Why Pedophilia Is Evil

However it is defined, pedophilia is wrong; but beyond that, it is evil. In a deeply disturbing trend in the last few decades, pedophilia apologists have tried to soft-pedal the condemnation of this horrible crime and criminal ideation. They are very wrong. Here is why.

Prefatory notes, July 13, 2019—I wrote the first draft of the following essay about the horror of pedophilia in late 2016 or early 2017 and posted it on Medium and Quora, where it got quite a bit of attention. Since I deleted my accounts on those sites last winter, this essay (and a number of others) have been unavailable. But I want this and a number of other essays to keep circulating, so I will be posting them here on my blog. The following essay in particular seems important in light of the Jeffery Epstein imbroglio.

But it was not the Epstein case, or any particular case, that originally led me to write about pedophilia. It was, rather, a long-standing interest in applied ethics in general, together with the (to me) jaw-droppingly incredible fact that people defend pedophiles. (As was the case with philosopher G.E. Moore, a lot of my philosophical writing is basically in reaction to absurd positions that other people take.) When I first encountered this rhetorical phenomenon in 2002—that was when pedophiles first descended upon Wikipedia—I simply could not believe it. My naive incredulity disappeared through repeated encounters with pedophiles in connection with Wikipedia. In fact, I came to believe I had an obligation to do at least a little something about it, which is why I reported Wikimedia Commons’ pedophilia pages to the FBI in 2010 (which took no action that I know of).

All that said, this is no more a pet cause than any others in applied ethics. I have also written about the evils of murder, racism, antivitism (a neologism of mine), censorship, violations of privacy, and other topics in applied ethics. I especially like my essay on “Our Moral Abyss.”

I have rewritten the essay slightly, and follow it with some replies that I made to comments by real, live pedophiles (they are online and quite shameless, in fact) that I hope will clarify my arguments.

Updated again December 6, 2019.

The word “pedophilia” has two senses. I want to defend the thesis that pedophilia in both senses is not just “bad” but deeply evil. This is not a thesis about either psychology or the law, but instead about morality.

Everyone seems to agree that the word can mean (a) sexual attraction to prepubescent children (or, sometimes, any children below the age of consent). This is the clinical definition. But we often more colloquially use the word to mean (b) actual sex with children, i.e., what is more correctly described as child sexual abuse or (these mean the same) child rape.1

It is distressing how poorly the evil of pedophilia seems to be understood. When I first sat down to write this essay, I was shocked at how little was available online explaining why it is evil. So I wish to make this quite clear, beginning with (b) actual sex with children. The evil of the act is easier to explain, and the evil of the criminal ideation ultimately depends on the evil of the act.

The moral horror of child rape

The rape of children2 is a horrific evil because it traumatizes the child for life. In this regard, it may be compared to torture and rape of adults; even after the act is over, it continues to wound. It fills the child with undeserved shame and low self-esteem for life. For some adult survivors, this pain becomes so unbearable that they take their own lives. It can permanently alter—pervert—the child’s understanding of sex. Some suffer, and that is the right word, from hypersexuality (sometimes called “nymphomania”), and some become completely closed off to all sexual relationships. Horrifyingly, it also makes victims more likely to become abusers when they grow up—perpetuating what has been called a “cycle of abuse.”

Child sexual abuse is an act so damaging and degrading, and at the same time so shockingly selfish, that it deserves to be called evil, if anything is evil: for some moments of pleasure, the adult causes the child life-long trauma.

So the immediate moral horror, the physical shock, and the pain of the act itself often give way to a lifetime of psychological suffering and dysfunction. The act of child sexual abuse is horrifyingly harmful. It is an act so damaging and degrading, and at the same time so shockingly selfish, that it deserves to be called evil, if anything is evil: for some moments of pleasure, the adult causes the child life-long trauma.3

I want to assert very clearly and forcefully that anyone who presumes to evaluate the morality of child sexual abuse without discussing the horrible facts about these consequences is, by that omission, perpetuating the evil. The proper moral evaluation of child rape absolutely requires confronting its appalling consequences. That is why we must condemn those pedophile advocates who want to speak only about positive experiences with children—as if such were really possible—and who do not discuss the more typical and probable trauma the act causes. Even if the probability of trauma were relatively slight, the severity of the harm can be so extreme that the act is simply not justifiable.

Indeed, one of the most shocking indications of just how extreme the trauma caused to children by rape is the fact that it can result in dissociative identity disorder (once known as “multiple personality disorder”).

In any event, every discussion of the subject should make unequivocally clear that sex with underaged children is a horrific evil and is intolerable. Unfortunately, ignorance has meant that pedophilia is not understood widely enough to be the terrible evil that it is. But, however defined, shameless advocates of pedophilia really do exist and can be found all over the Internet, as I will explain below (and, I am afraid, as can be seen in the comments section of this essay; but I respond point-by-point in every case). So, for the sake of those who might be at all confused on this point, it is incumbent on the rest of us make it quite clear.

Another shockingly incorrect stance on this topic is that sex with prepubescent children is wrong only when the child “does not consent.” We may reply that legally, children cannot consent, of course. Sex with prepubescent children is always to be considered rape. This is for good reason: children are not capable of consenting, because they do not understand the nature of the sex act or its consequences. But I think a stronger reply is this: the trauma described above will happen whether or not “consent” seems to be given by the child. Anyone using such phrases as “if the child consents” is using the language of pedophilia apology and is very highly suspect. It is, after all, the design of many confirmed, repeat pedophiles to groom children to win their “consent.” No one ought to credit what a child says in such a sickening situation; blame falls every bit as much on the raping adult as in the case in which the child says “no” and resists.

