Perverts versus pedophiles: Can the South Carolina family court tell the difference?

Posted Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Child Custody, Law and Culture, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, Of Interest to General Public

I happily represent a number of parents in family court whom the general population would label perverts.   Perhaps this is a result of my growing up in what may have been the most sexually accepting bourgeois society in American history (the San Fernando Valley in the late 1970’s: think Boogie Nights).  There’s a tremendous amount of sexual behavior that doesn’t interest me but doesn’t bother me either.  You can get a decent feel for the sort of odd behaviors some of my clients engage in by reading Dan Savage’s excellent sex advice column, Savage Love.  Whenever Dan writes about some previously-unknown-to-me sexual thrill–like sticking electric current up one’s urethra–there’s a pretty good chance I will be representing someone in the next few years who gets off on that.

Perhaps because of where and when I grew up, I find such kinks more bemusing than disgusting.  I have a hard time picturing the woman who’s perusing some web site searching photographs of genitalia that hopeful suitors have posted–but evidently such women exist and I have some clients who post photos of their genitalia with the dream of meeting them.

…And then there are pedophiles.  These are people, generally men, who are sexually excited by children or involve children in their sexual behaviors.  Short of castration, chemical or physical, medicine has not developed solid methods of keeping such folks safe to be around children.  Assuming that pedophile is no more a “choice” than any other sexual preference, the plight of pedophiliacs is somewhat tragic but that doesn’t mean that family law shouldn’t be doing everything in its power to keep pedophiles away from children.

However, unless I am missing something, there’s a distinction between garden variety “perverts,” whose kinks may not be my taste but are generally limited to consenting adults, and pedophiles.  South Carolina appellate law supports this position: “A parent’s morality, while a proper factor for consideration, is limited in its force to what relevancy it has, either directly or indirectly, to the welfare of the child.” Stroman v. Williams, 291 S.C. 376, 353 S.E.2d 704, 705 (Ct.App. 1987). As noted by the Honorable Alex Sanders in his concurrence in that case “[w]e are not in the business of gratuitously judging the private lives of other people.” Id. at 707.

I cannot get family court judges to uniformly follow Stroman, which I find frustrating.  Every so often I will represent a garden variety pervert who’s visitation with his children is limited because a family court judge cannot distinguish unusual sexual desires that are focused on consenting adults and sexual desires that are focused on children.  The harsh judgment these clients face are no different than the harsh judgments that folks who engaged in oral sex (a/k/a “sodomy”) faced 50 or 100 years ago, when there were routine criminal  prosecutions for the abominable and detestable crime against nature.

Of course, it’s possible these judges are right and there’s no distinction between pedophiles and perverts.  But if that’s the case, I’d love to reach the social science research that supports this position.

2 thoughts on Perverts versus pedophiles: Can the South Carolina family court tell the difference?

  1. MJ Goodwin says:

    Certainly not all perverts are pedophiles; but all pedophiles are perverts. The problem is in the cross-over. If one engages in risky behavior, such as posting images of one’s penis online, in hopes of finding that special friend, how good is that persons’s judgment? Might he allow unsavory sorts around his 7 year old child? The what ifs are the issue. Nobody wants to be the judge who said a pervert was OK for custody only to have that decision bite His Honor in the butt (pun intended) later when the child is victimized.

  2. California observer says:

    Greg’s point here is structurally the same as in another of his posts, The client whose child is uniquely attractive to pedophiles, courts will sacrifice a widespread but diffuse good (like visitation, or a Facebook membership) in order to avoid a very unlikely but horrific outcome (like pedophilia). As long as there’s no balancing the likelihoods of the various outcomes, and no way to reward sanity like there is to punish bad luck, judges and politicians will continue to be way more risk-averse than even the typical parent.

    Yes of COURSE Facebook doesn’t hurt the vast majority of kids, and of COURSE most fetishists stay in their own bedrooms. But where’s the public and institutional praise for being reasonable instead of gun-shy when facing even the remote possibility of Evil Pedophilia?

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