Ten Things You Need to Know Before You Marginalise Paedophiles

19/04/2015 19:36 | Updated 19 June 2015

1. Two years ago, five year old April Jones was snatched whilst playing outside her home in Machynlleth, mid Wales. Paedophile Mark Bridger was subsequently sentenced to a whole life term for her abduction and murder. Last week, April's father Paul Jones, said that paedophiles who seek help before they commit an offence "deserve a chance." His view is that the only way to prevent children from being harmed by paedophiles is to make it easier for potential offenders to identify themselves to the authorities so that they can receive appropriate treatment.

2. Prior to the 1970s child adult sexual activity was not considered a common or important trauma in human psychological development (Bullough, 1990). Today, the paedophile is regarded as a social pariah, the extreme embodiment of deviant sexuality (Greenberg, 1990).

3. Not all paedophiles are violent, but sex between adults and children is illegal because it can cause lasting psychological damage to the child. However, the demonisation of child sexual abuse makes it difficult for paedophiles to seek help because they, understandably, fear public opprobrium, or referral to the police. As Paul Jones suggests, finding therapies to help paedophiles would clearly be a better risk management strategy, but against a backdrop of hysteria it has become incredibly difficult to find effective ways of treating paedophiles in order to prevent them from acting on their sexual desires (Wright, 2012).

4. Unable to get help, paedophiles are left to seek solace in online communities where they can rationalize their deviant behavior (Durkin, 1997). The ability to converse with like-minded individuals can validate pro-offending thinking and justify adult sexual interest in children (Sellier, 2001).

5. Because paedophilia is so secretive and so few people are willing to admit to it, there is no meaningful way to get a reliable estimate of how many paedophiles there are. Dr Michael Seto, a clinical and forensic psychologist at the Royal Ottawa Healthcare group estimates that fewer than 1 to 2% of men are true paedophiles. The number of female paedophiles is certainly smaller, but it is even harder to estimate because boys who have been abused by older women are less likely to report it.

6. Most paedophiles are male, but most victims of paedophilia are female. Approximately 12% of men and 17% of women report experiencing sexual abuse in their childhood (Laumann, 1994). Around 3% of sexual assaults are committed by family members, 12% are committed by strangers and 85% are committed by friends and acquaintances, the vast majority of whom are also under the age of 18 (Finkelhor, 2005).

7. Most experts regard paedophilia as resulting from psychosocial factors rather than biological characteristics. Particular experiences and patterns of childhood behaviour are associated with an increased risk of victims becoming abusers in later life. A significant percentage of paedophiles have experienced or witnessed personal, or familial, psychological disturbance, parental emotional rejection, dysfunctional family backgrounds, lack of material care or neglect, substance abuse, or physical violence (Salter, 2003).

8. Some researchers attribute paedophilia to arrested emotional development or a distorted need to dominate a sexual partner, but the most frequently cited risk factor for becoming an abuser in adulthood is being a male victim of sexual abuse in childhood (Langstrom, 2000, Glasser, 2001, Hummel, 2000, Dolan, 1996, Hilton & Mezey, 1996).

9. Research into the progression from victim to victimiser suggests that approximately 30% of men who are abused go on to become abusers themselves (Hanson & Slater,1988, Freund,1990, Glasser, 2001). A US study found that parents who reported physical abuse in childhood were five times more likely to physically abuse their children than those who had not been physically abused (Kim, 2009).

10. In order to stop this perpetual cycle of abuse, Paul Jones is right. We need to make it easier and more acceptable for people with paedophile tendencies to get treatment. More research also needs to be carried out to help identify the 30% of children who have been abused and who are at risk of growing up to become abusers themselves. Perhaps one upside to the recent historic sex abuse enquiries will be that younger victims of abuse may now feel more confident about disclosure. Being able to dump the psychological baggage sooner might prevent a percentage of previously abused children acting out in adulthood. On a broader social level we need to address the multiple problems associated with family breakdown. Research by Parker and Parker (1986) found that only 1% of biological fathers sexually abused their children, but importantly, these men were significantly more likely to have been absent during the child's early years. They argue that when men are involved in caring for babies, a special kind of attachment forms which acts as a natural deterrent to sexual interest in the child.