Working professionally in sexuality is edgy. Working with children (and I refer to people under the age of 18 years old) and sexuality is off the edge. No person wants to imagine children being sexual, consensually or non-consensually. So I am sure you realise that professionals who choose to work clinically and conduct research into paedophilia have got to be brave, scientific and confident to withstand the arrows that get slung at them.
I am privileged enough to know Dr James Cantor, psychologist, clinician and sex researcher, located in Toronto, Canada. He is the leading global person doing research into paedophilia. Over years of listening to him at conferences and continuing my learning from his online presence, I have learned to still my initial heightened visceral response of body tension, throat constriction, shallow breathing and anger. As an activist and defender of LGBTI, women and children's rights, I cannot bear the idea of non-consensual sexuality especially adults with children. I am sure you feel very much the same.
I have grown to understand a little of what paedophilia is about. I ask you to hold back judgment, consider compassion... and hope you will keep reading this so you can learn with me. Let's get our terms sorted out to obviate confusion, stigma and hopefully, this will lead to better means of protecting children from unwanted harmful sexual contact by adults.
Paedophilia is a "pattern of erotic attraction that typically begins to manifest in puberty and is stable over life", says Cantor. The DSM-5 states that these individuals have a paedophilic sexual orientation but not a paedophilic disorder.
There are three criteria for paedophilic disorder in DSM-5: if you fulfil these criteria, you are considered mentally ill and treated for this illness.
- Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviours involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).
- The individual has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.
- The individual is at least age 16 years and at least five years older than the child.
Child molestation is a crime involving a range of indecent or sexual activities between an adult and a child, usually under the age of 14. They do not necessarily imply that the perpetrator bears a particular psychological makeup or motive. For example, not all incidents of child molestation are perpetrated by paedophiles; sometimes the perpetrator has other motives for his or her actions and does not manifest an ongoing pattern of sexual attraction to children. Thus, not all child molestation is perpetrated by paedophiles, and not all paedophiles actually commit child molestation.
So you get the differences, right? Paedophilia is a sexual orientation, the paedophilic disorder is a mental disorder as these people cannot control their urges to act out and child molesters are people who opportunistically sexually prey on vulnerable children and are not likely to be paedophiles. Let's look at some myths and facts about paedophilia: I have taken these from the documentary made on James Cantor and his work. I urge you to view the whole movie.
In Cantor's work, he scans the brains of paedophiles. His findings include:
- Paedophiles tend to have IQs that are 10 points lower than the average person, plus lower memory scores.
- A larger portion of paedophiles is left-handed or ambidextrous as opposed to the general public.
- This is a brain phenomenon, although they have not yet been able to identify what's been affecting the brain development.
Just because someone is a paedophile, doesn't mean they're a bad person. Support group, Virtuous Paedophiles, offers a safe place and reduction of molestations for paedophiles who have to keep their attraction a secret for fear of the law and social stigma.
A professional health care provider is ethically obligated by law to report to the police any paedophilic signs or behaviour. This keeps paedophiles outside the doors of therapists so placing them at higher risk of acting out as they have no place to go to for help. Paedophiles are not attracted to all children. Just like heterosexuals, paedophiles are attracted to a certain gender and age.
Not all paedophiles are only attracted to kids. The majority of paedophiles often first notice their sexual interest in young children when they are in their teens or 20s, and remain only attracted to children. However many are attracted to same age people, marry, have children and acknowledge only later in life that their primary attraction is to children .
Against this backdrop it is easy to see why it is very difficult to work professionally with paedophiles. Getting paedophiles into therapy rooms allows us the opportunity to manage their behaviour so as to prevent harm to children and to paedophiles themselves. Locking them up in jails serves no purpose to anyone.
Ideally one would want less stigma and more compassion and understanding from the public -- without denying the extensive harm that is caused to children. This is a hard ask. If you have read to the end of this blog, you may have anger towards me, that I dare suggest empathy for people who harm children beyond repair. Re read it, re-think it, watch Dr Cantor's documentary and still never stop protecting your children.