By Trent Matthew
As soon as I hung up the phone the strong emotions hit me. I had been calm and collected throughout the entire conversation, but now I’m looking down at my hands as if they’re the claws of the monster I’d now become. I’d had these feelings for ages, but I just couldn’t bring myself to admit it. How could I? I was a good person. But, why did I have these feelings? Good people like me don’t have these kinds of feelings. For so long I had been fighting and fighting to stay in denial – running as fast as I could. But now, there was nowhere I could go and nothing I could do. I was completely trapped. I was forced to take an honest look at myself and admit that I was sexually attracted to boys.
Rewind twenty years. I’m five years old, in school, eating on my own. I’m so introverted, and there’s nobody I can connect to. Now I’m nine. I get diagnosed with ADD because I can’t concentrate in school. School is always so boring. I’m twelve. I’ve made a few friends but I still get teased a lot. One of my friends and I get naked and watch TV together. Finally, I feel so connected and so alive.
I’m thirteen, in remedial English class, and I hate high school. My friends start talking about girls. I just wish I could be like them. I’m still short for my age, not great at sports, and I’m jealous about it. I’m always wanting to see my friends naked and feel connected again. I’m fifteen. I become a Christian and get baptized. I read my Bible and pray every day. At seventeen, my mom changes. She was always angry and punching holes in the wall every now and then, but that was just her. No big deal right? But now she starts drinking. I change too. I grow my hair, cut my hair, bleach my hair, and develop a ‘larger than life’ personality to go with it. I’m okay. Everything’s fine. Stop asking me!
I’m twenty. I come out to myself as gay, but choose to remain in the church and not pursue a gay lifestyle. At twenty two, I get help from someone who made it out of the gay scene, and I tell him about my situation. For once I realize that my family is far from normal. I’m twenty four, and I find some pictures online. Just teen boy selfie’s, but they’re still classified as illegal. I do my best to block the memory out of my mind. I never did this. I’m a good person. I’m a good person. I AM A GOOD PERSON.
A year later, my father’s unusual and clingy relationship with a teen boy is brought to light. My parents separate, I move out, and am living in poverty. Somehow, I still manage to get through university. Every six months or so I stumble online, but It’s not like I’m hurting anyone, right? These teens took pictures of themselves. That same year I completely break down and almost commit suicide because of all the stress I’m under, but God saves me by surrounding me with his loving presence. God wants me to live, so I just keep living. I start teaching, and I’m pretty good at it too.
On the outside everything’s fine. On the inside, it’s war. I’m twenty five. I get asked to lead Sunday school. I do really well at it, and all the kids love me. One day I’m at his house. He’s eleven. We’re always wrestling in the living room. He hits me on the bum and without thinking I hit him back. His mother sees it. She phones up the next day and tells me that I’m not welcome in her house anymore. I hang up the phone. All of a sudden the strong emotions hit me.
Everything’s a blur. I’m crying and yelling, but most of all I’m feeling sick. It’s like everything inside me has turned to black mud – like the light has gone out completely. I feel so dirty and worthless and weak and helpless. I can’t stop shaking. I’m a walking zombie. I’m not in the present. All my thoughts and emotions are scattered. I’ve completely fallen apart, and I didn’t know what to do or where to go.
I decide to admit myself to a hospital. I need help, and I need to tell them everything. I knew it could cost me everything, but I would much rather spend my life locked away somewhere than hurt a child. It’s the right thing to do. Maybe there’s some kind of rehab program. Maybe there’s someone who can help me understand where these unwanted feelings are coming from, and how I can make them go away.
I’m sitting in the waiting room, and I’m praying. “God I have no idea what’s happening to me. Please help.” It’s my turn, and suddenly I’m in a small room with an angry looking nurse sitting opposite me. How did I even get here? I start to wander off again until her lifeless voice brings be back.
“What brings you here today?” she asks, her eyes not bothering to rise from the clipboard.
