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Research: The Dangers of Stigma

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Template: Research - This template
This article is written in a standard style, unlike most of our research project, which takes the form of an excerpt list. This is because it derives from a censored Wikipedia article on the "Stigma of pedophilia".

The stigma of pedophilia is a form of social stigma or aversion directed primarily toward pedophiles, i.e. people who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children,[1] but felt by many MAPs. It takes form in negative emotional reactions (disgust,[2] fear, loathing, hatred, etc.), punitive beliefs and stereotyping.[3]

Anti-pedophile stigma is a worldwide phenomenon,[4] particularly visible in western anglophone countries.[5] Common sentiments toward pedophiles in the general population include that they should be incarcerated or murdered by vigilantes, even if they have never committed any sexual offense.[4][6] Popular beliefs regarding pedophilia include the idea that pedophiles commonly engage in sexual activities with children,[7] that having a sexual attraction to children is something that one chooses for oneself[3][2] and that people with pedophilia are amoral.[2] People included under this category are popularly characterized as "evil, "monsters" and "fiends".[5][8] This type of stigma may also be extended to other minor-related chronophilic groups, such as hebephiles.[9]

The effects of anti-pedophile stigma among people sexually attracted to minors include the fear of being outed,[1] suicidal ideation,[10] self-loahting,[11] anxiety,[11] stigma-related stress, suppression of sexual thoughts, reduced wellbeing, the internalization of the stigma and reluctance to receive external help when needed.[9][12] Women who are sexually attracted to minors have reported feeling less social stigma than their male counterparts.[9]

Many researchers believe that this form of stigma is detrimental to the prevention of child sexual abuse (CSA) because it obstructs at-risk pedophiles from coming out to seek mental health care before they potentially commit a sexual offense.[2][13][1] Owing to the recognition of the role of this type of stigma in the sexual victimization of children, as well as its implications for clinical and forensic professionals who provide mental health treatment for pedophiles, the prevalence and characteristics of anti-pedophile stigma became a topic of scientific research.[2]


Until 2004, very few historical documentations of pedophilia and public sentiments toward to pedophiles have been produced, with David Sonenschein's and Philip Jenkins' 1998 academic books, Pedophiles on Parade, and Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America (respectively) being exceptions.[14][5] In 2013, research led by Sara Jahnke identified the stigma of pedophilia as a "blind-spot" of contemporary stigma research and suggested several potentially relevant consequences of the widespread stigmatization of pedophiles.[3]

Research into the prevalence and characteristics of the social stigmatization of people with pedophilia started growing in the 2010's.[1][12][3][2] The growth of academic interest in this topic has been influenced by the recognition of this form of stigma as detrimental to the prevention of CSA.[2]

Popular beliefs and attitudes

Anti-pedophile graffiti in Poland, 2011.

Common stereotypes about people with pedophilia include the beliefs that they are amoral,[2] dangerous, and not in control of their sexual desires.[2] People included in this group are also popularly characterized as "evil", "monsters" and "fiends".[8][5]

In a pair of joint studies, 14% and 28% of participants felt that it would be better if people with pedophilia were dead, even if they had never committed a sexual offense.[15][6] In the same surveys, 39% and 48% of participants believed that such people should be preemptively incarcerated.[6] In a 2018 study, participants considered a specific pedophilic person to be dangerous even after they were explicitly told by the researchers that the person in question has never and would never commit a sexual crime.[4]

In a 2004 survey, most participants agreed that pedophiles engaged in a variety of sexual (61% for kissing, 90% for fondling, 76% for having sex with) and nonsexual (70% for spending time with, 76% for talking to) activities with children. In the same study, 58% of participants agreed that pedophiles are "evil". In another 2010 study, where participants were asked what came to their minds when they think of a pedophile, 68% mentioned "sexually abusing children" and only 11% of participants said that this might not necessarily be the case.[7]

Aside from the general public, pedophiles themselves can also internalize negative social attitudes against pedophilia.[12] Anti-pedophile sentiments have also been observed among mental health providers[16] and prison populations.[6]

Media coverage of pedophilia

Negative attitudes toward pedophiles have been amplified by the popular media.[5][4][17][3]

