Margo Kaplan recently published this Op-Ed in the NYT entitled “Pedophilia: A Disorder, Not a Crime”, in which she asserts:
A pedophile should be held responsible for his conduct — but not for the underlying attraction. Arguing for the rights of scorned and misunderstood groups is never popular, particularly when they are associated with real harm. But the fact that pedophilia is so despised is precisely why our responses to it, in criminal justice and mental health, have been so inconsistent and counterproductive. Acknowledging that pedophiles have a mental disorder, and removing the obstacles to their coming forward and seeking help, is not only the right thing to do, but it would also advance efforts to protect children from harm.
Today she presented the law review article this is drawn from, “Taking Pedophilia Seriously” (forthcoming in the Washington & Lee Law Review) at Pace Law School. Had she not been a Pace Law colloquium speaker, I probably would not have read either the Op-Ed or the article, based on incorrect assumptions about the arguments she is making. I am very glad I did, though. She has convinced me that society is going to be a lot better off if pedophiles can self identify and seek treatment for what she characterizes as a mental disorder. Right now, because pedophilia is so stigmatized, pedophiles are understandably afraid to disclose their illegal attractions to children, leaving them without support or access to medical and psychiatric treatment that they may want and benefit from. Pedophiles are understandably and appropriately unable to legally have sex with the children they desire. But leaving a group of people in a situation where they can’t legally have sex, ever, or even look at child porn (which is illegal, as it should be) for sexual release and then leaving them in the shadows to deal with this situation themselves, is just wrong. Pedophiles who fight their urges and do not act on them are not hurting anyone, but they may me treated like criminals nonetheless. Maybe some readers can’t actually feel sorry for pedophiles, but surely the benefits for potential victims of sexual predation by pedophiles that treatment might bring make Margo Kaplan’s work worth considering.
I must also applaud her bravery. An interview with Philadelphia Magazine just after publication of the Op-Ed makes it clear that many people are condemning her work without reading and understanding it. Don’t make that mistake! She has undertaken something important in the very best tradition of legal scholarship.