The Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

About Minor Attraction

There is no doubt you have read an article discussing “pedophilia” in some form or another. Unfortunately, most media articles discussing “pedophilia” contain false information. That is why this site no longer uses the word “pedophilia” to describe minor attraction, though you can still read about the terminology distinctions below.

Terminology Distinctions

Pedophilia is a heavily stigmatized term, as is the term “pedophile.” Pedophilia is best understood as the sexual attraction to children who have not yet hit puberty[1], while hebephilia is the sexual attraction to children who are in the midst of puberty[2] and ephebophilia is the sexual attraction to children who have finished puberty[3]. Attractions to age groups are less about specific age than they are about the body type of the people found attractive. Someone is not technically considered a pedophile unless they have pedophilia, not hebephilia or ephebophilia, though these technicalities are not usually paid close attention to by the media or members of the general public, and are usually used more in science and among therapists. Many of the sections on this page are scientific and therefore keep those nuances.

Sometimes, people refer to those attracted to children as Minor Attracted Persons, or MAPs as an umbrella term started by the organization B4UACT. Many times, even experts lump all sexual attraction to children into just being “pedophilia” to simplify public understanding, though this is still confusing and inaccurate. There is research literature[4] and expert consensus that there exists many “non-offending” pedophiles, or pedophiles who do not sexually abuse children. The default understanding of the word pedophile should be someone that does not harm children.

Pedophilia Is Not Synonymous With Child Sexual Abuse

While that statement may be difficult to believe, it comes from several research sources. One study showed that one-third of sexual abusers of children have pedophilia specifically while two-thirds do not and that 60% of CSAM offenders have pedophilia (more research is needed on CSAM and pedophilia)[5], a Dutch study (p. 65-66) found that 20% of sexual abusers of children have minor attraction (not just pedophilia)[6]. Another study of 146 men who sexually abused children found that 16.2% had pedophilia[7]. The statement of former FBI supervisory special agent Kenneth Lanning[8] also confirms these ideas. While determining precise numbers is difficult due to underreporting and nuances over how sexual abuse is defined, it is clear that around one-third of sexual crimes against children are perpetrated by someone with a sexual attraction to children, while most are not. The motivations for someone sexually abusing a child vary widely just among juveniles who sexually abuse children (35.6% of abuse), and the motivations for adults are likewise varied and complex. 

Pedophilia And Pedophiles According To Diagnostic Manuals

According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition), pedophilic disorder is separate from pedophilia[9] and the early release of the ICD-11 agrees[10]. Meanwhile, the ICD-10[11] defined pedophilia as, “A sexual preference for children, boys or girls or both, usually of prepubertal or early pubertal age.” In other words, unless someone is distressed by having pedophilia (the attraction), they do not have a mental illness.

According to the early release ICD-11[12], pedophilic disorder (again, not pedophilia itself) is considered a paraphilic disorder, which is someone with an atypical pattern of sexual arousal towards people who are unwilling or unable to consent and either acts on those attractions in a harmful way, or feels distressed by having those attractions.

Minor Attraction According To Current Research

Current research around minor attraction is dominated by studies done primarily on forensic populations of minor attracted people (those who have been charged for harming children), though there is some preliminary research that has been done on non-forensic populations of minor attracted people (those who have not harmed children). As always, more research is needed.

One of the most basic ideas that the public latches onto is that minor attraction can be changed through therapy, or that someone can become “normal” by seeking a qualified therapist. However, there is no reliable research to support this claim and current scientific consensus is that minor attraction has no way of changing[13].

In fact, current research points to the fact that minor attraction is a sexual orientation[14], which means that it develops during puberty, persists over time, and has no way of changing. It does not imply that abusing children is acceptable, since sexual attraction is different from behavior.

On the public’s acceptance of minor attraction being a sexual orientation, researchers note that, “Opposing the extension of the term “sexual orientation” to pedohebephilia may be politically understandable, but scientifically persuasive arguments are lacking. Furthermore, such opposition is unnecessary. Homosexual people do not deserve equal rights merely because their defining difference is a sexual orientation. Their rights depend on the fact that enacting their sexual orientations is both important for their wellbeing and not harmful to others. Most people believe that sex between a child and an adult is harmful to the child and in any case, wrong. These attitudes and beliefs do not depend on whether pedohebephilia is a sexual orientation.[15]”

Stigma And Public Perception

The stigma that minor attracted people face (being discriminated against, stereotyped, and receiving prejudice or treated differently for being part of a specific group) is well-documented, and though they need improving upon[16], we do have some information about what this stigma does. One effect of stigma towards minor attraction is that the public perceives it to be the sexual abuse of a child, rather than the sexual attraction to children, which causes a high degree of discrimination. This has a negative impact on mental health and the likelihood that minor attracted people will seek out therapy when needed[17].

