Therapist Blog

Child Molester or Pedophile - Is there a difference and what drives them?

Sexual abuse of children is not a new problem, nor have the statistics changed. “1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before the age of 14; 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 16.” (Hopper, J. (1998). Child Sexual Abuse: Statistics, Research, & Resources. Boston, MA Boston University School of Medicine.) This issue is as old as time, but we are finally paying attention to it in a new way. Whether it is in the church, sports, boys clubs, schools or families, there have always been environmental pockets in society that foster these deviants. Whether it is about sex or power, children have always been the most vulnerable segment of the population, and their rights need to be more conscientiously protected.

Pedophilia is a psychological disorder that is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and may run in families. That latter fact may be the result of genetic defects or because pedophiles often were victims of sexual abuse themselves as children and then became perpetrators later on in a victim to perpetrator cycle of abuse. What is known about pedophiles is that they are driven early on by strong urges and fantasies to connect emotionally and sexually with children. Whether they are driven by social, sexual anxiety, brain trauma, poor impulse control, or even psychosis, these individuals feel an emotional congruence with children that translates into sexual desire. Sometimes pedophiles are looking to dominate, or just use children, as a substitute for an adult relationship. But usually, they are more comfortable with children and seek ways to be around them.

Child Molesters are opportunists who sporadically use children to gratify a sexual urge, but who are capable of adult relationships as well. Additionally, child molesters are driven by power rather than by sex. They don't feel compelled to be with children, they simply use them. These individuals are criminals and should be treated as such. While Pedophiles need psychotherapy and medication as well as punishment if there is any hope of altering their behavior.

"True pedophiles are responsible for only a small percentage of child sexual molestations. Half of child sexual abusers are the parents of the victims; other relatives commit an additional 18%of the offenses. And while active pedophiles are generally single men between the ages of 16 and 35, child molesters are generally married men, of any age, who are primarily drawn to their own children and/or step children." (Pedophilia and Child Sexual Molestation -sponsored by PSC Crisis Connection site -Internet)

Pedophiles are drawn to pre-pubescent children and rationalize their behavior, believing that they love the child, want a relationship with them and are not harming them. Child Molesters are manipulators who strictly overpower their victim by means of sexual degradation in order to control them. And they may continue to molest the same victim for years because they are not fixated on a certain age, as are most pedophiles. Accessibility and convenience play a bigger role for the child molester.

Both pedophiles and child molesters are primarily male and primarily heterosexual. There are a small percentage of female child molesters, but female pedophiles are extremely rare. While we are finally recognizing and dealing with the pervasiveness of this problem across certain institutions, most molestation occurs in the home, behind closed doors, among family members. The U.S. Department of Justice (1997) and Finkelhor & Ormond (2001) claim, “More than 90% of all sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator. Almost 50% of the offenders are household members and 38% are already acquaintances of the victims.” Unfortunately, as a society, we are only scratching the surface of this problem. Victims are too young, too afraid and too psychologically manipulated to come forward. Other family members are in denial. And we are held back by either respect for privacy or ignorance from recognizing what might be taking place literally next door

The time has come for a National discourse on this issue. Every day I meet young women and men who have not only had to live through childhood sexual abuse but are continually re-traumatized by shame, confusion and self-hatred. Even as adults they don’t know how to stand up for themselves, because they have been led to believe that somehow they were responsible for what happened and have been ruined forever. Children need to be supported in the understanding that whether it is a friend of the family, a family member, or even their parent, they must look for help. And we adults have to be more available to listen and to help them.

Roni Weisberg-Ross LMFT