Several researchers have theorized that dehumanizing stereotypes have been brought up due to the way that the media presents sexual crimes. A 2017 study stated that, "when asked about 'sex offenders', many [people] are inclined to envision the media-proliferated stereotypical image of a violent, predatory male pedophile." Another 2015 study reported that British tabloid newspapers are particularly prone to using dehumanizing language ("monster", "beast", etc.) to describe sexual offenders, as well as labeling them "pedophiles". The study concluded that these actions may be aggravating processes of moral disengagement against pedophiles among the general public.[3] A 2004 British study reported that 58% of participants agreed that the media had created a "witch-hunt" against pedophiles.[7]

A New Zealand study that analyzed 377 news articles regarding CSA, published by three major newspapers over the course of a year found that those articles featured a very little input from experts of the field of CSA, with 15% featuring input from health professionals and 3% from academics.[18]

Despite the existence of stigmatizing media portrayals of pedophilia and CSA, there are also evidence-based media reports concerning the treatment of pedophilic disorder and CSA prevention.[17]

Implications for sexual abuse prevention

See also: Preventionism and the linked primers.

Many sexologists and forensic practitioners believe that the stigma of pedophilia might increase the risk of sexual offending involving minors by, among other effects, damaging the mental health of people who are sexually attracted to minors or discouraging them from seeking mental health care before potentially committing an offense.[17]

Pedophiles and other groups of people who are attracted to children are hesitant to seek out mental health services due to fears of being judged by their providers or being reported to the police.[13] The guilt and shame, as well as the social stigma of pedophilia, can prevent those who are motivated for treatment from voluntarily seeking help.[15]

In a 2010 study, 40% of self-identified minor-attracted persons reported having wanted to seek mental health treatment, but 85% did not do so due to fears of being misunderstood.[15] Another study published in the same year reported that only 5% of its sample of German psychoterapists were willing to provide therapeutical help to pedophiles. In a 2015 survey, sent to mental health professionals, 80% of participants stated that they would not reject pedophile patients, provided that they had never committed a sexual crime.[2]

Mandatory reporting laws

In most U.S. states, social service providers (such as psychologists and social workers) have a duty to warn authorities that their patients pose an imminent danger to themselves or others. Those professionals are also subjected to a mandatory reporting requirements to CPS, if they believe that a minor has been "abused". These regulations may lead providers to interpret that they are mandated to report any patient that discloses that they are sexually attracted to children.[13]

Mandatory reporting laws also exist in Canada. According to James Cantor, the effect of mandatory reporting policies is that "many people simply don't come [to therapy] in the first place."[19]

Effects among people attracted to minors

The effects of social stigma among people sexually attracted to children include stigma-related stress, suppression of sexual thoughts, reduced well-being, internalization of the stigma, fear of being outed[1] and reluctance to receive external help when needed.[9][12]

A 2011 survey reported that people sexually attracted to children often start feeling intense feelings of stigma from an early age. Among the participants who answered the questions related to suicide, 46% reported seriously considering suicide, 32% had planned a method of carrying it out and 13% had attempted it.[20]

I'm a 15-year-old male. (...) I'm only attracted to prepubescent girls. (...) sometimes I feel like killing myself. I know the idea of a psychologist and everything but I can't talk to anyone at this time because my parents would find out and get the wrong idea (...)"

(Anonymous research participant, 2011)[20]

Pedohebephile females have reported experiencing less stigma than their male counterparts.[9]

