Tackling Child Sexual Abuse (1/5): Paedosexuality
Psychotherapist Juliet Grayson works at the root of sexual offending. Her client base includes those people who are at risk of committing a sexual crime, as well as those who have already done so. She is passionate about encouraging more therapists to work with this client group, in order to ‘Stop the First Offence’ rather than wait until a crime has been committed. In the first of five blogs about her work, she discusses paedophilia and paedosexuality.
Paedophiles and MAPs
So many people misuse the term paedophile. This makes it harder for people who are sexually attracted to children to ask for help, as they don’t want to be labelled with a term that has become a target for society’s hatred. I’ve been shocked at how ill-informed most therapists are, too, about working with this client group.
Paedophilia does not mean child molestation. The clinical definition of a paedophile is a person who is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. This attraction may only be to children, or (s)he may be more attracted to children than adults. By definition, hebephilia and ephebophilia are the correct terms for an attraction to pubescent and post-pubescent teenagers respectively, but often, the term paedophile is misused to cover attraction to all underage boys or girls. An alternative term is Minor Attracted Person (MAP). In terms of libido and the amount of sex that is desired, MAPs have a normal sex drive. However, the vast majority do not want to cause harm. They do have a conscience.
Conversely, not all child molesters are paedophiles or MAPs. Sixty per cent of child abuse is committed by people who are not MAPs, but who are using the child as a surrogate for an adult partner. Reasons for this include being sexually inexperienced, being intellectually disabled, having an anti-social personality disorder, or trauma in the perpetrator’s history.
There is a growing literature of neuro-imaging studies showing differences in the brains of paedophiles. A leading researcher in the field, James Cantor, is a strong advocate for the idea that many are born with this condition – he says that it is innate, a sexual orientation, and not a choice.
I believe that there is a continuum – at one end is the person who is only attracted to children. These people often feel that they can never tell anyone, and may turn to substance abuse to cope, or be suicidal. They need therapists’ help to develop coping strategies to remain a ‘non-offending paedophile’. At the other end of the scale are those who are only attracted to adults and would never be attracted to children. Between the two extremes are the ‘inbetweeners’. Events in their life may have pushed an inbetweener in the direction of paedophilia. Often there has been a trauma during their childhood. A critical time for this trauma is around eight to nine years of age for boys, and seven for girls. Therapy and healing of these early traumas can refocus the sexual attraction back onto adults, and lead to the development of healthy relationships with over-18 year olds. The past is left behind, the secret maintained, although occasionally some are willing to share their story.
Attraction to children is not as uncommon as many think. For men, reports suggest a prevalence of between one per cent and three per cent, though some research suggests as much as 20 per cent. Less attention has been given to females, but it could be around three per cent. The term ‘paedosexual’ can be used to reduce the stigma associated with the term paedophilia.
At StopSO UK, we have an online study of our clients that shows that 51 per cent knew that they had inappropriate sexual thoughts or behaviour by the age of 16 years and 72 per cent by age 25 years. Yet many people do not offend until their early thirties. Eighty per cent of the abuse occurs within the family or by a family friend.
What therapists must do
We need to find ways of encouraging those who need help to get it. I hear anecdotal stories of therapists who are not open to listening to a client who mentions an attraction to children. This needs to change. You can check out what a therapist needs to report, in relation to child sexual abuse, at our website. By offering therapy we can help to prevent an illegal action, an action that harms, an action of sexual abuse.
In Germany, the Prevention Project Dunkelfeld has been in existence since 2005 and now receives government funding of €5million per annum. If we had half of that kind of funding we could offer free therapy to everyone who asks StopSO for help. That would reduce the amount of child sexual abuse in the UK.
Paedosexuality is not a choice. The choice is whether or not to act out on it. We cannot ignore this if we are to reduce the sexual abuse of children. We can offer, we need to offer, we have a professional duty to offer, a safe place for clients to come for therapy. Prevention is imperative to Stop the First Offence before a child is harmed.