Pedophilia is Not a Behavior

It is often easy to tell when some bit of science regarding pedophilia is brought out to the general public.  There is usually a rash of social media memes that are negative and frequently suggest that by agreeing with the emerging science, the writers or researchers are condoning the sexual abuse of children.

Recently, Dr. James Cantor, a highly respected and published researcher who focuses on the study of pedophilia, appeared on an Australian news show to discuss his findings.  He shared his research, which involves brain scans and neuroscience, which shows that people have differences in their brain structures.  His research suggests that people with pedophilia are born with this attraction and it is not something they can change.

Enter the memes……….  And where I get on my soapbox and continue to spout science and education.

I have written about this topic before because it is something that I feel strongly about. I feel very strongly about it being accurately portrayed in the lay community.  So, let’s recap.

Pedophilia (without giving you the entire DSM-V diagnosis) is a sexual arousal to a person who is prepubescent.  The age here is not the important thing (i.e. 10 vs. 11. vs. 12 etc.).  The important thing is that the attraction is to a child’s body that has NOT started the physiological changes associated with puberty.  If a person is attracted to pubescent or post pubescent children, that is considered hebephilia. 

Pedophilia is NOT a behavior.  I believe that this is one of the most common myths in the non-scientific community.  Pedophilia is an attraction.  Actions are behavior.  The frequently cited concern is that every person who has a pedophilic arousal template is a child molester.  Not true. 

Some people sexually abuse children because they are attracted to them.  Some people sexually abuse children for reasons that don’t have much to do with sexual attraction.  For example: issues of power and control, distorted thinking, emotionally connecting with children in an inappropriate manner that becomes sexualized.  Some people who are attracted to children never engage in any sexual contact with them, nor do they view images of child sexual abuse (child pornography). 

Many people have questioned why I get so revved up about this topic.  Why do I think it is important? When you get it wrong, when the press gets it wrong, it damages prevention efforts.  Every person who is attracted to children, whether they have offended or not, knows how society feels about them.  Most carry an immense amount of toxic shame.  This shame keeps them from coming forward to seek help from trained professionals (the stigma against this population by treatment professionals is a topic for another day). 

Every time a person who is attracted to children feels that he or she cannot come forward to seek treatment, we do a disservice to the protection of children.  What better way to engage in primary prevention than to make treatment accessible and not shame based for people who are attracted to prepubescent children, have not offended and want to keep it that way? 

The United States does a good job of secondary prevention.  Once we know you have offended and found guilty, you are mandated to treatment to prevent another offense.  We try really hard to make sure you don’t offend AGAIN.  While decreasing recidivism is a great thing, it misses the mark. I would much prefer to live in a world where there are no more first victims, not just no more subsequent victims. 

Pedophilia ≠ Child Molestation

Pedophilia is an attraction.

Child molestation is a behavior. 

They are not synonymous.

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