Pedophilia - What is harmful?

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What is harmful?

The public discussion on children and sex is dominated by the tendency that anything that has to do with sex is called abuse, and any type of abuse is said to cause sinister psychological trauma. Such claims are often spiced with examples of children who have endured terrible ordeals and have been harmed for life. But such bombastic stories reflect only a small part of reality.

It is important to set things straight and realize that certain sexual events are more harmful to children than others. For the sake of simplicity, we have set up this diagram indicating what is more or less harmful. The events that rank highest on the list are the ones that cause the most severe psychological trauma. As we go down the list, we get less psychological problems and more positive experiences.

more harmful

Forced prostitution
The child is kept by a pimp who completely controls his life.
Assault by a close family member
Typically an incest relationship, e.g. between father and daughter.
Violent attack committed by a stranger
Typically an assault where perpetrator and victim don't know each other.
Prostitution by necessity
The child is working as a prostitute in order to provide for himself and his family. Is not controlled by a pimp.
Exploitation of dependence
This is the situation where a teacher, employer, or similar person is taking advantage of the child's dependence and uses threats and promises to press the child into sex, and where the child can't escape this person without significant costs.
Voluntary prostitution
The child is selling sexual favors even though alternative sources of income are available and the child is not in economical need. The child seeks out his own customers and can avoid unpleasant customers.
Soft prostitution
This is a relationship that involves friendship as well as sex. The child is excessively pampered and expects many gifts, but there is no clear relationship between sex and gifts.
Voluntary casual sex
The child engages in sexual experiments for the sake of experience and excitement. There is no lasting friendship.
Mutual relationship based on friendship
This is typically a long-lasting relationship based on friendship, trust and reciprocal attraction. Both partners desire friendship as well as sex and do not regard one as a payment for the other. The sexual aspect of the relationship may decline after several years, but the friendship bond typically lasts. 

less harmful

The cases at the bottom of the list are not in themselves harmful. There is, nevertheless, a possibility that the child suffers psychologically if the social environment condemns the relationship and reacts dramatically and hysterically upon disclosure. The child may be subjected to prolonged police interviews, his secrets may be revealed on the front page of all newspapers, and the child's best friend is demonized. The child is prevented from talking with the only person that understands his feelings. Instead it is thrown into the arms of a well-intentioned therapist who is brainwashing the child until he or she accepts his role as victim. Most pedophiles refrain from having sex with children because of the risk that such atrocities may happen to the child, even though these consequences can hardly be blamed on the pedophile. 

Most statistical investigations show that more girls than boys are traumatized by sex. This is first and foremost due to the fact that it is predominantly girls who are subjected to the cases that rank high on the damage list, while boys typically are found in the types of relationships that rank low on the diagram.

Of course, a full evaluation must also consider what kind of sexual act has taken place. Obviously, a vaginal or anal intercourse is more painful the smaller the child is. The physical pain may worsen the psychological trauma. Oral sex, masturbation, and simple fondling may not involve physical pain, but can still cause severe psychological pain if it happens under conditions that rank high on the list shown above.

Voluntary pedophile relationships are very often homosexual (man/boy or woman/girl). This may cause identity problems, especially to boys in cultures where homosexuality is considered un-manly. It is well-known that many children are going through a homosexual phase in their life without being permanently homosexual. Investigations have shown that most of the boys who are involved in such relationships are going to live an ordinary heterosexual family life when they become adult. It is important to inform about this fact in order to avoid that boys get problems with their own homosexual impulses.

Many pedophiles use child pornography as a substitute for sex. It is important to discuss whether the consumers of child porn are indirectly harming children by sustaining a possibly harmful production. The circumstances under which child porn is produced are not always the same and not always equally harmful. In some cases the porn is produced by cynical mafia-types who believe the media claims that there are big money in child porn (which, in fact, there aren't). More often, however, the porn is produced by happy amateurs with no economical motives. They are making the pictures for their own gratification and give away copies to other pedophiles. Whoever pays for child porn may in fact be sustaining a production of the first kind. But the person who receives it for free from a friend or finds some material that somebody has planted anonymously on the internet is not harming any child, because the material would have been produced anyway. He is more likely to harm himself, however, if the police can trace his activities.


See also: