No One Likes Child Molesters


No one likes child molesters, am I right?

The meme above, with the oddly formal British spelling, equates pedophiles with murderers, which I know isn’t right, but feels right to me, because on a visceral level I can’t stand child molesters either.

If we take “violence” at its narrowest and most literal meaning, child molesting is the most hated p1lcf20-650x728non-violent crime. Look, I know it’s a form of violence! But you can molest a child without leaving a mark, you can molest a child with the false consent that a juvenile cannot legally give, and that’s unique among the big league crimes. Murder and rape are violent in a different way. And yet Jared’s much-anticipated prison rape, as all the jokes assure us, acknowledgess violence as suitable justice for his crimes.

This unique status is strange to me, because if I do my best to cast my enculturation aside (good luck!), I can see that this is one of our culture’s more arbitrary values. Maybe they’re all arbitrary values, but the age of consent is something that is well known to vary across cultures, as it does across states. Everyone jumbles up statutory rape and child molesting, and I’m not a lawyer (nor are these necessarily legal terms), but even the distinction between statutory rape and child molesting varies from state to state. I don’t want to get caught up in legal issues; our ideas are not ideas about laws, and our idea of a child molester, the Platonic ideal of a child molester, is not someone confused by a seventeen-year old in Arizona, but a predator of the very young.


Virginia Poe, age 13

And yet people we kind of understand, such as Plato or Edgar Allan Poe, had a very different idea about sex with children than we do.

There are several reasons for the special status of child molesting in our pantheon of sins. Sex crimes are treated differently than other crimes in several ways (there’s no national murderer registry, for example), and crimes against children are treated differently, too (they were treated differently by Hammurabi, as well, but in a different way; see #230). But I think there’s something else at stake here that explains why we single out this one crime for especial opprobrium.

Fortunately, since we are simple creatures with like two or three motivations, it’s easy to figure out what this “something else” is. We do it because it’s safe.


And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath required me.

I have no intention of murdering anyone soon, and my goal is to go through my entire life with zero murders under my belt; but of course tomorrow is full of many strange occurrences, and we all do stupid things sometime. Many a murderer would have sworn that there was no murder in her future, just as many a rapist still insists, in denial, that he is not a rapist. Nietzsche writes: “‘I have done that,’ says my memory. ‘I cannot have done that,’ says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually—memory yields.” But in the back of our minds is the certain knowledge of our potential for evil, which is greater than pride. Any one of us could be a murderer, and shame and suffering we require for murderers may fall upon us,

But there’s really no set of circumstances where you could be tempted by JonBenet Ramsey. Actually, I don’t know anything about you, but the point is that if you could be tempted you already know that about yourself. Otherwise, you have already written off this possibility with some degree of certainty because unlike the desire to hurt other people, the desire to sexually exploit a juvenile is not universal. We’re all potential murderers (murderers awaiting permission is my usual term for us), but we’re not all potential child molesters.

We all know that the desire to hurt others while being self-righteous about it is a much 160414-child-molester-is-tough-on-child-molester_zpsqmhjrekymore beguiling temptation than just hurting others, so the desire to punish crimes is an excellent opportunity for all of us. But there’s always a risk of boomeranging punishments that we are not yet too short-sighted to perceive on some level. So we target the least likely crime, the one we would never commit—or rather the crime most of us would never commit. The ones who would, they need to pretend they agree, or we’d be on to them.

This theory possesses one virtue at least: it is consistent with our general free-floating desire to persecute and express contempt for those who could never be us: foreigners, other races, etc. It is not to be confused with out other free-floating desire, to persecute and express contempt for those we fear we may secretly be.

ETA this extra meme:



  1. This comment is going to be outside of the Overton window. Consider yourselves trigger-warned.

    I think sex and children is the area where our laws and taboos deviate most from our stated rationals and justifications for laws and taboos. Generally, criminal laws are said to exist to protect people’s rights from things like coercive force and fraud. Even laws that outlaw consensual crimes are generally justified as trade-offs between individuals getting to do as they please and protecting other individuals. For example, pro-lifers support abortion bans not out of paternalism for would be moms, but to protect the lives and rights of the yet to be born. Drug warriors talk about drug use causing crime and the need to protect society from drug related crime. You can judge for yourselves the validity of these arguments, but they tend not to be couched in paternalism (I realize there are paternalistic arguments for both of these policies, particularly the drug war, but I feel as though they are trotted out less often, precisely because people tend to be skeptical of being protected from their own choices).

