Child Sex Crimes and Victimization: Can You Really Trust a Pedophile?

The idea that a victim of pedophilia or child molestation is more likely to become a pedophile or molester themselves is a chilling one. If true, it would mean there is an ever-growing and vicious circle of immeasurably tragic crime bubbling under the surface of our society. To make matters worse, much of the research on this topic is based on self-reports that have been completed by the offenders themselves. And that’s what makes the Freund, Watson, & Dickey’s 1990 paper entitled “Does Sexual Abuse in Childhood Cause Pedophilia: An Exploratory Study” so important.

A Closer Look at Sex Crimes and Methodology

In the study, the researchers examined 344 self-reports from males divided into six groups (gender, age preference, and pedophilia vs molestation). The questions: whether those who had been sexually abused as children were more likely to commit those same crimes themselves later in life. And, whether the abuse is the actual driving factor behind those crimes. Or, if it’s merely an excuse used to avoid having their actions reflect directly on their character.

Researchers found male pedophiles who reported being sexual abused as children by an adult made up only a slightly larger portion of the sample than those who had not been charged for offences against minors. This would make sense since both crimes are against cultural norms, but crimes against children are particularly frowned upon even in the prison population. The most telling part of this study was, however, in the excuses given. Pedophiles who admitted an attraction to children were more likely to claim they, themselves, were child sexual abuse victims than those who failed to admit to an attraction to children. There are a few potential theories behind this.

What Might Be Behind the Excuses for Child Sex Crimes

Offenders included in the study tended to blame situational factors for the offences (alcohol, or not understanding how it could happen). Neither of those, however, are valid. Researchers suggested those who hide their attraction to children simply aren’t as desperate for an excuse. (It wasn’t my fault. It was the situation I was in.) Others denied their attractions all together, or they lied about being sexually abused as children. In other words, we can’t always trust sexual offender self-reports. For me, this is no surprise.

Related to what are referred to in psychology as the fundamental attribution error and self-serving bias, humans tend to blame their failings on situational factors while blaming dispositional factors when other people commit the same crimes. This happens for many reasons. They want to protect their self-esteem or their image in the eyes of others, for example. If they admitted to their attraction, it would be admitting a fundamental flaw in their character or personality that is not only undesirable and criminal in our society, but also difficult or seemingly impossible to change. It also allows them to play the victim so that they can elicit guilt, pity, and leniency from others. This concept was further enhanced when the paper discussed how offenders are sometimes able to control their physical reactions to erotic stimuli during phallometric testing.

Information concerning the gender differences of offenders was also interesting. During their study, these researchers found there were very few female sexual offenders. This makes sense when you consider the evolutionary perspective that women have a higher parental investment, and therefore, will be considerably more picky when choosing sexual partners (a slow LHS). Men, and particularly deviant, aggressive, or antisocial men, tend to have fast LHS trajectories and have more partners for shorter periods of time.

On a personal note, the sentence “Some had come to ask whether they could be made heterosexual” was also disturbing. Included when referring to the gynephilic non-offender controls, it was clear that they wanted to be socially “normal”. They saw themselves as somehow fundamentally “flawed” — the opposite to offenders. I thought it was very revealing about our society and gynephilics. That, however, is another topic and another set of studies.

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