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Written by Sam Vaknin

Pedophiles are attracted to prepubescent children and act on their sexual fantasies. It is a startling fact that the etiology of this paraphilia is unknown. Pedophiles comes from all walks of life and have no common socio-economic background. Contrary to media-propagated myths, most of them had not been sexually abused in childhood and the vast majority of pedophiles are also drawn to adults of the opposite sex (are heterosexuals).

Only a few belong to the Exclusive Type - the ones who are tempted solely by kids. Nine tenths of all pedophiles are male. They are fascinated by preteen females, teenage males, or (more rarely) both.

Moreover, at least one fifth (and probably more) of the population have pedophiliac fantasies. The prevalence of child pornography and child prostitution prove it. Pedophiles start out as "normal" people and are profoundly shocked and distressed to discover their illicit sexual preference for the prepubertal. The process and mechanisms of transition from socially acceptable sexuality to much-condemned (and criminal) pedophilia are still largely mysterious.

Pedophiles seem to have narcissistic and antisocial (psychopathic) traits. They lack empathy for their victims and express no remorse for their actions. They are in denial and, being pathological confabulators, they rationalize their transgressions, claiming that the children were merely being educated for their own good and, anyhow, derived great pleasure from it.

The pedophile's ego-syntony rests on his alloplastic defenses. He generally tends to blame others (or the world or the "system") for his misfortunes, failures, and deficiencies. Pedophiles frequently accuse their victims of acting promiscuously, of "coming on to them", of actively tempting, provoking, and luring (or even trapping) them.

The pedophile - similar to the autistic patient - misinterprets the child's body language and inter-personal cues. His social communication skills are impaired and he fails to adjust information gained to the surrounding circumstances (for instance, to the kid's age and maturity).

Coupled with his lack of empathy, this recurrent inability to truly comprehend others cause the pedophile to objectify the targets of his lasciviousness. Pedophilia is, in essence, auto-erotic. The pedophile uses children's bodies to masturbate with. Hence the success of the Internet among pedophiles: it offers disembodied, anonymous, masturbatory sex. Children in cyberspace are mere representations - often nothing more than erotic photos and screen names.

It is crucial to realize that pedophiles are not enticed by the children themselves, by their bodies, or by their budding and nubile sexuality (remember Nabokov's Lolita?). Rather, pedophiles are drawn to what children symbolize, to what preadolescents stand for and represent.

To the pedophile ...

I. Sex with children is "free" and "daring"

Sex with subteens implies freedom of action with impunity. It enhances the pedophile's magical sense of omnipotence and immunity. By defying the authority of the state and the edicts of his culture and society, the pedophile experiences an adrenaline rush to which he gradually becomes addicted. Illicit sex becomes the outlet for his urgent need to live dangerously and recklessly.

The pedophile is on a quest to reassert control over his life. Studies have consistently shown that pedophilia is associated with anomic states (war, famine, epidemics) and with major life crises (failure, relocation, infidelity of spouse, separation, divorce, unemployment, bankruptcy, illness, death of the offender's nearest and dearest).

It is likely - though hitherto unsubstantiated by research - that the typical pedophile is depressive and with a borderline personality (low organization and fuzzy personal boundaries). Pedophiles are reckless and emotionally labile. The pedophile's sense of self-worth is volatile and dysregulated. He is likely to suffer from abandonment anxiety and be a codependent or counterdependent.

Paradoxically, it is by seemingly losing control in one aspect of his life (sex) that the pedophile re-acquires a sense of mastery. The same mechanism is at work in the development of eating disorders. An inhibitory deficit is somehow magically perceived as omnipotence.

II. Sex with children is corrupt and decadent

The pedophile makes frequent (though unconscious) use of projection and projective identification in his relationships with children. He makes his victims treat him the way he views himself - or attributes to them traits and behaviors that are truly his.

The pedophile is aware of society's view of his actions as vile, corrupt, forbidden, evil, and decadent (especially if the pedophiliac act involves incest). He derives pleasure from the sleazy nature of his pursuits because it tends to sustain his view of himself as "bad", "a failure", "deserving of punishment", and "guilty".

