From Human Sexuality and its Problems
Paedophiles cover a broad age range. Those convicted tend to be older than other sex offenders. The median age at first conviction in the Kinsey Institute study was 34.5 years for heterosexual and 30.2 years for homosexual offenders (Gebhard et al 1965). The majority prefer either female or male children; a small proportion are interested in both boys and girls. The Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), an organisation of British paedophiles, surveyed its members and found that they were most attracted to girls aged 8-11 and boys aged 11-15 (O’Carroll 1980). It has been pointed out that this coincides with the age when childhood sexuality is most noticeable. Girls in particular enter a sexually quiescent period after this late childhood phase of activity (see Chapter 3).
The majority of paedophiles marry at some stage. Gebhard et al (1965) found in their group that marital breakdown and re-marriage were common but more happy marriages were reported than in most other groups of offenders. Other studies, however, have emphasised the problems paedaphiles have in establishing satisfactory adult relationships, possibly encouraging their resort to relationships with children (Mohr et al 1964; Pacht & Cowden 1974). A number of studies of the personalities of paedophiles have been reported but they are inconsistent in their findings, partly due to methodological weaknesses (Levin & Stava 1987).
Ingram (1979) interviewed 11 men who had been sexually involved with boys. They reported strikingly similar backgrounds, with poor relations with their mothers and detached or fearful relationships with their fathers. They had had unhappy childhoods, deprived of love and with unrewarding contacts with their peer groups. Ingram concluded that this facilitated their tendencies to love emotionally deprived children. In this particular study, nearly all sexual incidents involved men who were well known to the boys, more than 80% in the role of teacher or youth leader. Ingram emphasised the extent to which many of these men were generally fond of boys, devoting much of their time to the welfare of children. There is no doubt that some paedophiles are of this kind. O’Carroll (1980) gives further examples. But it is also possible that in some cases time is spent helping children in order to gain sexual access to them; paedophiles presumably vary in their moral scruples as do other groups.
The one thing that paedophiles clearly have in common is their sexual attraction to children. In other respects, they are a heterogeneous group and once again we should allow for a variety of causative factors. Preference for children may not be exclusive, though most commonly paedophiles are either sexually disinterested in adults or unable to succeed in sexual relationships with them. In some cases, called by Gebhard and his colleagues the sociosexually underdeveloped, the man enters adulthood inexperienced, inept or threatened as far as sex with his own age group is concerned, and one can see that a child partner would be less threatening and hence a more attractive proposition.
In some instances, the paedophilia is a continuation of a childhood pattern that originally was successful; the paedophile sticks with the type of partner he had success with in the past, rather than developing more mature relationships. In some instances, the paedophile may have sustained unduly close relationships with his mother, which then makes a sexual relationship with another woman too threatening (as in the case of Wilfred Johnson, described by Parker (1969)), or has married a woman with whom his relationship is more like that between child and parent than between two adults. But in general we must remain uncertain why paedophiliac preferences develop and become apparently fixed. As yet, no adequate aetiological explanation has been put forward that would account for more than a small proportion of the cases.
On considering the evidence summarised here, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in many cases the social reaction against the paedophile and the severity of the sentences imposed on him by the courts are out of proportion to the gravity of his offence. This is important for two reasons. First, because the offender may be treated unjustly and secondly because the impact of the offence on the child is likely to be seriously compounded by the furore that follows it. At the same time, it is difficult to view child-adult sexuality as desirable or even acceptable, in spite of the case put forward by paedophiles themselves (O’Carroll 1980) or others asserting the ‘sexual rights of the child’ (Constantine 1979). Sexual violence toward children should be avoided in the same way as other forms of violence. As we shall see in the next section sexual exploitation by family members has a special significance and the capacity for long-term harm to the child is considerable. Other types of sexual interaction are probably best seen as an undesirable nuisance, mainly because a child is being exploited by an adult for his own sexual ends, and betrayed in the process by someone who should be in a position of responsibility. The rights of children are frequently abused, but one important right is to feel confidence in the responsibility that adults show towards them. But for the most part we should be prepared to see the average paedophile as someone more to be pitied for his inability to sustain a rewarding adult relationship than to be reviled.
Numerous studies have shown that children who are sexually involved with adults have disturbed family backgrounds: broken homes, inadequate parents, child neglect, illegitimacy and generally poor relationships amongst family members (Katz & Mazur 1979). It is therefore widely believed that these factors predispose the child to sexual exploitation. It is unlikely to be as simple as that. Certainly children deprived of love, or otherwise emotionally insecure, may be attracted to the apparently (and sometimes genuinely) loving relationships that paedophiles offer them. Burton (1968) compared a group of 41 children who had been sexually involved with adults with a comparison group of their age mates. They were assessed approximately 2 years after the offence. They were mainly distinguished from their controls by their tendency to seek affection. This had apparently been commented on by their teachers, who were unaware of their histories, as well as being evident in the psychological test results. This could of course be a consequence of the experience, but alternatively may have contributed to the incident in the first place. Also children from disturbed backgrounds may be more prone to sexual ‘acting out,’ with less parental supervision and more exposure to at-risk situations.
However, the emotional status and the family background may well have a bearing on which cases are reported. There is little doubt that the consequences of reporting these incidents to the police can have traumatic effects on the child, both because of the emotional impact of the legal procedure, and in those cases where the child was gaining something from the relationship, from the emotional confusion that results. It is therefore likely that in well integrated and supportive families, parents will protect their child from further trauma by not reporting the incident, particularly if the offender is not seen as vicious. The disturbed family will not only find it more difficult to cope with such a crisis without outside support, but may also project their own guilt in their reactions to the episode, and their determination to punish the offender at all costs.