By now, you have likely heard the news that in addition to having an obsession with mass shootings, in addition to being a gun nut living with a paranoid gun nut, besides not being medicated for having Aspergers, Adam Lanza, the man who opened fire in Sandy Hook, killing 28 people (mostly children) supposedly had pedophilia. Because him being a pedophile would supposedly explain why he killed children.
Yes, supposedly. I doubt that this is the case, but I would like to come back to that point.
Aspergers and Violent Video Games
One of the things that really struck a chord with me about Lanza was that he had Aspergers and played violent video games. I suspect this is true of many on the spectrum: Playing video games gives me the opportunity to put myself in another world, one I would probably never pursue in real life. Believe me, it is not at all fun realizing that you share something in common with a mass shooter. Nevertheless, it affords me a window into Lanza’s brain that many do not have.
I think one of the best articles I read in the aftermath of Sandy Hook was a commentary in the Star Tribune, a newspaper I used to read (these days, Google News is easier, sorry Star Tribune). I do not remember the specifics, but I do remember what struck me: That the bullying and isolation in Lanza’s life likely led to many of the decisions that ultimately cost the lives of 28 people.
For me, however, the whole incident was very unsettling. That I share some of the qualities of the shooter led me to ask questions that I was already asking at that point… what if I end up hurting people? What if I end up hurting children? And then seeing someone dealing with similar issues shoot up a freaking elementary school… not helpful. It is not just scary to realize that you identify with a mass shooter. It is positively terrifying. It took weeks for my therapist to calm me down enough to realize I was making different choices than Lanza did, not isolating, not hiding, not keeping secrets, being honest… so seeing some of the language in that commentary at the time did not help.
What Having Pedophilia Means
For me, having pedophilia means that I have a lot of empathy towards people in unique situations. It means that I empathize particularly well with children, more so than adults. It means, yes, that I have a sexual attraction to children. I used to get really stressed about that particular aspect, because I thought it might lead to abusing a child. I had people that made the argument that I was a ticking time bomb… which, by the way, is partly what led to my significant mental health issues that led me to seek out therapy.
I was so wrapped up in fearing my decisions and that they might end up hurting someone, so blind to the fact that my actions were a choice, that I thought killing myself was a good solution to avoid hurting people. For me, pedophilia used to mean loving children, and fearing I would hurt people because of it. Today, it simply means that my sexuality is unique, and that I empathize more with children. It means that my first thought in a situation where children are present is, how is that child feeling? How can I help them? I no longer fear the sexual attraction part of having pedophilia, because I can manage it with fictional materials that will never hurt anyone. I also have some attraction to adults. Next year, I will be married to my fiancé, and having sex with him will be part of managing my sex drive.
So for me, pedophilia is not at all about hurting people. It is certainly not about shooting children. Pedophilia means having an interest in children, part of which is sexual in nature and needs to be managed, the rest of that interest gives pedophiles a unique ability to relate to children that many adults do not share. So when I read in Newsweek that, “The FBI said there was no evidence that suggests Lanza ever acted on his interests in children, but the revelation does help pinpoint why he would open fire in an elementary school,” I want to puke.
An interest in children does not indicate that someone will shoot up an elementary school full of them.
Why I Do Not Believe Lanza Had Pedophilia
There is evidence that Lanza held the position that, “adult-child sexual relationships could be ‘possibly beneficial to both parties,’” which does not mean having pedophilia. It means Lanza recognized that even behaviors that are widely considered illegal may not always be harmful. Any rational human who has looked into child sexual abuse realizes this: Victims have a very wide variety of responses, most negative, but some positive. The Rind et al. study indicates very clearly that some victims are not as negatively affected by a sexual relationship with an adult, while other studies clearly indicate that some victims are very much affected by the abuse and can turn to self-harming behaviors like drug abuse to cope with their feelings.
So, for Lanza to argue that child-sex might be beneficial is not new, nor is it an idea that is exclusive to pedophiles. Actual research shows that the argument holds water, though it does not excuse the sexual abuse of a child (obviously, because no one can tell which children will react positively or negatively before the abuse, only years afterward, by which time the harm or lack thereof has been done). Both Time and CNN indicate that there is no evidence that Lanza “acted on [pedophilic interest].”
Pedophilia is not the sexual abuse of a child, contrary to many of these reports that imply otherwise. Pedophilia is a sexual attraction to children that usually results in an emotional and romantic desire to connect with children, in addition to that sexual attraction. Think about your own sexual attraction: Is it just about sex? Is it about an emotional, romantic attachment as well? Is it about raping others? If your sexual attraction is like mine, without discussing who we are attracted to, your attraction is not just about sex… it is also about emotional connections, being romantic, and most certainly not about rape. Pedophilia is simply feeling the same attraction you feel towards whatever it is — men, women, old people, young people — but with pedophilia, that is directed at children.