Unfortunately, a clear understanding of adult-minor sexual attraction is hampered by the lack of precise, consistent definitions. Terms are used differently in science, law, and public discourse, as well as in different parts of the world.1
Attraction to prepubescent children
The term pedophile has its origins in ancient Greek as a synonym to pederast; that is, a man who falls in love with adolescent boys.12
However, it has acquired many different meanings in different parts of the world, and among different segments of society. Researchers and clinicians often use the term in inconsistent ways:
- North American researchers who have extensively studied adult attraction to minors limit pedophilia to the presence of enduring preferential feelings of sexual attraction for prepubescent children, not for adolescents. These feelings must be stronger than those for adolescents or adults, regardless of actual sexual behavior. Pedophiles may or may not act on these feelings.13
- Some researchers, especially those in Europe, extend pedophilia to include feelings for adolescents.14
- Some researchers incorrectly use the term to refer to anyone who has had even a fleeting sexual feeling for a child.15
- Others use it incorrectly to refer to anyone who has ever had sexual contact with a child, regardless of their sexual feelings.16
- The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV-TR defines pedophilia as "recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children" where the adult has "acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies caused marked distress or interpersonal difficulty."17
The DSM-IV-TR definition differs from that of many researchers in that it excludes cases where the adult has a preferential attraction to prepubescent children but does not act on it and does not experience distress or difficulty. There are unresolved issues in the DSM definition of pedophilia related to this fact, and to the fact that the definition may not meet the DSM’s own criteria for classification as a mental disorder.18
This site uses the term pedophilia as it is used by leading North American researchers (the first group above); that is:
- pedophilia is the presence of sexual feelings for children,
- the children have not reached puberty,
- children are preferred over adolescents and adults,
- these feelings are enduring, and
- it is not necessary that the adult has acted on these feelings or experiences distress or difficulty as a result of them.
Adult sexual interaction with prepubescent children is termed pedosexual behavior. The adult involved in such behavior need not be a pedophile; that is, not preferentially attracted to children.19
Ephebophilia vs. pedophilia
While ephebophilia (or hebephilia) is the preferential attraction to adolescents, pedophilia is the preferential attraction to children who have not reached puberty. According to some researchers, the two phenomena may be quite different in causes, characteristics, function, and prevalence.20 Pedophilia is listed as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM, but ephebophilia is not.21
Feelings vs. behavior
Ephebophilia and pedophilia refer to preferential feelings of attraction only, regardless of whether the adult has interacted sexually with adolescents or children. There is evidence that many do not behave sexually with minors.22 Ephebosexual and pedosexual behavior refer to actual sexual interaction with adolescents and children regardless of sexual preference.23
Scientific vs. legal definitions
Thus, ephebophilia and pedophilia are not synonymous with sex offenses against minors or child molestation. In addition to the distinction between feelings and behavior, different age cut-offs are used by science and law.24
|Age of young person||Based on biological development: before puberty for pedophilia, and in adolescence for ephebophilia||Based on legal status: under the age of consent set by law|
Most studies find that only a small portion of convicted sex offenders against minors are actually preferentially attracted to children or adolescents.25 Many sex offenders engage in sexual activity with minors because of situational factors such as marital problems, alcoholism, or unavailability of adults.26
This site is concerned with sex offenses only when they involve preferential attraction to underage boys. However, criminological research usually does not make this distinction. This is one of the reasons that MHAMic relies mainly on psychological rather than criminological research.
Child sexual abuse
- They define children according to different ages. Some include adolescents, and others do not. They use age cut-offs varying from 12 to 18.
- They define sexual activity according to different behaviors. For example, some studies limit its definition to genital contact, while others include the viewing of pornography or verbal propositioning.
