_ Beyond Choice & Reason _
Choice. To anyone from any walk of life or school of thought, choice is sacred. Ask a scientist and they might go into the specifics of the neo-cortex and how this part of the brain – unique to mammals – gives us the ability to act beyond an automated set of responses determined by the instinct simply to survive and think before we react to any given situation. Turn to religion and a Christian might delve into the gift of freewill bestowed unto man by god. Look to history and the civil rights movement shows us that the act of choosing can be equated to freedom and equality – whether it be choosing where you study or which seat you take on a bus. Choice is the humanising and individualising factor that makes a person a person. To anyone from any walk of life or school of thought, choice is sacred.
As important as it is to recognise an individual’s autonomy and freedom to make a decision, it is also essential to recognise that there are some things intrinsic to our identity that cannot be chosen.
Take sexuality for example. Something that the gay pride movement’s decades of struggle has taught the world: sexuality is not a choice – just as much as it isn’t learnt, it cannot be un-learnt or, to put it in more vulgar terms, ‘cured’. This is a paradigm that much of society now proudly embraces. Just as much as we respect the fact that homosexuals did not choose their sexual orientation, we respect how they might choose to act upon it. This extends into heterosexuality or bisexuality. Even in trans-sexuality where, though physical gender is now something which can be chosen, the inner, emotional side to it is something which is out of our control thus why someone might chose to go through a physical sex change.
And so in an age where equality and acceptance are venerated, we are ever more willingly fighting to defend the rights of, and to understand, those who find their sexual orientation and identity lying outside of the confines of heterosexuality. That is, at least, as long as the attraction transcends the limitations traditionally imposed by gender. When it comes to age, on the other hand, we are faced with some discomfort yet to be as suitably addressed in our newly liberalised take on human relationships.
The word paedophile has come to trigger within society an uninhibited and no less than passionate disdain for anyone so wretched to have reduced himself to being labelled with the term. Today it is almost unanimously agreed upon that to view or engage in sexual activity with a minor is as grotesque as it is inhumane – and rightly so. A person who has not yet reached the physical or mental maturity to decide for themselves whether they are ready, or even truly understand what it means to delve into the vast spectrum of intimacies, emotions and fetishes that sex and sexuality entails should not be prematurely lured into it.
And as such, surely any person that chooses to become a predator to those who are sexually immature should be condemned to our hate and their denunciation? Arguably so. But what of those paedophiles that choose not to become the predator? Does a paedophile even have the capacity for such morality?
At the early stages of the internet before the existence of Virped and similar forums, Sammy sought comfort and reassurance in pro-contact forums: online chat groups that openly advocate and encourage sexual activity with minors. “I was pretty brainwashed… they forced me to find some kind of solace somewhere where people understood. They taught me that, yes, people do fall in love with children, and that it’s okay. This was very good to hear, but yeah, some other fucked up messages came along with it. I never believed in their rhetoric strongly enough to act upon it in real life, but I did feel I owed them. They saved my life, after all.”
In a quiet corner of the internet there exists an anonymous community of men and women who admit to being sexually attracted to children. They call themselves Virtuous Pedophiles – or Virped for short. They did not choose their sexuality, but, just like heterosexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals or transsexuals, they found their sexual orientation simply to be a part of who they were at some stage in their sexual development. Though each of them may have taken very different paths of self-discovery, what unifies them is their choice never to deviate into any form of illicit interaction with a minor. What’s more is that the majority of these people, despite their natural urges, have never even gone so far as to consider it an option.
Just as all other types of sexual orientations work within a spectrum, paedophilia is not black and white. The members of Virped all have variations in their exact sexual preferences – being attracted to a minor does not mean that you necessarily have an attraction to all people under the age of sixteen. The attraction is gender and age specific: a paedophile’s age of attraction or AoA lies within a specific range, say between four and eight or twelve to sixteen. Moreover the attraction is almost invariably towards only one gender. What’s more is that this AoA can often span over into adulthood. Many of the members of the forum have a spouse to whom they are genuinely attracted – both physically and emotionally, and these relationships are often very healthy and loving.
Of course there are also those who do not have the option to express their sexual desire. Exclusive paedophiles constitute a large proportion of Virped’s community and are the greatest victim to the most difficult issue faced by all of its members, whether exclusively attracted to children or not: isolation.
Many members of Virped do not necessarily express much of a struggle in keeping their attraction under control: this is something that they have a fair grasp over, and something which the Virped community is effective in providing support for. More commonly the struggle lies simply and tragically in the fact that non-offending paedophiles have almost nowhere besides the internet to turn once they discover that they are attracted to minors. The stigma created by the label of paedophilia means today that thousands of people around the world keep their attraction hidden from friends and family – often rendering them overwhelmingly depressed and isolated. Seeking therapy can be an option – but a risky one. The alarming lack of any formal study into non-offending paedophilia means that the majority of therapists have a very one-sided view of what it means to be a paedophile – a view generated by what is presented to them in the media as opposed to any kind of evidence-based clinical practice. This often leads to someone coming out as a paedophile being turned away or reported to the police without questioning whether they pose any harm to a child.
