, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 333-342

Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia

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Abstract

Although there is substantial evidence in the historical and anthropological record of the sexual use of children by adults, surprisingly little is known about the etiology of pedophilia or its relation to other forms of sexual aggression. After briefly reviewing the research on pedophilia, we argue that one major difficulty in conducting or interpreting such research lies in the different definitions “pedophilia” has received. Most important, much of the research has accepted a legal definition of pedophilia, treating all offenders convicted of “child molestation” as pedophiles, regardless of the age or appearance of the victim. We argue that a distinction should be made between biological children and sociolegal children. Laws governing child molestation reflect sociolegal childhood, regardless of its discrepancy with biological childhood. “True” pedophiles should be identified by their preference for biological children. By using legal classifications, researchers may well be confusing two distinct types of offenders, child molesters and rapists, and confounding attempts to understand pedophilia.

David A. Houston was supported during the preparation of this article by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship.