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Section 15
Theories of Pedophilia and Child Molesting

CEU Question 15 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Internet
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Several explanations have been offered for why adults become sexually oriented to and involved with children, but no one theory explains all pedophilia or child molestation (Ames & Hovston, 1990; Bowman, 1951; Conte, 1985; Finkelhor, 1979). Araji and Finkelhor (1985) and Finkelhor et al. (1989) grouped theories into four basic categories, and some evidence can be found in the literature for each. However, associations of personality variables with pedophilia cannot explain the causes of pedophilia (Garber & Hollon, 1991; Kalichman, 1991).

One explanation of pedophilia is inappropriate sexual arousal. Researchers of physiological responses to erotic stimuli have pursued this approach. In many instances, pedophiles have shown enduring and exclusive sexual interest in children (Araji & Finkelhor, 1985). But in as many as one third of the cases, the sexual abuse of a child is a one-time incident and opportunistic rather than the result of continuing motivation (Finkelhor, 1980; Finkelhor et al., 1990; Finkelhor et al., 1989). Because standards of stimuli and methods of measurement are lacking and methods of measurement differ, definitive answers to why pedophiles are sexually aroused by children are still not available (Avery-Clark & Laws, 1984).

Another theory attributes pedophilia to a lack of sexual and emotional gratification, leading the pedophile to choose children as an outlet (Freund, Langevin, & Cibiri, 1972). The data of Ames and Hovston (1990) support the picture of pedophiles as shy, passive, and socially isolated. Some pedophiles, however, marry and have children (Finkelhor et al., 1989). Oberholser and Beck (1986) showed that pedophiles lack social skills, supporting the theory that they choose children as sexual partners because children are less socially demanding, more vulnerable and available, and because they also fear adult heterosexual relations. Birth order differences reported by Bogaert et al. (1997) might fit into this category of pedophilia theories; a gap of several years between brothers might deprive the pedophile of companionship in formative years of sexual gender behavior development.

Disinhibition theory of pedophilia finds support in the association of alcohol use and pedophilia (Araji & Finkelhor, 1985; Finkelhor et al., 1989). In a study by Rada (1976), almost 50% of 203 child molesters who were inmates of a state hospital had been drinking when they committed acts of sexual abuse with children, and 30% had been drinking heavily. But why pedophiles are not deterred by the usual prohibitions of adult-child sexual relationships was not explained.

Many pedophiles and child molesters claim that they were sexually abused as children (Ames & Hovston, 1990; Finkelhor, 1980; Greenberg et al., 1993). In a national telephone survey of 2,626 randomly selected respondents (Finkelhor et al., 1990), 27% of the women and 16% of the men reported that they were victims of sexual abuse as children. Freund et al. (1990) explored the attribution of pedophilia to childhood sexual abuse by reviewing the self-reports of 344 men. Self-reports were compared with phallometric measurements of erotic preferences for gender and age. The subjects included 77 heterosexual pedophiles, 54 homosexual pedophiles, 57 nonpedophilic sex offenders, 36 offenders against physically mature women, 51 homosexuals who preferred adult males, and 75 heterosexuals who preferred physically mature women. Analysis of self-reports confirmed that some pedophiles had experienced sexual abuse by adults in childhood. A control group of those not accused or charged with sexual activity with children also had been abused sexually as children, but the differences in self-reports were relatively small.

The initial impact of the sexual abuse of children led to feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and hostility in some victims (Browne & Finkelhor, 1986). Long-term effects were depression, anxiety , feelings of shame, and poor self-esteem. The most damaging experiences involved father figures, genital contact, and force. Studies suggested that one fourth or one third as many boys as girls were sexually abused in childhood, but within the family, boys may be more likely than girls to be abused (Finkelhor, 1990). The impact of sexual abuse during childhood on boys has not been studied as much as the impact on girls.

How do child molesters see themselves; what makes them molest children? In a clinical interview, child molesters frequently offered some kind of explanation. Pollock and Hashmall (1991) drew 250 justificatory statements from the interview records of 86 child molesters at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto. Pollock and Hashmall grouped the sample into six thematic categories. The justification given most often (by 29% of the sample) was that the victim had consented. Having been deprived of conventional sex was the rationalization of 24%. Intoxication was stated by 23%, and 22% claimed the victim had initiated the sexual activity.
- Murray, John; Psychological profile of pedophiles and child molesters; Journal of Psychology; Mar 2000; Vol. 134; Issue 2.

Personal Reflection Exercise #8
The preceding section contained information about theories of pedophilia and child molesting. Write Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 15
Oberholser and Beck showed that pedophiles lack social skills.  What theory does this support? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet

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