“Who in their right mind would attempt to NON-judge Jerry Sandusky, the man who took sexual advantage of innocent children, ushering in what was undoubtedly the darkest era in Penn State history? If there was ever a poster child for malicious wrongdoing, the kind of person that judgment was made for, it’s got to be him. And while we’re on the topic, what about Hitler or Ted Bundy or Osama Bin Laden? Why would anyone in their right mind want to non-judge the likes of any of them?”

These questions strike at the heart of the NonJudgment Day Project’s vision, which is that there is value in practicing nonjudgment - so let's see what happens if we try it here.

As you all know, jury selection for Sandusky’s trial began earlier this week. And so we will soon be bombarded with new revelations about the case, about the children he allegedly harmed, and about the chain of command that allegedly failed to stop him.

With each new revelation, we will join together in judgment of the people involved. We will wax indignant at their lack of morality and failed courage. We will do so in the belief that through our judgments we are somehow contributing to the solution, which is to prevent child sexual abuse.

But will our judgmental reactions have the desired effect? Will judging the people involved in this case make it less likely that children will be sexually abused in the future? I realize this is a delicate question. So I first want to be crystal clear that I am 100% against child sexual abuse!

All I’m asking is: If our goal is to prevent child sexual abuse, is our penchant for judging and stigmatizing child molesters bringing us closer to this goal or is it moving us further away?

What if our judging is moving us further away? What if our judging is actually undermining our society’s capacity to protect children? To see what I mean, let’s take a moment right now to NON-judge the likes of Jerry Sandusky.

Wait! Before you click out of this post, give me a chance to show you what I mean! Or better yet, let me ask you to imagine something.

Imagine you are an adult (or adolescent) of reasonable intelligence, typical morals, and good standing in the community. You have found yourself over the last few months and years increasingly worried by your sexual feelings towards children. You feel that you could really use some information, advice, and support to help you deal with this disturbing situation. What would you do? Who would you confide in? Where would you go for help? What consequences do you think you might face as you attempt to deal with your problem?

The sad fact is that people who find themselves sexually attracted to children have virtually nowhere to go for help. To admit to having this problem is to declare oneself a social pariah and, in some situations can result in legal censure due to mandatory reporting laws. If it’s true that the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, then what I’m getting at here is a very serious situation.

You see most sex crimes begin as thoughts, which if not treated escalate to fantasies, which if not treated escalate to behavior. A recent Canadian study conducted in 2010 of men who were sexually attracted to children found that many were deeply troubled by their feelings. It also found that they feared admitting their problem to even their closest relatives because of the judgment, stigma, rejection, and social isolation they believed they would face. The thought of losing their loved ones, their friends, and maybe their jobs was for many of these men a powerful barrier to seeking help.    

And so most never did. Instead, they turned to on-line pedophile communities where instead of receiving therapeutic help, they received support and even encouragement for their thoughts and desires. Clearly, this is not what we as a society want to happen if our goal is protect children.

As a sociologist (or “doctor of society,” as I like to call myself) it is my job to monitor the health and wellbeing of the society in which we live. And here is my diagnosis: The climate of judgment we create around the problem of child sexual abuse makes it extremely difficult for people to seek help in the early stages of the attraction when help would be most useful.

Think about it. There are support groups for people who want to stop drinking and smoking. There are support groups for people who want to lose weight or stop gambling. And there are support groups for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

But for people who find themselves sexually attracted to children and who might one day perpetrate what is, to many, one of the most serious crimes imaginable, we as a society offer precious little in the way of help. Instead we judge and shun, avoid, ridicule, and isolate. And the climate of judgment we create makes it very difficult for these would-be child perpetrators to get the help they need before they act.

I gave a talk on this topic not too long ago. During the talk a woman spoke up. She said she worked at a mental health clinic in Baltimore. Earlier that week a man had come to the clinic asking for help. He was sexually attracted to his own children and wasn’t sure what to do about it or how to cure himself. What happened next is instructive: The troubled man was kicked out of the clinic! The female social worker he confided in was so disgusted and upset by what he was saying that she called him a monster and refused to treat him.

In the coming weeks as details of the Sandusky trial are reported by the press and you find yourself getting whipped up in the righteousness of judgment…pause, and take a moment to consider how each and every one of our judgments contributes to the big picture. Ask yourself whether the climate we create by our judgments is part of the problem or part of the solution.

It goes without saying that once an adult person touches a child sexually that person must be apprehended, tried and punished to the fullest extent of the law. And that victims of child sexual abuse must be provided with all the help and support they need to overcome their physical and emotional trauma. Period. End of discussion.

But for every person who acts on their desires I’m guessing there are dozens if not hundreds who at this very moment are merely thinking about it. In other words, the offenders we are fortunate enough to detect and punish are probably only the tip of the proverbial ice burg. The question then becomes: What do we as a society want do about them, the ones still in the thought-stage whose dark stirrings have not yet driven them to act? What is the best way to prevent them from ever acting on their thoughts and desires?

It seems to me that if there was ever a societal problem that could benefit from a Day of NonJudgment, it's this one.

If our collective efforts at NONJUDGING could lower – even a little – the barriers to obtaining help faced by people who are sexually attracted to children, and if by lowering those barriers we could prevent even a tiny fraction of child sexual abuse incidents from occurring, then helping to create a climate of NONJUDGMENT around this issue could go a long way toward achieving the ultimate goal, which is to protect future generations of children from sexual abuse.

Eric Silver, Founder, NonJudgment Day Project

To submit a story, or poem, or whatever else you like to the NonJudgment Day Project blog, send it to NJDProject@gmail.com  

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