I stammer, “Well…um…I’m se’ sexually attracted to…um….I like b’ boys.” Immediately, the clipboard drops to her lap, and she pulls back with a snarl.
“What! Like a pedophile?” She spits out the last word like it’s poison. I shrink back. It feels like I’ve been shot with an arrow. The next thing I know, I’m talking to a psychiatrist with a voice recorder. He seems on edge. I tell him about my attractions, my private fantasy life, and my internet history. Then all of a sudden, I’m being sent home. No follow up, counselling, or referrals.
In the days that ensue, I receive letters of suspension from various child protection services stating that I am no longer permitted to work with children. Every time I get one of these letters, my heart sinks just that little bit lower. One of them contained a false accusation, stating that as a teacher, I had instructed my students to ‘spank each other’s bottoms’ without even giving details as to when, where, or who.
At this I lose all hope. I’m heartbroken, and furious at what’s happening to me. How could they stoop so low? I didn’t even hurt anyone, and I’d taken myself to the hospital to get help. But, none of that mattered. Like being accused of witchcraft in 1692, nobody cared if it was true or not: Guilty until proven innocent. Just having these attractions was enough to put me on the list.
The days drift past in a blur. I have no energy and sleep for much of the day. I get terrible nightmares of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, of being exposed and hounded. I’m constantly wrestling with my thoughts and emotions. I don’t even know who I am anymore. I move slowly, and everything takes twice as long. I start to get paranoid. What if I get attacked by a vigilante group of pedophile hunters? Is everything I do now under secret surveillance? What if I get ‘accidently’ outed by a professional and I have to leave my neighborhood? What if I get killed?
Following the hospital visit, I fell into depression and became suicidal. I planned to write a good-bye note, drive to a remote location, drink as much vodka as I could, and gas myself in the car. I honestly couldn’t see any way out of this hell. When I realized my thinking had taken a turn for the worst, I decided that the best thing I could do for myself was to go and get professional help. The first therapist I saw, who was supposed to be an expert, just told me I needed to get married. The second therapist, who was supposed to be a Christian, told me to live a double life with one half in the gay scene and one half in the church. The third therapist didn’t want to see me and referred me back to the second therapist. The fourth and fifth therapists didn’t want to see me either, and basically let on that there was no hope for someone like me.
After this, I gave up on looking for a therapist who would be able to understand. It was really hard not to get bitter inside. I was furious at the way I was being treated and ignored. I was desperate for help, but it was like nobody wanted to know me. Over and over I kept on asking myself the same questions. If the therapists aren’t willing to help pedophiles, who is? Why isn’t there some kind of program or support group? Why can’t I find any books written for people like me? But, one question topped them all. God? Why did you let me turn out… like this?
Unraveling the Problem
One reason it’s so difficult for pedophiles to get help comes from our social view of sexuality. In our world, it’s basically assumed that sexuality is destiny, abstinence is ludicrous, and that individuals should act on their sexual orientation.
This kind of thinking seems to change tack for people who find themselves attracted to children. Abstinence is suddenly taken quite seriously, which is appropriate. But, what is problematic is the way in which those who have unwanted sexual attractions are treated. Most often, those who struggle are judged mercilessly as potential predators, void of conscience and empathy; pedophilia is treated as a sort of ‘pre-crime’, where a sexual offense is deemed inevitable if the person is given an opportunity.
The Plight of Those Who Struggle
From here, it’s quite understandable why those who struggle with pedophilia are hesitant to come forward and get help. The risk of not being listened to and labeled a monster is quite high, even if they haven’t done anything wrong, and despite their attraction being involuntary. If individuals cannot come forward and get the help they need, the problem continues to fester and other related problems go untreated.
Oftentimes, those who struggle walk through unimaginable depression, and become paranoid at the prospect of people finding out about their condition. In many cases, this alone is enough to drive them to complete breakdown and suicide. The only way a person can survive is by either remaining in denial about their sexuality, ignoring the moral wrongness of taking action, or by developing/discovering a truer, fuller, and stronger sense of identity than that of the social caricatures. Of these three options, only the third can truly set a person free.