Some philosophers and theologians might take issue with what I have written so far, in a subtle way, and I want to tip my hat to them here.4 While they agree that child rape has horrible consequences, they would insist that reference to those circumstances is hardly necessary to establish that it is evil. To bring this point out, I invite you to imagine the case of an older child being “in love” with an adult and, after much grooming, she is just starting to be seriously abused, believing herself to enjoy it—just as an asteroid destroyed the world. There were no bad consequences. So, was any harm done to the girl?

It seems obvious to me that a harm was done. The act itself is harmful, independently of the consequences. We, assuming an ahistorical, God’s-eye perspective on the situation, need not consider the consequences as we consider what (mercifully briefly) transpired; imagine the girl’s parents (in heaven, since the world is gone) considering it. They would be horrified on her behalf. It hardly matters what her attitude was or whether she was immediately psychologically traumatized. To the question, “Why is it considered wrong?” they answer, “It just is.” That, anyway, is the approach of deontologists to many moral questions: right and wrong are so independent of consequences, and it is simply obvious that sex is wrong if a person lacked the maturity to consent.

As deontologists might well point out here, this is why the law punishes statutory rape regardless of actual consequences, after all.

There are other (consequentialist) reasons why sex with children is wrong. Children can be physically injured by sex—there are cases in which small children died of injuries sustained from abuse. It can result in pregnancy among pubescent girls as young as 11 or 12. STDs can be contracted by both boys and girls, which only compounds the horror. Child rape is one of the most egregious violations of the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit. It deeply damages families and family life. And of course it is against the law, and age of consent laws exist for very good reasons, as I hope I have explained.

But it gets worse. There is a dimension of the evil of child rape that bears special mention: as with young women, children can be and are enslaved and sold for sex throughout the world. In general, the practice of child rape as well as the defense of pedophilia have the horrible consequences of supporting this slave trade. It is estimated that perhaps hundreds of thousands of children—many young teens—are sold into sexual slavery, incorrectly described as “prostitution,” every year in the U.S., and two million globally.

Child sex trafficking pedophiles: the wealthy Jeffrey Epstein and the famous Jimmy Savile.

The normalization of pedophilia, therefore, supports not only individual instances of child rape, but an entire $99 billion-per-year sex trafficking industry; compare the movie industry, which earned $43 billion in the U.S. in 2017. We are battling not just an individual crime, but organized crime. Certain evil men and women do not merely rape children; they form organizations to buy and sell children for sex. That of course compounds what is already an unthinkable horror.

But it gets even worse. There are multiple instances of child sex trafficking rings not just among the lower classes, but among the richest and most powerful eschelons as well. One needs only to investigate the cases of Jeffrey Epstein, Jimmy Savile, the NXIVM cult, the DEN pedophile ring, and many more.

When I first drafted this essay, I thought pedophilia was mainly a criminal and moral issue. But I now understand it to be one of the most pressing civic issues of our age. It is crucial that we make no excuses for pedophilia. We must come to understand it for the horrific evil that it is.

One sometimes hears that the word “pedophilia” applies only to desire for sex with pre-pubescent children, and that sex with older children is better called “hebephilia” and “ephebophilia” depending on the age. One can draw this distinction, but narrowing the scope of the term has little moral import. That is precisely why the word “pedophilia” continues to be popularly used as a general term. It applies to the crime of sex with the too-young in general. Let us be quite clear. The moral horror can attach just as much—or nearly as much, anyway—to sex with teens as with small children. One ex-offender confessed, in response to this blog, to the profound damage that he had done to the life of a 16-year-old girl. Plenty of women bravely revealed the great harm done to them, when they were teen girls, by Jeffrey Epstein and his elite cadre of rapists (we still, as of 2021, do not know precisely who they are). The suggestion that what happened to them is not bad enough to be tarred with the brush of “pedophilia” is beneath contempt.

Illustration by Winsor McCay: let us agree that sex trafficking is “the shame of civilization.”

An evil mental disorder

Some writers demand that everyone use the words “pedophilia” and “pedophile” according to senses defined by psychiatrists. But, just as we may opt not to extend our everyday use of “fruit” to tomatoes, even though biologists tell us they are fruit, so we may opt to continue to use these words in their popular senses.

As a philosopher, i.e., someone trained in the definition of concepts and argumentation over how to apply words, I want to advise the opposite: you may and should continue to use these words as you always have, at least in most contexts. A pedophile, in this popular sense, is someone who sexually abuses children, or who tries to do so, or who wants to. To be clear, I am not saying that these ought to be the scientific or clinical uses of the terms. I am saying that the everyday use, which I am discussing here and which is catalogued in many dictionary definitions, need not mirror the clinical use.

The medicalization of a condition clearly does not preclude its moral evaluation. Pedophilia is the best example: it has been medicalized, and yet it is obviously a horribly wrong attitude to take, which must be stamped out.

But now let us discuss the clinical sense: the desire to have sex with children. This, too, is a moral evil.

Some will bristle at the mere claim that this “clinical condition” is evil. They act as if the fact that psychologists write about, and treat, pedophilia means that, since pedophilia is just a medical condition, it is off-limits for moral evaluation. This argument is so obviously fallacious that it actually serves better as a reductio of the premise; in other words, the medicalization of a condition clearly does not preclude its moral evaluation. Pedophilia is the best example: it has been medicalized, and yet it is obviously a horribly wrong attitude to take, which must be stamped out. Just because psychiatrists, who do whatever is necessary to eliminate a condition, adopt what sounds like a nonjudgmental stance, it hardly follows that we need do so as well.

After all, consider what we are talking about here: desiring and fantasizing about sex with children, also called child rape. The word for such thoughts is criminal ideation, as psychiatrists sometimes speak of homicidal ideation.

Others will say that mere desires obviously cannot be morally evaluated. Among the people who write about this subject, it is a less popular stance to say the desire and not just the act is evil. But in fact most of us are perfectly willing to place the label “evil” on it. No polls are available, but doubtless a large majority would find pedophilic ideation to be “evil.”

I do not, of course, present this as an argument for the claim that desire for sex with children is evil. But it does put into a sobering context the practice of some—which is frankly bizarre and disturbing—to treat pedophilia as merely a psychiatric disorder, as if it were not a very deeply serious problem for other people as well. Let us grant that pedophilia, in the sense of desire for sex with children, is indeed a psychiatric disorder; there seems nothing well-ordered about it. But most of us simply could not care in the slightest that it is a psychiatric disorder, i.e., we do not care that there is something wrong with the brains of pedophiles, except insofar as such people pose a threat to our children. Pedophilia as a disorder per se rightly strikes us as a threat, and such a monstrous threat that it is evil.

So, yes, well spotted, pedophilia is a disorder. But that is not incompatible with our condemning it as something quite evil, and not just a clinical condition like, say, high blood pressure. I do so condemn it, and so should we all.

Why are we talking about sympathy, again?

I do not mean to say I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for the psychological condition of a person who wakes up one day finding himself wanting to violate little boys and girls. It is, rather, that I prioritize the health of families and communities far above whatever pain an illicit desire might cause such a person. In fact, the priority of the former is so much greater that I can say that the only significant reason that most of us need care about the mental health of a pedophile is that, through caring, we might perhaps prevent child sexual abuse. There is no other important reason. It might well turn out in some cases that strong moral condemnation, rather than sympathy, would motivate pedophiles to rid themselves of their desire more effectively.

We may draw an analogy with people who want very badly to rape women. They fantasize about it, they watch rape porn, they might have come close at times. Some have actually done it, although others have never done it. Call such a person a rapeophile. That is a label we might place under an extreme form of a DSM-5 category, sexual sadism disorder. Now, if pedophilia is a mental disorder, I think it is safe to say that rapeophilia is one too. To be sure, being a rapeophile might cause a person great mental anguish; it certainly should. But in this situation, whom do I care more about: the rapeophile, or women who might possibly be in danger from the rapeophile? Obviously, the latter — even if the rapeophile has never acted on his desires. And rapeophilia constitutes criminal ideation, of course: would we not, in an age in which the Establishment fights against “rape culture,” deem it to be profoundly evil?

Do we care about the violation of innocent children less than we care about the violation of grown women?

How can pedophilia be evil if is beyond a person’s control?

But, some critics will say smugly, you are missing an obvious objection: how can pedophilia be evil if is beyond a person’s control? The short answer is that it is not entirely beyond a person’s control. But first I want to back up a bit.

As a philosophy instructor, I taught undergraduates the common maxim that “ought implies can”: if you ought to do something, you should be able to do it, and similarly, if you must not do something, then you must be free to resist doing it. So, if you cannot help but do a thing, then we cannot say you must not do it; if we ought to restrain ourselves, then it must be the case that we are free to restrain ourselves. Well, then—how can we be obligated to do something that is out of our power?

When psychiatrists inform us that pedophilia is a mental disorder and when certain (I think quite contemptible) activists insist that pedophiles cannot control their desires, these claims are sometimes used to draw the definitely false conclusion that pedophilia, in the psychiatric sense, is not bad.

So I deny the premise. I claim that pedophilia, or the desire to have sex with children, can be controlled.

Another mental disorder

Alcoholism too is a mental disorder and it can be controlled, albeit with great difficulty. That is why I maintain that alcoholism can be quite morally bad, in the following sense. (By the way, many recovering alcoholics agree wholeheartedly with me on this.) All acknowledge that alcoholism is an addiction, and I can concede that it exhibits features of a disease. But this does not absolve anyone caught in the grip of this addiction of any moral obligations. Few would object to the good advice that we should not allow ourselves to sink into that awful swamp in the first place, before the addiction gets that bad. Indeed, we bear a huge obligation to ourselves to avoid it, especially if others in our family were alcoholics. Even if we cannot easily stop ourselves from drinking once we are addicted, we can stop ourselves from overindulging if we are not addicted.

Desires and compulsions are not unalterable facts of nature. This is a profound feature of our lives as moral beings with free will.

Admittedly, once we are addicted, it becomes more understandable if we do not suddenly and heroically de-addict ourselves. Still, even then we bear a very heavy burden—and it is a moral burden, what else?—to lift ourselves out of addiction as well as we can, and, after the fact, we can still be blamed for allowing ourselves to become addicted. Perhaps we are less to be blamed if we are genetically predisposed to such addiction; but there are people with that genetic predisposition who never touch alcohol for that very reason. We have free will. As we exit addiction, we will bear this burden until the addiction no longer afflicts us. Then we will still bear the burden of not letting ourselves sink back into it. To deny these platitudes is to deny both common experience and the reality of free will.

Desires and compulsions are not unalterable facts of nature. This fact is a profound feature of our lives as moral beings with free will; it must not be passed over lightly, much less dismissed. It is entirely unrealistic—as well as cynical and corrupting—to deny the malleability of desire. After all, a great deal of morality and psychiatry both, as well as rehabilitation in criminal justice, are concerned with changing unwelcome desires. To treat desires and compulsions as unchangeable forces of nature is essentially to give up on moral improvement, psychiatric recovery, and criminal rehabilitation.

Universal experience teaches that intense desires rarely arrive full-blown in our heads. They creep in, as it were, experienced as mere possibilities. We consider them, perhaps briefly, musing. If something is quite taboo — for example, murder, incest, or uttering certain forbidden words and thoughts — then most of us will drop the idea immediately, and the desire has little chance to germinate.

Let us suppose there is a person who, for whatever reason, has unusually weak self-control. If this person finds himself with a desire, he has no filters to rein it in; it does not occur to him that he should not reject it. Instead, he nurses his desire. He thinks about it. He considers and discusses with himself; he imagines; he plans, but without acting on the plans.

