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The Pedophile as a Folk Devil

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Nor did the presumed immaturity of his brain have anything to do with it. In fact, this effort to reduce our understanding of human reality to vague brain-talk only obscures the issues. Cory was a human being. Not a brain.

What Caused Cory's Death

There are, of course, many causes for any event. But the primary cause of Cory's death was the moral panic that our society has become locked into about the sexuality of children and teenagers and their vulnerability to "pedophiles". It is this moral panic that has been cranking out absurd and draconian laws about what is to be done to people who violate various rules about who may or may not be engaged in mutually desired sexual activities. The irony in this particular case is that there is no evidence that Cory was a member of the group that our ill-conceived plethora of sex-abuse laws are trying to ferret out and destroy. He, like most people, may have had a variety of sexual attractions. But the activities that got him into trouble were with a peer of the opposite sex. With bad laws there tends to be a lot of collateral damage.

What Exactly Is A Moral Panic?

A moral panic is a societal reaction to a situation in which a very large group of people, or even a whole society, gets caught up in a panic about a perceived extreme danger to individuals in the society, and/or to society itself. In reality there may be a degree of real danger, or not. What qualifies a societal reaction as a moral panic is the very large discrepancy between perceived and the actual degree of danger.

The source of the danger is an individual or a group of individuals who are seen as engaging in immoral and dangerous activities, and perhaps influencing other to do the same. The perpetrator of the evil, in sociological theory, has been labeled a "folk devil". He is a larger-than-life character who becomes endowed with a quasi-mythical quality. He is a less-than-human monster.

A moral panic is initiated by "moral entrepreneurs" who kick off the fight against this evil with a call to arms. The mass media plays a central role in educating the general public to the nature of the presumed evil with a harangue of alarmist articles and stories that present a simplistic and grossly inflated view of the danger.

Consider the panic about boys masturbating as an example. In the late 19th and early 20th century, a panic about the extreme danger of boys masturbating swept through the English-speaking world. Masturbation was referred to as "self-abuse". Self abuse could cause a wide variety of evils, up to and including insanity. It had to be prevented at all costs. Boys were expelled from boarding schools for engaging in the practice. All manner of techniques were used to put an end to self abuse, such as forcing boys to sleep with their hands above the covers, or even tying the hands of a boy to the bed in such a way that he could not reach his penis. Today we regard such reactions as rather bizarre, and perhaps a little humorous. But at the time, the warnings against masturbation were taken quite seriously, so much so that people who spoke out against society's over-reaction to "self-abuse" risked their reputations and careers. As can be imagined, the techniques to prevent it caused a great deal of suffering.

According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, "examples of moral panic include the belief in widespread abduction of children by predatory pedophiles, belief in ritual abuse of women and children by Satanic cults, concerns over the effects of music lyrics, the war on drugs and other health issues.".

In the 1980s the English-speaking world, and especially the United States, witnessed the emergence of one of the most bizarre moral panics in history the Satanic ritual abuse panic. It was believed that Satanists in large numbers were dedicating themselves to the ritual torture of and murder of children. They kept a supply of children available for the sacrifices through women who were called "breeders" who gave birth the children explicitly for this purpose.

Claims were made that Satanists had infiltrated the daycare business, which led to number of scandals all based on information that was entirely false. The most publicized, but by no means the only such scandal, centered around the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, from 1983 to 1990, in what was the longest and most expensive criminal trial in US history. People were imprisoned for activities that never happened. Lives were ruined not by Satanists, but by the Satanic panic itself. A moral panic is not a harmless process.

The primary evidence justifying the Satanic panic was gleaned from a combination of "recovered memories" in psycho-therapeutic sessions, and badgering young children until they told the stories demanded of them in police and social worker interviews . Among professionals in the mental health field, recovered memories have now been debunked. Well informed clinicians and courts of law no longer believe that the quasi-hypnotic procedures of recovering repressed memories yield reliable historical information.

Not only did these Satanic events not happen, but the informational gathering techniques used to discover them the recovering of repressed memories, and the use of inappropriate child interviewing techniques were debunked . But this debunking did not receive the same press coverage as did the original sensational and lurid accounts of Satanic rituals. This lack of publicizing the debunking of invalid information gathering techniques is one of the reasons that the panic continues. Some people still believe that accounts based on recovered memories are accurate. Gradually the Satanic panic morphed into the pedophile panic. And now most Americans believe that hundreds of thousands of psychopathic sex perverts, generally referred to simply as "pedophiles" pose an extreme and extensive danger to our children.

Who Are These Pedophiles?

People who are identified as "pedophiles" are the most hated and persecuted group of people in our society. They constitute one of the biggest groups of incarcerated people in our grossly overpopulated prisons. More than any other group in our society, they are subjected to hate-speech, at which nobody blinks an eye. We trash the constitution in order to lock them up for life in fake mental hospitals. Yet there is surprisingly little interest in who they actually are or what they really do. It is almost impossible to tell, for example, what actually happened in the latest story about a new sex-offender being discovered and arrested. The language is vague and stereotyped. Words lose their everyday meaning. "Rape" for example, may refer to a mutually desired but illegal act.

First of all, how many pedophiles are there? In an article titled Every Fifth Boy and Man Is Pedophilic or Hebephilic , Filip Schuster asserts that "22% of adult males exhibit an attraction to children under thirteen years of age that is equal to or greater than what they feel toward adults". This conclusion is based on seven studies that use a plethesmograph (an instrument that measures the circumference of the penis) in their research on how men respond to sexual stimuli of various kinds. The studies use the academic definitions of male sexual orientations: a hebephile is a man whose primary orientation is to boys or girls in the age range of nine to thirteen and a pedophile is a person who experiences a strong attraction to children under nine. But in this article I am concerned with the pedophile as a popular folk devil. In the public's mind and in the mainstream media the term pedophile is generally used to designate people who are attracted to pre-pubescent children which in general would be people who are under 13 . What Schuster's article makes clear is that approximately 22% of all men fit into this category.

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Write for Politics of Health and work with David Werner on issues of health. Worked in the field of "Mental Health" all my life. Am now retired. Jim
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