How to attack controversial matters: make them visible

A while ago TechCrunch picked up an ebook to suppress, not to promote, its sales because it dealt with a controversial topic: how to be a successful pedophile. The book did disappear, but not before its sales got boosted by 100,000% thanks to this unexpected PR boost by a high-profile media outlet. Any PR is good PR, after all. Techcrunch admitted that the result did not go according to plan.

We first posted on this because some of us weren’t cool with the fact that a book that made it easier for pedophiles to commit their crimes was so easily accessible via Amazon. Our post drew awareness to how sketchy this was but also attracted thousands of Internet looky loos who thought it might be funny to buy the book.

Is there a winner here? Amazon suffered from negative publicity and eventually caved under pressure to pull a (bestselling) book out off its shelf. And for us readers, a precedent for censorship has been established. Bookstores will naturally start backing off from controversial materials.

And we all know that the source issue, child abuse, will not be solved by pulling a guidebook from retailers. The effect is more symbolic, if it exists at all, as in Michael Moore’s petition asking Walmart to stop selling guns.

Furthermore, labeling a thing “dangerous” and trying to hide it is the best way to make it more desirable. I once read that Thailand newspapers used to put graphic photos of dead bodies on the front page to attract readership. Some people inevitably complained, so the media duly complied—by adding a black bar over the victim’s eyes. I can imagine how it affected subscription rates.

Probably the most effective way to get rid of a dangerous object is to make it look like it never existed. But that’s what censorship is about: eliminating unwanted social elements without a trace. To keep discussion fair and healthy, we have to bring the topic up front. How do we tackle this dilemma?

I suggest looking at this issue from a different angle. Instead of thinking about ways to suppress pedophilia, why don’t we discuss this subject more openly? According to Wikipedia, up to one third of all people have some kind of sexual experience with a pedophile. That might be an exaggeration, but according to my experience, pedophilia is far more common than AIDS or bird flu, life-threatening issues we love to discuss partly because they rarely exist in our daily lives.

I know at least one person who experienced sexual abuse as a child. On the surface the damage looked “cured” because the person had a strong mental shield walling it off. But in close proximity, I started to see the scar inside still infecting the body, eating the soul from the core. Ironically, the mental shield aimed at strengthening the spirit was also allowing the psychological damage to thrive for decades, protected from the external world. Pedophilia must be the most convenient form of crime for the offenders because the victims also support hiding the traces, probably more aggressively than the perpetrator.

Even more sadly, this person was trying to compensate for the scar by abusing the people around, especially the close ones, unconsciously and without control. Pedophilic experience had made this person a living robot—or even a zombie—who automatically acts according to the “programming” implemented earlier in life.

Opening a public discourse about pedophilia is not about creating a vent for child abuse, or posturating that being attracted to young, vulnerable kids is healthy or normal. I am saying that we shouldn’t treat such a common phenomenon as something that doesn’t exist. We might still not know how to cure this disease. But we do know this: a psychological scar does not automatically heal itself—I reluctantly believe this, after witnessing how the “mental shield” works. But sunlight can help. It’s time to bring this issue to a visible level and watch, discuss, and treat it just like we treat other abnormal psychological states.