- There is no accepted scientific definition of abuse. A minority of researchers limit its definition to sexual behavior that is unwanted, violent, or over-intrusive. However, based on moral and legal considerations, most include any sexual activity involving an adult and someone under a certain age (depending on the jurisdiction), regardless of the willingness of the younger person.28 For the same reason, they include any sexual activity among adolescents or children who differ sufficiently in age (usually by 2 to 5 years, depending on the jurisdiction).29
Thus, CSA usually includes not only coerced or unwanted sexual experiences, but also recreational sex or sexual relationships between two people of sufficiently different ages. In fact, one study suggests that over 80% of activities classified as abuse may be consensual.30 Some surveys are so over-inclusive that they conclude that only a minority of children in the general population are free from abuse.31
Similarly, related terms such as child molestation, exploitation, victimization, sexual aggression, and sexual assault are generally used not only to indicate sexual acts that are necessarily violent or coercive in a literal sense, but also those which violate ethical or moral standards prohibiting adult sexual interaction with children or adolescents, or sexual interaction among adolescents or children of different ages.32
Many researchers have argued that such broad definitions of CSA and related terms obscure important issues, mislead the public into believing that all CSA is violent, and result in widely discrepant or erroneous conclusions. They favor restricting the use of terms such as CSA, exploitation, and assault to situations involving harm, violence, or coercion.33
For the purposes of this website, it is important to remember the following:
- CSA and related terms usually refer to a wide variety of behaviors, including assault, coerced interactions, unwanted advances, exhibitionism, consensual viewing of pornography, verbal propositioning, consensual touching or kissing, willing recreational sex, and ongoing sexual relationships, including consensual activity among children or adolescents who differ in age.
- Studies of CSA vary considerably in what activities they are investigating.
- Researchers may not specify what activities they are including in their definition of CSA.
Male homosexual attraction to minors
Men with such feelings vary considerably:
- Some are primarily attracted to boys who have not yet entered puberty, while others are mainly attracted to adolescent boys.
- Some also have similar feelings for underage girls.
- Many are primarily or exclusively attracted to underage boys, while others have these feelings in addition to feelings for adult women (heterosexuality), adult men (homosexuality), or both (bisexuality).2 This site is concerned with those who are preferentially or exclusively attracted to boys.
Few researchers have closely investigated the feelings of such men, but those who have say that their feelings for boys may resemble romantic feelings most men have for women, frequently involving feelings of affection and being "in love." 3
It is important to note that the phrase "male homosexual attraction to minors" does not necessarily indicate sexual activity with boys, but rather feelings of attraction. Men with such feelings may or may not act on them sexually. According to researchers:
- Some abstain from sex with boys.
- Others engage in sexual activity with willing boys.
- Still others pressure or coerce boys into sexual activity.4
However, researchers seem agreed that force or violence is rare.5
Regardless of the willingness of the boys, any type of sexual behavior between men and boys (or older and younger boys) raises important ethical issues, and any action other than celibacy is almost universally condemned by society.
Attraction to adolescents
- Some North American researchers and clinicians, particularly those in Canada, refer to this as hebephilia .6
- Others, especially in the U.S., use the term ephebophilia .7
- Still other researchers, mainly those in Europe, do not use the terms at all.8
- Neither term appears in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR), the organization’s authoritative handbook for diagnosing mental disorders.9
Again, hebephilia and ephebophilia refer to feelings of attraction, not necessarily to sexual behavior with pubescents or adolescents. Sexual interaction between adults and adolescents is termed ephebosexual behavior .10
Some scholars, particularly historians, use the term pederasty in this context. The Greek word paiderastes originally referred to a man who fell in love with male adolescents. However, pederasty has acquired several meanings over time:
- sexual activity between men and adolescent boys
- sexual activity between adults and adolescents of any gender
- homosexual practice among males regardless of age11
Researchers from Indiana University elaborate on the distinction between child molestation and pedophilia, writing that confusion of the two hinders scientific understanding.
Feierman, J., "Introduction and A Biosocial Overview," in Feierman, J., ed., Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990a, pp. 1-68.
Jay Feierman of the University of New Mexico defines pedophilia, pedosexual behavior, ephebophilia, hebephilia, and ephebosexual behavior. He also discusses the relationship between adult-minor sexual behavior and child sexual abuse in terms of consent and harm.
Fergusson, D.M. & Mullen, P.E., Childhood sexual abuse: An evidence based perspective, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1999.
David M. Fergusson and Paul E. Mullen describe the way in which CSA is defined based on normative moral standards, and explain why there can never be a single universal definition of CSA. They criticize the popular belief among professionals and the public that CSA is a syndrome identifiable by certain symptoms. They also find fault with "trite conclusions" about CSA that are "chanted like sacred mantras." They propose a straightforward scientific approach to definitional problems.
Freund, K., "Assessment of pedophilia," in Cook, M. & Howells, K. (Eds.), Adult sexual interest in children, London: Academic Press, 1981, pp. 139-179.
Kurt Freund of the University of Toronto makes a distinction between pedophilia and hebephilia, and describes misleading conclusions that result from criminological research which confuses pedophilia with pedosexual behavior.
