Predators, Not Pedophiles

by | August 26, 2020 | General | 3 comments

As the late comedian Joan Rivers used to say: Can we talk?

When the scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church first became public, the term “pedophile priests” seemed accurate. Most of these guys seemed to have operated under the public radar for years because of how unthinkable their actions seemed to anyone not directly involved. For one thing, priests are not supposed to have sex at all. For another, the abuse of innocent children is probably the worst thing they could have done, short of murder.

As far as I know, pedophilia is a fairly specific type of “filia,” or fetish. Pedophiles are sexually attracted to children, i.e. young humans who have not gone through puberty yet. Children of all genders lack breasts and facial hair, they do not have menstrual periods, and their voices are relatively high.

After reading about numerous investigations of particular priests, I could see why they might have done it. The men who choose to become priests are a small percentage of the general population. Especially in past generations, the priesthood must have looked like a safe closet for Catholic men who wanted to maintain respectable status without having to be married to one woman for life, or be financially responsible for numerous children. These men must have included a high percentage who were not heterosexual and possibly not comfortable with the prospect of adult courtship. They became part of a hothouse culture, involving in-group solidarity and a certain degree of isolation from the outside world. Pedophilia could flourish in that atmosphere.

Now that the notorious sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein is dead, and his former accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell is behind bars, they have both been widely accused of running a “pedophile ring.” In this case, I don’t buy it.

Virginia Roberts Giuffre has been shown numerous times in the media, explaining how she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew when she was 17. I tend to believe her, and her story is disturbing, even though she doesn’t sound like a “child” at the time. Consider the fact that she clearly knew what sex was, and she knew she didn’t want it. Children are rarely that knowledgeable. If Virginia had been 18, 19, or 20 at the time, her age wouldn’t have changed the facts of the case. If forcing a teenage girl to have sex with an older man is awful, I don’t see how doing this to a grown woman could be okay.

Let me explain this clearly: rape, or sexual assault, is a traumatizing negation of personhood even if the victim is not a virgin. Gang-rape during war is usually inflicted on whole populations of girls and women, including wives and mothers. So I don’t care how sexually experienced/inexperienced Virginia or any of the other victims were before Epstein, Maxwell and company got hold of them. It doesn’t matter.

Enough women have come forward to explain how they were lured by Epstein or Maxwell that a pattern has emerged: the traffickers claimed to offer glamorous jobs to teenage girls who dreamed of being models, and who were independent enough to go to “interviews” by themselves. This just wouldn’t happen to children under the age of 12 or 13, who would have had to be tricked some other way.

Let’s consider the motivations of the traffickers. It seems that they targeted attractive girls who were physically mature enough to have breasts and hips, who could be dressed up to appear older, but who were naive enough to believe what they were told until it was too late to back out, and powerless enough to be intimidated. The traffickers not only wanted to enjoy sex with these girls, but to share them with their rich and powerful friends, who presumably had similar tastes.

There is a lot of speculation about how many upper-class men, besides Prince Andrew, are worried about what Maxwell might reveal. Does it seem likely that every “friend” of the traffickers really craved sex with ten-year-olds, eight-year-olds, or even toddlers?

Imagine that every adult male were secretly given a truth serum that would prevent them from lying. Then imagine that they were asked about their sexual tastes. How many do you think would ignore the image of a porn star (adult female or male) and describe their ideal date as a hot grade-school student?

At the risk of sounding naive, I don’t believe that Western society is overrun with actual pedophiles. Obviously this doesn’t mean that children can’t possibly be abused, but the evidence shows that children are much more likely to be abused by the adults they know well, and not all child abuse includes sex by any definition.

Growing up is a process, not a sudden transformation. Most people go through puberty at the beginning of adolescence, but legal “adulthood” is set at different ages in different eras and jurisdictions. When I was young, the age of majority was 21, and no one could legally do adult things (vote, sign contracts, drink alcohol) before then. Now the age of majority throughout North America is eighteen. Does this mean that the millennial generation is maturing faster than their grandparents did? That’s debatable.

