Earlier today, I reblogged a post from Anna Waldherr at A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse, about the reclassification of paedophilia by the American Psychiatric Association in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the possible legalisation of paedophilia.
Shock, horror, anger, disgust, mortification, disbelief… the list of initial feelings and emotions is/was pretty much endless. Coming from the perspective of having lived through years of child sexual abuse, the last thing you want to hear about is the possibility of paedophilia being legalised.
However, to assess the situation as rationally as possible, it is necessary to put aside personal bias. I have to say, this has been quite a difficult task, not the least because every journal article, newspaper article, book, study analysis etc., that I have since read (hurriedly, I have to admit), has caused my body a large amount of physical distress, to mention nothing about my state of mind.
Regardless, I am going to at least attempt a reasonably rational assessment of the topic.
For those of you who don’t know what the DSM is, it is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States – and also the basic mental health diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals in Australia.
To be clear, in general terms, to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder in Australia, you have to meet the criteria set out by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM. Therefore, any changes to the DSM affects mental health patients in Australia.
So, DSM V now makes a distinction between a paraphilia ( sexual interests in objects, situations, or individuals that are highly atypical – see Wikipedia for a list) and a paraphilic disorder. Paedophilia is a paraphilia.
What this change means is that a person (paedophile) can only be diagnosed with a mental health disorder if they have a paraphilia that is currently causing distress or impairment to themselves, or personal harm or risk of harm to others (see Highlights of Changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5). The most basic way to explain this is that if a person THINKS about paedophilia but does not ACT on it, then there is no mental health problem.
Now, this might cause some readers a bit of concern, but I guess a drastic analogy might be that just because I think about ‘meowing’ it does not make me a cat, nor does it mean I have any kind of mental health disorder (?).
How does this link with the legalisation of paedophilia?
It seems quite a leap, doesn’t it, to say that just because there is a change to the mental health diagnosis of a paedophile, that paedophilia should be made legal?
Well, apparently not.
In my brief reading today, I have discovered quite a number of articles in which so-called ‘experts’ make the argument that paedophilia is a sexual preference – just like homosexuality or heterosexuality – or even, bestiality. The argument continues, that if we (society) was wrong to criminalise homosexuality, then it is possible that we are wrong in criminalising paedophilia. (The diagnostic change is, in some circles, being heralded as the first step in decriminalisation).
This may be a sound argument.
However, because a large percentage (if not the majority?) of paedophilia is undertaken with children under the age of 12, I find it extremely difficult to believe that the children involved would have the competency to provide informed consent to someone having sex with them.
Given the results of numerous studies on the long-term impacts of child sexual abuse, and the personal experience of knowing that unless you have lived through it there is no way you could possibly comprehend what it does to you, not just mentally, but also physically, then the possibility that a child would be able to factor those consequences, even at the age of 15, into their decision becomes even more unlikely.
Is my perspective slanted with a Western bias? Possibly, but even studies that are coming out of countries in which it is the cultural norm for adults to have sexual relations with children (yes, such countries do exist) are showing that there are devastating long-term impacts for the children.
From the perspective of a ‘survivor’, I do have to question the motivation of those who argue in favour of legalising paedophilia, or who minimise the impact of child sexual abuse on children – are they motivated by their own desire to engage in sexual acts with children?
This is my point of view. You are welcome to disagree.