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Posted by dlende on May 10, 2010

By Michael Cochran & Meghan Cole

Most people imagine pedophiles as ugly old men dressed in trench coats, hiding in the bushes, waiting to snatch young children off the street. However, recent television shows, such as To Catch a Predator, have exposed pedophiles as local neighbors, trusted friends, clergy, babysitters, teachers, and even family members.

 

Conceptions about pedophiles have been changing rapidly, and pedophilia has recently become a topic of increased awareness and concern. Not only do television shows expose pedophiles, but there are new sexual offender disclosure laws, websites that track convicted sexual offenders, and more investigations of pedophilia, especially after the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Yet children still remain vulnerable to sexual offenders regardless of their public façade.

 

The increasing attention on pedophilia has caused many Americans to question what this disorder entails, its characteristics, and what type of treatment should be sought for abusers. What is pedophilia? Do people choose to be pedophiles or are they born that way? This post will address these questions.

 

Pedophilia

 

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) defines pedophilia as recurrent sexually arousing fantasies, impulsive desires, or behaviors involving sexual acts with a child and that occur over a period of at least six months. In most cases, the pedophile is at least sixteen years of age and at least five years older than the child. Those who suffer from pedophilia have a compulsion to abuse young children.

 

Categorizing Pedophiles

 

Pedophiles can be classified in several ways. Pedophilia can be characterized as either exclusive or non-exclusive. Exclusive pedophiles are attracted only to children. They show no interest in sexual partners who are not prepubescent children. This desire prolongs even when they are not in the presence of children. Non-exclusive pedophiles are attracted to both adults and children. A large percentage of male pedophiles are homosexual or bisexual in orientation to children, meaning they are attracted to male children or both male and female children (Schiffer, 2008).

 

Many people assume that only males are pedophiles. However, case studies on pedophilia have demonstrated that female pedophilia does exist (Chow, 2002). Although this is a rare phenomenon, females who meet the DSM-IV criteria for pedophiles display similar cognitive distortions to that of males, such as irrational thoughts. Some differences, however, do exist among males and females. Females who exhibit pedophilia tend to suffer from psychiatric disorders or substance abuse problems. Also, there is a higher correlation between sexual abuses as a child with females compared to males.

 

What Causes Pedophilia?

 

The etiology of pedophilia can be attributed to both biological and environmental factors. Case studies indicate that cerebral dysfunction may be a contributing or dominant factor of pedophilia (Scott, 1984), including problems with self-control, extreme urges, and cognitive distortions. Many experts also believe that disorders for sexual preferences emerge from childhood experiences during critical periods in human development (DiChristina, 2009). In many cases, child sex abusers suffer from traumatic experiences during their childhood.

 

More specifically, pedophiles tend to also have been molested as children. As children, they lacked the ability to control the situation. By sexually assaulting children, pedophiles attempt to re-live the trauma they experienced and they learn how to master it. A complete role reversal gives them the upper hand and prevents them from being victimized. Overall, through the impact of cerebral dysfunction and traumatic development, the sexual urges and desires for children can become ingrained within a person’s nervous system.

 

Role of the Brain

 

There is significant evidence that indicate structural abnormalities in the brains of pedophiles (Schiffer, 2008). Abnormalities occur when the brain is developing and can be on-set through certain experiences, such as sexual abuse as a child. Abnormalities in the brains of pedophiles may result in compulsion, poor judgment, and repetitive thoughts.

 

These abnormalities in the brains of pedophiles are caused by early neurodevelopmental perturbations (Schiffer, 2008). The use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIs) and positron emission tomography scans (PET) has revealed that the abnormalities of pedophiles exhibit appear in the frontal and central regions of the brain. In particular, there is a decreased volume of gray brain matter in the central striatum. As a result, the nucleus accumbens, orbital frontal cortex, and the cerebellum are all affected (Schiffer, 2008).

These areas of the brain play an important role in addictive behavior. The accumbens is the central mediator of reward signaling and expectation. The striatum and orbito frontal cortex control this reward system. As a result, this contributes to the etiology of pedophilia because a reward deficiency complication disturbs the neurotransmission of dopamine involved in compulsive and addictive behaviors.

 

Due to the frontotemporal dysfunctions, pedophilia shares neural characteristics with psychiatric disorders that fall in the range of the obsessive-compulsive (OC) spectrum. These impulsive disorders include pathological gambling, kleptomania, and even Tourettes syndrome. While some debate this claim (Schiffer et al., 2007), there is substantial evidence for the existence of physiological and genetic overlaps. In particular, studies have shown that alterations in the frontostriatal circuitry are a major abnormality leading to obsessive-compulsive behavior. Pedophiles tend to act inappropriately and exhibit poor judgment because they lack the ability to control their impulses.

 

These structural alterations underlie the antisocial behaviors exhibited by someone with pedophilia. Pedophiles are burdened with repetitive thoughts and urges. Consequently, they seek to fulfill these desires through behavior that is socially unacceptable and at times, even illegal. Most pedophiles express shame and guilt after partaking in their immoral behavior because their neurological dysfunctions deal strictly with urges and not emotions (Schiffer et al., 2007).

 

Is There a Cure?

 

Pedophilia, like many types of disturbances or diseases, does not have a complete cure. The sexual urges associated with pedophilia may never permanently disappear, and a person’s sexual preference and orientation can be difficult to completely re-orient. At present, treatment primarily focuses on preventing further offenses rather than changing sexual orientation.

