Pedophiles and child molesters can be found in every walk of life, but are they really one and the same?
Like most people, I was shocked to learn that Subway’s former spokesperson, Jerod Fogle, plead guilty to child molestation charges last week. He looks so “normal.” So I started to wonder how big of a problem child molestation is. How many other “normal” people are attracted to children and what do we know about pedophilia?
First of all, I was surprised to learn that there is a difference between pedophiles and child molesters. Not all pedophiles are child molesters and not all child molesters are pedophiles. However, we do know that most sexual abusers of children are someone the child knows.
Not every pedophile acts on his impulses. (By the way, I’ll be using the male pronoun because female pedophiles are quite rare.) According to Dr. Hubert Van Gijseghem, from the University of Montreal, many of the people who sexually abuse children are not exclusively or primarily attracted to them. “In fact,” he says, “‘true’ pedophiles are estimated by some experts to account for only 20 percent of sexual abusers.” Harvard Medical School adds, “Researchers also do not agree about what proportion of child sex abusers are pedophiles.”
Some pedophiles are also attracted to adults. Those relationships, however, do not alleviate the attraction they have toward children. Also of interest is that pedophiles can have a sexual attraction toward boys, girls, or both. “Homosexual adults,” the Harvard study points out, “are no more likely than heterosexuals to abuse children.”
Jon Henley quotes Psychologist Glenn Wilson, co-author of The Child-Lovers: a Study of Pedophiles in Society, as saying that, “The majority of pedophiles, however socially inappropriate, seem to be gentle and rational.”
In 2014, Luke Malone decided to tackle the issue of pedophilia as a thesis for his degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. It was around the time of the Jerry Sandusky trial and he started wondering how someone became a pedophile. In his research he discovered that an attraction towards children generally starts around the teen years. In a provocative interview with NPR’s Ira Glass, he told about the teens and young adults he met who created their own support group to keep them from acting on their feelings.
Adam, the group’s leader, started watching child porn when he was 14-years-old. However, he soon realized that though he was aging, his attraction for children remained the same. “[I]t wasn’t some phase I was going through, but the children I was interested in weren’t getting older, you know, to follow along with me, but they were actually getting younger,” he told Malone.
Dr. James Cantor, one of the few researchers on the issue, has been studying the brains of pedophiles and believes there are marked differences. According to his website:
“Dr. Cantor’s team has identified multiple markers demonstrating biological contributions to the development of pedophilia, including poorer scores on certain neuropsychological tests, more frequent childhood head injuries, less physical height, elevated rates of school-grade failures, and triple normal rates of non-right-handedness.”
Additionally, he found “significantly lower white matter density in the wide-spread regions of the brain in men with pedophilia (than in men who committed nonsexual offenses).”
The alternate theory, and most widely held belief, is that pedophiles are victims of molestation themselves. A 2001 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that only a minority percentage fit the victim-to-victimiser cycle.
So basically, we have a behavior, child molestation, and we have a sexual attraction, Pedophilia. The two are not mutually exclusive, though one can exist without the other. Its origins are fuzzy, and what to do about it is a completely different and complicated problem.
In Pessimism about pedophilia, Harvard Health Publications stated that pedophilia is indeed a sexual orientation and it is “unlikely to change.” This makes a lot of people nervous. Some are convinced that pedophiles are the next social justice movement, which has been ushered in by the gay rights movement. But the difference in the two, says Chris Wilson, who works with offenders in the UK, is that, “The roots of that desire for sex with a child lie in dysfunctional psychological issues to do with power, control, anger, emotional loneliness, [and] isolation.”
So what should we do with a pedophile? If, as most research suggests, they cannot change their attraction toward children, should they be locked up forever? What if they never act on their impulses? Sarah Goode reported that a 2006 survey of 531 undergraduate men discovered that 7 percent admitted sexual attraction to “little children,” while 18 percent had sexual fantasies about children. These are the “normal” people who live among us.
In more disturbing news, a United Nations investigation, according to NBC News, discovered there are over 4 million websites that show “images of children being exploited.” I’ll spare you the specific breakdown of their ages. Quite honestly, it turned my stomach to see the numbers. I couldn’t bear to write them down. However, this industry has a net worth of up to $20 billion. That’s a big business to keep going with just a few “normal” people.
Most of us agree there should be strong and swift consequences for people who abuse children. Jerod Fogle’s offense is particularly repugnant, in my opinion, because he used his position of authority, power, and celebrity to get what he wanted. But what about those who don’t act out? What about those who want help to keep from acting out?
In an interview with The Atlantic, Dr. Cantor noted that in many jurisdictions there are “mandatory reporting regulations for psychologists and other health care providers.” So when someone comes in for counseling the psychologist is legally required to report the person to authorities if he suspects the person will act on his impulses, or if he feels a particular child is in danger. “That, of course, can lead to loss of the person’s job, family, and everything else,” Dr. Cantor said. The alternative is to not go in for any help at all, which is what most people choose to do.
As a society, we have tagged pedophilia as reprehensible and presumed it to be synonymous with child molestation. Unfortunately, we have also made it into such a taboo subject that is difficult to talk about and nearly impossible to research. There are no easy answers to this subject, but until we’re able to talk about it openly, there will be many more victims.
Photo – Flickr/Michael Taggart Photography