Green, R., “Is pedophilia a mental disorder?”, Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 31, no. 6, 2002, pp. 467-471.
British sexologist Richard Green describes changing definitions of pedophilia in successive editions of DSM and writes that the current definition is logically incoherent. He writes that it fails to meet the DSM’s own criteria for classification as a mental disorder.
Haugaard, J.J. & Emery, R.E., "Methodological issues in child sexual abuse research," Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 13, 1989, pp. 89-100.
University of Virginia researchers describe their study which found that the definition of CSA significantly affects findings regarding the prevalence and consequences of CSA.
Okami, P. & Goldberg, A., "Personality Correlates of Pedophilia: Are They Reliable Indicators?", Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 29, No. 3, 1992, pp. 297-328.
UCLA researchers describe common inconsistent usage of the terms child and pedophilia--usage based on law and morality rather than science. They explain in detail why sex offenders against children are most likely a very different group of people from pedophiles. They also criticize the use of terms that suggest violence to refer to adult-child sexual interactions when overwhelming data show a lack of force or violence in such interactions. They argue in favor of making a distinction between actual violence and moral violation.
Sandfort, T., Boys on their contacts with men: A study of sexually expressed friendships, New York: Global Academic Publishers, 1987.
University of Utrecht researcher Theodorus Sandfort defines children according to Dutch law as those under age 16, and accordingly defines pedophile and pedosexuality. He argues in favor of limiting the term abuse to situations in which the adult uses his power or some other method to compel the child to have sex with him.
West, D.J. & Woodhouse, T.P., "Sexual encounters between boys and adults," in Li, C.K., West, D.J., & Woodhouse, T.P., Children’s sexual encounters with adults, London: Duckworth, 1990, pp. 3-137.
British researchers describe varying definitions of "child" and "abuse" found among researchers, and argue against the use of the blanket term "abuse" for all sexual contacts between minors and adults.
2. Bullough & Bullough, 1996; Feierman, 1990a; Freund, 1981; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
3. Howells, 1981; Ingram, 1981; Li, 1990b; Sandfort, 1987; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
4. For more details, see the section of this site on behavior.
5. Bradford et al., 1988; Howells, 1981; Ingram, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Sandfort, 1987; West & Woodhouse, 1990; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
6. Freund, 1981.
7. Feierman, 1990a.
8. Sandfort, 1987; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
9. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM IV-TR, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
10. Feierman, 1990a.
11. Liddell, H.G. & Scott, R., Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, New York: Merriam-Webster, 1998.
12. Liddell, H.G. & Scott, R., Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959.
13. Feierman, 1990a; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
14. Sandfort, 1987; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
15. Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Smiljanich & Briere, 1996.
16. Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
17. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM IV-TR, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
18. Green, 2002.
19. Feierman, 1990a; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Sandfort, 1987.
20. Ames & Houston, 1990; Feierman, 1990a.
21. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM IV-TR, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
22. Gieles, 2001; Hall et al., 1995; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
23. Ames & Houston, 1990; Freund, 1981; Howells, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
24. Ames & Houston, 1990; Feierman, 1990a.
25. Ames & Houston, 1990; Freund, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
26. Howells, 1981; Sandfort, 1987.
27. Haugaard, 2000; Li, 1990a.
28. West, 1998.
29. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1999*; Center for Sex Offender Management, 1999*.
30. Li, 1990a.
31. Haugaard, 2000; West, 1998.
32. Kilpatrick, 1987; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
33. Kilpatrick, 1987; Li, 1990a; Okami, 1990; Sandfort, 1987; West & Woodhouse, 1990.
What is a Pedophile; What Is a Child Molester?
Practical Steps on Preventing Child
In our society today, whenever one hears about children being abducted or molested, the automatic reaction is to assume that a pedophile did it. This is so much the case that the word pedophile has become synonymous with child molester. But is this association accurate? Many specialists in human sexuality have stated quite clearly that there is a clear distinction between the two. Furthermore, they have shown that much of the child molestation that takes place is at the hands of people who are not pedophiles at all. So what then is a pedophile?
