Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Child Molester or Pedophile?

It can be helpful to know that child molesters are not necessarily pedophiles and pedophiles are not necessarily child molesters. Pedophilia is a psychological disorder defined by a distinct sexual preference for pre-pubescent children. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 111-R), published by the American Psychological Association, gives the following definition of pedophilia:

“Recurrent, intense, sexual urges and sexual arousing fantasies of at least six months duration involving sexual activity with a pre-pubescent child.”

Thus, an individual can be a pedophile without actually engaging in a sexual act. Simply having fantasies about sexual activity with a child over a period of at least six months will qualify. Many pedophiles never engage in actual criminal activity. They just stay at home and think about it. They often have large collections of child pornography or child erotica. Staying close to children is high on their list of priorities. The most common type of pedophile is the immature individual who has never been very successful maintaining peer relationships. Those who lack social contact often spiral down deeper and deeper into a fantasy world.

Pedophiles who actually engage in child molestation become “child molesters.” They often use their collections of erotica and pornography to show to their victims as part of the grooming process of seduction. They think that when their victims see the photographs, their inhibitions will be lowered and they’ll be more inclined to accept sexual activity as something people do normally. Some use photographs and videos they have made of their victims to blackmail them into further sexual activity.

Child molesters, on the other hand, by definition engage in sexual acts with children, but they will generally go after older victims as well as children. Ninety-five percent of them are male. Only 10 percent are strangers to their victims. Fifty to 60 percent are family members. According to a Public Health Agency of Canada fact sheet, 25 percent of molesters are teenagers. The rule of thumb used by professionals is that child sexual abuse occurs when a person touches a child for sexual gratification and is four years older than the child. (Curious playmates of the same age are protected by the age issue.)

Because family members are often hidden from the criminal justice system, it’s difficult for researchers to get a handle on the true extent of the problem. They have been more successful in characterizing family friends and trusted adults outside of the family. These people usually don’t use violence on their victims. They “groom” them, or set them up for the molestation by gradually establishing bonds with the child. By the time the first touch happens, the child has been so conditioned that he or she hardly knows what’s happening.

Molesters victimize children for other motives as well as sexual gratification. Sometimes it’s just part of the mistreatment they direct toward people in general. Usually, they have low self-esteem and view children as less powerful objects on which to vent their anger or sexual frustrations. The main criteria for choosing a victim is availability. It could be anyone, anywhere, who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They can be strangers who forcefully attack children they don’t know or individuals or family known to the child who use the situation to their own advantage with no concern for the victim.

Those child molesters who prefer sex with children can have an astounding number of victims over a lifetime, if not caught. They choose particular victims and groom them for abuse through developing a relationship of trust, buying them gifts and honing in on their emotional weaknesses. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, in more than 90 percent of cases of child rape, the offender was well-known to the children or their parents. These are pedophiles who have carried their fantasies into reality. Some are brutal and physically cruel, while others are more gentle in their approaches. They manipulate relationships to the point of expressing their perversions.

©Diane Roblin-Lee, April, 2012

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