Systemic pedophilia describes the beliefs, culture, practices, language, institutions, and other social systems that allow children to be harmed. Systemic pedophilia includes the abuse, rape, and genital cutting of children, and all aspects of society that allow or contribute to these forms of abuse.
What makes an issue systemic? In critical social justice, systemic issues are those caused by the confluence of multiple systems rather than merely individuals. Systemic issues can occur even if those participating them have no conscious desire to harm others or awareness that they are participating in a systemic issue.
Systemic pedophilia is the application of this idea to systems which harm children. Whereas child abuse is often viewed as an individual problem, systemic pedophilia recognizes that the larger cultural beliefs, institutions, and language used around children can contribute to harming them.
Take for example a teacher sexually abusing a student. On one level, this is an individual crime for which only the teacher is responsible. However, the school system hired this teacher and gave him authority over students. In this system, students’ basic bodily functions like going to the bathroom or walking down the hall were at the mercy of adults like this abuser. The child was taught at school that setting boundaries with adults was “talking back to the teacher” and he could be punished for disobeying his abuser. A systemic view reveals that this abuse was only possible due to the larger cultural systems around compulsory schooling and the beliefs and practices this system inflicts on children.
If we were to examine what this child’s parents, media, and the larger culture around this child taught him or how they exercised power over him, we might find ways that other cultural systems were complicit in abuse. There might even be culture-wide assumptions or common forms of language that contribute to abuse or make it more likely.
This systemic view holds not only the individual abuser accountable, but every aspect of society complicit in or contributing to harming children accountable as well. Every way in which children are harmed can be viewed through this broader analysis.
In Children’s Justice, I apply this critical consciousness specifically to the issue of infant genital cutting, better known as circumcision. Circumcision fits the legal definition of rape used by both the US Justice Department and FBI since circumcision involves the forcible penetration of a minor. The only reason circumcision is not viewed as pedophilia is that larger social systems including dominant cultural beliefs, medical institutions, and even the language used to talk about circumcision frame the practice as something other than harmful to normalize it.
The reason circumcision could be described as systemic pedophilia is that 1) cutting children’s genitals fits the legal definition of rape, 2) this rape is done to children, making it pedophilia, and 3) this pedophilia is carried out due to larger cultural systems, such as medical institutions or the beliefs people have around children, sexuality, or children’s bodies. It is pedophilia carried out by a system, hence the term systemic pedophilia.
The term systemic pedophilia applies to multiple forms of child abuse. What makes these forms of abuse systemic is that they are not merely carried out by individuals but through systems. Unlike individual acts of abuse, systemic pedophilia can continue even if an individual participant in these systems ceases their participation.
Ending systemic pedophilia will require holding not just individual abusers accountable, but transforming all systems complicit in the harm of children. It will mean changing beliefs, institutions, and language. It will require a social justice movement for the most vulnerable and historically oppressed minority in the world, children.