The Definition of Pedophilia
The American Psychiatric Association in its main diagnostic manual, the DSM-IV TR, defines a pedophile as somebody who “over a period of six months, [has] recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors involving sexually activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 or younger)”. It further states that the person has either acted on these urges or as a result of the urges has experienced marked distress or interpersonal difficulty. In other words, the pedophile may have acted upon the urges but did not necessarily do so. Sex researchers Ralph Underwager and Holida Wakefield in Special Problems with Sexual Abuse Cases wrote:
“Although the terms are often used interchangeably, a distinction must be made between ‘sex offender against a minor’ and ‘pedophile’. The former refers to a criminal sexual behavior and the latter to an anomalous sexual preference. Many pedophiles never act on their impulses. At the same time, not all sex offenders against a minor are pedophiles.” [italics mine]
Fagan, Wise, Schmidt and Berlin in a 2002 paper entitled Pedophilia wrote:
“Terms such as ‘child sexual abuse’, ‘incest’, ‘child molestation’ and ‘pederasty’ are not equivalent to pedophilia. Terms that denote sex with minors are criminal actions; pedophilia is the sexual attraction to children. Not all who sexually abuse minors are pedophilic. For example, some who sexually abuse minors may opportunistically select minors simply because they are available. Sex with a minor is not, ipso facto a determination of pedophilia. Also, not all individuals who fulfill the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia actually abuse children.” [italics mine]
Pedophilia, while considered by some to be a mental disorder, is also accepted as a sexual orientation that is not chosen. Fagan, et al. write:
“During psychosexual development, no one decides whether to be attracted to women, men, girls or boys. Rather, individuals discover the types of persons they are sexually attracted to, ie, their sexual orientation.”
The Situation Offender
“The [situational] offenders appear to be sexually interacting with the child victims for reasons other than a true sexual preference for children. The children are substitute victims, and the abusive activity may have little to do with pedophilia.”
Kenneth Lanning, Investigator’s Guide To Allegations Of “Ritual” Child Abuse
As you can see, much child sexual abuse takes place at the hands of non-pedophiles. So who are these child molesters? The psychiatric community defines a ‘situational offender’ as a person who is normally attracted to adults but for one reason or another has turned to a child for sexual satisfaction. He may have poor social skills that make it difficult for him to find a partner within his primary attraction group. He may be in a sexless relationship. He may be alone after the dissolution of a relationship. Whatever the case may be, he is often also in a situation where children are available. Perhaps these are children living in his own home or children in his neighborhood with whom he is acquainted. Perhaps he attends a church or is involved in a social group where children are present. Then a situation arises (or is created by the situational offender) that gives him the opportunity to be alone with one of these children. Maybe stress, alcohol or drugs have lowered his inhibitions and he takes advantage of the situation alone with the child to find sexual satisfaction. Lanning, of the FBI’s behavioral sciences unit wrote in his 1987 paper, Child Molesters: A Behavioral Anaylysis:
“Situational-type sex offenders victimizing children do not have a true sexual preference for children. They may molest them, however, for a wide variety of situational reasons. They are more likely to view and be aroused by adult pornography, but might engage in sex with children in certain situations. Situational sex offenders frequently molest readily available children they have easy access to such as their own or those they may live with or have control over. Pubescent teenagers are high-risk, viable sexual targets. Younger children may also be targeted because they are weak, vulnerable, or available. Morally indiscriminate situational offenders may select children, especially adolescents, simply because they have the opportunity and think they can get away with it. Social misfits may situationally select child victims out of insecurity and curiosity. Others may have low self-esteem and use children as substitutes for preferred adults.”
It is cases like these that comprise the vast majority of child sexual abuse. Lanning believes that situational offenders make up 90% of all child molesters. Clearly these people are not pedophiles. they have had few, if any, sexual fantasies about children. They have merely taken advantage of an opportunity that presented itself. They may avail themselves of a child or children on multiple occasions but they would still ultimately prefer an adult. For them, the child is merely a substitute for an adult rather than a preferred sexual partner.
Do Pedophiles Molest Children Too?
There are occasions where pedophiles also break consent laws by having illegal sexual encounters with children. In these cases, however, their modus operandi is often different to that of the situational offender. While the situational offender is merely taking advantage of a situation where a child is available to fulfill sexual needs he has been unable to fulfill elsewhere, the pedophile crosses the line within the framework of a relationship with a child he may have been cultivating over a period of time. For the pedophile, the child is the desired sexual partner and he desires not only sexual satisfaction, but love. While the law considers the relationship to be illegal, the pedophile sees it as a natural progression, a genuine expression of the love that has arisen between himself and the child. Many pedophiles, however, never cross this line, realizing the inherent dangers of doing so both to themselves and to the children involved.