Suppose that person is a pedophile.

The pedophile then, finally, decides that he has a problem, that it might be wrong for him to have these desires. Is such a person not morally culpable, foolish at least if not actually evil, for allowing such desires to fester unchecked? Why would he not be? Think about any illicit or undesirable desire you might have had in the past — for dessert, game time, social media, porn, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or whatever your vice might be. It can be hard to stop yourself from indulging in bad habits, especially if they are quite addictive. But do you not also remember when you developed those bad habits, and when you could have much more easily reined them in?

Why should the desire for sex with children be any different? Do not just claim that it is different; explain very carefully how and why it is different. It is not.

Someone might argue that I am comparing bad habits like overeating or drinking too much alcohol — and those are actions — with an undesirable desire, which a pedophile does not act on ever. If he or she never indulges the desire, why think the mere desire is bad?

The desire is horrific, because it might lead to a horrific action. Would we not also be horrified by a big man with poor self-control who confessed that he had recently started thinking, constantly, about raping women?

This is not the zinger of an argument the pedophile’s defenders think it is. The thoughts are bad, of course, because the very people who lack the self-control to order their thoughts also, often, lack the self-control to restrain the behavior that the desire would lead to. We do not leave children alone with people who confess that they have pedophilic desires, because desires might lead to action.

So there is an easy answer. The desire is horrific, because it might lead to a horrific action. Would we not also be horrified by a big man with poor self-control who confessed that he had recently started thinking, constantly, about raping women? I certainly would be. And why? Because he might start actually acting on his thoughts. Should we ignore his desires because they are “just desires”?

This is the main reason, then, that pedophilia in the clinical sense is horrifically evil: it can, and sometimes does, lead to a horrifically evil action. It is idle and sophomoric to insist that, after all, it might not lead to that action. A person who lets such an evil desire fester and grow strong has for that very reason demonstrated a lack of self-control. The risk is significant, and it is a risk of a great evil.

Let me consider one final reply. What if someone claims to have this desire but that it is fully under control — that he would never rape a child, and would only ever fantasize. Putting aside worries about the risk, surely mere fantasizing hurts no one.

Well, no; it is not fantasizing per se that makes pedophilia so evil. It is, first and foremost, the risk. Anyone who is so out-of-control as to permit these feelings to fester in himself is a risk, so far as the rest of us know, no matter what he may say. And while the fantasizing considered just by itself (without regard to its consequences) might not hurt anyone, it certainly does increase the risk.

Pedophilic feelings have other ill effects. They can cause someone to go looking for child pornography, which creates a market for actual child rape. Even drawn child molestation can increase the chances of a desire for the real thing, thereby creating a market. After all, if a pedophile enjoys looking at drawn pictures of children being molested, surely he or she might get even more excitement from actual photographs.

It is also an undesirable desire because the pedophile must never act on it. It is, for that reason, in addition to be horrifically evil, also irrational.

We should not ignore the horrible effects on the soul or character of the pedophile that indulging pedophilic thoughts has. Imagine trying to have normal relationships with children, and even adults—especially adults with children—if a person is regularly imagining abuse and rape of children. Ideas and thoughts have profound consequences on character. What kind of person must you be, and will you become, if you regularly allow yourself to dream of intentionally violating the bodies of innocent, trusting children? There is a real moral horror there, a horror quite independent of external effects.

Let me clarify one last point. In this section I have been arguing that pedophilia, considered simply as a desire for sex with children, is appallingly evil. But I am not saying that psychiatrists or clergy or others who are working directly with pedophiles should be highly judgmental. I have no opinion on that; I suppose psychiatrists should do whatever in their clinical experience reduces the disorder most efficiently and permanently, while remaining humane, of course.5


Stop the pedophilia apology

Online discussions of pedophilia should always clarify how evil child sexual abuse is. So, do they? All too often, they do not. The more typical narrative is that pedophilia is just a feeling, and feelings cannot be controlled, so non-offending pedophiles—”virtuous pedophiles,” in their Orwellian self-description—are not bad. The horrors of abuse, and the fact that “just a feeling” can and too often does lead to abuse, are often not mentioned or quickly passed over. This popular narrative is not only wrong, for reasons I have already explained, it is also quite dangerous.

Even those who acknowledge that child rape is a great evil can unwittingly contribute to this problematic narrative, when they speak as if pedophilic desires were unalterable facts of nature. When a behavior seems to spring from a desire, maybe especially when it is a psychiatric diagnosis, modern commentators and even psychiatrists are in the unfortunate habit of treating the desire or diagnosis as a morally neutral medical condition for which the “patient” is not quite responsible.

To debunk this narrative, the services not of a doctor but of a philosopher are in order. There is a funny thing about free will: the more we believe that something is in our control, the more control we have over it. By contrast, the more we believe that something is out of our control, the less we will be inclined to do anything about it. It is as if a belief in free will gives us free will—more precisely, though, the belief in some ability gives us the willingness to exercise it. And inversely, abandonment of the belief in free will saps your motivation to act contrary to your present inclinations.

Therefore, I am afraid that those who characterize pedophilia as an unchangeable desire are contributing to the very problem of pedophilia. It would be like telling alcoholics that they are not responsible for becoming alcoholics and cannot ever free themselves of their hankering for alcohol, as if their compulsion were doomed to be as strong as it is at its strongest. If they believed that, then why would they even try to beat their addiction? If the rest of us believed that, why would we try to resist the slide into alcoholism in the first place? Just imagine saying something similar aloud to, again, those “rapeophiles”: “It is a shame that you find yourself with a strong compulsion to rape women. But it is not your fault, because it’s just a desire and desires are out of your control. Still, now that you have it, make sure you never act on it.” We cannot imagine anyone with such a complacent attitude in the #MeToo age. Why countenance such an attitude toward those who desire to rape children? Again, are children less worthy of protection than women?

