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Confusing Ideation with Criminal Action
The difference between a pedophile and a predatory pedophile is a criminal act

by Andrew Vachss
Originally published on the Zero, January 16, 2013

Also available in Russian (

Note the media continue to use "pedophile" to describe criminals in action, not ideation:

The opening happened to coincide with an announcement by the Archdiocese of Boston, the epicenter of the pedophile priest scandal, that it was further consolidating its parishes in the face of continued low attendance at Mass, a priest shortage and lackluster fund–raising.
Source: "Private Pain, Played Out on Public Stage," New York Times, January 13, 2013

Earlier this month, police now investigating the alleged pedophilia called the scope of allegations against Mr. Savile "unprecedented in the U.K.," saying they have recorded 199 crimes in which Mr. Savile is a suspect, including 31 allegations of rape.
Source: "BBC Criticized in Savile Review," Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2012

In an audio statement made while he sits in a jail cell awaiting sentence, convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky says that while others make him out to be a monster, he is a falsely accused man who will continue to protest his innocence.
Source: "Sandusky denies guilt in jailhouse tape," CNN, October 08, 2012

Here's why that's a problem:

A pedophile is an individual with intense, recurrent sexually arousing fantasies and urges involving prepubescent children. Such feelings are "sick." To act on such feelings, to make them reality, is evil. The predatory pedophile is as dangerous as cancer. He works as quietly, and his presence becomes known only by the horrendous damage he leaves. He (or she) may be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a judge, a scout leader, a police officer, an athletic coach, a religious counselor. And he is protected not only by our ignorance of his presence, but also by our unwillingness to confront the truth.
Source: "How We Can Fight Child Abuse," by Andrew Vachss, Parade, August 20, 1989

and ...

Before I explain my position, let me tell you some of the things I have learned about predatory pedophiles. I am careful not to call such individuals simply "pedophiles," because "pedophilia" is a state of mind, not conduct. To "feel the feelings" may be "sick." But to act on those feelings ... that is evil. Why do I call it "evil?" Because it is neither the product of ignorance nor a mental illness ... it is a choice.
Source: "Testimony of Andrew Vachss before the United States National Commission on Libraries and Information Science," November 10, 1998

and ...

Pedophilia refers to a sexual interest in children; child molestation is the behaviour. But not all pedophiles act on their urges.
Source: The Globe and Mail (Canada) March 8, 2016

and ...

If a person has desires or fantasies about sexually exploiting children, that individual may be sick. (Indeed, if such desires are disturbing, as opposed to gratifying, to the individual, there may even be a "cure.") But if the individual chooses to act upon those feelings, that conduct is evil. People are not what they think; they are what they do. Our society distrusts the term "evil." It has an almost biblical ring to it—something we believe in (or not), but never actually understand. We prefer scientific–sounding terms, such as "sociopath." But sociopathy is not a mental condition; it is a specific cluster of behaviors. The diagnosis is only made from actual criminal conduct. No reputable psychiatrist claims to be able to cure a sociopath—or, for that matter, a predatory pedophile. Even the most optimistic professionals do not aim to change such a person's thoughts and feelings. What they hope is that the predator can learn self–control, leading to a change in behavior.
Source: "The Difference Between 'Sick' and ' Evil,' by Andrew Vachss, Parade July 14, 2002

and ...

In discussing one of the least understood forms of child sexual abuse, pedophilia, Mr. Vachss says it is important to make a distinction between a pedophile and a predatory pedophile. "A pedophile is obsessed with sexual feelings about children," he explains. "A predatory pedophile acts on those feelings."
Source: "In Defense Of Children," an interview with Andrew Vachss, CWRU Magazine, February 1990

and ..

Rehabilitation—I believe for some people who commit some kinds of acts, rehabilitation is not only possible but probably pretty likely. I don't believe in rehabilitating pedophiles because pedophilia is just a state of mind. The acts themselves are not pedophilia—they're child molestation or they're rape or they're sodomy or they're assault and the people who do such crimes are not sick. That's the point of the book—it's a choice, a choice of evil. So I don't know how you rehabilitate people who feel just fine about what they do and regret only that they've been caught.
Source: "Talking With ... Andrew Vachss," Pamela's Film and Entertainment Site, 2000

and ...

You can't concern yourself with motivation. I mean if I believe that I'm doing you a favor by killing you, it's up to a jury to determine if I'm insane but you're just as dead. I don't care to inquire into the belief systems of predatory pedophiles. I don't believe their belief systems but I'm fine if you do. If you believe that they believe what they do is wrong, I don't care, as long as we agree that they can't do it. There's only a conduct. That's why I never use the term pedophile. I use the term predatory pedophile. If you want to fantasize about raping babies, have a nice life. If you want to do it...
Source: "Andrew Vachss Doesn't Fight Fair: A Conversation with Clayton Moore," February 24, 2003

and ...

The "paraphilias" are diagnosed only when they are dystonic (i.e., cause significant stress to the individual), or when the individual engages in a paraphilia that violates the law ... and actually is caught doing so. Therefore an individual diagnosed with "pedophilia" could fantasize at will and never come to our attention. Only the predatory pedophile has turned his feelings into behavior. In such a case, so–called "pedophilia" would not succeed as an insanity defense—because we are finally learning to separate "sick" from "sickening."
Source: "Labeling Mental Disorders Doesn't Answer the Real Question: Does a 'Diagnosis' Mean There's a Cure?," by Andrew Vachss, The Zero, November 2012

and ...

GALLERY: You don't believe in rehabilitation for pedophiles?

VACHSS: I don't even believe that there are pedophiles. Look, there's a difference between feeling the feelings and acting on the feelings. If you feel the desire to molest a child, I'll grant you that that's sick. If you act on it, it's evil. It's a different ball of wax. Can you see a couple of cops sitting around the interrogation room, and [a suspect is] being asked about an armed robbery, and he won't talk. Can you hear the cops saying, "Well, gee, John's in denial." Is there an offense called "armed robberia?" These are child molesters. The fact that we have a pretty theatric term is simply a "Get out of jail free" card. What you do, and not what it's called, is what counts. And to steal a child's soul, which is exactly what happens... there is no greater crime.
Source: "Writing the Wrongs: Hard-boiled mystery author Andrew Vachss gets tough," Gallery, September 1991

and ...

"If you're talking about predatory pedophiles, they're a different breed entirely," he said.

Oh yeah, he doesn't like the word "pedophile," either. In his view, the language surrounding child-sex crimes has been watered down—and distorted. Some pedophiles actually talk about "intergenerational love"—another phrase that sparks Vachss' ire.

"It's no more love than my particular love of barbecue," he said. "I don't much care for the cow."
Source: "Fighting Child Abuse Crime-fiction writer infuses novels with idea of protecting children," Times Record News, September 30, 2000

and ...

I don't believe that it's possible to police people's fantasies and their internal productions. I believe that if we could, most of us would be doing time. Who hasn't had a homicidal thought just riding the subway, for God's sake. Right? So I distinguish between pedophile, which is a state of mind, and predatory pedophile, which is a state of activity. Since I believe that there is a distinction, you cross that line by choice, by volition. I don't think there can be unconscious evil.
Source: "TSF BiblioFile Featuring Andrew Vachss," The Scream Factory,, Spring 1993

So ... isn't it time we acknowledged the sloppiness of our terminology allows the truly dangerous to masquerade as "sick"? Slowly but surely, law enforcement is adopting our nomenclature:


The claim of "pedophilia" can even be expanded by defense attorneys into an "insanity defense." After all, if "pedophiles" are crazy...

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