List of excerpts

“Recent studies have documented that persons who are sexually attracted to children experience stigma-related stress [37,38,39,40], which is related to loneliness, psychopathological symptoms [38,39], and suicidal ideation [37]. Furthermore, persons with pedophilia also experience stigma in the health care sector, as many health care professionals report reluctance to offer treatment [41]. Hence, most persons with pedophilia choose to keep their sexual attraction a secret from everyone or nearly everyone [16,38,42]. Because of this, stigma may indirectly increase the risk of offending [43,44] via its assumed effect on the quality of life, mental health, fear of disclosure, and reduced therapy options for persons with pedophilia (for an overview see [13]).”
  • Jackson, T., Ahuja, K. & Tenbergen, G. (2022). Challenges and Solutions to Implementing a Community-Based Wellness Program for Non-Offending Minor Attracted Persons Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 31:3, 316-332, DOI: 10.1080/10538712.2022.2056103
    “an often-overlooked related barrier is process to offering support for MAPs, especially in countries such as the United States. [...]
    Lack of training and education on the part of mental health and helping professionals is also something that has contributed to a lack of resources for MAPs. Many service providers are reluctant to work with this population because they come in with judgments and assumptions that they make about what it means to be a MAP. Assumptions are also made about the dangerousness of individuals who identify as being MAPs and assumptions that something will therefore need to be reported to authorities (Grady et al., 2019; Levenson & Grady, 2019; Levenson et al., 2020).
    In addition to these common barriers, there is also a fear of vigilantism among MAPs if people were to find out about their attraction. Some of the members of the group that is the subject of this paper have even experienced this vigilantism themselves when they have been outed, even though no crime had been committed. While this is not a topic that has been studied in either NOMAPs[NonOffending MAPs] or MAPs, extant literature on sexual offenders has identified that the stigma associated with having committed a sexual offense has led to people being harassed, losing friends and losing jobs, while some people have also had their property damaged and have been physically assaulted (Levenson et al., 2007; Tewksbury & Lees, 2007).”
  • Amy L. Lawrence & Gwenda M. Willis (2021). Understanding and Challenging Stigma Associated With Sexual Interest in Children: A Systematic Review, International Journal of Sexual Health, 33(1):1-20.
    "This systematic review expands on the limited understanding of stigma found in the 2013 quantitative review. The inclusion of 36 studies (compared to the 11 in the 2013 review) found consistent evidence that stigma presents as a significant multifaceted issue. The addition of 11 qualitative, four mixed-methods studies, and gray literature included within this review added further richness to understanding stigma. (It should be noted that because of the search strategy of qualitative research prior to 2012, some literature may have been missed.) Findings showed strong stigmatizing assumptions, negative emotions, discrimination, and a desire to punish from the public and professionals on a widespread scale. Moreover, the review illuminated the effects of stigma upon individuals with sexual interest in children, including high levels of mental distress, increased social isolation and limited help-seeking behavior."
“high stigmatization can also mean that these individuals have fewer social bonds, reducing the possibility of disclosure and help seeking. Social stigma can also lead to suppression, which occurs when there is a refusal to accept one's own minority identity. This can harm one’s psychological well-being and increased levels of suppression were related to a rebound effect, which could lead to an increase in the probability of engaging in sexual thoughts or behaviors that involve children”.

In specific countries

United States

Anti-sex offender sign in Wapello, Iowa

In the U.S., "child protection" issues gained social prominence during the late 1980's and early 1990's, with the 1987 case of Earl Kenneth Shriner, who raped and mutilated a 6-year-old boy, the murder of Jacob Wetterling in 1990, the 1993 abduction and murder of Polly Klaas and the rape and murder of Megan Kanka. These cases caused a revival of "sexual predator" laws and civil commitment statutes, the enactment of sex offender registries in the United States, as well as the ratification of "pedophile-free zones".[21]


The term "pedophilia" only gained broad usage in France after the 1970's. In the 1990's, sexual and child abuse crimes gained prominence in the French legislation.[21]

In their 1997 book, La pédophilie, authors Renaud Fillieule and Catherine Montiel emphasize that there is no such thing as a crime of pedophilia according to French Law, though laws that punish sexual assault (aggression sexuelle) and sexual "trespass" (atteinte sexuelle) do exist.[21]


Though the Brazilian Legislation does not classify "pedophilia" as an official criminal category, the word is still used in everyday discourse as an umbrella term to refer to a psychological condition and to criminal acts, such as child pornography possession and the rape of a minor below the age of 14.[22]

After the Brazilian Federal Police, in a partnership with the Interpol, launched an anti-child pornography operation in 2007, the Brazilian Federal Senate established the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Pedophilia (CPMI da pedofilia) to discuss the topic of sexual crimes relating to minors. The leader of the committee, senator Magno Malta, labeled this effort, in his words, as an "anti-pedophilia crusade".[22]

See also

Further reading

You may be able to find full books on Libgen, and papers on SciHub for example. See Help:Research Resources.