In extreme (mercifully uncommon) cases, the pedophile projects these torturous feelings and self-perceptions onto his victims. The children defiled and abused by his sexual attentions thus become "rotten", "bad objects", guilty and punishable. This leads to sexual sadism, lust rape, and snuff murders.

III. Sex with children is a reenactment of a painful past

Many pedophile truly bond with their prey. To them, children are the reification of innocence, genuineness, trust, and faithfulness - qualities that the pedophile wishes to nostalgically recapture.

The relationship with the child provides the pedophile with a "safe passage" to his own, repressed and fearful, inner child. Through his victim, the pedophile gains access to his suppressed and thwarted emotions. It is a fantasy-like second chance to reenact his childhood, this time benignly. The pedophile's dream to make peace with his past comes true transforming the interaction with the child to an exercise in wish fulfillment.

IV. Sex with children is a shared psychosis

The pedophile treats "his" chosen child as an object, an extension of himself, devoid of a separate existence and denuded of distinct needs. He finds the child's submissiveness and gullibility gratifying. He frowns on any sign of personal autonomy and regards it as a threat. By intimidating, cajoling, charming, and making false promises, the abuser isolates his prey from his family, school, peers, and from the rest of society and, thus, makes the child's dependence on him total.

To the pedophile, the child is a "transitional object" - a training ground on which to exercise his adult relationship skills. The pedophile erroneously feels that the child will never betray and abandon him, therefore guaranteeing "object constancy".

The pedophile stealthily but unfailingly exploits the vulnerabilities in the psychological makeup of his victim. The child may have low self-esteem, a fluctuating sense of self-worth, primitive defence mechanisms, phobias, mental health problems, a disability, a history of failure, bad relations with parents, siblings, teachers, or peers, or a tendency to blame herself, or to feel inadequate (autoplastic neurosis). The kid may come from an abusive family or environment which conditioned her or him to expect abuse as inevitable and "normal". In extreme and rare cases the victim is a masochist, possessed of an urge to seek ill-treatment and pain.

The pedophile is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his "partner". He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his child-mate. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline.

The child finds himself in a twilight zone. The pedophile imposes on him a shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, "enemies", mythical narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted. The child is rendered the joint guardian of a horrible secret.

The pedophile's control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines rights and obligations and alters them at will.

The typical pedophile is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.

The pedophile does not respect the boundaries and privacy of the (often reluctant and terrified) child. He ignores his or her wishes and treats children as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.

The pedophile acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the looks, talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the child. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.

Narcissistic pedophiles claim to be infallible, superior, talented, skillful, omnipotent, and omniscient. They often lie and confabulate to support these unfounded claims and to justify their actions. Most pedophiles suffer from cognitive deficits and reinterpret reality to fit their fantasies.

In extreme cases, the pedophile feels above the law any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.

V. The pedophile regards sex with children as an ego-booster

Subteen children are, by definition, "inferior". They are physically weaker, dependent on others for the fulfillment of many of their needs, cognitively and emotionally immature, and easily manipulated. Their fund of knowledge is limited and their skills restricted. His relationships with children buttress the pedophile's twin grandiose delusions of omnipotence and omniscience. Compared to his victims, the pedophiles is always the stronger, the wiser, the most skillful and well-informed.

VI. Sex with children guarantees companionship

Inevitably, the pedophile considers his child-victims to be his best friends and companions. Pedophiles are lonely, erotomanic, people.

The pedophile believes that he is in love with (or simply loves) the child. Sex is merely one way to communicate his affection and caring. But there are other venues.

To show his keen interest, the common pedophile keeps calling the child, dropping by, writing e-mails, giving gifts, providing services, doing unsolicited errands "on the kid's behalf", getting into relationships with the preteen's parents, friends, teachers, and peers, and, in general, making himself available (stalking) at all times. The pedophile feels free to make legal, financial, and emotional decisions for the child.

The pedophile intrudes on the victim's privacy, disrespects the child's express wishes and personal boundaries and ignores his or her emotions, needs, and preferences. To the pedophile, "love" means enmeshment and clinging coupled with an overpowering separation anxiety (fear of being abandoned).

