We need to stop using the word paedophile

Ugandan girls giving up education in hope of being provided for – by paedophiles

This is the headline to a recent article in the Independent, which clearly demonstrates the serious failures of understanding in the differences between child rape and paedophilia. The article is actually about the sexual exploitation, grooming, and rape of teenage girls in Uganda. These girls are removed from school and then abandoned when they become pregnant or develop sexually transmitted diseases or simply no longer exploitable.

Using the word paedophilia does nothing to assist in clarifying the abuse which is happening; rather it serves only to insist on a narrative of othering perpetrators. Using the term child rape or sexual exploitation and rape of teenage girls would make the situation equally clear and would not conflate the psychological disorder of paedophilia (which is a sexual attraction to prepubescent girls and those with the disorder may not act on it) and the men, without psychological disorders, who choose to abuse, sexually exploit and rape children and teenagers.

Let us be clear, it is normal men who commit this abuse because they feel entitled to sexual access to teenage girls and who have no problem whatsoever in abandoning these girls. This is child sexual exploitation and grooming. They are denied an education and many are then isolated from their communities. It doesn’t need to be conflated with paedophilia to be considered serious. It is a serious crime in and of itself.

Liz Kelly’s Weasel Words which is published in Trouble & Strife is a must read on this topic:

Immediately the word paedophile appears we have moved away from recognition of abusers as ‘ordinary men’—fathers, brothers, uncles, colleagues—and are returned to the more comfortable view of them as ‘other’, a small minority who are fundamentally different from most men. The fact that they have lives, kinship links and jobs disappears from view in the desire to focus on their difference. Attention shifts immediately from the centrality of power and control to notions of sexual deviance, obsession and ‘addiction’. Paedophilia returns us to the medical and individualised explana­tions which we have spent so much time and energy attempting to deconstruct and challenge. Rather than sexual abuse demanding that we look critically at the social construction of masculinity, male sexuality and the family, the safer terrain of ‘abnormality’ beckons.

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