The Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
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About Pedophilia

Pedophilia is many things to many people, and there is much disagreement about how the word "pedophilia" should be defined. 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, or leave the reader believing myths about pedophilia and pedophiles. Some of these myths are:

 

  • Pedophilia is sexually abusing a child
  • Pedophilia is a psychotic condition
  • Pedophilia makes people molest children
  • Pedophilia can be convicted in a court of law
  • Pedophilia is evil

 

  • All people who sexually abuse children are pedophiles
  • Pedophilia is a sexual attraction to children of any age
  • Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder
  • Pedophilia is a disease that can be cured
  • Pedophiles are a danger to children

Pedophilia is a term that has a lot of baggage, as does the term pedophile. Because people, the media, and even researchers and governments use these terms improperly, there is some dispute as to how they should be defined. This site uses the understanding of pedophilia and pedophiles that comes from sexology and academia. For a brief overview of several statistics around pedophilia and why they matter, see here.


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]. Generally, the age ranges are from 0-13 for pedophilia, 11-14 for hebephilia, and 15-19 for ephebophilia. Someone is not technically considered a pedophile unless they have pedophilia, not hebephilia or ephebophilia. 


Sometimes, people refer to those attracted to children as Minor Attracted Persons, or MAPs, and a sexual attraction to children can sometimes simply be referred to more simply as minor attraction as an umbrella term. Many times, even experts lump all sexual attraction to children into just being "pedophilia", and shun the use of labels to the contrary. There is research literature[4] and expert consensus that there exists many “non-offending” pedophiles, or pedophiles who do not sexually abuse children.

 

Believe it or not, the majority of those who harm children sexually are not attracted to them. In fact, one study showed that one-third of sexual abusers of children have pedophilia while two-thirds do not, a Dutch study (p. 65-66) found that 20% of sexual abusers of children have minor attraction (not just pedophilia), while Michael Seto's estimate is that 50-60% of those who sexually offend against children (any offense) have pedophilia. While determining precise numbers is difficult due to underreporting, it is clear that a significant number of sexual crimes against children are perpetrated by someone with a sexual attraction to children.


According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition), however, pedophilic disorder is separate from pedophilia. In the wording of the text, you can see they classified pedophilia as only the sexual attraction to prepubescent children, and classified the interpersonal difficulties that can arise from having such an attraction to children as pedophilic disorder[5]. They even use the term "sexual orientation" to describe pedophilia, which is meant to indicate that the condition does not change[6]. Just as there is no way to make a gay person straight (without causing lasting harm to them), just as there is no way to make a straight person gay (without causing them lasting harm), there is no way to make someone who is sexually attracted to children... not sexually attracted to children. So, just as there is no "cure" for homosexuals or transgendered people, there is no "cure" for pedophiles. 

 

Pedophilia and pedophiles are not words that are properly understood by most, and are frequently equated with child sexual abuse and abusers. This conflation makes pedophilia seem like child sexual abuse, which means that pedophilia erroneously seems like a choice, and child sexual abuse falsely sounds like a condition. Use of incorrect terminology minimizes child sexual abuse by making it seem like the result of a condition, and needlessly increases the stigma against pedophilia and pedophiles by equating pedophilia with child sexual abuse. Regardless of the specific terms used, a sexual attraction to children, the sexual abuse of a child, and a sexual attraction to children that causes mental health difficulties are three separate things and should each be labeled differently to reflect these distinctions.

 

The increase in stigma arising from this issue in terminology means that those with an attraction to children have more barriers to getting help. These barriers can lead to an increased risk for other things like depression, anxiety, suicide, and other mental health issues, which can increase the risk for crime and harmful behaviors. This increased risk is like the increased risk for suicide and depression in LGBTQ+ youth when they lack resources to assist them. 


As with any other sexuality, a pedophile does not choose to have pedophilia and a MAP does not choose to be attracted to children. People struggling with mental health issues who have no resources to turn to do not often do well, and coupled with the stigma against pedophilia and the assumption that those with pedophilia are predestined to molest children, the bottom line is that we need to put more in place to ensure those who need help can get that help. We need to make sure that young, teenage pedophiles receive the message that they can manage their attraction without hurting anyone or committing a crime.

 

Why does any of this matter to the prevention of child sexual abuse? Pedophilia is a condition that is present in 61% of perpetrators who viewed child sexual exploitation material, and is also present in a third of perpetrators who sexually abused children[7]. Imagine if either of those numbers could be reduced by half. While most pedophiles do not commit sex crimes, if either population received help for their condition of pedophilia before they victimized a child with sexual abuse material or through sexually abusing them, sexual crimes towards children could be significantly reduced. Because of that, pedophilia is an uncomfortable, yes, but necessary topic inside the prevention of sexual abuse. 



[ 1] Wikipedia: Pedophilia

[ 2] Wikipedia: Hebephilia

[ 3] Wikipedia: Ephebophilia

[ 4] Non-Offending Pedophiles, Cantor and McPhail, 2016

[ 5] Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, p. 699 "Development and Course", second paragraph

[ 6] Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, p. 698, "Diagnostic Features", first paragraph

[ 7] Child Pornography Offenses Are A Valid Diagnostic Criteria For Pedophilia, Seto et al, 2006

A Word About The Three Sections

Each of the sections below contain lists of additional resources where you can find more information about pedophilia. Many media articles, child sexual abuse advocates, and other sources will attempt to give you information about pedophiles. The research in the "research" section below are studies I have personally read and know that the methodology for their research is sound, that the research has been reviewed by other professionals in their field, and that many sources cite the research in question. I also check to see if there are similar studies that can reproduce the results of the study in question (replication). Why do I review the research before putting it into that section? That is because not all research is conducted correctly. 


One outstanding example of this is a study conducted by Gene Abel. There are numerous methodological errors he makes in order to conduct his study, such as conducting it via survey rather than actually testing the participants and verifying that they are responding to the survey truthfully (many studies since have put the number of child molesters truthfully claiming to have been abused at 30-40%, not 57% as he claims), defining pedophilia in such a way that it is synonymous with child sexual abuse (and then concluding that most abusers "have pedophilia" based on that definition), and the age of the study today (studies done since have not replicated his findings). Even a layperson could read his study and realize that how he went about getting his information, and the conclusions he makes, are questionable. That is why I reviewed each study before including it.


The articles are from a variety of sources and contain a variety of statistics and general information about pedophilia, more for discussion purposes than for factual content. The videos and podcasts included below are likewise from a variety of sources and are more for discussion purposes than for factual content. 


Why is including this information important? Essentially the less we talk about issues related to sex crime, the more we ignore its existence, thereby enabling it to occur. An aware community is less vulnerable to sexual crimes, not because they are aware of pedophiles in the community, but because they are aware of the facts around how sex crimes happen and take appropriate measures to prevent them.


For a more exhaustive list of resources related to pedophilia, please visit Virtuous Pedophiles. The final resource "Prevalence of Abusers" is an illustrative exercise to show how uncommon it is for a pedophile to commit a sexual crime.