Moreover, no amount of denials, chastising, threats, and even outright hostile actions convince the erotomaniac that the child not in love with him. He knows better and will make the world see the light as well. The child and his guardians are simply unaware of what is good for the kid. The pedophile determinedly sees it as his or her task to bring life and happiness into the child's dreary and unhappy existence.

Thus, regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the pedophile is convinced that his feelings are reciprocated - in other words, that the child is equally infatuated with him or her. He interprets everything the child does (or refrains from doing) as coded messages confessing to and conveying the child's interest in and eternal devotion to the pedophile and to the "relationship".

Some (by no means all) pedophiles are socially-inapt, awkward, schizoid, and suffer from a host of mood and anxiety disorders. They may also be legitimately involved with the child (e.g., stepfather, former spouse, teacher, gym instructor, sibling) - or with his parents (for instance, a former boyfriend, a one night stand, colleagues or co-workers). They are driven by their all-consuming loneliness and all-pervasive fantasies.

Consequently, pedophiles react badly to any perceived rejection by their victims. They turn on a dime and become dangerously vindictive, out to destroy the source of their mounting frustration. When the "relationship" looks hopeless, some pedophiles violently embark on a spree of self-destruction.

Pedophilia is to some extent a culture-bound syndrome, defined as it is by the chronological age of the child involved. Ephebophilia, for instance - the exclusive sexual infatuation with teenagers - is not considered to be a form of pedophilia (or even paraphilia).

In some cultures, societies and countries (Afghanistan, for instance) the age of consent is as low as 12. The marriageable age in Britain until the end of the nineteenth century was 10. Pedophilia is a common and socially-condoned practice in certain tribal societies and isolated communities (the Island of Pitcairn).

It would, therefore, be wise to redefine pedophilia as an attraction to or sexual acts with prepubescent children or with people of the equivalent mental age (e.g., retarded) in contravention of social, legal, and cultural accepted practices.

More about this topic here:

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The following comments are for "The Roots of Pedophilia"
by samvak

Very interesting article which points out there are several types of pedophiles and they can't be grouped under one umbrella as happens in the media and legal system.

Very recently, my best friend in the world of 45 years, at the age of 59, was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of 25 years for having sexual relations with his subteen daughter over 13 years ago.

For the most part, I do not recognize him in your article except for heading III, which is very accurate in his case. Also, "Lonely, erotomanic", as I perceive it, is also fitting.

My dear fried had an emotionally difficult childhood. He was an only child of older parents. His mother was very passive and his father was an alcoholic, disabled WW II vereran.

He also suffered very traumatic experiences as an adult. For example, when he was 22 years old (and married to a 39 year old woman), he walked into his parents home and found their bodies in the living room. His father had shot his mother to death and then killed himself.

The incestual abuse began after he went through a painful divorce and a period of hospitalization for depression.

I have known a few pedophiles and none were seemingly alike emotionally nor motivationally.

The above is offered for your academic perusal, not as an excuse for my friend. The court did not consider any mitigating circumstances, much less the innocent victim.

( Posted by: gomarsoap [Member] On: February 4, 2005 )

'umble perspective
A few years back 'gays' were forced to remain within their closets .Today there has been a sea change in the way they are viewed by society in general.Most no longer look askance at them -society has now moved to a greater tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality. It's no longer an aberration or a perversion but an accepted fact of life -a phenomenon if you will.

Going by trends like these - society might well move ,in a few years ,to a tolerance of pedophilia and like perversions -or at least to a mitigation of strictures against these.

( Posted by: RJKT [Member] On: February 5, 2005 )

My observations
This article was very interesting and informative.

As I read through the information, I thought of so many people: Mary Kay Letourneau - who did have a lot of the traits you outlined (and had first met the boy involved when she was his second grade teacher), Jon Benet Ramsey, and other publicized crimes involving children, programs on court tv, and also from listening to people who have confided in me over the years in an effort to change their lives, (and other people whose paths have crossed mine that I in time found out "these kinds of things" about.)

Some were people I worked with through a city mission program(a halfway house)or through a prison outreach where I would communicate with inmates via mail.