If your illicit desires are absolutely unalterable, you bear no responsibility for them—and then why fight them? This morally enfeebling message is repeated throughout those parts of our decadent culture that reject personal responsibility. Addicts everywhere hear and obey.

Heeding this message too,  many pedophiles regard their condition as just “another sexual orientation” that may be responsibly indulged (i.e., only in fantasy). One can find a sympathetic group for practically anything online, including pedophilia. I am sorry to report that pedophilia propagandists are online, active, and emboldened.

The logo of the “North American Man-Boy Love Association.”

Propaganda produced by pedophiles—and on their behalf—is disturbing. Consider:

  • Media discussions of pedophilia are dominated by pleas that we should “understand” pedophiles first and foremost. Somehow, this will make children safer. Such articles rarely give much attention to the risk of abuse, and they of course never take the position that pedophilia is evil.
  • Establishment sources have tried, over the years, to normalize pedophilia via organizations. Everyone has heard of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA, which still exists and is actually online. NAMBLA’s perhaps most famous member is its co-founder, the lauded poet Allen Ginsberg, and the organization was defended by the ACLU. Incredibly, such “activists” have argued for decades for “age of consent reform,” as if advocacy to abolish one of the most horrific crimes imaginable were somehow “progressive.” Other groups online include “Virtuous Pedophiles” and “Celibate Pedophiles,” who make it their business to defend non-offending pedophiles online. Pedophiles merely have another “sexual orientation”—a position that has been discussed in at least one college course.
  • There are aggressive demands of tolerance of drawn depictions of child molestation , which are  created by and for pedophiles , because it is a “victimless crime.” Never mind that what is depicted is, for all decent people, one of the most heinous of crimes, worse than ordinary rape because it is the rape of children. Never mind that the consumers of such depictions are pedophiles, who derive great pleasure from fantasies of committing this crime, and that, afterwards, they must continue to restrain themselves from committing that crime. Wikipedia documents in remarkable detail the state of the law, globally, governing explicitly drawn child sexual abuse.6
  • Then there is the tone. The tone taken is always high-minded, as if the defenders of pedophiles were better and smarter than you and I. Writers condescendingly chide society for failing to consider that non-offending, long-suffering pedophiles really are a thing. One German program treats pedophiles as “victims, not offenders.” They seem to sneer that we are ignorant of the science, due to our hatred of what is a deep moral evil and societal cancer; the implication is that pedophilia a matter of clinical study and treatment, never moral evaluation, which would be somehow unscientific and reactionary. Of course, the proper response to this is to laugh in disdain at this tone-deaf propaganda.

Such propaganda seeks to normalize pedophilia.

There is one key reason that we as a society should insist that pedophilia constitutes criminal ideation as well as a disorder, that it is horrifically evil: it is that we must take a firm stand against those who would, quite deliberately, try to normalize it. If it is normalized, this state of affairs will embolden all too many of the weak and the malevolent to indulge their desires. Indeed, to the extent that it has already been normalized, the weak and malevolent have already indulged their desires—and they do so with devastating frequency.

Pedophilia must never be normalized. Have no compunctions about calling it evil; it is important that we do call it evil; we prevent this evil from spreading by identifying it as such.

Perhaps, indeed, we do have less to fear from those who are strong-willed enough not to act on their desires. That is all very well, but no one is going to admit to being weak-willed, and malevolence always wears a mask of lies—criminal pedophiles are no different on this score. Faced with criminal charges, many offending pedophiles will pretend to be “virtuous.” For all their talk of virtuous pedophilia, many of the activists and activist researchers writing on this subject seem curiously reluctant to mention vicious pedophiles. In this regard they strike me as being—ironically, but predictably given what they are defending—both unrealistic and irrational. A more realistic and rational view acknowledges that the world is quite filled with weak people, and with far more malevolent people than appears on the surface, and they only too readily indulge their desires when the opportunity arises. Indeed, of course, they go out of their way to give themselves opportunities.

There is no social or individual benefit to be gained from normalizing pedophilia. If there is one thing that deserves to remain taboo, it is this. Pedophilia must never be normalized. Have no compunctions about calling it evil; it is important that we do call it evil; we prevent this evil from spreading by identifying it as such.


One personification of evil

Note: what follows are some replies I made to some real-life pedophiles, who commented on the Medium copy of the above article. I’m not including the pedophiles’ replies because I did not save copies of what they wrote when I left Medium.

Reply #1

This is a reply to a teenage self-confessed pedophile who said he’d never acted on his feelings and that I was very mean for lacking empathy for his plight.

I’m writing so that unformed minds, who might be confused by the likes of you, won’t be. I have absolutely no desire to have “empathy” for pedophiles, any more than I want to have empathy for rapists. Frankly, I think child molestation is considerably worse than rape of adults; it is a truly horrific crime. “Non-Offending Minor Attracted Persons” is no more legitimate than, and no more deserving of empathy, than “Men Who Want to Violently Rape Women But Restrain Themselves.” The only reason to empathize with such a person’s pedophilia is to prevent crime; and the way that crime might be prevented by empathy is not by making the criminal (or would-be criminal) feel better about their criminal ideation but by coming to understand their patterns, motivations, and other things that allow us to (a) catch and punish criminals and (b) aggressively prevent actual child abuse.

If any teen of mine confessed to being sexually attracted to little children, I would (a) explain in great detail why pedophilia is not just a little bit wrong, but horrifically evil (and probably make them read the essay I wrote, and demonstrate excellent understanding of it) and (b) immediately seek professional help from a therapist who agreed with me that pedophilic desires must be treated as criminal ideation, with a goal of eliminating them as much as possible.