 

Yuli Grebchenko, MD, has done extensive research on pedophiles. He noted that pedophilia is a life-long disorder and stated that, “It needs lifelong treatment” (Lamberg, 2005). Recent studies have demonstrated that psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy can be combined to bring about the most effective treatment to someone suffering from pedophilia (Kersebaum, 2007).

 

Therapy includes discussing traumatic events, especially those from the childhood of an abuser. Therapy also seeks to help patients identify situations that may tempt them to engage in harmful behaviors toward children. During therapeutic treatment, therapists may try to correct a patient’s cognitive disorder, which may include misperceptions that the child enjoyed the abuse.

 

The three standard pharmacotherapy treatments for pedophilia are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH), and leuprolide acetate (LA) (Briken, 2003). These pharmacotherapy treatments target certain hormones and chemicals in the body, but have varying side effects. SSRIs are effective in less severe cases and patients often experience only sexual side effects (Kraus, 2007). In more serious cases, LA can reduce testosterone to extremely low levels along with pedophilic urges. While LA treatment is somewhat dangerous, it has been found to be very effective (Schober, 2005). The newest treatment drug, LHRH, reduces neural responsiveness to visual sexual stimuli and has very little side effects (Briken, 2003).

 

Today’s World

Most people are in denial that pedophilia exists in their community or home. Pedophiles, however, will go to great lengths to continue their compulsive behavior. They will volunteer in church youth groups, coach youth athletic teams, and find other ways to associate with potential victims. Many times, they place themselves in positions where they can easily meet children.

 

The Internet has become a common hunting ground to prey on children. Today more and more kids are using Facebook accounts. While Facebook acts as a social network to help link people together, the ability to create a profile displaying one’s personal information may indirectly be helping pedophiles find their next victim. Pedophiles can then befriend children and manipulate, trap, and lure their victims into a false sense of trust. Some pedophiles may pretend they are someone else, such as a classmate. Others develop friendship with children and then arrange meeting times and places so they can act upon and fulfill their sexual desires (Deirmenjian, 2009).

 

The Catholic Church frowns upon certain sexual behavior. Yet, priests were recently discovered to have engaged in sexual behavior with children. A great deal of hypocrisy surrounds the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Over the course of the past two decades, the Church has struggled with confronting sex crimes committed by Catholic priests and religious orders against children. In many cases, the clergy suffered from pedophilia. These priests sexually abused minors, primarily male altar servers, and exerted power over these boys.

 

The children who fell victim to the clergy were easily accessible, vulnerable, and unthreatening. These priests who engaged in sexual behavior with youth should be held responsible for their actions. The Church should come forward and acknowledge this type of inappropriate behavior. They should take the proper steps to correct this type behavior and have their pedophilic priests seek treatment for their disorder.

 

Conclusion

 

Pedophilia is a complex disorder with many underlying factors. These range from dysfunctions in the development of the brain to particular traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse or rape as a child. Despite no cure for pedophilia, measures can be taken to help people with this disorder control their urges and behavior. Society needs to be more aware of this disorder and its prevalence in everyday life. So while not all people who engage with children are pedophiles, the prominence of pedophiles across many facets of life is much greater than we think.

 

For those looking for more information, the American Psychological Association offers a comprehensive book, Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children: Theory, Assessment, and Intervention

 

Works Cited

 

Briken, P. “Pharmacotherapy of Paraphilias with Long-Acting Agonists of Luteinizing Hormone-Releasing Hormone.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 64.8 (2003): 890-7.

 

Chow, Eva W. C. “Clinical Characteristics and Treatment Response to SSRI in a Female Pedophile.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 31.2 (2002): 211-5.

 

Deirmenjian, JM. “Pedophilia on the Internet.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, 47.5 (2002): 1090-1092.

 

DiChristina, Mariette. “Abnormal Attraction.” Scientific American Mind, 20.3 (2009): 76-81.

 

Kersebaum, Sabine. “Correcting Pedophilia.” Scientific American Mind 18.1 (2007): 62-.

 

Kraus, C. “Selective Serotonine Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) in the Treatment of Paraphilia – A Retrospective Study.” Fortschritte Der Neurologie Psychiatrie 75.6 (2007): 351-6.

 

Lamberg, Lynne. “Researchers Seek Roots of Pedophilia.” JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, 294.5 (2005): 546.

 

Schiffer, Boris. “Reduced Neuronal Responsiveness to Visual Sexual Stimuli in a Pedophile Treated with a Long-Acting LH-RH Agonist.” 6.3 (2009): 892-4.

 

Schiffer, Boris. “Brain Response to Visual Sexual Stimuli in Homosexual Pedophiles.” Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience 33.1 (2008): 23.

 

Schiffer, Boris et al. “Structural Brain Abnormalities in the Frontostriatal System and Cerebellum in Pedophilia.” Journal of psychiatric research 41.9 (2007): 753-62.

 

Scott, Monte, James Cole, Stephen McKay, Kenneth Liggett, and Charles Golden. “Neuropsychological Performance of Sexual Assaulters and Pedophiles.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, 29.4 (1984): 1114.

 

Schober, Justine M. “{L}Euprolide Acetate Suppresses Pedophilic Urges and Arousability.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 34.6 (2005): 691-705. Web.