I've always been an observer of human nature. I've always tried to find the common links between the child abusers and perpetrators of sexual or violent crimes that I contemplated.

The frustration with this subject, is that the common threads between these offenders is not alway obvious.

One man, to whom I was formerly related through marriage (so I was able to get years of clear observation of)fit a lot of the patterns you described.

The parts about how he would put a wedge between the child and the family and convince the child that he was the only person who cared about or understood him, was a main item. He consistently preyed on prepubesent boys (one at a time), but sometimes maintained the relationships into their early colledge(trade-school)years.

He was alway taking-in and "helping" someone who fit the profile. It all became so clear to everyone but him, that what he was offering was not for them but for himself - and just "what" it was. You can fool some of the people some of the time...

He met the last victim at church. Being a very well-read and personable man, seemingly harmless, he would appear to be the answer to the family's problem - this unmanagable child. He had taken psychology courses in college and always presented himself as an expert on the teenage mind.

He would have the kid eating out of his hand and respecting the parent more than usual at the onset. After time though, he would completely undermine the family relationship as well as friends, etc., thus alienating the child. They would always end up living with him.

He would consistently let these kids do what was above their age - drink, smoke drive, stay up riding around all hours of the night. He would lavish them with gifts.

He never had an adult relationship with a woman. These child/homosexual relationships fed his ego and needs for intimacy to the max.

Eventually, before I had figured it out, he offered to help my brother get his GED and work toward college. My brother looked very young and boyish and was of small stature - he looked the part although he was a few years older than his normal victim (although very sheltered and nieve).

In time, this man slowly tried to seduce him and convince him it was okay (offering a lot of alcohol and porn seemed to get the wheels greased with these boys). All hell broke loose and he (the perpetrator) ended up leaving the college where he had been working amid many accusations by the young students.

Since that incident, at least 10 others came to light, where family members recalled parents having come around (over the years before this event) seeking his hyde for attempting to seduce their unwilling boys. There were also reports by neighbors etc. He did seem to be worse when he was going through some kind of emotional loss as your article mentioned.

However, the pattern has not been for him to have self-destructive behavior, when these relationships fizzle, rather, he tries to destroy the reputation of the boy.

He starts as soon as there are signs, so he can undermine the credibility of the child before it gets to the point that his own credibility would be at risk if he didn't.

He took the last boy he was involved with across state lines and was living with him in a campground without the permission of the parents.

He now works at a reputable place as an IT person, where he says he is the kid's legal guardian, and everyone buys it. They didn't at first, but eventually his pressed shirts, ties and conservative hair cut won out, and they stopped asking questions - it just seems too impossible - he's such a nice guy.

This man had an incident with a priest when he was just on the cusp of puberty. (Someone from the family finally told me a little history when the event happened with my brother). He had gone away with this priest (he was an altar boy)for a week on the coast at some nice old estate.

Nothing was ever addressed by the parents, but the family says that he had come home very emotionally distressed and would not even look at that priest after that. Prior to that event, he had been very tight with the priest.

Which brings me to the pattern I think I have seen with a lot of these people.

I am not an expert, I am just offering my observations. It seems that many people - not just pedophiles - connect with whatever is their first sexual encounter. That becomes the template for what arouses them.

Many men who have severe addictions to pornograhy, had a lot of exposure to it at a very young age. Therefore, it becomes their "hot button". Perhaps that is why many abused people become abusers. The adult/child relationship, even if it was not welcome, was sexually exciting and/or satisfying (not always the case)and that continues to be true for them.

People I've known who have talked about their own sexual abuse as a child, will often have fantasies of similar situations when unable to climax - thinking about it brings them to climax, even if it was a bad experience for them.

I was interested to read the point that you made about pedophiles not having been abused as children. That has not been the pattern with most of the people who have been open with me about this. However, if a person's first intensely sexual experience is with a child, (and they are a child too, or a teenager) that too can cause the pattern I discussed, having nothing to do with their own abuse as a child.

This man I mentioned, also has a brother who is a convicted sex offender - pedophile. He told me himself about waiting for the peonies to be in bloom when he was in Catholic school because the nuns wouldn't see he and his friend (older boys) take the little girls (first grade) into the bushes to fool around with them.

