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Is pedophilia illegal?

Two hands, handcuffed together, are emerging from the bottom left, both making fists and pulled apart so the handcuffs are held taut. The background is light-grey.

This is a common question among minor-attracted people (MAPs) who are looking for support for the first time. After all, the internet is rife with social media posts and even news articles calling pedophilia and other minor attractions illegal, so it's easy to see how one could conclude that simply experiencing an attraction to children is against the law.

Pedophilia is defined as a pattern of stable and persistent attractions to prepubescent children. Though it is often conflated with child sexual abuse, they are not the same. Other minor attractions, such as nepiophilia (attraction to infants), hebephilia (attraction to pubescent teens), and ephebophilia (attraction to post-pubescent minors), are defined similarly and this article also holds true for them.

The belief that pedophilia is illegal is widespread, with many being quick to report anyone they suspect of experiencing "illegal attractions" to law enforcement and child sexual abuse reporting hotlines in hopes of getting them arrested. However, despite the adamancy with which some may claim otherwise, it is not illegal to be attracted to minors, and there is no law against being a pedophile or any other type of MAP.

We investigate suspected crimes or actual crimes...but not thought-crimes

Unlike the public, law enforcement is well aware of this, and regularly has to discard reports about the presence of a community member suspected to be a pedophile, since there is no suspicion of actual illegal activity. After a resident in his jurisdiction spoke about being a pedophile on the Dr. Phil show, Sheriff Chris Kaber spoke to Harold and News about the resulting influx of reports he received, stating, "we investigate suspected crimes or actual crimes...but not thought-crimes."

Why isn't pedophilia illegal?

According to current research, pedophilia is both unchosen and unchangeable, so any law against it would be unjustly punishing people for something outside of their control. It is also impossible to accurately detect minor attractions, so such a law would not be enforceable. Furthermore, laws against attractions would likely also lead to the incarceration of people with intrusive thoughts, discriminating against disorders like OCD.

Furthermore, there would be no benefit to a law against pedophilia. Thoughts and feelings alone cannot cause harm, and they are not something from which others need to be protected. Child sexual abuse (CSA) is already illegal, and since the majority of child sexual abusers are not pedophiles, criminalizing these attractions would do little to protect children. It would also set a precedent of incarcerating people on the basis of attractions, which would pose a significant risk to other sexual minorities.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a law against pedophilia would make it even more difficult for struggling MAPs to seek support, which plays a vital role in improving MAPs' wellbeing and reducing MAP-perpetrated CSA. MAPs already face a high risk when seeking support, as in one study nearly a quarter of mental health professionals indicated that they would report a MAP who had never offended and did not want to under mandatory reporting laws. A law against pedophilia would increase this risk, making MAPs even less likely to seek support if and when they need it.

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