Contrary to mainstream reasoning, not all sex offenders targeting children are pedophiles and not all pedophiles sexually abuse children.
Thanks to the recent arrest of the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach – Jerry Sandusky – this rather uncomfortable and frightening topic of pedophilia has resurfaced and has lead many parents to look for answers relating to this psychiatric disorder.
Understanding the biology behind pedophilia
Recent research on pedophilia – that examined 127 men — showed that biology has a significant role to play. Pedophiles are born with a predisposition to experience sexual arousal in response to children. Hi-technology MRI scans and sophisticated analysis techniques indicate that pedophilic men have significantly less white matter, (the connective tissue that is responsible for communication), linking different regions in the brain, compared to non-pedophilic men.
According to this study, published in the Journal of Psychiatry Research, pedophilia can be blamed on faulty brain development. Additionally, pedophiles have been found to characteristically have lower IQ’s and are three times more likely to be left-handed, or shorter than their non-pedophilic counterparts.
An approximately equal number of pedophiles and non-sexual offenders were observed in the study to reach these results.
Pedophile vs. child molester
While the public often wrongly, use the terms pedophile and child molester interchangeably, there are significant differences.
According to, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) of the American Psychiatric Association, a paedophile is a person who:
- Over a period of at least six months experiences repeated, powerful sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviours concerning sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally 13 years of age or younger).
- The person has — even if once — acted on these sexual urges or fantasies and this has caused distress or interpersonal difficulties.
- The person is at least 16 years of age or older and at least five years older than the prepubescent child.
Even while, this is true, “there is nothing in this research that says pedophiles shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for their actions,” said Dr. James Cantor, CAMH Psychologist and lead scientist of the study. “Not being able to choose your sexual interest, doesn’t mean you can’t choose what you do.”
More research needed
Much more research is needed to fully understand pedophilia — particularly around, how the brain governs sexual interest. Even though there is still a long way to go in fully understanding this behaviour, research conducted so far shines a glimmer of hope. Research suggests that more probing could offer insights and strategies to prevent the development of pedophilia in the near future.
There are currently no known cases where a pedophile has been converted to a non-pedophile. However, not being able to stop oneself from experiencing these inappropriate urges does not in any way suggest that child molestation as a result cannot be prevented. Sexual preference for children doesn’t have to result in actual sexual gestures towards children.
According to Dr. Micheal Seto, (who has been involved with research and practice in sexual offending for the last 20 years), “there is no evidence to suggest that pedophilia can be changed. Instead, interventions are designed to increase voluntary control over sexual arousal, reduce sex drive, or teach self-management skills to individuals who are motivated to avoid acting upon their sexual interests.” Seto adds, that “pedophilia can be diagnosed using a variety of methods and is an important factor to consider in the assessment of sex offenders because pedophilic offenders are more likely to sexually re-offend and require different interventions.”
Misconceptions about pedophiles
A lack of understanding about pedophiles, often results in the perpetuation of false claims about them. Below is a list of the most popular misconceptions.
Gay men are more likely to be pedophiles
This myth was proved incorrect by the American Psychological Association and other professional medical groups, yet it continues to pass as fact. This incorrect claim was the reason why the State of Florida banned gay adoptions. That was until the law was changed by a federal court in 2010.
Pedophiles search the internet or playgrounds for victims
Frighteningly, the majority of sexual abuse against minors is either from a family member or a person a child knows and trusts. This could be a teacher, a sports coach or a church leader.
According to Doctors for Life — a non-governmental and non-profit making organisation based in South Africa — although large numbers of children are forced into performing sexual acts with strangers, many are reportedly raped by immediate family members. In response to these growing numbers of sexual abuse cases against children, the South African government has called for a review on “the legislation governing sexual crimes.”
Pedophiles can’t help themselves
If pedophiles couldn’t control their urges, they would molest every single child that fell within their preference and radius. Since pedophiles don’t always abuse, researchers believe they can be taught to control their urges. Learning how to control these urges however, does not mean a pedophile will not commit a sexually violent act towards a child.
Help for pedophiles
According to James Cantor, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and senior psychologist and scientist at the Sexual Behaviours Clinic of the Center for Addictions and Mental Health — “pedophiles who do go on to become actual child molesters do so when they feel the most desperate.”
Cantor is of the opinion that more needs to be done to make it easier for pedophiles to come in for assistance, rather than be forced into a life of silence and offending.
Most pedophiles already acknowledge that their sexual attraction to children is inappropriate. However, many are too afraid to seek help as they fear being turned in to the police or becoming societal outcasts. This emotional turbulence is often the reason why paedophiles give in to their inappropriate urges.
In South Africa for example, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other qualified mental health and medical professionals are required (by their codes of ethics) to keep conversations between themselves and their patients confidential. It is only in very rare cases that they are permitted to share patient information with police, parents or teachers.
Doctors for Life, and other such bodies, offer help and counselling to pedophiles who wish to liberate themselves from their addictive and inappropriate sexual behaviour. Suffering in silence will not help.
Contact Doctors For Life South Africa by phoning +27 (32) 4815550 or 1/2/3.