Let's treat pedophilia as a disorder, not a crime

Our current law is inconsistent and irrational. For example, federal law and 20 states allow courts to issue a civil order committing a sex offender, particularly one with a diagnosis of pedophilia, to a mental health facility immediately after the completion of his sentence — under standards that are much more lax than for ordinary “civil commitment” for people with mental illness. And yet, when it comes to public policies that might help people with pedophilia to come forward and seek treatment before they offend, the law omits pedophilia from protection.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals with mental disabilities, in areas such as employment, education and medical care. Congress, however, explicitly excluded pedophilia from protection under these two crucial laws.

It’s time to revisit these categorical exclusions. Without legal protection, a pedophile cannot risk seeking treatment or disclosing his status to anyone for support. He could lose his job, and future job prospects, if he is seen at a group-therapy session, asks for a reasonable accommodation to take medication or see a psychiatrist, or requests a limit in his interaction with children. Isolating individuals from appropriate employment and treatment only increases their risk of committing a crime.