By Dr. Paul Abramson and L.J. Williamson
Riot Act is a semi-regular column that challenges conventional wisdom in controversial issues
In 2008, a 35-year-old LAUSD teacher got one of his fifth-grade students alone in the classroom at lunchtime, and convinced the 10-year-old boy to masturbate him to orgasm. The teacher continued to molest the boy when other students left the room, including performing oral sex on him, into the following year. The abuse finally ended during the summer, when the father sought to include the teacher in more family activities, at which point the horrified kid blurted out the truth.
For a pedophile, the first order of business is to gain access to children. We're not talking about trolling the playgrounds with a sack of candy. That's for amateurs, and the committed pedophile is far more sophisticated. He's in it for the long haul. So he gets a teaching credential, or becomes a member of the clergy, or maybe even a pediatrician. He creates a foundation for wayward boys. He becomes a foster parent. He finds a single mom and starts dating her, working his way toward becoming a stepdad. In short, he manages to put himself in a position of trust so that he will have access to kids on a regular basis.
Once this first hurdle is cleared, the most important step in the pedophile's game is to hoodwink a kid into becoming his best bud. A pedophile can sexually molest a kid in minutes, but what generally stops him from doing so is the fear that the kid will tell someone. Child molesters have to “groom” kids instead — establish trust, facilitate bonding, become their friend. Snitching is kryptonite to child molesters, and the gruesome truth of pedophilia is that, because it's much harder to rat on your pal, the emotional bonds of friendship are the ultimate protection.
LAUSD's recent move to abolish things like blindfolds and tastings in classrooms, in light of the recent scandal at Miramonte Elementary involving a teacher who allegedly fed spoonfuls of his semen to blindfolded pupils, will do nothing to prevent child molestation. In fact, it's a perfect example of the anemic “death by a thousand cuts” strategy designed to inconvenience child molesters. If the threat of sex-offender registries, residence restrictions, jail and a lifetime of ostracism and shame don't prevent the sexual molestation of children, then these puny and off-target “reforms” won't, either. And forcing known child molesters to live 10 miles away from the nearest school, park or day care center does nothing to stop the ones we don't know about, who successfully operate under the radar as friendly teachers, Scout leaders or Little League coaches.
In fact, the entire “Stranger Danger” mythology actually works for pedophiles, because it keeps us looking elsewhere for the threat, and away from the guys who have moved into your circle of trust.
No, not every male who works in a profession having regular contact with children is a pedophile. But every one of those professions has pedophiles — 99 percent of them male — within it.
Educating children is of paramount importance. The threat of disclosure is the best protection we have, and kids need to be bullhorns in the world of pedophiles. A national initiative implemented by parents, schools, pediatricians and religious organizations, which encourages kids to talk about weird touches (and adults to listen and report these findings), would be terrifying to pedophiles.
But we need to go further. Even an educated child is susceptible to manipulation, and successful pedophiles are master manipulators — of kids, of parents, even of themselves.
Once parents and children have been taken in, the only task remaining for the pedophile is to con himself. He does this by telling himself that he isn't a pervert at all — that he's just extra affectionate, nothing more. He's ahead of the curve. The rest of the world eventually will catch up and realize that intergenerational relationships are good for everyone — him especially. “You can boil them in oil,” one DA recently lamented, “and they'll still deny being pedophiles.”
So how do you separate the sickos from the good guys, who authentically want to be nurturing to children? How can you separate the pedos from the 99 percent of decent people who work with kids?
The best-disguised pedophiles are undetectable: They come off as likable and extremely friendly. With pedophiles so well-hidden — from parents, and even from themselves — we need to start instituting across-the-board procedures that will severely limit solo adult access to children, and normalize these protections.
Just like having female nurses present at OB/GYN exams, we need to make supervised contact a standard procedure. A priest, for example, shouldn't be alone with a child without being accompanied by a nun. A soccer coach can't be alone with a kid without a team mom. A male teacher can't be alone with students without the presence of a female teacher's aide.
A teacher's aide in every classroom led by a male teacher may sound expensive, until you consider the hundreds of millions we spend in civil lawsuits when teachers sexually molest a child. Changing the standard protocol will be far more cost-effective than shelling out big bucks after the fact.
Some psychologists may argue with our contention that pedophilia is hardwired, saying pedophilia is instead a conditioned response that's been masturbated into a weird sexual thing. But even a shoe fetishist imagines the shoes attached to a sexually mature body. Sexual attraction to a prepubertal partner is the biological machinery of reproduction gone haywire.
Understanding that pedophilia is hardwired — that we can't shame it, threaten it or counsel it away — also is essential for preventing it. We have made some therapeutic progress with convicted pedophiles — giving them drugs that seem to reduce their urges, for example. But getting a molester to act squeaky clean is not the same as eliminating a repeat offender. The only way to truly stop pedophiles is to deny them the opportunity to be alone with a child.
We're playing blackjack with pedophiles and holding a losing hand. Let's bite the bullet, accept that pedophilia is inevitable, and take the necessary steps to eliminate its occurrence. We don't wait for a child to drown before we put a lifeguard at the pool. Instead of waiting for a pedophile to out himself, which usually happens at the expense of a child, we need to institute policies that block them before they can act, and create a climate for kids to talk about this stuff. Making sure that adult males in a position of authority may never be alone with a child — and we mean never — is a step in the right direction. Making supervised contact a standard, normal and everyday procedure is a lot easier, in the long run, than finding the pedophilic needle in the haystack.
Dr. Paul Abramson is a professor of psychology at UCLA, and has been an expert witness in criminal and civil litigation on sexual molestation of children for more than three decades. L.J. Williamson is a regular contributor to L.A. Weekly.