It’s silly and absurd to be accused of having a “look-how-morally-upstanding-I-am” tone as I patiently explain how evil pedophilia is. I have also carefully and patiently explained why murder is wrong, and nobody accused me of being self-righteous. That’s because normal people don’t think they’re particularly great because they don’t commit crime. For normal people, that’s just the baseline.

But I will, of course, show no compunctions about telling pedophiles directly and without regret that you are not just “sick,” but deeply morally corrupt, and I don’t mean a little bit or in a hip and edgy way (like, e.g., drug abuse seems to some people), but in a straightforward your-heart-is-black way. Pedophiles are evil. They don’t need empathy. They need therapy in the way that muggers could use rehabilitation — not because we feel sorry for the pedophiles (or muggers), but because society desperately needs them to refrain from their evil behavior. And the notion that pedophilia is a sexual orientation that needs to be normalized is horrifying and beyond obscene.

Reply #2

This is a reply to someone describing himself as a European graduate student in the humanities, who thought he was being clever by making sophistical replies to the arguments in my essay. These are my rebuttals.

Matt, as you are speaking as a pedophilia apologist, and as you are speaking to someone who believes pedophilia (in both senses defined in my original essay) is evil, you have no credibility or authority. So when you adopt a tone of condescension, you merely come across as ridiculous. I’m still laughing at you; you deserve derision and contempt. And this is why I’m not going to reply to your stupid attempts at zingers; they just make you look creepier.

Here are a few replies:

I wrote: “ ‘Non-Offending Minor Attracted Persons’ is no more legitimate than, and no more deserving of empathy, than ‘Men Who Want to Violently Rape Women But Restrain Themselves.”

You responded, irrelevantly: “Exactly how is it not legitimate? Are you suggesting that it is impossible for a pedophile to control their actions? You’ve already argued that they can in your previous article.”

“Rapeophilia” — defined, say, as the exclusive or predominant desire to rape women — is about as legitimate as pedophilia, defined similarly but with regard to children. So imagine someone came up with “Non-Offending Rape Attracted Persons,” or NORAP, and said the various sorts of things about their desire to rape women that you say with regard to attraction to children. They just need help; they shouldn’t be ostracized; they should be “understood”; don’t judge them as a potential rapists because most of them don’t rape; etc. Well, it’s pretty damn obvious that saying these things in defense of a fictional NORAP category is no different from saying similar things in defense of NOMAPs (i.e., pedophiles). Considering that defense of rapeophilia is utterly illegitimate, we can also say that defense of pedophilia is utterly illegitimate.

Now, I’m glad that you at least pay lip service to the notion that pedophiles can control themselves. But I say more than that they can stop themselves from raping children. I say, furthermore, that they bear a heavy burden to deny and rid themselves of their desire to rape children, which they should have denied and repressed the moment it appeared. Instead, they went with it. It is playing with fire to indulge potential criminals by saying that their desire to rape children is a “sexual orientation” on a par with heterosexuality or homosexuality, by saying that there’s nothing wrong with fantasizing, etc. Imagine a group of people, the worst of whom are regular rapists, who say, “There’s nothing morally wrong with people who can only get off on rape fantasies. They can’t control themselves. We should understand them. Some women actually secretly want to be raped, you know — but of course, we believe rape is very, very wrong. (Except, of course, for the people who think it’s just fine, right?)”

You’re not even nearly as clever as you think you are. You’re an idiot. Your bias in favor of people who commit horrific crimes has made you unable to understand basic reasoning. I don’t have many opinions about the best way to rehabilitate pedophiles. I know I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t generally opine about such things. But I do have an opinion about social mores: it should never be an acceptable part of society to encourage adults to accept within themselves their attraction to children. That is, and should remain, one of the strongest taboos we live by. I don’t know or particularly care what therapists say to pedophiles in their therapy sessions.

I also have an opinion about the goal of therapy is the same as the goal of therapy with rapists or alcoholics or drug addicts: to rid themselves of the desire. In this regard, it’s very, very different than the goal of therapy for homosexuals. Most people think we shouldn’t try to “cure” homosexuals; I’m one who thinks we shouldn’t. In that regard, homosexuality can be regarded as a sexual orientation whereas pedophilia and rapeophilia cannot. Similarly, wine tasting and being a whisky connoisseur can be regarded as more or less healthy pastimes; alcoholism isn’t, and alcoholics bear the heavy burden to rid themselves of their compulsion.

  1. Pedophiles sometimes quibble, absurdly, that only sense (a), only the attraction to children, counts as pedophilia; but we hardly need consider the bizarre case in which an adult has sex with a child without feeling sexual attraction to the child. It is reasonable to assume that if sense (b) applies, so does sense (a).[]
  2. I.e., any sex between adults and children. Since, as we will see below, children cannot consent, all such sex constitutes rape.[]
  3. As I put it in my essay on this blog, “A Theory of Evil,” “Evil is contempt for the humanity, the human life, of others.” Child rape is not merely cruel, it evinces contempt for the very humanity of children. Therefore it is a textbook example of evil by my definition.[]
  4. I apologize that earlier versions of this essay neglected to include this point.[]
  5. It is interesting to me, in this connection, that a pedophile wrote a whiny reply to this essay, to which I wrote a scathing answer; he then responded by saying that this harsh judgment was exactly what he needed. Of course, this one case proves little in itself regarding a proper course of treatment.[]
  6. I reported the Wikimedia Foundation to the FBI over such illustrations in 2010, and many people on the group blog Slashdot, for example, roundly condemned my position.[]





Please do dive in (politely). I want your reactions!

61 responses to “Why Pedophilia Is Evil”

  1. deanna

    dr kolawole convicted of numerous images of child pornography on his computer. three months prior to his arrest on this conviction, he was arrested in hamilton ontario for soliciting two girls, ages 13 and 15 and was required to register there as a sex offender.

