Paedophile: Misleading language & child sexual abuse

cross-posted from Everyday Victim Blaming

orig, pub. 21.11.15

We have become increasingly concerned about the (mis)use of the word ‘paedophile’, particularly on social media. We wanted to write a short and succinct piece about the problems with using this word, and we’ve referred to Prof Liz Kelly’s piece Weasel Words: Paedophiles and the Cycle of Abuse and the Child & Women Abuse Studies website.

It has become clear that the term ‘paedophile’ is now most commonly used to collectively describe child sexual abusers. It seems to refer to a type of abuser – usually one who is abusing children outside of the familial setting, the ‘loner’ with uncontrollable sexual urges, who appears ‘different’ to others within the community.

One issue with this is the assumption that most abuse takes place outside the family. This is not the case. Children are most at risk from adults who are in a family caring role – usually fathers or step fathers. The description of ‘paedophile’ is a move away from those men we know are most likely to abuse – our fathers, grandfathers, brothers, family friends. They are the men sharing our lives and and this term takes us into the more comfortable place of ‘other’. It presumes a fundamental difference between men who sexually abuse children and ‘ordinary’ men; a difference that does not exist in reality.

The dichotomy of ‘paedophile’ vs ‘ordinary men’ is a dangerous one. Ordinary men are the ones abusing children. Generally, these men do not only have a sexual attraction to children. These men have wives and partners and girlfriends and maintain successful sexual relationships with adults as well as abusing children.

Using the clinical definition of paedophile, that of these men only having a sexual interest in children, stops us looking at strategies of abusers. These strategies are the same regardless of whether the abuser fits the clinical definition. Abusers choose the children they abuse and they make a deliberate attempt not to get caught – they make strategic decisions in order to facilitate abuse. The ‘paedophile’ discourse prevents us from discussing this and also helps the abusers avoid responsibility.

Describing men who sexually abuse children in this way focuses on their ‘deviance’ – an ‘abnormality’, a ‘sickness’. It stops us looking at men’s entitlement, the notions of ownership and we lose the option to talk about choice & responsibility for our own abusive actions. If ‘paedophilia’ is thought of in these terms, we become distracted away from the real issue, which is actually one of ordinariness.

Abusing others is a choice, as is not abusing others. If we use terms that allow abusers to say ‘I can’t help myself’, what does that say about the likelihood of preventing child sexual abuse? Child sexual abusers describe themselves as such; using terms preferred by abusers means we collude by using their language. We must challenge the notions of ownership, sexuality (especially that of men) and ensure that choice and agency of abusers is acknowledged and discussed. Othering them into ‘paedos’ or ‘sickos’ prevents that.

Let us call them what they are – sexual abusers of children or child rapists.

Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]: This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children.  We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violent and abusive towards women and children.  We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.  We challenge media reports of cases of violence against women and children where there is an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts.  Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate. This is what we are campaigning to change. @EVB_Now

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