Unfortunately, there are also cases where pedophiles, out of desperation or anger, exhibit pathological behaviors and abuse children, not out of love but out of selfishness. The pressure of concealing their sexual identity may have become too great. In the case of exclusive pedophiles — those that are not attracted to adults at all but only to children — the sexual tension may become to great to bear. Other factors in their lives may have caused an immense amount of stress to build up. Whatever the case, their normally loving and benevolent feelings towards children have been short-circuited and they act out in an aggressive, coercive or violent manner.
Preventing Molestation: Some Practical Steps
Clearly, the most important issue to deal with in child sexual abuse cases is how to prevent situational offenders from offending, since they make up the largest portion of child molesters. Since their primary attraction is not to children, it is virtually impossible to identify who they might be in advance. The best strategy, therefore, is to endeavor to educate the public at large about the possible results of stress or sexual frustration in the hope that people encountering these circumstances will seek help before they carry out their frustration on children. People who are acquainted with such at-risk persons might also approach these persons in a spirit of love and try to convince them to seek assistance.
Short of outright prevention, the best deterrent to child sexual abuse is an empowered child. Child molesters operate primarily with the assumption that they will not be found out. If they believe that the child involved will report their activities, however, they will be very disinclined to molest. In order to empower children, they need to be told that unwelcome sexual advances to them are not their fault and that they have done nothing bad if this takes place. They also need to understand that they can tell any adult they know about any unwelcome sexual activity, not just their parents. They also need to know that if their parents or relatives are the ones responsible for the abuse, it is still not acceptable and that their love for them is being violated and taken advantage of if they are being forced to do things they do not want to do.
Child molesters often feel great remorse once they realize the pain that they have caused by taking advantage of children. They realize that imposing their will on children and forcing them to do things they did not want to do was wrong. Therefore, part of the rehabilitation process, as well as any incarceration, must be therapy to help them see that molestation was not the correct way to ameliorate their stress or frustration and to find more productive and less harmful ways to cope with future stress and frustration in their lives. Dr. Fred Berlin of the National Institute for the Prevention, Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma said in an interview for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“We talk about the triggers that heighten the urges that people experience, and just as an alcoholic may drink to feel better when under stress, someone who has sexual difficulties may turn to sex to feel good during stress or depression or even boredom. Part of the treatment is to teach people about these triggers — either internal states, such as stress or boredom, or external situations.”
Once they are once again in society, they need to have support groups made available that they can turn to in times of crisis to help them stay mindful of what they have learned. Most importantly, they need to have supportive families and friends who can help them to remain positive and to help them recognize the signs of distress in time to seek help.
It is also important to note that the added stigma of public notification may not be beneficial to the rehabilitation process. Fagan, et al. write:
“Community statutes require public disclosure of the fact that a given individual is a registered sex offender. To the extent that doing so may make it difficult to find housing, employment and public acceptance, such statutes may make treatment success more problematic.”
Working with Pedophiles
In the case of pedophiles, a more comprehensive program is needed. This is because pedophilia is a lifelong orientation and therefore one that must be dealt with on an ongoing basis. Since society is demanding that the pedophile suppress his sexuality for his entire life, it has a responsibility to not only understand the causes of pedophilia but to make it easier for the pedophile to lead a satisfying life.
Currently, we know very little about what causes pedophilia, most research being reliant upon data gathered from clinical or forensic settings. What knowledge we do have comes primarily from forensic or clinical settings, ie, from people — pedophiles and non-pedophiles alike — who have been convicted of child sexual abuse or have spent time in mental institutions for uncommon sexual urges. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other pedophiles, those who have never acted upon their sexual orientation, about whom we know little or nothing.
Fagan, et al. write:
“Pedophilia is a diagnosis applicable to only a portion of individuals who sexually abuse children. Information has been drawn from published research about pedophilia and child sexual abuse in general to present the current state of knowledge. Despite a sizeable body of published, peer-reviewed articles about topics such as child sexual abuse, child molestation, and sexual offenders, data and our knowledge base about pedophilia have significant limitations.”
The fact that we know little or nothing about pedophiles makes it virtually impossible to offer any assistance at all to people with pedophilic attractions. If we are to find the best ways to live with the pedophiles in our society, we need to encourage research rather than discourage it and make it possible for pedophiles to participate without fear of exposure. Considering that estimates of how many people with pedophilic feelings in our society range from 2-20% of the overall population, or 6-60 million people in the United States alone, it behooves society to take decisive steps to better understanding them rather than marginalizing and stigamatizing them.