As an adult, he molested his step children - boy and girl. His four children with his newest wife were taken away from him because of prior abuses. I have no idea what he is doing now, or if the abuse continued with them.

Another brother is completely addicted to pornography - to the point of believing that if he took his wife where people in the room could hold her down and sodomize her while he watched, she would decide she liked it. I won't even go there. As far as I know, there are no children involved in his issues.

One sister is practically a nun - got married in highschool, to an abusive control freak ( she had been molested as a young girl by the much older brother). After her husband died of cancer, she married the pastor. (Is there a man-of-the-cloth pattern here?)

Another sister appears to be perfect, but was very permiscous and militant feminist from her early years, finally settling down later in life.

Another brother (there were seven kids)is a self-pronounced nymphomaniac.

All of these boys have colorful stories to share about sickening abuses and mutilation of animals, mild abuses of people in their care - like mentally retarded people, and verbal and mental abuse of children - all stories that are told around the family table while the other sibs laugh histerically.

My point being, is there something there? Something from the parents or someone in their shared lives? Some genetic disposition? Some shared trauma?

Why would this family all have seemingly different but determinable issues of a sexual nature?

The family is (from the outside looking in) for the most part, the most normal looking family. Go figure.

Quotes from various people who I have spoken with directly about their sexual issues:
"I would just really like to f*** her when she was that age (one year old) because no one had ever had her. She was fresh."

"It's so horny to think about taking something you shouldn't - sexually - because it's naughty. It's exciting because of the whole getting caught thing. That's what's cool about the kid thing. You are wondering, how does it feel for them? It feels good, doesn't it? You know it does. And, am I going to get caught? It's a cat and mouse game somewhat."

"My sister (a girl speaking - as an adult) pretended she was a stipper from seeing it on a cop show (the sister was probably 10 and the girl 8), she had me s*** on her breasts and then did it to me. I figured all strippers did this to each other. I knew it was wrong, but I wanted to do it. I really liked it. Ever since then, women's breasts make me incredibly horny. I have not acted on it, but I fantasy about it all the time - especially the stripper thing."

Interestingly, this older sister confided in me that she and a cousin had found (just before this incident) a bunch of girlie magazines in her uncle's stuff in her grandmother's garage. The two of them went into the woods and tried the things they saw in the pictures. (When you live in a small town, your circle of friends can be so consistent that you can see a bigger picture than in a case study.)

"Maybe it's because my friend and I (both males) - when we were about nine, fooled around with each other. It was very exciting. I felt things I had never felt before. His body was naked for me. I still like the looks of a body that age. It still gets me off."

"I used to babysit this kid who had a son my son's age. I wanted that kid to be a bad and stupid kid - I wanted mine to be the good kid and the smart one. He was. But, I used to try to teach this kid (age 3) how to swear. He just looked at me with a blank stare, but even saying f*** to him made me dizzy. I was planning on doing some stuff to him - sexual stuff - but my wife stopped babysitting him about that time because she said I didn't seem to like him and that wasn't good for the kid. She didn't know how right she was. I used to go in there when she thought he was taking a nap, and she was downstairs with the other kids. I never screwed around with any other kids, but I would be lying if I said I didn't like it, and actually got an erection just saying swear words to the kid, thinking about taking his pants down."

So... because of the things I mentioned here, as well as numerous other conversations and things I've read and observed, I really think the key thing is the earliest sexual experiences of a child.

I've never really read a lot of the psychology of it, like here in your article. It's been more a matter of crossing paths with too many warped people. I guess I keep trying to figure it out, hoping that understanding can help me prevent it in some way - with my kids, nieces and nephews, friends kids (and actually, I know of at least two situations like that that I did manage to prevent by warning young moms about two different men, and when they made their move - they were exposed and the kids saved from the potential damage.)

As difficult as it is to read this stuff - still makes me sick to my stomach every time - if we ignore it and don't try to understand it, it will just mushroom where we're not looking.

Good, thought provoking piece. Apparently well researched.


( Posted by: feliciastone [Member] On: February 5, 2005 )

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