When Mia Freedman analogised homosexuality to paedophilia on national TV, she stuffed it up a bit.
In some ways, homosexuality is a bit like paedophilia. What Freedman was referring to though was not paedophilia, it was the molestation of children, and THAT has very little in common with homosexuality.
Paedophilia, like homosexuality, is a sexual orientation. It is a sexual preference, not a sex act. Others more articulate than I have written wonderful pieces about this. The difference between homosexuality and paedophilia lies in the ability of both parties to consent to sex. In the ideal scenario, gay sex would involve consenting adults who have negotiated the terms of their sexual encounter to make sure it’s a fun and enjoyable time for all involved. Paedophilic sex, on the other hand, necessarily involves people who cannot give consent. And so it becomes sex without consent, or, as it is more commonly referred to, rape.
People who molest children are not always paedophiles, because sex without consent is not really about attraction. It’s about power, about taking something from someone, causing them irreversible harm in order to assert one’s dominance. People who have sex with children are abusers. People who are attracted to children are paedophiles. Paedophiles who do not act on their own attractions are not abusers; they are people who are dealt the unfortunate hand of never being able to have good, fun, enjoyable, consenting sex with the person they are attracted to.
So when Mia Freedman went on national TV and declared that we can’t change paedophiles, much like we can’t change gay people, she was right. We know conversion therapy doesn’t work (we even wrote about it), we know there’s little hope for changing a paedophile’s sexual orientation. But that’s not what they need; what they need is to be taught the strength and willpower to not act on their sexual impulses.
What Freedman fucked up most wasn’t the analogy: it was the fact that she was even talking about paedophiles in the first place. Child molesters are not always paedophiles, but they are always rapists. We can’t hope to change paedophiles, but that’s not the question. The question should have been whether we can change rapists. We send rapists and abusers to prison, some of them for very little time, because we have put faith into a system that locks away criminals in the hope of rehabilitating them. But if we really don’t think abusers can be changed, why do we have a faith in a system that thinks they can?