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Does sexual abuse in childhood cause pedophilia: An exploratory study

Abstract

The reliability of the notion that pedophilia is caused by sexual abuse in childhood was explored by examining retrospective self-reports of 344 males. Included in the study were 77 heterosexual pedophiles, 54 homosexual pedophiles, 51 nonpedophilic sex offenders against children, 36 sex offenders against physically mature females, 75 heterosexual paid volunteers who erotically preferred mature females, and 51 homosexual clients who preferred mature males. For each sex offender the differential diagnosis of an erotic preference for minors vs. a preference for physically mature partners was made by means of the phallometric test of erotic gender and age preferences. The analysis of self-reports confirmed that the proportion of pedophiles who report having been sexually abused in childhood by mature persons is larger than that of men who were not charged for or accused of a sex offense against a child though the difference is relatively small (28.6 vs. 13.9 and 10.7% for the heterosexual pedophiles and the two groups of gynephiles, respectively, and 25.9 vs. 11.8% for the homosexual pedophiles and androphiles, respectively). Further analysis demonstrated, however, that pedophiles who admitted having an erotic interest in children significantly more often claimed that they had been sexually abused as children than pedophiles who did not admit having such feelings. This interdependence renders the reliability of these self-reports questionable.

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This research was supported in part by grant MA-9134 from the Medical Research Council of Canada.

Forensic Division Clarke Institute of Psychiatry

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Freund, K., Watson, R. & Dickey, R. Does sexual abuse in childhood cause pedophilia: An exploratory study. Arch Sex Behav 19, 557–568 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01542465

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01542465

Key words

  • sex offenders
  • pedophilia
  • phallometry
  • sexual abuse