How My Pastor Was Able to Help Me
In an almost impossible situation, what can a pastor do to help those who struggle with pedophilia? Perhaps it’s best to share with you how my own pastor was able to help me.
Straight after I left the hospital, I went to speak to my pastor and talked about everything that was happening. It was such a dramatic day for me. I couldn’t stop crying. Despite the fact that I was a complete mess, having someone who would just listen meant all the difference. It certainly helped me recover from the shock.
Over the next couple of years, I continued to visit my pastor, sometimes only once a week just to meet up and discuss how everything was going. The fact that my pastor went to the effort of making himself available to me really demonstrated how much he cared. Most of the therapists I went to see had a waiting period of a couple of months, but thankfully I had a pastor who was quite generous with his time. Oftentimes, he would invite me to stay for dinner, which was a real blessing, since a lot of the time I was just too worn out from grief to cook anything.
Also, it was great that my pastor didn’t judge me for having these unwanted attractions. He understood that the feelings I had were completely involuntary, and he certainly didn’t blame me for it. This made me feel comfortable enough to be honest and talk about how I was really doing. There was no pressure to hurry up and be fixed, so as not to inconvenience him. This was so important to me, because at the time, I was judging myself mercilessly and the weight of shame was always pressing me into the ground. For the most part, I didn’t feel acceptable to anyone, and was questioning whether or not God still loved me.
At the same time, because I could trust him, it meant that it was easier for me to remain accountable and tell him how I had been feeling that week. I wanted him to know so that I could receive prayer and support. Me wanting my pastor to know was definitely important. Quite often accountability can turn into interrogation where the pastor berates an individual with uncaring questions, instead of building trust, which allows them to feel comfortable about opening up. Without care and trust, individuals are more inclined to keep secrets which can lead to disaster later on.
My pastor also helped me defend my innocence when I received the false accusation. At the time, I was riding an emotional rollercoaster and didn’t have the objective mindset required for composing an important letter. In many of my drafts, I came across as angry and bitter without even realizing it. My pastor helped me see this and showed me how to respond in grace, even after being so deeply hurt by others’ carelessness.
How You as a Pastor Can Help Others
In situations like this, I believe there are a few things that pastors can do to support those who struggle and minimize the fallout. But first, I should say there’s really nothing anyone can do. God is the one who shepherds his flock, and even the greatest pastor recognizes that he can do nothing without God working through him. God is our hope in hopeless situations. As for me, my whole world had just fallen apart, but in this God was looking after me. In the weeks after visiting the hospital, I really felt like I had lost my ground and was walking on water. The only thing that was keeping me from going under was the grace of God. The same is definitely true for pastors who minister to God’s church. There is nothing we can do without God.
Nevertheless, there are a few things to be mindful of when helping people who struggle with pedophilia. These include listening, being available, providing accountability, prayer, encouragement, and being prepared.
- Builds trust, making accountability much easier and more effective.
Encourages healthy adult-to-adult relating.
- Allows the individual to explore and express their own emotional world (something they might not feel comfortable doing with their family or friends).
- No two situations are the same, and different people might struggle in different areas. Therefore, listening to what’s going on is the first step.
- From what I have experienced, the best type of listening is reflective listening. That’s where the pastor will repeat what the other person has just told them, but in the pastor’s own words, showing they understand what the other person is saying and how they’re feeling.
- Most pedophiles struggle in isolation.
- Rates of depression and suicide are high.
- Therapists can have a long waiting period before therapy can begin.
- Regular accountability is important.
- Accountability for those who struggle with pedophilia is essential for obvious reasons, yet this must be done in a way that is loving and supportive.
