Skip to main content

The Stigma of Pedophilia

Clinical and Forensic Implications

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000325

Abstract. There is an emerging consensus among researchers that having pedophilic interests is not synonymous with child sexual abuse or other amoral behavior. Nevertheless, misconceptions about pedophilia are highly prevalent among the general public and mental health practitioners. This article provides an overview of recent findings on the stigma of pedophilia and derives guidelines for mental health practitioners based on these results. We argue that stigmatization of people with pedophilic sexual interests has undesired indirect effects on risk factors for child sexual abuse, particularly on an emotional and social level. Also, fear of being rejected or treated unethically may prevent pedophilic individuals at risk for sexual offending from confiding in medical practitioners or psychotherapists. Psychologists working with pedophilic individuals in forensic or clinical settings should be aware that stigmatizing people with pedophilia may increase their risk of sexual offending, and provide help to deal with potential stigma-related repercussions.

References

  • Adiele, T., Davidson, C. M., Harlow, M. C. & del Busto, E. (2011). Comorbid mental disorders in incarcerated paedophil. Sexual Offender Treatment, 6, 1–13.Retrieved from http://www.sexual-offender-treatment.org/100.html First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • B4 U-ACT. (2017). Psychotherapy for the MAP. Retrieved from http://www.b4uact.org/gallery-2-columns-filter/psychotherapy-for-the-map/ First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Bailey, J. M., Bernhard, P. A. & Hsu, K. J. (2016). An Internet study of men sexually attracted to children: Correlates of sexual offending against children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125, 989–1000. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000213 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Baur, E., Forsman, M., Santtila, P., Johansson, A., Sandnabba, K. & Langstrom, N. (2016). Paraphilic sexual interests and sexually coercive behavior: A population-based twin study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 1163–1172. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0674-2 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Beier, K. M. (2016). Proactive strategies to prevent child sexual abuse and the use of child abuse images: Experiences from the German Dunkelfeld Project. In H. KuryS. RedoE. SheaEds., Women and children as victims and offenders: Background, prevention, reintegration (pp. 499–524). Zurich, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28424-8_19 First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Beier, K. M., Grundmann, D., Kuhle, L. F., Scherner, G., Konrad, A. & Amelung, T. (2015). The German Dunkelfeld Project: A pilot study to prevent child sexual abuse and the use of child abusive images. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12, 529–542. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsm.12785 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Berlin, F. S. (2014). Pedophilia and DSM-5: The importance of clearly defining the nature of a pedophilic disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, 42, 404–407. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Bezreh, T., Weinberg, T. S. & Edgar, T. (2012). BDSM disclosure and stigma management: Identifying opportunities for sex education. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 7, 37–61. https://doi.org/10.1080/15546128.2012.650984 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Cantor, J. M. (2014). “Gold-star” pedophiles in general sex therapy practice. In Y. M. BinikK. S. HallEds., Principles and practice of sex therapy (5th ed., pp. 219–234). New York, NY: Guilford Publications. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Cantor, J. M. & McPhail, I. V. (2016). Non-offending pedophiles. Current Sexual Health Reports, 8, 121–128. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930–016-0076-z First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Cohen, L., Ndukwe, N., Yaseen, Z. & Galynker, I. (2017). Comparison of self-identified minor-attracted persons who have and have not successfully refrained from sexual activity with children. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2017.1377129 First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Dombert, B., Schmidt, A. F., Banse, R., Briken, P., Hoyer, J., Neutze, J. & Osterheider, M. (2016). How common is men’s self-reported sexual interest in prepubescent children? The Journal of Sex Research, 53, 214–223. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2015.1020108 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Feelgood, S. & Hoyer, J. (2008). Child molester or paedophile? Sociolegal versus psychopathological classification of sexual offenders against children. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 14, 33–43. https://doi.org/10.1080/13552600802133860 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Feldman, D. B. & Crandall, C. S. (2007). Dimensions of mental illness stigma: What about mental illness causes social rejection? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26, 137–154. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2007.26.2.137 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Freimond, C. M. (2013, October 29). Navigating the stigma of pedophilia: The experiences of nine minor-attracted men in Canada. (Thesis). Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Retrieved from http://summit.sfu.ca/item/13798 First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Giner-Sorolla, R., Bosson, J. K., Caswell, T. A. & Hettinger, V. E. (2012). Emotions in sexual morality: Testing the separate elicitors of anger and disgust. Cognition and Emotion, 26, 1208–1222. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2011.645278 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Goffman, E. (1967). Stigma: Über Techniken der Bewältigung beschädigter Identität [Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity]. Frankfurt, Germany: Suhrkamp. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Goode, S. D. (2009). Understanding and addressing adult sexual attraction to children: A study of paedophiles in contemporary society. New York, NY: Routledge. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Grundmann, D., Krupp, J., Scherner, G., Amelung, T. & Beier, K. M. (2016). Stability of self-reported arousal to sexual fantasies involving children in a clinical sample of pedophiles and hebephiles. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 1153–1162. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0729-z First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Harper, C. A., Bartels, R. M. & Hogue, T. E. (2016). Reducing stigma and punitive attitudes toward pedophiles through narrative humanization. Sexual Abuse. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/1079063216681561 First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Harper, C. A. & Hogue, T. E. (2015). The emotional representation of sexual crime in the national British press. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 34, 3–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X14544474 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Harvard Mental Health Letter. (2010, July). Pessimism about pedophilia. Retrieved January 1, 2017, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/pessimism-about-pedophilia First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Phelan, J. C. & Link, B. G. (2013). Stigma as a fundamental cause of population health inequalities. American Journal of Public Health, 103, 813–821. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2012.301069 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Hoff, G. & Sprott, R. (2009). Therapy experiences of clients with BDSM sexualities: Listening to a stigmatized sexuality. The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 12, 30–35. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Holt, T. J., Blevins, K. R. & Burkert, N. (2010). Considering the pedophile subculture online. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 22, 3–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/1079063209344979 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Houtepen, J. A. B. M., Sijtsema, J. J. & Bogaerts, S. (2015). Being sexually attracted to minors: Sexual development, coping with forbidden feelings, and relieving sexual arousal in self-identified pedophiles. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 42, 48–69. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2015.1061077 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Imhoff, R. (2015). Punitive attitudes against pedophiles or persons with sexual interest in children: Does the label matter? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 35–44. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0439-3 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Imhoff, R. & Jahnke, S. (2018). Determinants of punitive attitudes towards people with pedophilia: Dissecting effects of the label and intentionality ascriptions. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47, 353–361. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508–017-1048–8 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jahnke, S. (2018). Emotions and cognitions associated with the stigma of nonoffending pedophilia: A vignette experiment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47, 363–373. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508–017-1073–7 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jahnke, S. & Hoyer, J. (2013). Stigmatization of people with pedophilia: A blind spot in stigma research. International Journal of Sexual Health, 25, 169–184. https://doi.org/10.1080/19317611.2013.795921 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R. & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigmatization of people with pedophilia: Two comparative surveys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 21–34. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0312-4 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jahnke, S., Philipp, K. & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigmatizing attitudes towards people with pedophilia and their malleability among psychotherapists in training. Child Abuse & Neglect, 40, 93–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.07.008 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jahnke, S., Schmidt, A. F., Geradt, M. & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigma-related stress and its correlates among men with pedophilic sexual interests. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 2173–2187. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0503-7 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jahnke, S., Schmitt, S. & Malón, A. (2017). What if the child appears to enjoy it? Moral attitudes toward adult-child sex among men with and without pedohebephilia. The Journal of Sex Research. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2016.1271101 First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Kitzinger, J. (2002). The ultimate neighbour from hell? Stranger danger and the media framing of “paedophilia”. In R. FranklinEd., Social policy, the media and misrepresentation (pp. 207–221). London, UK: Psychology Press. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Kolmes, K., Stock, W. & Moser, C. (2006). Investigating bias in psychotherapy with BDSM clients. Journal of Homosexuality, 50, 301–324. https://doi.org/10.1300/J082v50n02_15 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Koops, T., Turner, D., Jahnke, S., Märker, V. & Briken, P. (2016). Stigmatisierung von Menschen mit sexuellem Interesse an Kindern unter Sexualtherapeuten in Russland [Stigmatization of people with a sexual interest in children among sex therapists in Russia]. Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung, 29, 131–146. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0042-107735 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Lasher, M. P. & Stinson, J. D. (2016). Adults with pedophilic interests in the United States: Current practices and suggestions for future policy and research. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0822-3 First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Leue, A., Borchard, B. & Hoyer, J. (2004). Mental disorders in a forensic sample of sexual offenders. European Psychiatry, 19, 123–130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2003.08.001 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Link, B. G. & Phelan, J. C. (2006). Stigma and its public health implications. The Lancet, 367, 528–529. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68184-1 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Mann, R., Hanson, R. K. & Thornton, D. (2010). Assessing risk for sexual recidivism: Some proposals on the nature of psychologically meaningful risk factors. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 22, 191–217. https://doi.org/10.1177/1079063210366039 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Marshall, W. L., Anderson, D. & Champagne, F. (1997). Self-esteem and its relationship to sexual offending. Psychology, Crime & Law, 3, 161–186. https://doi.org/10.1080/10683169708410811 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 674–697. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Murphy, J. A., Rawlings, E. I. & Howe, S. R. (2002). A survey of clinical psychologists on treating lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 183–189. https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7028.33.2.183 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Newcomb, M. E. & Mustanski, B. (2010). Internalized homophobia and internalizing mental health problems: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 1019–1029. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.07.003 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Nichols, M. & Shernoff, M. (2007). Therapy with sexual minorities: Queering practice. In Y. M. BinikK. S. HallEds., Principles and practice of sex therapy (pp. 379–415). New York, NY: Guilford Press. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Page, S. (1977). Effects of the mental illness label in attempts to obtain accommodation. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 9, 85–90. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0081623 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Raymond, N. C., Coleman, E., Ohlerking, F., Christenson, G. A. & Miner, M. (1999). Psychiatric comorbidity in pedophilic sex offenders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 786–788. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.156.5.786 First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Rüsch, N., Angermeyer, M. C. & Corrigan, P. W. (2005). Mental illness stigma: Concepts, consequences, and initiatives to reduce stigma. European Psychiatry, 20, 529–539. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2005.04.004 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Seto, M. C. (2007). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment, and intervention (1st ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Seto, M. C. (2012). Is pedophilia a sexual orientation? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 231–236. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-011-9882-6 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Stiels-Glenn, M. (2010). The availability of outpatient psychotherapy for paedophiles in Germany. Recht & Psychiatrie, 28, 74–80. First citation in articleGoogle Scholar

  • Thornicroft, G. (2008). Stigma and discrimination limit access to mental health care. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 17, 14–19. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1121189X00002621 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Wagner, T., Jahnke, S., Beier, K. M., Hoyer, J. & Scherner, G. (2016). Pädophile Neigungen offenbaren: Stigma-Management bei Patienten aus dem Berliner Präventionsprojekt Dunkelfeld [Disclosing pedophilic interests: Stigma management among patients from the Berlin prevention project Dunkelfeld]. Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung, 29, 106–130. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0042-108000 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Whitaker, D. J., Le, B., Karl Hanson, R., Baker, C. K., McMahon, P. M., Ryan, G., … Rice, D. D. (2008). Risk factors for the perpetration of child sexual abuse: A review and meta-analysis. Child Abuse & Neglect, 32, 529–548. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2007.08.005 First citation in articleCrossrefGoogle Scholar