Pedophilia (pee-doh-FILL-ee-uh ; meaning “love of children”) has been called many things throughout history: child-love, cross-generational sex, man/child (or adult/child) interaction, boy-love, pederasty, and Greek love (Bullough, 1990). The variety of terms shows how differently adult-child sexual interactions have been viewed in different periods of history. In Chapter 17 we will discuss child sexual abuse and incest, whereas here we will concentrate our attention on pedophilia.
Pedophilia is one of the most common paraphilias and is most likely to be seen in treatment due to its harmful and illegal nature (O’Grady, 2001). However, even though many people consider sexual contact between adults and children to be one of the most objectionable of crimes today, in many periods of history and in different cultures today, various types of child-adult sexual contact have been seen as acceptable (see Chapter 1 for more information about Greek pederasty, or Chapter 11 for more information on the Sambian culture). Even so, pedophilia is illegal in every country in the world (O’Grady, 2001).
What exactly constitutes such contact in a society may be unclear. For example, as recently as the 1980s, a girl in the state of New Mexico could get married at age 13. If a 30-year-old man marries a 13-year-old girl and has legal, consensual marital intercourse with her, is it pedophilia? What if they have consensual sex but are not married? Why should a piece of paper—a marriage certificate—make a difference in our definition?
Throughout most of history, a girl was considered ready for marriage and an adult sexual relationship as soon as she “came of age,” that is, at menarche. It was common for much older men to be betrothed to very young women, and such marriages were seen as proper. For example, Saint Augustine decided to get married in order to try to curb his sexual promiscuity, and so he was betrothed to a prepubertal girl. Although intercourse was not permitted until she reached puberty, such early marriages were apparently common (Bullough, 1990). In England in the 18th to 19th centuries, 12 was considered the age of consent. In the 18th century as well, adult-child sex (especially same-sex pairings) were accepted in China, Japan, parts of Africa, Turkey, Arabia, Egypt, and the Islamic areas of India (Ames & Houston, 1990).
To some degree or another, then, what legally constitutes pedophilia is a matter of the laws in different societies. Yet, clinically speaking, pedophilia refers to sexual activity with a prepubescent child (below the age of 13). (Many times these behaviors are also referred to as child sexual abuse. Attraction to postpubertal boys and girls is called ephebephilia (ef-fee-be-FILL-ee-uh), but it is not usually considered pathological. In fact, it has been shown that heterosexual males in almost all cultures are attracted to younger females, and homosexual males are attracted to younger or younger – appearing males (O’Grady, 2001). Pedophiles are often 16 years old or older and at least 5 years older than their victims (American Psychiatric Assocation, 2000).
Pedophiles often report an attraction to children of a particular age range, most often 8- to 10-year-olds in those attracted to girls, and slightly older in those attracted to boys (attraction to prepubescent girls is more common; Murray, 2000). Some pedophiles are unable to function sexually with an adult, whereas others also maintain adult sexual relationships (Seligman & Hardenburg, 2000). Many pedophiles believe that pedophilia will be like homosexuality, in that once it was unacceptable and today it is more acceptable (O’Grady, 2001).
Pedophiliac behavior is often obsessive (O’Grady, 2001). Pedophiles are usually obsessed with their fantasies, and these fantasies tend to dominate their lives. They are also predators—they know which child they like, and they work hard to get the trust and support from the parents or caretakers first. Pedophiles are good at winning the trust of parents. In fact, parents often trust the pedophile so much that they often take the pedophile’s word over their own child’s (O’Grady, 2001).
Many pedophiles threaten their victims and tell them they must keep their sexual activity secret. One therapist tells of a patient who had been repeatedly threatened by her assailant:
. . . as a young teen, she and a friend were raped repeatedly by a friend of their parents.
It went on for years. He would rape the girls in front of each other and threatened the
lives of both of them if they told. They didn’t. They were both afraid of him and convinced they wouldn’t be believed anyway, given his high standing in the community and his friendship with their parents. There is a song she still hates, she tells me, because he used to sing it as he undressed them. (Salter, 2003, p. 13)
In the United States, an adult who has sexual contact with a boy or girl under the age of consent (see Table 17.1, on page 569, for more information about the age of consent) to whom he or she is not married is guilty of child sexual abuse. A child sexual abuser may or may not be a pedophile; a person may sexually abuse a child because an adult is not available, because children are easier to seduce than adults, out of anger, or because of other sexual, psychological, or familial problems.
Girls are twice as likely as boys to be victims of pedophiliac behavior (Murray,
2000) . In one study, 44% of pedophiles chose only girls, 33% chose only boys, and 23% abused both boys and girls (Murray, 2000). Boys are less likely to reject sexual advances and to report their sexual advances to authorities than girls, and they will take the initiative in sexual encounters with adults more often than girls will (Brongersma, 1990). This may be the reason that violence is less common in sexual contact between men and boys than between men and girls.
Some pedophiles only look at children and never touch, whereas others engage in a variety of different sexual acts with their victims, with the most common behavior being fondling and exhibitionism, rather than penetration (Miranda & Fiorello, 2002). In the majority of cases, pedophiles do not require penetration (Murray, 2000). As we discussed earlier, pedophiles often have a lack of empathy and believe that their behavior does not cause any negative psychological or physical consequences for their victims (Miranda & Fiorello, 2002).
Unfortunately, some pedophiles, realizing the chance of the child reporting the act, kill their victims. After one such murder of a young New Jersey girl named Megan Kanka in July 1994, her parents spearheaded “Megan’s Law,” which was signed into state law in October 1994. This law made it mandatory for authorities in New Jersey to tell parents when a convicted child molester moved into the neighborhood and increased penalties for child molesters. In 1996, Megan’s Law became federal law. See the accompanying Sex in Real Life, “Megan’s Law,” for more information.
Female pedophiles also exist, although they often abuse children in concert with another person, usually their male partner. They may act to please their adult sexual partners rather than to satisfy their own pedophilic desires. Although less common, female pedophiles have been found to have a higher incidence of psychiatric disorders than male pedophiles (Chow & Choy, 2002).
A number of small organizations in Western countries, usually made up of pedophiles and ephebephiles, argue that man-boy love should be legalized, usually under the pretense of guarding “the sexual rights of children and adolescents” (Okami, 1990). In America, the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) supports the abolition of age-of-consent laws. NAMBLA believes that there is a difference between those who simply want to use children for sexual release and those who develop long – lasting, often exclusive, and even loving relationships with a single boy. Suppe (1984) agrees that pederasty among postpubescent boys need not necessarily be harmful (which is not to deny that it often may be).
On the other hand, those who work with sexually abused children vehemently deny the claim, pointing to children whose lives were ruined by sex with adults. The accompanying Personal Voices, “Pedophilia: An Autobiography,” tells the story of one pedophiliac, a physician, who established emotional and intimate relationships with young boys before being caught and sentenced to a prison term.
Several factors may go into pedophilic behavior (Murray, 2000). Pedophiles have been described as having had arrested psychological development, which makes them childlike with childish emotional needs. They may also have low selfesteem and poor social relations with adults, may be trying to overcome their own humiliations and pains from their childhood, or may exaggerate the social male role of dominance and power over a weaker sexual partner. Conditions such as alcoholism may lessen the barriers to having sex with children. In one study, pe-