The terms often get interchanged and they don’t mean the same thing. In the wake of the Sandusky trial this week, CNN ran an article by Dr. James Cantor, head of the Sexual Behaviors Clinic of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, that elucidated the difference.
The off-putting nature of the topic naturally keeps it at arm’s length from those of us who are particularly repulsed. It’s the one act that even in my often too-open mind deserves swift and heavy-handed punishment. Honestly, I really haven’t wanted to understand the mind of a pedophile.
But a pedophile isn’t necessarily a child molester. A pedophile is someone born with the attraction to children and a child molester is someone who actually acts on it.
Apparently, according to Cantor, multiple studies are coming to the conclusion that pedophiles are born, not made. And sexual preference for children doesn’t have to result in actual sexual behaviors toward children. He uses this to then explain how pedophiles deserve sympathy precisely because they are stigmatized as pariahs in society, thus they have no way of getting the help and understanding they need.
“They are often unable to consult mental health professionals (because of mandatory reporting rules); their families will often disown rather than support them; and despite the openness of the Internet, there are few options for coming out and joining communities of other pedophiles for mutual support.”
And it’s precisely because of that isolation, he claims, that leaves them desperate and moves them to act on their unnatural impulses.
That may be true. But it hardly explains what happened in the case of the former assistant coach at Penn State. From all the media accounts I have read, Sandusky’s routine and systematic abuse of children was not out of desperation. He was a serial rapist. And while he may not be the norm, he and other offenders who’ve made the national spotlight for the same thing, for right or wrong, have become the face of pedophilia.