  2. Johnny

    [EDITOR’S NOTE: I am approving the following disgusting comment in order to respond to it.]

    Pedophilia is not evil. It is a mental disorder. The sufferer is subjected to evil tendencies perhaps, but to say pedophilia itself is evil is like saying Alzheimer’s is evil because it may harm loved ones. Yes the act of child abuse is evil, but the thoughts or subconscious fantasies of a sufferer is not evil.

    I am of the mind that whenever i see someone attack something relentlessly and deeply , it stems from a fear of that person that they may come to enjoy that which they attack. Its akin to putting up mental walls to try to defend yourself from your own potential desires. Detach yourself from those emotions and reevaluate yourself whenever looking into something you are biased against.

    These people need help from society not to be attacked by it.

    1. I’m going to go through this line-by-line, as I find it to be a typical reaction of pedophilia advocates, albeit mercifully brief, and a response might be helpful.

      Pedophilia is not evil. It is a mental disorder.

      This is addressed in the essay at considerable length. The fact that it has been named and characterized as a mental disorder hardly means it is not also evil.

      The sufferer is subjected to evil tendencies perhaps, …

      “Is subjected to”: interesting that this person uses the passive voice, as if he were not responsible for himself, and as if some other agency were imposing “tendencies” upon him. That, in turn, is supposed to be contained in the notion that pedophilia is a “mental disorder.” What is the agency that imposes tendencies? Unless the pedophile here is claiming something like demonic possession, the notion is that it is a diseased neurological system over which he has no control. See the essay for arguments that this is not, in fact, the case. Indeed, if it were the case, then we would not punish actual child abusers, which we do and should.

      …but to say pedophilia itself is evil is like saying Alzheimer’s is evil because it may harm loved ones.

      This is a silly argument. The analogy does not work, because Alzheimer’s is a literal brain disease that can be physically observed and measured. That is not true of a pedophile’s brain. There is nothing observable about the pedophile’s brain that distinguishes it from a normal brain—just the ideation and behaviors that the brain produces. Moreover, pedophiles are so-called because they want to rape children, a desire over which they can exert effective control in various ways. The main symptom of Alzheimer’s is loss of memory and related cognitive functions, over which its sufferers have no control.

      Yes the act of child abuse is evil, but the thoughts or subconscious fantasies of a sufferer is not evil.

      Utterly and dangerously wrong. See the essay, where precisely this point is addressed at length.

      I am of the mind that whenever i see someone attack something relentlessly and deeply , it stems from a fear of that person that they may come to enjoy that which they attack. Its akin to putting up mental walls to try to defend yourself from your own potential desires. Detach yourself from those emotions and reevaluate yourself whenever looking into something you are biased against.

      This is a ridiculous, contemptible, and thoroughly shameful argument. Oh, indeed, people who hate pedophilia are afraid—that their children, and that children of their relatives and friends, may become victims of these slobbering predators. Those of us who engage in activism on the issue are certainly afraid that in this age of wokeness, “pedophile rights” might be accepted—they must not be.

      No doubt, there are people who harbor and successfully fight such desires in themselves—successfully avoiding the ideation and porn—and such people have the right attitude, for sure. Some of those people might very well be motivated, by way of a kind of penance, to fight against the normalization of pedophilia. Those people are to be congratulated and thanked for their work. But in my experience, most of the most motivated anti-pedophilia activists are former victims. Your disgusting and enraging argument above ignores their essential work, work of a sort no one else can do. Myself? I fall into neither of those categories. I hate pedophilia and began to speak out against it once I had children of my own and began better to understand the issues. I also speak out about other issues in applied ethics, by the way.

      These people need help from society not to be attacked by it.

      I address this at length in the essay, which the creepy author of the above comment seems not to have bothered to read. I can well understand why he has not; it is no doubt going to be a profoundly unpleasant experience for him. But he should do it anyway, perhaps after praying to God for help.

      The point is decidedly not to “attack” pedophiles. The point, rather, is to defend innocent children and the moral uprightness of the broader society, not only from child molestation and rape, but, even more, from the profoundly evil movement to normalize the habitual desire to rape children. It is itself an evil, psychopathic response to defense of the most innocent among us to twist such defense into an “attack” on these predators and would-be predators.

      To reiterate a point made in the essay: by all means, I hope pedophiles get all the psychiatric help they need, if indeed such help can quench or even eliminate all manner of pedophilic ideation. The kind of help they certainly should not get is the sort where they are encouraged in this criminal ideation, and made to feel that it is acceptable, as long as they do not act on it.

      The wise throughout the ages and across the globe have known the deep truth that thoughts and desires can be morally evaluated and controlled, and indeed that a complete ethical system requires careful attention to the best ways to cultivate a morally decent mind.

      1. adela

        You make great points. But would you say that schizophrenia is evil? This is a real neurological disease, the person is a passive entity affected by a disease that makes him or her do often evil things.

        1. Didn’t notice this comment until now.

          I don’t deny that neurological diseases exist. They surely do. In the essay, I said that pedophilia is a disorder. I claim only that certain conditions—whether properly psychiatric or merely moral failings—that seem to “happen to” people are in fact their responsibility to fight and, as much as possible, eradicate.

          Is schizophrenia one of those disorders? Well, it is genetic and is sometimes thought to be purely a brain disease, something that can’t be said of pedophilia. So probably not.

      2. Typically I’d have simply deleted the above argument because it obviously has no merit. But I thought it would be useful to reply to it, in order to make a few elementary points for the Old Farts and Young Jerks who need to learn them.

        If you will read the first-quoted text, drawn from my essay “Why Neutrality,” a little more carefully, then you will see that it is about “traditionally neutral texts.” A polemical essay, which is what “Why Pedophilia Is Evil” obviously is, is not a traditionally neutral text.

