The Roots of Pedophilia
Monday, March 28 2005 @ 13:22 CST
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)
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)
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
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
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
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.
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
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
VI. Sex with children
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.
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
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.
About the author :
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com
) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited
and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served
as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and
eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International
(UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He is the the editor
of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The
Open Directory and Suite101.