You may be able to find full papers on Sci-Hub, for example. See Help:Research Resources.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Harper, Craig A., Lievesley, Rebecca, Blagden, Nicholas J. and Hocken, Kerensa (2022-02-01). Humanizing Pedophilia as Stigma Reduction: A Large-Scale Intervention Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, volume 51, issue 2, pages 945–960, doi 10.1007/s10508-021-02057-x, issn 1573-2800, pmc 8888370, pmid 34716500
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Jahnke, Sara (2018). The Stigma of Pedophilia: Clinical and Forensic Implications. European Psychologist, volume 23, issue 2, pages 144–153, doi 10.1027/1016-9040/a000325, issn 1016-9040
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Harper, Craig A., Bartels, Ross M. and Hogue, Todd E., (2016). Reducing Stigma and Punitive Attitudes Toward Pedophiles Through Narrative Humanization Sexual Abuse. doi 10.1177/1079063216681561, issn 1079-0632
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Heron, Rebecca L. (2023-01-01). "Meeting a person with pedophilia: Attitudes towards pedophilia among psychology students: A pilot study," Current Psychology, 42, 1022–1033.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 David Sonenschein, 1998. Pedophiles on Parade. isbn 9780915289004, oclc 40637993, ol 11413246M
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Walker, Allyson (2017-03-01). "Minor Attraction: A Queer Criminological Issue," Critical Criminology, 25, 37–53.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Jahnke, Sara (2013). "Stigmatization of People With Pedophilia: A Blind Spot in Stigma Research," International Journal of Sexual Health, 25, 169–184.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Kohm, Steven A. (2011). "Pedophile crime films as popular criminology: A problem of justice?," Theoretical Criminology, 15, 195–215.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Lievesley, Rebecca (2022). "“We Do Exist”: The Experiences of Women Living with a Sexual Interest in Minors," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 51, 879–896.
  10. Cohen, Lisa J. (2020). "Correlates of Chronic Suicidal Ideation Among Community-Based Minor-Attracted Persons," Sexual Abuse, 32, 273–300.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Parr, Jennifer (2019-11-17). "Non-Offending Minor-Attracted Persons: Professional Practitioners’ Views on the Barriers to Seeking and Receiving Their Help," Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 28, 945–967.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Lievesley, Rebecca (2020-05-01). "The Internalization of Social Stigma Among Minor-Attracted Persons: Implications for Treatment," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49, 1291–1304.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Walker, Allyn (2022). ""I Would Report It Even If They Have Not Committed Anything": Social Service Students' Attitudes Toward Minor-Attracted People," Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 34, 52–77.
  14. Angelides, Steven (2004-03-23). "Historicizing Affect, Psychoanalyzing History: Pedophilia and the Discourse of Child Sexuality," Journal of Homosexuality, 46, 79–109.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Knack, Natasha (2019-02-17). "Primary and secondary prevention of child sexual abuse," International Review of Psychiatry, 31, 181–194.
  16. Jahnke, Sara (2018). "Emotions and Cognitions Associated with the Stigma of Non-Offending Pedophilia: A Vignette Experiment," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47, 363–373.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Stelzmann, Daniela (2020). "Media Coverage of Pedophilia: Benefits and Risks from Healthcare Practitioners’ Point of View," International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 5739.
  18. Malinen, Sanna (2014-07-03). "Might informative media reporting of sexual offending influence community members' attitudes towards sex offenders?," Psychology, Crime & Law, 20, 535–552.
  19. Hildebrandt, Amber (2014), for CBC News. Virtuous Pedophiles group gives support therapy cannot. Archived.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Kramer, Richard. (2011). "The DSM and the stigmatization of people who are attracted to minors". Symposium conducted at the meeting of the B4U-ACT, Westminster, MD.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Neuilly, Melanie-Angela (2006-09-01). "Assessing the Possibility of a Pedophilia Panic and Contagion Effect Between France and the United States," Victims & Offenders, 1, 225–254.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Lowenkron, Laura (2013). ""All against pedophilia": ethnographic notes about a contemporary moral crusade," Vibrant: Virtual Brazilian Anthropology, 10, 39–72.