- Be aware of access to children at church, work, sports/martial arts coaching, school, etc. In general, it’s important that those who struggle stay away from places where children are likely to be unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, as well as places where children are likely to be wearing swimwear. Although, for high risk individuals it’s better to have tighter constraints. (Child protection policy can certainly help here, but unfortunately, in some countries it goes too far and excludes places such as offices, university campuses, parks, and other public areas.)
- For internet accountability, there are a range of programs available that can help by blocking out certain sites. However, in my honest opinion, it’s a lot safer to limit internet access altogether. For example, it’s a good idea for individuals to have a phone plan that doesn’t include mobile data. Additionally, it’s a good idea to get rid of tablet devices, and put the desktop computer (if they have one) in the living room with the screen visible. Other options include only using the internet at work, school, or the library.
- If a person needs to be reported to child protection services because they have harmed a child, it’s good if the pastor who reports them be willing to walk through the process with that individual and provide ongoing support (if welcomed).
I don’t believe I need to go into detail as to why prayer is absolutely essential for those who struggle. It’s by God’s grace that anyone can say ‘no’ to sin and temptation. As in everything, we need God’s strength and empowerment in our battle against the enemy.
Encouragement is essential for two reasons. First, society judges pedophiles mercilessly, especially if they have acted on their attractions. Secondly, those who struggle also tend to judge themselves mercilessly, even if they haven’t done anything wrong, which is usually the key factor for those who take their own life. The best encouragement a pastor can give is to remind individuals of the Gospel: Nobody is saved by their own virtue, but by the gift of God through Christ Jesus.
- Be ready to be as loving and understanding as possible, even with accountability. Meet the person where they’re at, and be willing to walk with them step by step.
- Have a deep understanding of Christ’s love for the sinner, and that even the devil’s castaways can find salvation in Christ.
- Think critically about pedophilia and read up about it. (http://www.virped.org/index.php/resources is a great place to start.)
- Read testimonies of those who have made it through.
- Be aware of your own emotional responses and triggers. It’s highly likely you will get your buttons pushed.
- Know your local laws, and when it’s appropriate to report to authorities.
At first this may seem like a lot to take in, but from what I have witnessed, people who come from disturbing backgrounds make the best soldiers for Christ, since they have a deep understanding of their own vileness, weakness, and human vulnerability. They have no choice but to cling to the mercy and righteousness that comes through Christ.
Where Am I Now?
The process of recovery has been a slow one. I’m still far from perfect, although I’m in a much better place now than I once was. The temptation I used to feel has certainly died down with the accountability of my support group and my pastor. Handing over my router to my roommate also helps me when I’m feeling vulnerable. My biggest issue at the moment is that I can lapse back into depression and hopelessness. But even in these times of despair, God brings me back and gives me a new perspective – one that’s eternal.
Over the years, God has been continually providing for me through various means. He has given me the strength to persevere despite the overwhelming trials that have come my way. He has given me a great group of friends who understand what it’s like to be a Christian and go through a sexuality crisis. He has helped me understand the challenge of pedophilia, and has given me a voice to share my story and findings.
But none of this compares to the saving work of Christ. Every day, I look for answers as to why God would save me, and every day I can never find a single one. Nobody allows their son to be crucified in order to save the life of a pedophile. It is quite the opposite. What Jesus did for me on the cross is beyond all sense of reckoning and comprehension, and I long for the day when I can spend eternity mapping out the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love of God.
It really has been an incredible journey, being called out of darkness and into such marvelous and wonderful light. I’m not sure exactly what God has planned for me in the future, but I know that it will continue to refine my faith and mold me to the image of Christ Jesus. I might go on to write a book, but to be honest, none of this compares with knowing God and I can say that with full confidence.
I would like to close this letter by making a couple of requests. First, if you haven’t done so already, please embrace the power of the Gospel: God can do mighty works in those whom the rest of the world has rejected. Second, in light of this, please support those who struggle, and help those who seek God and his righteousness. Even the smallest gesture can mean so much to someone who’s in the midst of turmoil.