The day after the debut of a highly anticipated documentary about two men who say they were repeatedly sexually abused by Michael Jackson, Slate was slammed for republishing a 15-year-old article asking whether or not pedophilia is a crime.
Slate’s story, written by Dahlia Lithwitck asks “Is Pedophilia a Crime or an Illness?” Lithwitck notes that we have “never quite known whether child molesters should be treated as sick people or punished as criminals,” using a recent HBO documentary about the deceased King of Pop as the impetus.
HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” premiered on Sunday night, putting a new spotlight on sexual abuse allegations made by Wade Robson and James Safechuck against Jackson.
Lithwitck’s piece, which was originally published back in 2004, was resurfaced as a result of the documentary’s popularity.
“Again, and for all the wrong reasons, we can’t take our eyes off Michael Jackson. Whether or not the allegations are substantiated, the question is in the air: Is pedophilia a disease to be treated, or a crime to be punished? Are people who seduce minors sick or evil? Our current legal and medical systems blur both views. We call for the most draconian punishments (life imprisonment, castration, permanent exile) precisely because we view these acts as morally heinous, yet also driven by uncontrollable biological urges,” she wrote. “If sex with children is truly the product of freely made moral choices, then we should deal with it through the criminal justice system. But if it is a genetically over-determined impulse, an uncontrollable urge nestled in our DNA, then punishing pedophiles must be morally wrong.”
The Slate reporter added: “As science—and culture—increasingly medicalizes bad behavior, finding a neurological component to everything from alcoholism to youth violence, we run the parallel risks of either absolving everyone for everything, or punishing “criminals” who are no guiltier than cancer patients.”
Lithwitck’s piece goes on to debate whether pedophilia is a crime or an issue with brain chemistry, while focusing on the broad term and not simply the Jackson case.
Lithwitck concludes by declaring that “we may be punishing sick people who could have been helped.”
NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck ridiculed Slate for republishing the article.
“Even though this piece was originally published in 2004 and resurrected in light of ‘Leaving Neverland,’ it’s so out of left field,” Houck told Fox News. “Children are harmed in this situation and families are left broken. Period. And if you don’t think there should be legal repercussions for the sexual abuse of children, I don’t know what to tell you.”
Slate’s verified Twitter account was quickly mocked after sharing the article, with hundreds of users responding to the tweet.
Many users asked why pedophilia can’t be both a crime and an illness, while others took a harsher approach to criticism.
Meanwhile, the Jackson estate has referred to Robson, now 36, and Safechuck, 40, as “admitted liars” and “perjurers” and says “Leaving Neverland” does a disservice to “legitimate” victims of child abuse.
Fox News’ Anna Hopkins contributed to this report.
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