Pedophilia: Causes and Typologies
Perhaps no single act causes such strong emotions as the act of child
sexual abuse. Child molesters can not even find refuge in prisons where
rapists and murderers are commonplace.These offenders are shunned in every
aspect of our society, yet there is no consensus as tothe causes of this
Sexual abuse of children is not new, and has not always been socially
taboo.The ancient Greeks and Romans used children for sexual
gratification(Langevin, 1983).In Greece, it was commonplace for adolescent
males to be forced into sexual relationships with mature males.This behavior
was normal and not objected to by the child’s parents nor the Greek
government(Langevin, 1983).The Romans encouraged adolescent boys and girls not
to protest being sold into prostitution.The Roman government even went so far
as to declare a public holiday honoring young prostitutes(Kahr, 1991).
Sex with children in the modern era is alive and well, the power of an
older person is so great that their young victims often never tell of the
horrors that they have endured.There is also a pedophile enhancement movement,
with confessed pedophiles insisting that their behavior is not wrong or immoral.
Organizations dedicated to the social acceptance of sex with children are not
new, yet have had a large upstart in membership since the early 1970’s(Charon,
Because of the extreme sensitivity of the subject, research in this
field is quite underdeveloped.Researchers have even had trouble in agreeing
what to call the phenomenon.Much research on the victims has dubbed the act as
child sexual abuse, most research on the offenders has labeled it as child
molesting or pedophilia.The term pedophilia has some utility since it suggests
a predisposition for the act separate from the act itself.The ambiguity of
this term however, is what causes confusion.Pedophilia can mean child sexual
abuse ranging from an arousal to children with no or little action, to sexual
penetration of the child.For the purposes of this paper the terms pedophilia,
child sexual abuse, and child molestation will be used interchangeably.
This paper will focus on the possible causes of child sexual abuse.It
will examine several etiologies of pedophiles as suggested by researchers.To
reduce this behavior in offenders, we must first attempt to gain an
understanding of WHY?This question has no easy answer,and the researchers in
this field have found very little to agree upon.There is is however, common
ground which may enable us to combine theories into a workable start to a
solution of the unspeakable crime.
Pedophiles can be classified into different categories by several issues,
the most common of which are causation, and victim-relationship.Using
different classifications to isolate pedophiliac behavior can help us to
understand this behavior and begin to find methods in which it may be contained.
Classification of Pedophiles
Pedophile classification is a hotly debated topic that varies significantly
in it’s origins.There are a few standards however,pedophiles can be
separated by those who sexually abuse members of there own family or step-
families, and those who abuse non-family members(Langevin, 1983).Even this
simple distinction is not always accurate though,often familial offenders have
previously offended non-family members(Hunter, 1990).Some common causes of
pedophilia have found much popular and scholarly support, and these etiologies
can give a general profile of some of the origins of child sexual abuse.While
the names of this etiologies vary greatly, the descriptions of each remain
Conditioned Response Theory
Some researchers have maintained that the pedophile becomes conditioned
to respond to young, sexually under-developed bodies.It has been suggested
that boys begin masturbating to fantasies that involve sexually immature bodies,
and then become so conditioned to these images that they need them to create
sexual gratification(McGuire, Carlisle, ; Young, 1965).Garland and
Dougher(1990) theorized two reasons for this behavior leading to the development
of pedophiliac behavior:(1) and adolescent’s sexual activity with persons his or
her own age could condition sexual arousal to pubescent children, and (2)
through memory distortions that have occur with the passage of time, the child
or adolescent who was sexually victimized by an adult developed a fantasy that
places him or her in the role of the aggressor rather than in the role of the
victim.As a result of this recurrent fantasy, he or she then becomes sexually
conditioned to respond to children.
Learned behavior closely resembles the conditioned response theory.
Pedophilia as a learned behavior is due to sexual abuse of the abuser as a child.
The pedophile then begins to imitate this behavior later in life(Groth, Hobson,
and Gary, 1982).
Social Skills Theory
Social skills that have been underdeveloped or dysfunctional social
skills have been suggested as a possible explanation for pedophilia, especially
relating to persons of the opposite sex.Segal and Marshall(1985) compared
rapists, child molesters, non-sexual offenders, and two control groups on social
skill ability.The researchers based their social skill ratings based on taped
conversations with females and found that all offender groups were less socially
competent …..than the control groups.The child molesters were less skilled at
predicting and evaluating their own performance in heterosexual situations.