Pedophilia is currently classified by the APA as a sexual disorder. It most certainly is not the most common sexual orientation, but does that make it a disorder? In a paper entitle DSM-IV TR and the Paraphilias: An Argument for Removal, Moser and Kleinplatz write:
“The DSM-IV TR (2000) sets its own standards for inclusion of diagnoses and for changes in its text. The paraphilia section is analyzed for how well the DSM meets those standards. The concept of paraphilias as psychopathology was analyzed and assessed critically to determine if it meets the definition of a mental disorder presented in the DSM: it does not. The paraphilia diagnostic category was critiqued for logic, consistency and clarity, and whether it constitutes a distinct mental disorder. The DSM presents ‘facts’ to substantiate various points in the text. The veracity of these ‘facts’ was scrutinized. Little evidence was found in their support. Problems with the tradition of equating particular sexual interests with psychopathology were highlighted. It was concluded that the Paraphilia section is so severely flawed that its removal from the DSM is advocated.”
Rather than a valid classification, Moser and Kleinplatz concluded that the classification is largely the result of cultural beliefs that do not withstand scientific scrutiny:
“Which sexual interests are proscribed often changes: masturbation, oral sex, anal sex and homosexuality were once considered mental disorders or symptoms of other mental disorders but are now typically accepted as part of the spectrum of healthy sexual expression. Similarly, there are conditions that were accepted as ‘normal’ in the past, but are now classified as mental disorders (e.g., hypoactive sexual desire, sexual aversion disorder, and female orgasmic disorder). It is exceedingly difficult to eliminate historical and other cultural factors from the assessment of unusual sexual desires. As such empirically based, scientific definitions of healthy and pathological sexual behavior continue to elude us.”
If the reasons for classification are therefore societally or culturally, rather than scientifically based, should it not then be declassified? How does a liberal democracy such as the United States justify such an irrational classification?
The effect upon pedophiles of this classification is grave. Even though they have usually committed no crime, this scientifically unwarranted classification isolates them and makes them fearful for their well-being. Especially in a nation whose legal precedent has legitimized the pre-emptive commitment to mental institutions of pedophiles as was the case in Kansas vs. Hendricks, pedophiles are driven yet further underground, going to ever greater lengths to conceal their sexual orientation. The resultant stress leads to depression, low self-esteem and lowered productivity amongst other things. In extreme cases it can even lead to some of the pathological behaviors we have already discussed.
Currently, society expects pedophiles to respect its laws, yet at the same time provides them with no way to work through their feelings. For a person with any other condition that is societally unacceptable or undesirable, there is a wealth of opportunities for discussion or therapy. People with addictions can seek medical treatment or seek professional or clerical counselling. The same goes for people with eating disorders, compulsive disorders or those suffering from depression and low self-esteem. Even people with extreme political views, be they racist, fascist, anarchist or communist, have outlets for their views as well as the right to assemble in public and otherwise propagate their ideas. But the pedophile, due to the extreme prejudice against him, rarely has any safe place to turn to for succor. By making any statement at all of his sexual orientation, the pedophile risks rejection by family and friends, ostracism within his community, the loss of his job or home or even being reported to the authorities for alleged crimes against children. Berlin says:
“More treatment has to be made available for pedophiles. People who experience these cravings need to know that treatment is available. Society is so punitive and stigmatizing about this problem that people with these desires have to be encouraged to get help by assuring them that the will be assisted rather than hurt.”
It is unsustainable for society to expect a pedophile to completely deny himself the realization of his sexuality and to give him nowhere to turn. Therefore, it is the duty of society to provide pedophiles with a safe, anonymous and non-threatening means to discuss his feelings and find a way to live with them. Mental health professionals and clergy need to be taught how to deal with pedophiles with compassion and understanding and to offer solutions and coping strategies rather than treatment. After all, pedophilia is a sexual orientation, not a disease that can be ‘cured’.
Fagan, et al. write:
“Historically, dealing with the complexity and the accompanying social ostracism have resulted in relatively few mental health resources available to persons with pedophilia, and relatively few psychiatrists or psychologists trained to conduct research or to treat the patients.”
Ultimately, the best solution will be total destigmatization of pedophilia and pedophiles. Even if it chooses to continue its criminalization of pedophilic activity, society ought not to make non-practicing pedophiles de facto criminals or social pariahs. If pedophiles are able to publicly affirm their sexual orientation without fear for their safety, much of the pressure they are under would be alleviated and they would be able to have much more fruitful and fulfilling lives than they are now.
Copyright © 2005, Lindsay Ashford