Over the weekend Gawker published an article by Cord Jefferson exploring the psychological ins and outs of pedophilia. The story, headlined “Born This Way: Sympathy and Science for Those Who Want to Have Sex with Children,” used language highly graphic in nature to describe real-life sexual experiences between adults and children. Naturally, reaction to the piece was strong, many arguing that the story offered too-sympathetic a look at pedophilia.
Jefferson told FBDC that since the backlash, he had “a two-hour phone chat” with a female editor he respects. “We talked about a lot, but specifically the power of language and why the words I chose for that piece were so hurtful to so many,” he said.
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a response to Jefferson’s piece, charging Gawker with “soft-pedaling child-rape.” Coates wrote that he “can’t really understand how one writes that a 20-year old man ‘began a sexual relationship’ with a seven year old.” He argued that all references to “a sexual relationship” between an adult and a child should have been regarded as “rape.”
FNC contributor Kirsten Powers called the story “super troubling.”
As noted by Twitchy, the story was passed around on Twitter like a hot potato and soon the sarcastic hashtag “#GawkersNextArticle” was created. “The Klan: An Appreciation,” GOP media strategist Rick Wilson suggested. National Review‘s Greg Pollowitz recommended “How to Read 50 Shades of Gray to your Kids.”
Jefferson responded to criticism he received in a post on his Tumblr. “Using the words ‘rape’ or ‘molest’ in place of ‘sex’ is an interesting argument that, I’ll admit, I didn’t think a whole lot about while writing the piece,” Cord wrote. “My default thinking is that if you’re talking about ‘sex’ between a grown man and a prepubescent child, it should be obvious that it’s not consensual.”
He also posted an anonymous comment he received on the story that said “Thanks for the trigger, a**hole.” A “trigger” is a disclaimer that typically appears at the top of an article or other content that serves as a warning to readers of graphic material they may be about to experience.
“The trigger warning thing is actually something I brought up to my editors,” Jefferson wrote. “I directly asked if we should include one at the top of the piece, and we thought about it for a few minutes. Our final decision was that an article with “People Who Want to Have Sex with Children” in the headline was trigger enough.”
Cord didn’t come away from the criticism without learning something. To one comment on his post that questioned the word choices in the story, Jefferson said he could “honestly say you’ve enlightened me.”
UPDATE: Jefferson told us “several other friends and strangers” who say they were either raped or molested have offered criticisms on his piece. “[I]t’s going to be a while before I can process those enough to want to talk about them publicly,” he said. “Nevertheless, all the lessons I’ve been given and sought out in the past few days have been valuable and transformational, and I’m sorry for the pain I caused.”
He said, however, he would write the story again. “I’ve had several self-professed celibate pedophiles contact me to say that my piece made them feel less ashamed about themselves and more interested in getting the help they need. I’m happy for that. I’m just sorry that I hurt people in an effort to help others.”