It makes no sense to view pedophilia as a 'disability'

Should you have to hire pedophiles and rent them rooms?

Two days ago Margo Kaplan, an assistant professor at the Rutgers University School of Law, argued in the New York Times that pedophiles should be protected from job discrimination and other forms of discrimination, like racial minorities or people in wheelchairs.

Kaplan wrote that it makes sense to re-examine and potentially reverse the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 specifically exclude pedophiles from claiming that they are disabled and merit special considerations in the workplace, or when checking into hotels or renting apartments.

The world Kaplan envisions is one in which pedophiles don't need to hide their disorder any longer and can legally insist that, say, a school system assign them to custodial duty at a high school, rather than a grammar school; or that the military create reasonable housing accommodations for them on base to keep them far from any playground; or that a corporation that provides day care for employees not assign them to tasks near the children who attend it. Presumably, a hotel that decided to install a kiddie pool would have to allow laundry personnel with pedophilia not to collect towels from areas where little boys and girls are playing in bathing suits.


Well, guess what. Well-focused shame still has a place, even in the halls of law and medicine. The need to hide impulses, like the impulse to rape children and feeling guilty about it, and taking it upon oneself to control the impulse or go to jail for giving into it, can be part of a reasoned legal and public health strategy to prevent it. Being shunned should be a decent heads-up that it's time to get help and stay away from temptation – or else.

The correct response to someone who declares he is a pedophile and asks for a room at your hotel, preferably away from little kids, is to tell that person that there are no rooms available for him and to get lost.

Kaplan is right that pedophilia is a disorder. No one would want such an affliction. In my discussions with people who are sexually attracted to children, many speak of having been sexually abused as kids themselves, which may have made them psychologically vulnerable to repeating that horrific cycle. And Kaplan rightly points out that there may be genetic, neurochemical or neuroanatomic differences between normal people and pedophiles.

Kaplan is also right that many pedophiles resist their urges and never act on them, toughing it out or availing themselves of psychotherapy or medications, which can be remarkably effective. I became convinced of that as a medical student when I met many pedophiles while working with a bonafide genius – Fred Berlin, MD, Ph.D., associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma.

I would never deny a pedophile treatment in my psychiatric practice, and I would applaud him for seeking help to defeat his disorder. I would never release his medical information without permission, and I would consider our bond as sacred as the one I have with any other patient.

But Kaplan is wrong to suggest that, merely because something is a known disorder, it should result in protections under the law. If a pedophile wants to not attack children, he can receive confidential psychiatric treatment – including DepoProvera to lower testosterone levels – to make it much less likely. Pedophiles can select jobs and places to live that minimize or prevent them from ever acting on their disordered impulses. We should make it more widely known that such treatments are available, and we should develop others, too.

Pedophiles are no more worthy of protections afforded to disabled Americans than people with antisocial personality disorder. Imagine if someone with that bonafide disorder, which includes a lack of empathy and disregard for the rights of others, were protected under the law. We'd have to keep them far from the cash register and the safe and the personal information of other employees.

Pedophiles are no more worthy of protections as disabled Americans than those with other abnormal sexual desires – called paraphilias – which include the desire, for instance, to rape adult women or have sex with animals. Can you imagine a culture in which men can declare that their unwieldy desires to rape women merit them – not the women – being escorted to their vehicles in darkened parking lots after working the late shift?

Can you imagine a culture in which men who rape little girls describe their crimes as "relapses" and, after getting out of jail, force employers and fellow employees to be kind to them when they reveal their problems, including their strong desires to do it again?

Well, this is the culture Margo Kaplan has in mind. And it is very wrong-minded, indeed.

Really, where do people come up with this stuff?

Truth: It isn't the responsibility of other people – whether employers or realtors or anyone else – to dance around the symptoms of pedophilia or antisocial personality disorder. It's the responsibility of the person suffering with either disorder to control it – period.