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November 23, 2000 Our fear of pedophilia is exaggerated



by Sylvain Comeau

Witch-hunts did not go out with McCarthyism. Today’s most popular paranoid crusade is hysteria over pedophiles and child pornography, said James Kincaid, professor of Victorian literature and theory at the University of Southern California.

“We say that anyone feeling sexual attraction to children is a monster, a freak — they do not twist sexual urges but invent new ones absolutely unknown to the rest of us.

“And at the same time, we say that this problem is immense, and we keep inventing statistics to show that practically every child is molested, and those who think they haven’t been simply need to recover the memory.”

As in any witch-hunt, the innocent victims are piling up. These include parents arrested for taking innocuous photos of their children bathing, and people accused of child abuse based on a fictitious recovered memory. Kincaid himself has been accused, in a book review, of providing a justification for pedophilia. But he feels that children are the biggest victims of all.

“In the U.S., according to the FBI, there are 100 child abductions by strangers every year, which makes killer bees or choking on blanket fuzz a more looming menace to our kids. But we are diverting funds and attention away from more pressing social issues, such as the half a million runaway kids every year.”

He says that such problems are much harder to solve, but are given less attention.
“Kids are getting a raw deal; this panic is only protecting us from taking full responsibility for really helping kids.”

Kincaid is the author of Child Loving: The Erotic Child in Victorian Culture, Annoying the Victorians, and Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting.

This was the English Department’s annual Lahey Lecture in Literature.