Interacting with children may giver the pedophile a feeling of control and
reduce anxiety(Langevin, 1983).
Pedophilia has often been linked with previous emotional, physical, or
sexual trauma.This trauma becomes so painful that it results in
underdevelopment or a stifling of future development(Groth, Hobson, and
Gary,1982).According to this line of reasoning this underdevelopment will not
allow a person to mature emotionally as his or her body matures.The pedophile
is the emotional equivalent of a child, and thus depends on them and begins to
view them as sexual objects as well(Langevin, 1983).Using children in a sexual
manner to cope with anxiety is reinforced and becomes a normal behavior pattern.
Pedophilia asan Addiction
Pedophilia as an addiction is a fairly new way of examining this type of
behavior.In the early 1980’sresearchers began to ask questions about
pedophiliacs’ behavior and found that parallels could be drawn between this and
other addictive behaviors.Patrick Carnes(1983) developed a model of sexual
addiction to explain the behaviors of sexual abusers.Carnes suggested that
molestation of children is a sexual addiction.He stated that the addict moves
through a four-stage process, with each step becoming more addictive.
Preoccupation is the first stage in Carnes’ model.The addict is unable
to think about anything else except sex.The addict begins to seek experiences
to satisfy their desires.Ritualization is the second stage, in which the
addictwill engage in specific behaviors that culminate in sexually acting out
behaviors.Compulsive behavior is the third stage, which is the sex act.The
fourth and final stage is despair.This is when the addict realizes that there
is a lack of control over the compulsive behaviors.
Carnes suggested three separate levels of addiction within this model.
Level one addicts are associated with pornography, compulsive masturbation,
repeatedly engaging in purely sexual relationships with no other meaning, and
prostitution.Level two behaviors include illegal sexual acts with another
person being victimized emotionally, but not physically(exhibition, voyeurism).
Level three behavior includes rape, incest, and pedophiliac behavior.
The feminist theory argues that children are easy targets for sexual
abuse by mature males because of the emphasis that our society puts on the male
being the dominant, powerful, and controlling partner in intimate
relationships(Hite, 1981).Males, on the other hand tend to search out sexual
partners who are younger, smaller, and weaker than themselves(Finkelhor and
Araji, 1986, p. 149).
Child pornography and advertising have been targeted by some feminists
as having a role in the onset of pedophilia(Rush, 1980).The reasoning for
these beliefs are based on the assumption that viewing pornography eroticizes
children, and teaches adolescents to become aroused by children.
Pedophilia within the family, or incest is usually found in families
where the family unit is rigid and lacking any guidelines or boundaries(Will,
1983).Families in which incest occurs are both physically and socially
isolated from the community in which they live.Family members depend only on
one another for their needs and rarely seek outside assistance for anything.
Frequently the child is forced to grow up quickly and assume the role of
caretaker within the family.This caretaking role is then pushed beyond
conventional limits to include the physical needs of an adult within the family.
The needs of the child are given very little recognition by the parents.
Families have been classified into two general types of units in which
incest is more likely to occur.These include the Chaotic family and the
normal-appearing family(Kempe and Kempe, 1984).The chaotic family is
typically of low socioeconomic status; is dysfunctional in that the family
members have histories of substance abuse, incarceration, violence, and most
members have very little or no education.Children raised within family units
such as this are more likely to become targets of interfamilial sexual abuse.
The normal-appearing family gives off the impression that everything
is perfectly normal.Frequently the parents have been married for years, are
financially secure, and have established roles within the community(Kempe ;
Kempe, 1984). Incestuous parents in this type of family are often unable to
care for their children our themselves, either emotionally or physically.They
are usually quite needy and turn to their children to fulfill those needs.
Incest in this type of family is especially troublesome since even if it is
reported, a conviction is unlikely without solid physical proof.The adult is
an fine upstanding member of the communityintheir eyes.Often the
authorities will side with the adult and punish the child for these attempts to
bring pain upon their parents(Kempe ; Kempe, 1984).
In both the chaotic and the normal-appearing families, incest is
often carried on from one generation to another.This phenomenon has been
dubbed the intergenerational transmission of incest(Kempe ; Kempe, 1984).
Researchers have found similarities in families in which this phenomenon ha