted with paedophilic urges could not even approach his mother for support. He kept his torment private and developed a deep depression. Both the boy in the article and my help seeker used a lot of negative phrases to describe themselves. “I’m a monster”, they both declared. There may be no opportunity for someone to talk about an issue like paedophilia, or child abuse, because of how stigmatised paedophilia is in society. It’s also challenging for a help-seeker to approach help in a professional capacity due to the policies in place to prevent any suspicion of child abuse. I want to note, that stigma and policies are in place for a valuable reason and I’m not here to moralise paedophilia.
Providing support for someone dealing with paedophilia is confronting. One way to deal with this confrontation is to challenge your preconceptions earlier. Reading stories like this helps you broaden your awareness of how challenging it is to come to terms with a condition like paedophilia. Learning their stories breaksdown the stereotypes that might prevent you from listening to them in a moment of crisis.
If someone calls a crisis support line then we have to assume they are seeking help. You may be the only person who has heard their story. Especially if they’re a young paedophile.
For further information on misconceptions about child sex offenders, visit: https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi429