Research: The Dangers of Stigma
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- 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, also called Pedophobia, is a form of social stigma or aversion directed primarily toward pedophiles, i.e. people who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children, but is also felt by other MAPs. It takes form in negative emotional reactions (disgust, fear, loathing, hatred, etc.), punitive beliefs and stereotyping.
Anti-pedophile stigma is a worldwide phenomenon, particularly visible in western anglophone countries. 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. Popular beliefs regarding pedophilia include the idea that pedophiles commonly engage in sexual activities with children, that having a sexual attraction to children is something that one chooses for oneself and that pedophiles are amoral. People included under this category are popularly characterized as "evil, "monsters" and "fiends". This type of stigma may also be extended to other minor-related chronophilic groups, such as hebephiles.
The effects of anti-pedophile stigma among people sexually attracted to minors include the fear of being outed, suicidal ideation, self-loathing, anxiety, stigma-related stress, suppression of sexual thoughts, reduced wellbeing, the internalization of the stigma and reluctance to receive external help when needed. Women who are sexually attracted to minors have reported feeling less social stigma than their male counterparts.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Research into the prevalence and characteristics of the social stigmatization of pedophiles started growing in the 2010's. 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.
Popular beliefs and attitudes
Common stereotypes about pedophiles include the beliefs that they are amoral, dangerous, and not in control of their sexual desires. People included in this group are also popularly characterized as "evil", "monsters" and "fiends".
In a pair of joint studies, 14% and 28% of participants felt that it would be better if pedophiles were dead, even if they had never committed a sexual offense. In the same surveys, 39% and 48% of participants believed that such people should be preemptively incarcerated. 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.
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.
Aside from the general public, pedophiles themselves can also internalize negative social attitudes against pedophilia. Anti-pedophile sentiments have also been observed among mental health providers and prison populations.
Media coverage of pedophilia
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. A 2004 British study reported that 58% of participants agreed that the media had created a "witch-hunt" against pedophiles.
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.
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.
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.
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. The guilt and shame, as well as the social stigma of pedophilia, can prevent those who are motivated for treatment from voluntarily seeking help.
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. 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.
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.
Stigma produces laws that are troubled in many ways. They perpetuate stigma, are ineffective, lead to unintended consequences, and cost much for the state. Here are excerpts on this topic.
- Williams, D. J., Thomas, J. N., & Prior, E. E. (2015). Moving Full-Speed Ahead in the Wrong Direction? A Critical Examination of US Sex-Offender Policy from a Positive Sexuality Model. Critical Criminology, 23(3), 277–294. doi: 10.1007/s10612-015-9270-y
- Stigma driven policy. The "war against sex offenders" and "memorial crime control."
- "For decades now, the American government has conducted a ‘‘war on drugs.’’ Oliver (2012) recently discussed America’s new ‘‘war against sex offenders.’’ Wars, of course, often bring unintended injustices and additional harms. Wars dehumanize, while often bringing out the worst in normally peaceful citizens. Wars typically do not make people feel safer. The amplification of fear which then leads to a position of war seems to be what has occurred in the development of US sexual offending policy.
- "[R]ecent harsh US sexual offender laws were created based on outrage that followed from highly publicized though rare cases, which Surette (2007) has referred to as ‘‘memorial crime control.’’ In such cases, harsh new legislation occurs as a reaction to public outrage from these highly visible cases. [...] [H]arsh and costly policies based on few cases but applied to all sexual offenders are likely to produce additional problems."
- Excessive punishment makes both an offender and a victim muted
- "Knowing that offenders, who are often family members, receive harsh sentences with severe repercussions, victims are less likely to report sexual abuse when it happens (Paine and Hansen 2002). At the same time, mandatory reporting laws among psychologists, social workers, and other helping professionals discourage offenders from being fully open and honest with such clinicians (Bell 2014)."
- Current policy contradicts reintegration and provides dehumanisation
- "The most problematic aspect of current US sexual offending policy is the rampant dehumanization and blatant social constraints to facilitating the successful reintegration of sexual offenders. [W]hen one thinks about the invasiveness of procedures such as polygraphs, penile plethysmography, chemical and surgical castration, as well as post-conviction constraints ranging from registries to civil commitment—it is clear that current sexual offender policy enacts a very special and extreme kind of dehumanization that is not otherwise seen in the US criminal justice system."
- "Notification laws, intended to empower citizen awareness and thus reduce risk for victimization, are often perceived as being unfair by sexual offenders and contribute to high percentages of offenders experiencing property damage, threats, or assault (Brannon et al. 2007; Robbers 2009)."
- "Current policy runs contradictory to both contemporary criminological and behavioral change theories. For example, control theories focus on the importance of social bonds, and people with weak attachments to others are more likely to commit crime (Hirschi 1969)."
- It is an ethical problem
- "While a core ethical responsibility of correctional professionals is to work to keep the community safe, which means applying necessary restrictions based on offender risk, it also appears to be both ineffective and unethical to apply more restriction than is warranted. Furthermore, many sexual offenders, regardless of their specific offenses, are often dehumanized in society. Obviously, the demonization of sexual offenders is a salient ethical issue in US sexual offender policy that deserves special attention."
Effects among people attracted to minors
- See also Psychological wellbeing for MAPs
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 and reluctance to receive external help when needed.
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.
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)
Pedohebephile females have reported experiencing less stigma than their male counterparts.
List of excerpts
- Ingram, M., Thorne, E., Letourneau, E. J., & Nestadt, P. S. (2023). Self-Esteem, Perceived Social Support, and Suicidal Ideation and Behavior Among Adults Attracted to Children. OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying, 0(0). doi: 10.1177/00302228221150304
- from the abstract:
- “ Results showed high prevalence of past-year and lifetime suicidal ideation and behavior in the sample. ”
- from the abstract:
- in more detail B4U-ACT Quarterly Review, Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 2023, p. 6:
- “The results showed striking differences between MAPs and the general population. Approximately 86% of participants in this study indicated that they thought about or attempted suicide at some point during their lives, compared to only 9% for the general population. These rates are similar to ones reported in similar studies of people attracted to children. Over 17% also reported having made an attempt in the past and one-third indicated they had thought about taking their own life five or more times in the past year. In contrast only 3% of people in the general population have made similar plans in their lives. These figures clearly show that suicidality is a significant problem in this community. “
- in more detail B4U-ACT Quarterly Review, Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 2023, p. 6:
- Stelzmann, D., Jahnke, S., & Kuhle, L. F. (2022). Media Coverage of Pedophilia and Its Impact on Help-Seeking Persons with Pedophilia in Germany - A Focus Group Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19 (15), DOI: 10.3390/ijerph19159356
- “In the case of pedophilia, previous research has documented higher levels of public stigmatization than for most other human characteristics, including alcoholism, schizophrenia and sexual sadism [31,32,33]. ”
- “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 . Furthermore, persons with pedophilia also experience stigma in the health care sector, as many health care professionals report reluctance to offer treatment . 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 ).”
- 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.
- attraction nonconformity is the target of stigma in itself:
- "Imhoff (2015), Jahnke (2018), and Imhoff and Jahnke (2018) all found that discriminatory attitudes were not only predicted by the perceived association of attraction and offending behavior, but also by the perceived choice of the sexual interest and its nonconformity. [...] [T]he attraction itself and not just its assumed criminality evokes a desire for punishment (Imhoff, 2015). These studies also indicated that higher social desirability is related to stronger discrimination. Thus, choice and social desirability as predictors of discrimination appear to have a direct relationship to the desire to conform to group norms and to punish those who deviate. Furthermore, the studies suggested that the desire to punish based upon an inherent difference correlates with deviance, fear, and (in Jahnke, Imhoff, et al., 2015) right-wing authoritarianism."
- attraction nonconformity is the target of stigma in itself:
- mental distress description:
- "All 14 studies (see Table 2) exploring the effects of stigma identified significant mental distress was felt by individuals with sexual interest in children. Mental distress was characterized by self-reported depression, anger (at the public, themselves, and wider society), anxiety, despair, shame, grief, guilt, loneliness, isolation, and low self-esteem. Many participants spoke of despair as the most substantial challenge they faced in living with a sexual interest in children. This was described as a profound sense of loss for their future. Participants discussed grief for these losses which centered around a lack of intimacy, love, family relationships, and professional opportunities."
- mental distress description:
- effects of disclosure evading:
- "Cohen et al. (2020) reported suicidal participants self-reported more reasons not to self-disclose compared with their non-suicidal counterparts and had higher scores on low self-esteem and social anxiety. Lievesley et al. (2020) found that higher levels of self-reported guilt and shame and lower levels of hope for the future were consistent with high levels of internalization of negative societal attitudes."