What might be more to the point is that no one wears their age on their forehead. Not everyone can see the age difference between a 14-year-old girl with breasts and hips, especially if she is wearing makeup and a clingy dress, and a similarly-dressed 16-year-old girl or an 18-year-old girl, although only one of them is legally an adult. There are good reasons for age-of-consent laws, and employers have an obligation to make sure their employees have the legal right to work, especially in sexually-related jobs. It doesn’t follow that everyone who is sexually attracted to a young female who looks like a woman is a pedophile.

Please hear me out. I’m not defending those who exploit, assault, or abuse other people. Teenagers are definitely vulnerable to adults who have economic and physical power over them. Exploitation, coercion, deception, physical assault, and extortion are all real crimes, and they should be called out and prosecuted.

The flood of references to “pedophiles” and “pedophile rings” is the expression of a moral panic, a mass fear that gathers random things into it, like a black hole in space. During the “Burning Times” (approximately 1500-1700), everything that scared anyone was assumed to be the result of “witchcraft.” In Nazi Germany, everything bad was associated with a worldwide conspiracy of Jews, including “decadent art” (??). In the U.S. in the “McCarthy Era” of the 1950s, the media screamed about the threat of “Communism,” which was somehow connected with “smut” and “homosexuality,” even though officially Communist countries disapproved of those things too.

The claim that almost any victim of sexual abuse is “really a child” is often accompanied by the claim that “children” need more “protection”—as distinct from the rights of adulthood. This makes me shudder, especially when the person who makes such claims seems to think that childhood can continue indefinitely.

Consider the legal status of Britney Spears, a 38-year-old pop star with children of her own, who has been under her father’s guardianship for the past twelve years. It’s possible that she could not be responsible for herself at the time this arrangement began, but how likely is it that she has needed this amount of supervision and control all this time? Since her legal guardian controls her income and financial decisions, he has no motive to set her free.

When I was 22, living in England with my parents, I met a Nigerian student and became involved with him. My parents didn’t really approve of the relationship, but after I returned to Canada with them, I sponsored him into the country as my fiance, and we were married in 1975, when I was 24. When I was 26, I gave birth to my daughter. Three months later, my raging, alcoholic husband threatened to take the baby to Nigeria with him to get her away from my harmful influence. I escaped to a shelter with her, then my parents invited us to move in with them and go back to university to increase my income-earning potential. This seemed like the best option for myself and my baby, so I accepted.

While I lived with my parents, my mother announced several times that she thought no one should be allowed to get married until they are old enough to make mature decisions. She was clearly hinting that I married too young, and that was the cause of my problems. Never mind that my husband was affected by the moral panic in which many men think they have lost face in the eyes of other men because their wives aren’t sufficiently faithful and devoted. And never mind that since then, Nigeria has become known as a home for international fraud, including romance scams.

Do you think I was a victim of child sexual abuse when I chose to move in with my Nigerian boyfriend in London? If so, how far should the age of consent be raised: to 25? 28? 30? If no one could ever marry or (gasp) cohabit without their parents’ consent, would unmarried “minors” simply not have sexual feelings?

Problems can’t be solved until they are defined accurately. Sexual harassment, abuse, coercion and deception are serious problems, and there are laws against them. It doesn’t follow that every victim of sexual abuse is “really a child,” or that all sex traffickers are “pedophiles.” Please don’t surrender to the hype.

And don’t get me started on the assumption that every adult who has willingly provided sexual service for money or material goods has been “trafficked.” That’s an insult to the victims of thugs like Epstein, Maxwell, and company.

Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica ( Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links:


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    I can see the influence of long years of teaching in your careful and logical dissection of this tangle of assumptions.

    • Jean Roberta

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Lisabet. I was afraid I might get a deluge of rebuttals from people who subscribe to the current belief that all young-adult or youngish victims of sexual abuse are “really children.” I’m somewhat relieved that no crowd has gathered outside my door, with torches and pitchforks. On the other hand, I like to see evidence that someone reads my posts!

  2. shiloh

    My baby mama said something recently to the effect that the beauty standard is late teens for girls, mid-20s for boys. That’s when you’re at your most beautiful, and that’s just the way it is. I would add that men wanting to possess young women is normal. Why should that not be expected? But it’s also normal for men to want other things besides banging teenagers, such that the other things become more important. Not that they won’t still occasionally see a pretty teenager that they’d like to bang. But what would they talk about afterward, their mutual love of K-pop? They can live a full life if they want to. It’s an option.

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