You probably believe at least one of these. Unfortunately, they are lies. Myths. Falsehoods.
They masquerade as something that sounds true, but on closer scrutiny falls apart completely, either through cold hard facts, or through logic.
But of course, you came to see if you believe one of these lies, not have a lie defined for you.
Please keep in mind that you have probably heard these lies many, many times, and as a result, you will find the facts difficult to believe. You will have to choose whether to believe the facts or the lies.
Five: It’s Pedophilia!
The classic example is someone in their twenties dating someone who is in their teens, and someone exclaims, “That’s pedophilia!” The meaning being, of course, that the relationship is wrong, exploitative, illegal, etc.
This is by far the most frustrating, because to most people – probably you too – this is like, “Meh, whatever, quit nitpicking,” but the reality is, the difference does matter.
Pedophilia is a sexual attraction to a particular body type: Prepubescent. Typically, this means below age 13, but any body type that does not display the typical markers of puberty, really. A boy could be 16, but not have any pubic or underarm hair nor any significant change in height or looks and that would be prepubescent.
Why does this matter?
Simply because it impedes people’s ability to find accurate information, and if someone just discovering their attractions searches the internet or gets told that pedophilia is dating a 17-year-old, that causes some problems for that person both by way of impeding searches for help and in understanding what child sexual abuse is. Neither of these help the prevention of child sexual abuse. Imagine searching for birth control and finding out how animals give birth.
Four: Pedophiles Are Dangerous!
Usually, this idea stems from a number of different false ideas:
- People who abuse kids are doomed to reoffend. Fact: The research thoroughly debunks this idea. This is supported by two facts: Recidivism of people who have previous sexual crime history is low, and most who commit sexual crimes have no criminal history. People who serially sexually abuse children are very rare.
- People with an attraction to kids all watch child pornography. Fact: A statistically significant portion of child pornography is viewed by non-pedophiles, and we have only guesses as to how many pedophiles there really are in the world.
- Children are innocent! Fact: Go talk to people who have kids. Please. Ask them what kind of mischief they get up to.
But in reality, no, pedophiles are just a group of people. Human beings. Some are dangerous, most are not, and trying to demonize a group of people with the same brush is called stereotyping, and we generally frown on painting an entire group of people with a wide brush if we are being rational.
Three: Pedophiles Are Dirty Old Men
By now you must be wondering what number one is.
You have probably heard this one, usually in conjunction with a trench coat, mustache, or white van.
There was recently a very large sample size study that looked at this (abstract above). The findings? A total of 1,551 people responded, of which 362 did not meet the criteria of the study (1,189 did). 66 of those excluded were female. 53 were under the age of 18. However, the significant findings of the study were this: 87.8% of the sample did NOT have sexual offense convictions, and the average age at which participants reported discovering their sexual attraction to children was 14.24 years. The average age at which they suspected this was unusual was 16.11 years.
In other words, most pedophiles realize they have pedophilia around age 14 and its significance around age 16, and pedophiles are age 14 and up, a minority are women, and most do not harm children.
Two: Pedophiles Are Mentally Ill
So, before I get into the specifics of why this is a lie and why it matters, let me just point something out about mental illness diagnosis: It is a label, mainly created by a rather political process of professionals arguing about what does and does not belong as a diagnosis. So, even if sexual attraction were a mental illness (and at this point I might remind you that homosexuality was once in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM), or the US psychiatry bible), that is because a bunch of people felt they needed a label for a specific set of symptoms and criteria.
Let us look closely at the first page of the DSM for the entry on pedophilic disorder:
Note the second half of the first paragraph under “Diagnostic Features.” In short, pedophilic disorder is a diagnosis when someone has distress around their attractions or acts on them to harm a child. In other words, the official diagnosis of pedophilic disorder is primarily a diagnosis of whether or not someone is upset over having an attraction to children, not the attraction itself. Put simply, the criteria A-C are ALL required to make a diagnosis, and I should also point out that because of C, someone can molest a child, have an attraction to children, and not have pedophilic disorder if they are younger than 16 or less than five years older than the victim. But only adults sexually abuse children? Nope, 35.6% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by juveniles, and as noted just now, most who have an attraction to children do not abuse children or look at harmful sexual imagery.
One: Convicted Pedophile
You hear this one in the news a lot along with “pedophile ring.” For evidence of that, we will look at another study:
This same study also found that the British press lied about the frequency of sexual crime and violent crime to be much more frequent than it actually happened according to police (2% vs 18% and 27% vs 66%, respectively), but I digress.
This is a lie because someone who is a pedophile is defined as having an attraction to prepubescent children (pedophilia, see number 5 at the beginning). Sexual attractions do not automatically mean that people view pornography or that people have sex with the people they are attracted to.
Think about it. Do you have sex with everyone you are attracted to? No, of course not, and you probably do not even think of raping those people. Well, pedophilia is not a crime. Attraction is not a crime. Only behavior in this context, viewing sexually harmful images of children or sexually abusing a child, is a crime.
The blunt reality is that most people who sexually abuse a child are not attracted to children:
Why does that matter? It matters to the millions of people around the world who have an attraction to children, and it matters to child protection professionals, like the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.
While our best current evidence indicates that we cannot change sexual attraction, we can form interventions that help people with a sexual attraction to children manage their attraction in harmless ways. This can reduce child sexual abuse by up to 30%, and that would mean that children are not abused in the first place.
So, there you have it. Those are the five lies that society and the media tells about pedophiles, and why it matters that they are lies instead of facts. Do you know someone who might believe the lies? Pass this on. Did you see a media article that spreads these lies? Write the author and suggest a correction.
These facts matter because without them, we cannot support people to remain law-abiding, and people have a harder time finding help when the public believes lies about them, similar to the stigma and judgment levied at people with autism, depression, anxiety, and diverse sexual orientations.