- effects of disclosure evading:
- "Several participants [...] experienced substantial fear of their sexual interests being discovered [...] This fear compelled many participants to actively evade suspicion, which negatively impacted their relationships."
- " Jahnke et al. (2015) suggested that persons with a sexual interest in children generate presumptions on how they are viewed by wider society based on media representations and a small number of people who express negative attitudes. Because of the internalization of these attitudes and an unwillingness to disclose their attraction, they are unable to determine how they are perceived. Thus, avoidance means they do not receive any corrective feedback. Findings support this claim, as the social distance many participants perceived the public wished to maintain was an overestimate when compared to the social distance results from the public sample in Jahnke, Imhoff, et al. (2015)."
- Houtepen et al. (2015). Being Sexually Attracted to Minors: Sexual Development, Coping With Forbidden Feelings, and Relieving Sexual Arousal in Self-Identified Pedophiles, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 42(1), 48–69.
- "Results suggest that risk for offending can be diminished by creating more openness about pedophilia and by providing pedophiles with social support and control [...] In addition to sexual attraction, most participants reported having romantic feelings for children and emphasized the importance of being able to engage in social contact with minors, for example in adult coaching roles or friendships. This study suggests that such social contact seems to diminish child sexual offending."
- Glina, F., Carvalho, J., Barroso, R., & Cardoso, D (2022). Lay People’s Myths Regarding Pedophilia and Child Sexual Abuse: A Systematic Review. Sexual Medicine Reviews 10(4), DOI: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2022.06.010
- “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
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".
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.
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.
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.
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".
- Child Sexual Abuse
- Pedophilia, Hebephilia, Ephebophilia, Nepiophilia
- Preventionism, and the former Wikipedia article linked
- Special Article: Adverse effects of hysteria
- You may be able to find full books on Libgen, and papers on SciHub for example. See Help:Research Resources.
- We Need to Make It Easier for Pedophiles To Seek Help. Time Magazine, 2014.
- Should We Lift the Stigma on “Virtuous Pedophiles”? Justia's Verdict, 2016.
- Virtuous Pedophiles group gives support therapy cannot. CBC News, 2014.
- Johns Hopkins U. hires academic who wants to ‘destigmatize’ pedophilia. The College Fix, 2022.
- Humanizing Pedophilia as Stigma Reduction: A Large-Scale Intervention Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2022. Free article.
- The Internalization of Social Stigma Among Minor-Attracted Persons: Implications for Treatment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2020. Free article.
- Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America. Yale University Press, 1998. Paid academic book.
- You may be able to find full papers on Sci-Hub, for example. See Help:Research Resources.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- David Sonenschein, 1998. Pedophiles on Parade. isbn 9780915289004, oclc 40637993, ol 11413246M
- Walker, Allyson (2017-03-01). "Minor Attraction: A Queer Criminological Issue," Critical Criminology, 25, 37–53.
- Jahnke, Sara (2013). "Stigmatization of People With Pedophilia: A Blind Spot in Stigma Research," International Journal of Sexual Health, 25, 169–184.
- Kohm, Steven A. (2011). "Pedophile crime films as popular criminology: A problem of justice?," Theoretical Criminology, 15, 195–215.
- Lievesley, Rebecca (2022). "“We Do Exist”: The Experiences of Women Living with a Sexual Interest in Minors," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 51, 879–896.
- Cohen, Lisa J. (2020). "Correlates of Chronic Suicidal Ideation Among Community-Based Minor-Attracted Persons," Sexual Abuse, 32, 273–300.
- 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.
- Lievesley, Rebecca (2020-05-01). "The Internalization of Social Stigma Among Minor-Attracted Persons: Implications for Treatment," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49, 1291–1304.
- 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.
- Angelides, Steven (2004-03-23). "Historicizing Affect, Psychoanalyzing History: Pedophilia and the Discourse of Child Sexuality," Journal of Homosexuality, 46, 79–109.
- Knack, Natasha (2019-02-17). "Primary and secondary prevention of child sexual abuse," International Review of Psychiatry, 31, 181–194.
- Jahnke, Sara (2018). "Emotions and Cognitions Associated with the Stigma of Non-Offending Pedophilia: A Vignette Experiment," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47, 363–373.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hildebrandt, Amber (2014), for CBC News. Virtuous Pedophiles group gives support therapy cannot. Archived.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lowenkron, Laura (2013). ""All against pedophilia": ethnographic notes about a contemporary moral crusade," Vibrant: Virtual Brazilian Anthropology, 10, 39–72.