    However, a fifteen year old, or even an eleven year old that has preferences and can clearly express them through language is forbidden from acting upon them, ostensibly because they may not fully understand the consequences of their actions or may one day regret them, but this is a pretty low bar that could probably outlaw most decisions made by adults. How many adults do you think understand the consequences of the legalese in their leases or employment contracts?

    It isn’t too difficult to imagine a past where other groups of people were said to not have developed enough brains or sufficient knowledge to make their own decisions and needed benevolent protectors to express their ‘true preferences’ for them. I’m not sure saying you support decisions reached by consenting adults categorically different from saying you support decisions reached by consenting white men.

    I think the real reason for these laws and taboos is that sex with children is icky and people are disgusted by the thought of it. Just like the puritans banned bear baiting, not out of concern for the well being of the bear, but because they thought people who enjoyed it were sick (probably true, but maybe not the best basis for a law), we have child sex laws not to protect children but to punish sick people who think wicked thoughts.

    Consider the following: circumcision, an irreversible and unnecessary (One can argue about its benefits, but there are lots of uncircumcised people running around just fine; I feel comfortable calling it a voluntary procedure.) operation that will permanently affect one’s sex life is routinely performed on newborns who cannot possibly give their consent to the surgery. Compare that to jerking off onto an infant. How much long term harm and permanent effects are there from that? None, wipe the infant off afterwards and it is as good as new; for all you know you had a babysitter that used to do this to you all the time when you were six months old. However, circumcision is normal and I am a moral leper for even talking about masturbating onto a baby. Do you think this is a distinction is based on protecting a child or disgust?

    Another example: simulated child pornography is illegal. Drawings or computer generated images, the creation of which harmed no one and could not have conceivably violated anyone’s rights are very much illegal in this country. Again, the point is not to protect people, but to punish the wicked.

    One final comment, the glee with which people talk about the prison rape of child molesters is astounding and disgusting. That people who have consensual sex with 16 year-olds (statutory rape) should be punished with non-consensual anal sex (actual rape) says a lot about people’s priorities with sexual rights and, as you put it, hurting people while being self-righteous. Needless to say, I am opposed to using rape as a form of punishment, but if everyone else disagrees, perhaps we should make rape part of the sentence for molestation and have the state perform it instead of outsourcing it to criminals and assuming that people, who in the past have shown poor judgement in the proper and proportional use of violence, will get it right when they have a go at society’s whipping boys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I before I even read your comment that I was going to have to edit the post to read “almost no one likes child molesters.”


    2. Also: Obviously I believe that most people are opposed to murder because they think it’s icky. It’s a weird world. A weird, icky world.


      1. Really? Nevermind that there is a pretty compelling reason to forbid murder regardless of it being icky, I’m not even sure people do consider murder to be icky. I mean, if I were to announce at a dinner party that I were a serial killer, it would make people uncomfortable, but people seem a lot less uncomfortable with the idea of murderers.

        Look around at TV and movies. How many texts do you see where the protagonist is a nice, empathetic guy who just happens to be a hitman who murders people for the mafia? Or alternatively, where there is cool, suave, brilliant serial murderer (think Hannibal Lecter)? Okay now how many can you think of where there is a rapist with a heart of gold? Or where there is a sex criminal who has any positive trait? People sure seem a lot less comfortable romanticizing sex criminals than murderers.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We may reach a hitch in our understanding of the word “icky,” which to be fair, is a “pre-theoretical” word.

        It would be harder to make a TV show about a heroic racist (for example) today than a TV show about a heroic murderer, which is weird; but I keep on learning, to my surprise, that there are large pockets of America that don’t think murder is funny. Not Evan Dorkin, obviously, and not Charles Addams. The one part of Immortal Lycanthropes that was too “controversial” for Clarion Books was not the child who was sexually stimulated by violence and not Dillinger’s severed penis, but the Charles Manson bit.


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