November 3, 2017

HAGOPIAN | What Kevin Spacey Can Teach Us

Print More

Let me begin this article the right way by saying that pedophilia is an unarguable wrong. It should not be normalized, defended or addressed in any way that does not distinctly paint it as such. No discussion of a situation involving victims should become so abstract that it neglects to mention the victims’ names: Anthony Rapp, Robert Cavazos, Tony Montana and Daniel Beal. My heart goes out to them and to anyone else who suffered abuse at the hands of Kevin Spacey.

In a perfect world, these horrible incidents would never have taken place. In a world slightly better than our current world, compassion and support for Anthony Rapp, Robert Cavazos, Tony Montana and Daniel Beal would be all that anyone needed to express in the wake of such injustice. But because some people think that all gay people are pedophiles, there is more that needs to be said. I can only implore my fellow pundits to remember that discussion of tragedy should always be victim-centric.

First of all, it should go without saying that homosexual relations between consenting adults of different ages is in no way analogous to the behavior of Spacey. Youth, or appearance of youth, is a universally attractive trait. Many women alter their bodies to look younger, and nobody faults old straight men for wanting these younger-looking partners.

I was recently researching age of consent laws in France for a project I did on Emmanuel Macron’s wife Brigitte. I discovered that in 1942, the French age of consent for homosexual acts was set at 21, while the age of consent for heterosexual acts was still just 13. The phenomenon of pedophilia was formally named and defined in the late 19th century, and it has been used ever since to unfairly impugn the gay community. Some scholars even argue that pedophilia as a discourse emerged specifically to suppress homosexuality, citing England’s removal of the death sentence for “buggery” in 1861 and other events of that era that brought the topic to the forefront. That is not to say that sex with minors should be legal, but it ought to give you some idea as to the depth and complexity of the issue.

The conflation of pedophilia and homosexuality is indicative of a larger problem. People hear about a murderer or a terrorist or a child molester on the news, and they see it as a green light to let loose all of the anger and hatred that they’ve been bottling up inside. It is true that these feelings often come in the form of racism and homophobia and other forms of bigotry, but focusing on that alone would be missing the forest for the trees.

Nobody who revels in calling someone a “monster” or jokes that they should be “sorted out with a bullet” is ever in the right. Even though I do not believe in the death penalty, I know there must be some people who are so far gone psychologically that they are beyond rehabilitation. But I’m not happy that such individuals exist, and I certainly would not be happy if such a person were condemned to die. I can’t imagine anything sadder than a society being forced to give up on one of its members.

Some equate sympathy for perpetrators with being “soft on crime.” I would reply that empathy and justice are not mutually exclusive, but that they are tied together. If you can’t find empathy in your heart for the sake of the terrorists and child molesters of the world, do it for the sake of their future victims.  Or rather, do it for the sake of the people who need not become future victims if preventative measures are taken. And preventative measure require understanding, and understanding requires putting oneself in the shoes of another. Jezebel recently published the story of Adam, an 18-year-old who runs an online support group for non-offending pedophiles. (That is, people who feel attraction towards children but do not act on that attraction.) The idea of such a support group may fill you with revulsion, but the evidence suggests that it allows these individuals to get help and ultimately lowers their likelihood of acting on their desires. Here we see the difference between true justice and America’s fetishization of punishment. If children are being spared from traumatic experience, then surely taking the time to understand these potential pedophiles was time well spent. Humanity has always begotten humanity, it is suppression and marginalization that propagates violence.
Ara Hagopian is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ahagopian@cornellsun.com. The Whiny Liberal appears alternate Fridays this semester.