The same source (p. 174) revealed several concepts that the public believes about the causes of minor attraction: Early childhood trauma, stuffed emotions, lack of guidance, and biology. The public believes that therapy, external control (such as religion or medication), and internal control (willpower) can change minor attraction. Most of the public (68%) believes that minor attracted people partake in a variety of sexual activities with children, and most believe that minor attracted people are mad or evil. At the same time, most believe the media has created a pedophile witch hunt (58%), which is supported by other research which shows that sexual crime rates are inflated 9 times their actual rate in the UK[18].

This is just a very small sampling of the stigma research. For a wider sample, see this compilation of research.

Citations

[ 1] Wikipedia: Pedophilia

[ 2] Wikipedia: Hebephilia

[ 3] Wikipedia: Ephebophilia

[4] Cantor, James M., and Ian V. McPhail. “Non-Offending Pedophiles.” Current Sexual Health Reports 8, no. 3 (September 2016): 121–28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930-016-0076-z.

Jahnke, Sara. “The Stigma of Pedophilia: Clinical and Forensic Implications.” European Psychologist 23, no. 2 (April 2018): 144–53. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000325.

[5] Seto, Michael C., James M. Cantor, and Ray Blanchard. “Child Pornography Offenses Are a Valid Diagnostic Indicator of Pedophilia.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 115, no. 3 (2006): 610–15. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.115.3.610.

[6] “On Solid Ground: Tackling Sexual Violence against Children in the Netherlands.” National Rapportur on Trafficking in Human Beings, 2014. https://www.dutchrapporteur.nl/Publications/OnsolidgroundTacklingsexualviolenceagainstchildrenintheNetherlands/index.aspx.

[7] Kesicky, D., I. Andre, and M. Kesicka. “EPA-0284 – Pedophiles and (or) Child Molesters.” European Psychiatry 29 (2014): 1. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0924-9338(14)77731-4.

[8] Lanning, Kenneth V. “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis.” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Federal Bureau of Investigation, December 1992.

[9] American Psychiatric Association, and American Psychiatric Association, eds. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed: 697-700 Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

[10] https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/517058174

[11] https://icd.who.int/browse10/2016/en#/F65.4

[12] https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http%3a%2f%2fid.who.int%2ficd%2fentity%2f2110604642

[13] Cantor, James M., and Ian V. McPhail. “Non-Offending Pedophiles.” Current Sexual Health Reports 8, no. 3 (September 2016): 122. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930-016-0076-z.

Cantor, James M. “Can Pedophiles Change?” Current Sexual Health Reports 10, no. 4 (December 2018): 203–6. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930-018-0165-2.

[14] Berlin, Fred S. “Pedophilia and DSM-5: The Importance of Clearly Defining the Nature of a Pedophilic Disorder.” The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 42 (2014): 404–405.

Bailey, Michael J., Paula A. Bernhard, and Kevin J. Hsu. “An Internet Study of Men Sexually Attracted to Children: Sexual Attraction Patterns.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 125, no. 7 (2016): 983-986. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000212.

Seto, Michael C. “Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation?” Archives of Sexual Behavior 41, no. 1 (February 2012): 231–36. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-011-9882-6.

[15] Bailey, Michael J., Paula A. Bernhard, and Kevin J. Hsu. “An Internet Study of Men Sexually Attracted to Children: Sexual Attraction Patterns.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 125, no. 7 (2016): 986. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000212.

[16] Jahnke, Sara, and Juergen Hoyer. “Stigmatization of People With Pedophilia: A Blind Spot in Stigma Research.” International Journal of Sexual Health 25, no. 3 (July 2013): 169. https://doi.org/10.1080/19317611.2013.795921.

[17] Jahnke, Sara, and Juergen Hoyer. “Stigmatization of People With Pedophilia: A Blind Spot in Stigma Research.” International Journal of Sexual Health 25, no. 3 (July 2013): 171. https://doi.org/10.1080/19317611.2013.795921.

[18] Harper, Craig A., and Todd E. Hogue. “The Emotional Representation of Sexual Crime in the National British Press.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 34, no. 1 (January 2015): 3–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X14544474.

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