        Just because I advocate for neutrality in encyclopedias, journalism, and most textbooks, it hardly follows that I want everyone to be neutral all the time.

        I am not neutral about pedophilia, and I never claimed to be. Personal neutrality in attitude (which is quite a different thing from neutral writing) about pedophilia would be disgusting and abhorrent.

        Also, the entire essay on pedophilia, above, constitutes an extended, well-documented, and carefully-reasoned argument that “Pedophilia is evil.” That is the conclusion; you made it sound as if I had not made an argument at all. In fact, what you wrote above, in quotes, is a pastiche of a quote of something I did write, with a bad summary of something I wrote, and also something I never would write.

        So you see how Wikipedia’s pedophiles argue. That human sludge which thinks nothing of owning up to a sex life involving fantasizing about raping children, if not actually doing so, are perfectly comfy with outright lying.

        Classic Larry = carefully-reasoned argument? Indeed!

        Classic Wiki-pedos (sooo many of them!) = bad argumentation in the service of some of the most evil behavior known to man.

  3. Sam

    I think there is a distinction between the initial attraction – I would say that is involuntary – and fuelling that attraction through fantasising.

  4. Sam

    If you want to ostracise from society everyone who fantasises about heinous crimes, you will probably end up kicking out more people than you think (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/016230959390019E)

  5. […] wrong as to be quite rightly regarded as a taboo (which is what I think). In fact, I have written an essay doing exactly that; it is called “Why Pedophilia Is Evil.” But seriously taking the […]

  6. Jay

    Do you differentiate at all between desire and sexual orientation? Or is heterosexuality merely an expression of a legitimate desire?

    1. If you want to make a point, make it at greater length, and I will reply.

  7. Christian Therel

    Please, I ask you to read this. I ask you to do so with unbiased understanding and basic human empathy all the way to the end. Hear me out, I have no reason to waste my time writing this if it wasn’t important. It has been well established in the medical and psychiatric fields by professional experts that it is not a choice. It simply isn’t. It’s known as a philia, (bondage, feet fetishes, etc) it’s something that comes just as natural as those things developing from the age of around 9 to 12. That’s right, it starts out when you are also a child if you have this, and progresses into adulthood.

    Most people who harm children sexually are predators, and took advantage of a weaker more naive person. Calling this condition evil is harmful because out of the number of pedophiles who abuse children, which is a very small fraction, many of those could have been prevented. But because of misconceptions and fear of persecution, people with this involuntary condition are afraid to seek help, and that ultimately increases the number of children who are abused.

    I am providing factual knowledge in an attempt to reduce any cases of child abuse I possibly can. Because of fear, we don’t even have any accurate data on how many there are with this condition, therefore, this stigma that some perpetually support is harmful.

    Rapists and predators are exactly that, no matter whom they are attracted to.

    1. You might understand some (biased) research by some psychologists; I assure you that your comment evinces little understanding of the philosophical issues raised in my article, issues you do not mention, let alone address.

      Whether or not some sexual or other proclivity is considered a “choice” is not an issue that can be adjudicated by psychologists in their capacity as psychologists. All you mean, it seems to me, is that there is data that this sort of shockingly evil desire to abuse children begins at a certain age. You can also find evidence that pedophiles say “I did not choose this, it is just an attraction I found myself with. I wish I didn’t have it!” But, of course, both of these facts (sure, perhaps they are facts) are entirely idle; they prove nothing.

      I am inclined to reiterate the arguments in my article, explaining the development of desires (including all “philias”) and why we are responsible for them. But why should I, since you didn’t address them in the first place?

      I will address this very shabby, reprehensible sort of argument, for which you should feel the deepest shame:

      Most people who harm children sexually are predators, and took advantage of a weaker more naive person. Calling this condition evil is harmful because out of the number of pedophiles who abuse children, which is a very small fraction, many of those could have been prevented. But because of misconceptions and fear of persecution, people with this involuntary condition are afraid to seek help, and that ultimately increases the number of children who are abused.

      I understand very well that pedophiles claim they are unable to control the fact that they have certain urges. Indeed, I am sure many rapists and murderers, before they actually commit their crimes, say the same. The latter could probably find willing academics to defend their urges as harmless and morally neutral, unless they are acted-upon. But, for some reason, there is no need for someone like me to call out such “rapeophiles” and “murderphiles,” and their (would-be) defenders, because nobody in his right mind comes out and actually says he has a rape or murder fetish. Should such people get psychological help? I dare say they should. Are we going to change our natural (and very sound) judgment of such criminal ideation? No; to do so would lead to the normalization of these “fetishes.” With pedophiles matters are no different. They have a strong urge: OK, I admit that. It is a decidedly evil urge. They are strongly morally obligated to do all they can to rid themselves of it, and never to be in a situation where they might act on it.

      I am providing factual knowledge in an attempt to reduce any cases of child abuse I possibly can.

      You are a fraud. Your “factual information” is idle observation coupled with dangerously bad philosophy.

      Because of fear, we don’t even have any accurate data on how many there are with this condition, therefore, this stigma that some perpetually support is harmful.

      The implication is that it is actually more dangerous if we do not “understand” pedophiles and get them treatment. This is itself dangerous and evil nonsense. There is no reason to think that, in a society that morally tolerated pedophiles, they would be fewer of them because they got treatment. In societies that tolerate child sexual abuse, the problem is typically pervasive. Now, you might say that you envision a tolerant society in which “understand” pedophiles who do not offend against children, but not sexual abusers. But there has never been such a society, nor will there ever be. We must consider the political consequences of adopting certain ethical (not psychological) theories: a society that tolerates pedophiles is one far more likely to tolerate the actual abusers. Deny it all you like, but that is a fact.

      I dare say pedophiles should feel fearful and broken. If they don’t, then there is another thing wrong with them.

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