I’m a fan of the New Yorker Out Loud podcast– that and Slate’s Culture Gabfest have recently moved past Fresh Air as my go-to podcasts for this kind of thing. I listened to a conversation with author Rachel Aviv about her new piece about the medicalization of pedophilia and child pornography, “The Science of Sex Abuse,” as well as “other articles she has written on socially marginalized, compromised, or despised people.” Her topic in the new piece — organized around the arrest and legal odyssey of a man charged under the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act — is the ambiguous legal status of pedophilia, which is sometimes treated as something of a “thought crime”, such that what is criminalized are certain desires as opposed to actually committed acts. Her tentative conclusion, articulated more explicitly in the podcast interview than in the piece, is that pedophilia may in fact not be a medical condition at all, but simply a crime like any other. (I actually was not entirely sure I understood why we should not judge sexual desire for children to be a medical disorder. It seems somewhat inevitable that such desires are going to be understood either as “evil” or as a medical condition, and the latter seems more palatable and manageable for any practical purposes.)
Anyway, this was a rearing-of-the-author-function case in which I suddenly realized that several of Aviv’s pieces had made a big impression on me without my realizing that they were by the same author. Most recently, “Netherland: Homeless in New York, a young gay woman learns to survive” (Dec. 10 2012), a haunting portrayal of homeless gay teenagers in NYC; and also “God Knows Where I Am: What should happen when patients reject their diagnosis?” (May 30 2011), an investigation into a bipolar, psychotic woman’s death brought on by her own refusal of treatment.
Aviv is great — a mesmerizing narrative storyteller whose pieces always probe deeply into difficult questions about those our society marginalizes or who marginalize themselves. She’s a 2004 Brown graduate and has also written for N+1, which the New Yorker seems to be treating as their development league lately.
Sounds like she’s working on a book — I’m sure it will make a splash. Here’s her website with links to articles.