ABC building sydney
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

This past week had the perfect conditions to produce snowflakes. The chills running down various spines as women talked about holding men to account. The freezing out of Dr Seuss books. The cloudy story of the cancellation (or not) of Mr Potato Head.

So snowflakes were well primed to crystallise around the issue of using the word “paedophile”.

A story in The Weekend Australian revealed an internal ABC email about usage of the term. A reporter for the national broadcaster who spoke to the Sexual Assault Support Service (SASS) told colleagues that the SASS had concerns about describing alleged child sex abuser James Geoffrey Griffin as a paedophile.

Invest in the journalism that makes a difference.

EOFY Sale. A year for just $99.

SAVE 50%

“We should avoid it, unless we know he had a clinical diagnosis of paedophilia and instead use serial sexual offender/predator, or a sexual abuser of children and young people,” the email reportedly said.

“SASS says another consideration is from their point of view, there are a lot of paedophiles/people with paedophilia who do not act on those impulses, especially if they reach out for and receive professional psychological help … describing (perhaps technically inaccurately) Griffin as a paedophile could discourage those people from seeking help, making it more likely that they go on to abuse children.”

The email didn’t signal an official edict or require a change in language, the ABC responded, but was handy info for reporters.

That story had a predictable response.

“The ABC is out of control,” Queensland LNP Senator James McGrath tweeted.

Under the headline “Mustn’t offend the pedos … er, sexual abusers of children and young people”, The Daily Telegraph’s Tim Blair wrote: “The politically correct push within the ABC to avoid upsetting minority groups now extends even to paedophiles.”

Over at The Spectator, James Macpherson raised the spectre of society being forced to respect paedophiles.

“The edict to not call paedophiles ‘paedophiles’ lest we marginalise paedophiles ignores the fact that some people need to be marginalised,” he wrote.

“And it begs another question for progressives. Just how long does it take to go from ‘don’t marginalise paedophiles’ to ‘respect diversity’?”

There are several levels of bullshit at play here.

The first is that easy slide from email to edict. As the ABC made clear, the email was just setting out the view of the SAAS, not implementing a binding change in language.

The second layer of malarkey is the wilful conflation of child sex offenders with paedophiles.

As the Australian Institute of Criminology puts it, “the terms ‘paedophile’ and ‘child sex offender’ are often used interchangeably. It is important to understand, however, that the two terms have different meanings; not all child sex offenders are paedophiles and conversely, not all paedophiles are child sex offenders.”

Read the link. There’s an official diagnosis of paedophilia. And there’s clearly a criminal definition of what sexually abusing children is. While the two intersect, they are not the same.

That distinction shouldn’t be controversial. But of course it is, because the subject matter is not just emotive, but traumatising and triggering. That means it’s way too inviting for reactives to resist reacting to it and to defenestrate nuance at the same time.

Which brings us to the third level of obfuscation: that the suggestion was prompted by “political correctness” (known in some circles as “not being a dickhead”), that it was somehow about being more sensitive to the feelings of paedophiles.

So (here’s where the nuance counts) it is sort of about being sensitive about the feelings of paedophiles. Not out of some weird leftist desire to leave no one behind. But about making the distinction with child sex offenders clear, so that those who have not offended feel (somehow) that they can seek help for their condition. So they aren’t shamed so badly that they never seek help.

Every paedophile that seeks help and successfully stops themselves becoming an offender means fewer children are harmed.

Years ago, I wrote about a mob who call themselves Virtuous Paedophiles. You can imagine the response to that piece. But aside from the rabid reaction, one of the things that sticks with me from writing that is someone who said — and I’m paraphrasing — “thing is, there are so few places paedophiles can go to find help to stop themselves becoming sex offenders… and many of them end up talking to the Catholic church.”

It’s uncomfortable to talk about this. It’s entirely understandable that people would like to string up any and all paedophiles. It’s hard to write about in case survivors of child sex abuse feel this is a defence of paedophilia or child sex abuse.

Yet, it’s factual. And it’s important, if there’s anything we can do to stop paedophiles or child sex offenders from abusing children.

The SASS made it clear in the email, which was in the story, that this was what they were trying to do. And the snowflakes took that and turned it into another culture wars artefact.

Man, that’s cold.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit

Save this EOFY while you make a difference

Australia has spoken. We want more from the people in power and deserve a media that keeps them on their toes. And thank you, because it’s been made abundantly clear that at Crikey we’re on the right track.

We’ve pushed our journalism as far as we could go. And that’s only been possible with reader support. Thank you. And if you haven’t yet subscribed, this is your time to join tens of thousands of Crikey members to take the plunge.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
SAVE 50%