Yes, they are nasty inhuman monsters, aren't they? They should all be shot! No, wait, death is too good for them! They should be forced to suffer! All manner of unspeakable torment should be rained on their filthy, sick heads for eternity.
Pedophilia easily beats out bestiality and necrophilia as the most universally deplored perversion. Something deep inside us grows repulsed and violent at the thought of it. We picture a sweaty, shifty-eyed, middle-aged man fondling our baby sister, and we reach for a rusty ice pick.
So why am I writing about it? Prague's best-known convicted pedophile - 59-year-old legendary British disc jockey Chris Denning - was released from a Czech prison after serving almost five years on charges of sexually abusing underage boys.
Authorities say he headed a ring that lured young boys from local herna bars to a Prague 2 flat and paid them, with money and drugs, for sex. Upon release, he'll be expelled from the country.
Good riddance. But Denning's imminent freedom, and certain trends in the United States, have stirred up thoughts about the way we deal with creatures like him.
They've been with us for as long as we can remember. In every age, every culture - and not always taboo. Ancient Greek men considered sex with a slave or a minor the noblest form of intercourse. For them, taking the passive role in sex was the real taboo.
But then, those were the same sickos who sacrificed cattle. Now, of course, we understand the urge to fondle pre-pubescent children as either a tragic mental illness to be treated by chemical castration, or as an incurable deviation to be dealt with in the electric chair and the fires of Hell - depending on whether you ask a liberal arts student or a Bible Belt Republican.
It's time to face facts. Despite all our efforts to rehabilitate and punish, the scourge never goes away. In fact, it seems to be escalating - that is, if one can trust the major media. Internet Haven for Pedophiles! Kiddie Porn Downloaded at Record Rates! Chat Rooms Underage Meat Markets! The headlines call for a crackdown, and are swiftly answered.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced more than 100 arrests on Aug. 8 when the FBI busted a Texas-based Internet kiddie porn distribution ring. The two-year investigation could yield as many as 30,000 more arrests.
Although the Internet is widely feared as a pedophile breeding ground, some believe it could actually offer a new way of dealing with the problem. Porn advocates call it "venting. " When potential offenders are allowed a harmless release for their fantasies, so the theory goes, it deters action.
And with technology, it's possible to create harmless, ultra-realistic pictures without using live models - taking the kiddies out of kiddie porn. Eventually, who knows? Virtual partners so real you can actually feel them. Forget trying to change human nature.
If you don't buy this solution, have no fear - our protectors in the U.S. government have already squashed it. The 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act contains a proviso barring the production, possession and distribution of even fake kiddie porn.
It also bans pictures of adults dressed as children, adults who seem underage and children dressed in provocative clothing - think Shirley Temple in latex. The law calls for sentences of up to 15 years for possessing more than three images of child pornography; 30 years with a prior record.
The hunt is not confined to cyberspace. On July 10, 22-year-old Brian Dalton of Columbus, Ohio was sentenced to seven years for "pandering obscenity involving a minor. " His parents had found his diary, which contained some 14 pages of fantasies about torturing and molesting young children.
Dalton had a prior conviction for distributing kiddie porn. But as far as the court knew, he had never shown his diary to anyone, and had no intention of publishing it. In their fervor to score convictions, judges in the past few years have revived an old theory that U.S. law largely discarded three decades ago.
Known colloquially as "bad tendency," it requires a remarkable shift in our understanding of the First Amendment. According to this train of thought, obscene material leads the possessor to commit illegal acts - much as listening to Cypress Hill leads to marijuana and then heroin use. Private thoughts quickly become public offenses.
So, obscene material is now tantamount to sexual assault. The question becomes: what constitutes obscene material? If you're a photo lab technician, this can get tricky. Last year, a man from Burbank, California turned in a roll of film that included pictures of his niece and nephew playing in the bathtub.
The lab technician dutifully informed the police, who let the uncle off with a stiff warning.
In 1999, a woman from Oberlin, Ohio wasn't so lucky. Police arrested her for developing pictures of her 8-year-old daughter, also playing in the tub. The Fuji lab worker was disturbed by the presence of a showerhead in the shot. Prosecutors argued that this encouraged fantasies of masturbation.
You see, it's not what's actually in the photo that makes it porn. According to a 1989 ruling (Massachusetts vs. Oakes), it's the intent of the photo. But how do we judge intent? We can't very well climb inside the head of the person who took the photo to see whether they find it arousing. We can only ask ourselves if it could, possibly, turns us on.
What?! You mean inside all of us, there's a monster that finds naked kids potentially erotic? Not necessarily, although U.S. law seems to require just that. What is certain is that this demon, pedophilia, is with us for good.
Whether they're aberrant freaks of nature or lurking around every corner, victims of prior abuse or an inevitable outgrowth of the dreaded "homosexual lifestyle," we can't seem to decide. They've become the repositories of so many of our own paranoid fantasies; we've completely lost track of what it is we're fighting.
Our ways of dealing with the problem are ridiculous, self-defeating and obsessive - the kind of frantic stone casting usually reserved for matters uncomfortably close to home.
Any childcare worker will tell you that the real problem lies within the family. Children are far, far more likely to be molested by a relative than seduced in an Internet chat room or fondled in the back of a kiddie porn addict's car. As with most evils, one doesn't have to look far to find the bogeyman.
Looking him straight in the eye is the real struggle.