Steve opening up the church in preparation for an AA-styled course that he runs to help locals with problems such as addiction and depression. As a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Steve centres his life on religion. Last year he finished building this church himself with the help of his family, local community and other members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Sammy walking through his local arts centre. “It may seem weird, but I also kind of feel like a girl. When I was 10, I wanted to be a girl. I told one friend about this. He turned out to be gay, which is kind of fitting considering that he’d asked me if I would then ‘like boys’. I said no, that I would still like girls. He dismissed the idea, which made me feel very isolated as well. It was harder for me to get over this than it was to get over the paedophilia. Very strange, but it’s the truth. I own it now. I love Frozen. I like to sing it. In fact, I love to sing, though I like to sing pretty. I adore the ballet. Cute things make me want to squeal or squeeze it sometimes. These are all very feminine traits, as I see it.”
If you are turned away by the people that are supposed to provide support and a safe space, then where can you go? Some, like Sammy, end up finding comfort within the disillusioned philosophy of pro-contact forums: online chat groups that openly advocate and encourage sexual activity with minors. ‘I found a site called the Pedophile Liberation Front. Basically a lot of the message was similar to Virped – you don’t need to feel [bad] because you have an attraction. Yet there was also this other message saying kids are sexual beings too. Their message was that society is oppressing children for not being able to be with adults – which is obviously insane.’
Though he could separate his moral beliefs from his sexual urges, what kept Sammy involved with these communities before finding Virped was simply that there was someone out there who could identify with him. ‘There was a comfort knowing that there really were other people who felt (though not necessarily thought) the same way as me. I’d never talked to anyone before going to these forums who understood anything that I felt. But one of the first things that I read on the forums was about falling in love with a child and I was like “That’s something that can happen? In the outside world? It’s a real thing? It’s not just me?” They helped in a lot of ways, but there was a lot of ambivalence because a lot of those members used that as a pretext to abuse children. They recruited people into their group so that they wouldn’t feel so fucked up. It wasn’t sinister – what they wanted was validation because they knew what they were doing was not great.’
Sammy was lucky. Even during the times that he was involved with pro-contact forums, he had the head strength never to fully indulge his urges despite the bombardment of years of extreme rhetoric. There are many who aren’t so strong, but could have been given the chance to be, had they felt there was an opportunity to come out in a safe and understanding environment. In turn that could have resulted in the prevention of a child being sexually abused.
This is not only why Virped is so important in supporting those who recognise an attraction to minors in themselves, but also why it is so important to recognise that the paedophilia does not come hand in hand with sexual abuse. Recognising that someone is not a monster when they admit to being a paedophile is the first step to helping them find the right support and thereby reducing any risk that there may or may not have been in that person eventually abusing a child.
To non-offending paedophiles, choice is sacred. It’s the humanising factor that can allow them to live comfortably with an attraction that they never chose for themselves. Understanding paedophilia is not simply about understanding that it is a sexual orientation just like any other: be it heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or asexuality. To understand it is first to recognise the difference between attraction and action. Non-offenders do not seek to normalise or advocate sexual practices with those to whom they are attracted. Their pursuit is of societal acceptance and support – which will only come as a result of a gradual collective understanding of the true nature of their sexuality.
Sammy shaves in preparation for another of dozens of interviews he has gone through in recent weeks. The final rediscovery of his attraction came as a result of falling in love with the daughter of his ex-wife’s sister, both of whom had moved in with them for several years. He would smoke marijuana in order to suppress the attraction, which lead to an addiction. He was recently fired from his job after coming out as positive in a drug test he had to take after being promoted.
While on a trip to visit his daughter, Steve has arranged to meet Sammy – another member of Virped forum who he has known for several years but only now for the first time has had the opportunity to meet.
Steves’s home that he built himself ten years ago. Retired and living in a quiet town in Oregon, he is relatively comfortable with being open about his attraction to minors, proclaiming himself to be “probably the most out paedophile in the world”.
Steve is married to recently retired medical professional, Lucy. Having been married for almost ten years, Steve came out to her as being sexually attracted to young girls four years ago. Steve and Lucy visit Steve’s sister and brother-in-law on the journey back from the airport. “My wife, sisters, children, other relatives, and many friends accept my attraction as long as I don’t act on it. Only mental health professionals have mistreated me.”
Steve (59), a regular contributor to Virtuous Paedophiles (Virped), is sexually attracted to 6 to 12-year-old girls. As is the case with the vast majority cases of people who find themselves with the attraction, Steve has been aware it since around the age of twelve. “The forums are helpful in reducing the risk of acting on my urges, even though I don’t consider myself at great risk. I came to an egosyntonic acceptance of my pedophilia without ever acting on it or being distressed by it.”
Steve stopping for gas on the way to pick up his wife Lucy from the airport on the 5-hour drive to Sacramento airport- “I always like to save a buck where I can.”
“I still feel very much like a child. There is undoubtedly a link to my paedophilia in relation to this. I’ve always liked video games and the like because it’s very kid-like and it brings you into this head-space where the adult world doesn’t really matter as much. I always felt more comfortable around younger children when I was still a child myself because I always liked to be the one to impress them and show them ways about the world that they didn’t know. When I became an actual adult in my twenties, kids started to look at me differently and that was difficult at first for me. The subtle unconscious ways in which they interact with you change because in their minds you’re not in the group.”
Alexander McBride Wilson
With a bachelor’s degree in Classical Civilisation and German from The University of Nottingham, London-based photographer, Alex, has turned an interest in photography into a medium with which he communicates his curiosity for those that live on the fringes of society.
Check his work here: www.alexandermcbridewilson.com
Follow Alex on insta: @mcbridewilson