If you are a minor and are involved in an exploitative sexual relationship with an older individual and need help, please call RAINN’s 24-hour hotline 800-656-HOPE or the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474.
Pedophilia is the condition of having strong, recurrent feelings of sexual attraction and fantasies about pre-pubescent individuals, usually children under the age of 13.
There is no typical pedophile. Sexual behaviors involved in pedophilia involve a range of activities that may (or may not) include force. Certain pedophiles limit their sexually deviant behavior to exposing themselves (also known as flashing) or masturbating in front of children. Others may fondle the child with or without genital contact.
Pedophilia is classified in the DSM-IV as a paraphilia, which is defined as sexual attraction and behavior that is extreme and out of the norm. The focus of the paraphilias are typically on objects, animals, non-consenting adults, sadism, masochism or children. Pedophilia is one of the more common paraphilias.
Pedophiles are typically males, but that is not always the case. The number of female pedophiles is likely very under-reported. Pedophilia is a deviance and is not in any way linked to homosexuality, which is simply a normal variant of human sexuality.
The DSM-IV classifies pedophilia as a mental disorder, but it is also a criminal act punishable by jail time and, in some states, castration.
Characteristics of Pedophilia:
Pedophiles make themselves attractive to potential victims by volunteering to coach sports teams or religious organizations that serve children. In the cases of incest, the pedophile may offer to babysit potential victims.
Pedophiles usually have great interpersonal skills that allow them to gain the trust of their potential victims easily.
When caught, certain pedophiles offer rationalizations for their actions; they were "teaching the child about love" or they blame the child for behaving too provocatively.
Pedophilia has a general onset around adolescence.
As the stressors in a pedophile's life increase, so does their pedophilic behavior.
Diagnosis of Pedophilia:
According to the DSM-IV, for a diagnosis of pedophilia, the following criteria must be met:
- Over a period of at least six months, the affected person experiences recurrent, intense and sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or actual behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children aged 13 or younger.
- The affected person must be at least age sixteen and be at least five years older than the child or children who are the objects or targets of attention or sexual activity.
- The fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of daily functioning.
A diagnosis of pedophilia cannot be assigned to someone in late adolescence who has a sexual relationship with a twelve or thirteen year old.
When making a diagnosis of pedophilia, it is critical to decide if the patient is attracted to young males or young females and whether incest is a factor. The diagnosing therapist must also determine if the pedophile is an exclusive (only attracted to children) pedophile or a non-exclusive pedophile (attracted to adults and children).
It is rare for a pedophile to seek treatment voluntarily; it is often a result of a court order.
Treatment of Pedophilia:
No effective cure for pedophilia has been identified. Getting into treatment for pedophilia early can eliminate or reduce actual acting on of urges. Pedophilia treatment options are as follows:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This method is employed to help control the urges and modify the behaviors, but recidivism is still high.
Group Therapy – An integral component of every pedophile's treatment plan, the group discusses their urges and life stressors, has an educational piece and helps the pedophile learn to empathize with the feelings of prior or potential victims.
Chemical Castration is an option that has shown efficacy and involves the administration of female hormones and the diminishing of testosterone. This treatment would be ineffective in the case of a female pedophile.
Surgical Castration – In the case of extremely violent repeat offenders, surgical castration (removal of genitalia) is sometimes mandated by the court. Other offenders opt for the surgery in hopes of eliminating their urges. Although it is possible to get erections and re-offend after the surgery, the likelihood is substantially lessened.
Prognosis for Pedophiles:
Pedophiles tend to have a high rate of recidivism; that is, treatment for pedophilia is not generally effective.
Pedophiles are at a greater risk of getting killed in jail by other inmates, which doesn't deter most of them.
Prevention of Pedophilia:
The most effective method of preventing pedophilia is avoidance of situations that may provoke pedophilic acts. Children should never, ever, be left in a one-on-one situation with adults who are not trusted. Having another youth as an observer can provide some safety and security. When in doubt, listen to your gut instincts.
Children should be educated about the body parts that are "private" and what to do if someone touches you in a private part. Children should learn that it is acceptable to scream and run if they're faced with an uncomfortable situation.
Additional Information and Resources:
StopItNow.org is an online help center dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse. The site provides information for parents, caregivers, survivors, and anyone else who works with children.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides a form for reporting such crimes.
The United States Department of Justice provides an online searchable database of registered sex offenders.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States runs the National Sex Offender Registry, which is searchable by state.
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers is an international, professional organization for those who are involved in the assessment, treatment, and management of individuals who have sexually abused, or are at risk for sexually abusive behavior.