For those who may not know, I am one of the rare pedophiles that came forward for professional help. A little over five years ago now, I had worked myself into a mental place where I hated my attractions because of being abused, and I thought my attraction meant I would hurt a child. So, I tried to kill myself, and ended up in a mental ward when a friend called an ambulance. What I did not know is that there was help available, which I found out in the mental ward. Almost all of my friends still support me to this day.
From the mental ward, I got on a waiting list at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sexual Health, which ultimately helped me understand many things about myself, pedophilia, and how professionals see a sexual attraction to children. These are professionals, by the way, that are affiliated with the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) and international organization dedicated to keeping children safe. They treat anti-contact pedophiles, child sex offenders (both preferential and non-preferential), victims, and people with other kinds of sexual behavior issues. Making their program work was a difficult commute, but well worth the time and money spent.
So, I feel I can speak to what kind of help a pedophile might expect by coming forward to professionals, and how professionals see mandatory reporting laws (at least in the state of Minnesota). My therapy consisted of individual meetings, and meetings with a group of people from a variety of backgrounds.
The remainder of this post contains descriptions of harmful thoughts that may be triggering for some people. Be prepared to stop reading if you need to.
Part One: Seeing That I Was Not Alone
The first part of the process was meeting other people who had an attraction to children, or were victims of sexual abuse (often both), who chose to be a part of the support group. I say process, because each person was in very different places with their mental health, and each person was there to support others, as well as get their own needs met. These were people I became close to, some of whom completed the therapy program, some of whom were still there when I completed what I wanted to accomplish.
There is an age-old cliche in mental health of telling people they are not alone, and I can say from experience, it is one thing to hear that, and another to see it in action with people relating to what I shared. Seeing first-hand that I am not the only pedophile who wanted help, nor the only sex abuse survivor, and to see survivors talking about their experiences, and everyone being able to relate to each other, was very powerful. It helped me break the notion that no one could understand what I was going through.
Part Two: Tackling Attraction And All Its Delusions
One of the hardest parts was looking at the different ways I was telling myself untrue things about myself, like everyone would hate me if they knew that a sexual abuse survivor was wrestling with a sexual attraction to children. Couple that with the other ideas and patterns I had… like beating myself up when I am angry, hurt, or annoyed with someone… thinking that everything is falling apart… thinking I am a failure that cannot do anything right… that I am not good enough… that no one will understand me… that I need to tackle my emotions on my own… that I need to annoy people to make sure they care and will not leave me…
None of these thoughts are helpful. Not communicating when I am feeling strong emotions is a recipe for the emotion getting stronger and does not help me deal with it. All these lies I tell myself blur the line between reality and my brain, and make it very difficult to not be depressed and anxious.
So, naturally, taking a look at my attractions involved a similar look at the things I was telling myself that were not true… that I was a monster for liking children… that I would inevitably hurt a child… that everyone would hate me if they knew… that no one could love a pedophile… that pedophilia is something I could change if I tried hard enough… none of these really addressed the reality that I do have a sexual attraction to children, and no, I cannot change it.
So, psychologically, I was a mess because I believed a lot of very harmful, very degrading things about myself. Changing some of those beliefs took time, and a long process of looking at and determining how I can challenge these beliefs. Sometimes, it was asking people for help (something no man in America is ever supposed to do, by the way, so that by itself was a challenge). Sometimes, it was by writing things out.
Part Three: Planning For Safety
The final part of therapy was putting all of what I was learning about myself and how to change what I believed into action. In other words, it was about how to care for myself when these triggering thoughts came up, and what I could do to challenge them and see myself more accurately. Some of it was addressing specific situations and what I could do to avoid the thoughts and triggers in the first place. Some of it involved looking at what emotions come up on a regular basis for me, and finding ways to avoid having those emotions come up. Some of it is looking at situations that lead to the thinking, and making sure those situations do not come up.
Regardless of the specific plan, the important thing for me was knowing my personal issues and risks and what led to the thinking that puts me in a risky mental state for beating myself up, thinking I am a monster, and that sort of thing. It was not about trying to deny my attractions, or beat myself up more for having them, it was about making sure my needs were met and my thinking was clear.
A Word About Sexual Attraction
Some might be wondering what the guidance was as far as my attractions to children were concerned.
For my situation, I needed to address the reality of things I could and could not change. My attractions are something I cannot change. What I do in response to them, however, can change. Rather than beating myself up for having fantasies, I was guided to accept them as separate from reality and move on with my day. While the ability to have a fantasy without feeling guilt or shame took some time, it is possible, and it is healthier because I ultimately spend less time thinking about my attractions and about children as a whole.
What I found was that giving the attractions less energy by accepting them, embracing them even, I ultimately spent less time thinking about children in sexual ways, so that of course makes things easier on me, and makes me less of a risk. Provided I see the distinction between fantasy and reality (which is not difficult), there is no reason for therapists — or me — to be concerned about my attractions.
A Word About Mandatory Reporting
Mandatory reporting was not something I easily understood at the beginning of therapy. My impression at the beginning was that if I shared my fears that I would hurt a child, I would go to jail. However, the reality was, they would only involve the police if I was afraid of hurting a specific child, in other words, the fear itself was not enough, they would need to be aware of a specific situation involving harm or the imminent risk of harm to a specific child in a specific location.
While mandatory reporting laws vary by location, it is safe to say that a psychologist who understands pedophilia and has worked with victims, abusers, and non-offending pedophiles, will be very familiar with what kinds of things make someone a risk for hurting a child, and thus be able to more accurately understand and apply the mandatory reporting requirements as they fit an individual’s situation. Even psychologists who are less familiar with pedophilia, sex abuse, and related issues can accurately apply the reporting requirements and refrain from outing a pedophile to the police simply for their attractions.
While not every psychologist is the same, and vetting psychologists is important to ensure they will treat you professionally, it is safe to say that the majority of professionals understand the consequences of outing someone in that manner, just as the police understand the consequences of making false arrests.
My professional therapy did not involve telling me to avoid fantasies. It did not involve a lot of discussion around risk, beyond emotion, situations, and the specific thoughts that were unhealthy for me. It involved directly addressing the negative thinking and looking at the reality that harming a child is a choice, and one I can choose not to make. I think professional therapy can seem a lot scarier for a pedophile as they are looking at it, and not every pedophile needs therapy to address the thoughts and beliefs that are not healthy for them. Many do just fine in support communities like Virtuous Pedophiles.
So, for pedophiles out there, I would say write down the ideas that make you upset. Talk to people about those ideas and get support with them. Yes, ask for help. Involve a therapist if you do not think things are getting better, and do some homework into organizations that can help.
For people that tell pedophiles to get help with their attractions… understand that those who do that will not hear what you might think they will hear from professionals who specialize in these subjects. Pedophilia is not something that can be changed with current science, and herding pedophiles onto an outcast island is neither realistic nor moral. Killing them, even more so. The best way to help pedophiles is not to bully them, silence them, troll them, isolate them, or hate them.
The best way to help pedophiles is to show compassion and support them.