Recent media reports (caution: these reports contain graphic details, be careful in reading them) have raised the profile on a disturbing, scandalous and distressingly dark side of humanity: there are a number (fortunately it seems a small number) of powerful men in politics, entertainment and academia who have been involved in the sexual abuse and organized exploitation of children over the past few decades. (And unlike the recent Catholic priest scandal where the victims were predominantly adolescents, these victims are young children  and in some cases toddlers .) Many of these individuals are in prison or now deceased, but the stories (documented by the BBC, Time Magazine, the Washington Post  and other newspapers , as well as court and law enforcement records) are so shocking and concerning that one’s impulse is to question if the information is true. Therefore, it is important to know the truth of what can happen when sexual license and irresponsibility go unchecked, and to consider, as best we can, how a human person can stoop to such depths of depravity.
But This Is The Extreme, Right?
Fortunately, yes. These reports reflect extreme levels of disorder and pathology by any standard, including professional medicine. But, typically one would expect individuals who are experiencing this level of disordered behavior to have difficulty functioning in other areas of their lives, which is what is so remarkable about the situations cited above. The abusive men were able to attain and maintain success professionally, at times impressive success, while living a secret life that was as dangerous and risky as it was sordid and repulsive. Sadly, there have likely been men in every generation who have had perverse interests, yet in the modern era of less stable and coherent families,  one wonders how much greater societal tolerance may have become. Of course, conspiracy theories are offered, perhaps not without merit (someone close to them must have known, one thinks), but this only tempts us with greater disgust and despair for the state of humanity. However, before we cast judgment or throw up our arms, it is important to consider that precisely because these men have pockets of success in their lives, perhaps there is some way in which to end this scourge.
No One Is Born This Way
There is much fascination today with genome mapping , and with it, great hopes of identifying the cause and cure for many diseases and disorders. Yet, not all disorders are likely to be fully or best understood through genetics. In the world of behavioral sciences, it is recognized that great harm can occur to a person who is abused, neglected, or otherwise traumatized in his youth. Depending upon the specific timing and nature of the events, the distortion in development can conceivably impact only limited areas of life (in these cases, psychosexual maturity) while still allowing for effective development and functioning in other areas. While there is hope that counselling, maturation and development can facilitate health and healing over time, until that time, such a man is particularly vulnerable to another societal scourge: pornography .
Stipulating that the people who dive deep into the darkness of child pornography, child sexual abuse, and child sex trafficking are not planning this career from their youth, forces me to sound again the warning bell about the dangers of internet pornography and the risks of sex addiction. Of particular concern are the young, including those recently emancipated into the sadly tolerant subculture on university campuses where several of the “persons of interest” were employed. Unfortunately, and perhaps reprehensibly, the typical university intellectual community is as confused as anyone about how to think about pornography.
I have noted previously that there is something “at work with pornography—something that chips away at the viewer’s sense of himself, of others, and of meaning in relationships.” And how else could someone be aroused by the molestation of a child, if he had not lost these things? As Dr. May highlights in his piece on the Social Costs of Pornography, one scholar relates how many men admit they have “trouble cutting down their use [of internet porn] … and find themselves seeking out harder and harder pornography” (p.20). This is not surprising given the process of addiction : a person become satiated—even bored—with what once was stimulating, and so in order to achieve the same level of arousal and satisfaction is drawn towards exploring more extreme or deviant forms of pornography. As one dives deeper into the cesspool of pornography, viewing images of children sadly becomes a not-uncommon result.
And this is at the heart of the matter. We can no longer pretend that pornography use is any form of innocent fun or rite of passage. In enslaves, distorts, and traps—the healthy soon enough; the abused and neglected, even faster. As I wrote earlier: “From all time, sexual indiscretion and infidelity has been understood to interfere with a man’s ability to grow in virtue and flourish as intended.” The recent news items remind us of just how far from flourishing a man can fall when mired in the use of pornography.