Skip to main content

Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys

Abstract

Despite productive research on stigma and its impact on people’s lives in the past 20 years, stigmatization of people with pedophilia has received little attention. We conducted two surveys estimating public stigma and determining predictors of social distance from this group. In both studies, pedophilia was defined as a “dominant sexual interest in children.” The survey was comprised of items measuring agreement with stereotypes, emotions, and social distance (among others). Responses were compared with identical items referring to either people who abuse alcohol (Study 1), sexual sadists or people with antisocial tendencies (Study 2). Study 1 was conducted in two German cities (N = 854) and Study 2 sampled 201 English-speaking online participants. Both studies revealed that nearly all reactions to people with pedophilia were more negative than those to the other groups, including social distance. Fourteen percent (Study 1) and 28 % (Study 2) of the participants agreed that people with pedophilia should better be dead, even if they never had committed criminal acts. The strongest predictors of social distance towards people with pedophilia were affective reactions to this group (anger and, inversely, associated, pity) and the political attitude of right-wing authoritarianism (Study 1). Results strongly indicate that people with pedophilia are a stigmatized group who risk being the target of fierce discrimination. We discuss this particular form of stigmatization with respect to social isolation of persons with pedophilia and indirect negative consequences for child abuse prevention.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Altemeyer, B. (1998). The “other” authoritarian. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 30, 47–92. doi:10.1016/S0065-2601(08)60382-2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Angermeyer, M. C., & Dietrich, S. (2006). Public beliefs about and attitudes towards people with mental illness: A review of population studies. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 113, 163–179. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.2005.00699.x.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • B4U-ACT. (2011, December 30). Summer 2011 survey results. Retrieved from http://b4uact.org/science/survey/02.htm.

  • Beier, K. M., Ahlers, C. J., Goecker, D., Neutze, J., Mundt, I. A., Hupp, E., et al. (2009). Can pedophiles be reached for primary prevention of child sexual abuse? First results of the Berlin Prevention Project Dunkelfeld (PPD). Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 20, 851–867. doi:10.1080/14789940903174188.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berlin, F. S., & Malin, H. M. (1991). Media distortion of the public’s perception of recidivism and psychiatric rehabilitation. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 1572–1576.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Blanchard, R. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for pedophilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 304–316. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9536-0.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bogardus, E. S. (1933). A social distance scale. Sociology & Social Research, 17, 265–271.

    Google Scholar 

  • Borchert, J., & Rickabaugh, C. A. (1995). When illness is perceived as controllable: The effects of gender and mode of transmission on AIDS-related stigma. Sex Roles, 33, 657–668. doi:10.1007/BF01547723.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: A new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 3–5. doi:10.1177/1745691610393980.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 155–159.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, S. (2011). Folk devils and moral panics. London, UK: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Corrigan, P. W. (2000). Mental health stigma as social attribution: Implications for research methods and attitude change. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 7, 48–67. doi:10.1093/clipsy.7.1.48.

    Google Scholar 

  • Corrigan, P. W., Edwards, A. B., Green, A., Diwan, S. L., & Penn, D. L. (2001). Prejudice, social distance, and familiarity with mental illness. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 27, 219–225. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.schbul.a006868.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Corrigan, P. W., Faber, D., Rashid, F., & Leary, M. (1999). The construct validity of empowerment among consumers of mental health services. Schizophrenia Research, 38, 77–84. doi:10.1016/S0920-9964(98)00180-7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Corrigan, P., Markowitz, F. E., Watson, A., Rowan, D., & Kubiak, M. A. (2003). An attribution model of public discrimination towards persons with mental illness. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44, 162–179. doi:10.2307/1519806.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Corrigan, P. W., Rowan, D., Green, A., Lundin, R., River, P., Uphoff-Wasowski, K., … Kubiak, M. A. (2002). Challenging two mental illness stigmas: Personal responsibility and dangerousness. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 28, 293–309.

  • Corrigan, P., Thompson, V., Lambert, D., Sangster, Y., Noel, J. G., & Campbell, J. (2003). Perceptions of discrimination among persons with serious mental illness. Psychiatric Services, 54, 1105–1110. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.54.8.1105.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Corrigan, P. W., & Watson, A. C. (2002). The paradox of self-stigma and mental illness. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 9, 35–53. doi:10.1093/clipsy.9.1.35.

    Google Scholar 

  • Corrigan, P. W., Watson, A. C., & Barr, L. (2006). The self-stigma of mental illness: Implications for self-esteem and self-efficacy. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25, 875–884. doi:10.1521/jscp.2006.25.8.875.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davidov, E., Thorner, S., Schmidt, P., Gosen, S., & Wolf, C. (2011). Level and change of group-focused enmity in Germany: Unconditional and conditional latent growth curve models with four panel waves. Advances in Statistical Analysis, 95, 481–500. doi:10.1007/s10182-011-0174-1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davis, K. C., Schraufnagel, T. J., Jacques-Tiura, A. J., Norris, J., George, W. H., & Kiekel, P. A. (2012). Childhood sexual abuse and acute alcohol effects on men’s sexual aggression intentions. Psychology of Violence, 2, 179–193. doi:10.1037/a0027185.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • De Brito, S. A., & Hodgins, S. (2009). Antisocial personality disorder. In M. M. R. Howard (Ed.), Personality, personality disorder and violence: An evidence based approach (Vol. 42, pp. 133–153). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Duckitt, J. (2006). Differential effects of right wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation on outgroup attitudes and their mediation by threat from and competitiveness to outgroups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 684–696. doi:10.1177/0146167205284282.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Feelgood, S., & Hoyer, J. (2008). Child molester or paedophile? Sociolegal versus psychopathological classification of sexual offenders against children. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 14, 33–43. doi:10.1080/13552600802133860.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feldman, D. B., & Crandall, C. S. (2007). Dimensions of mental illness stigma: What about mental illness causes social rejection? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26, 137–154. doi:10.1521/jscp.2007.26.2.137.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Touchstone.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goode, S. (2010). Understanding and addressing adult sexual attraction to children. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Green, R. (2002). Is pedophilia a mental disorder? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31, 467–471. doi:10.1023/A:1020699013309.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Greitemeyer, T., & Rudolph, U. (2003). Help giving and aggression from an attributional perspective: Why and when we help or retaliate. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 1069–1087. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2003.tb01939.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hall, R. C. W., & Hall, R. C. W. (2007). A profile of pedophilia: Definition, characteristics of offenders, recidivism, treatment outcomes, and forensic issues. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 82, 457–471. doi:10.4065/82.4.457.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Hanson, R. K., & Bussière, M. T. (1998). Predicting relapse: A meta-analysis of sexual offender recidivism studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 348–362. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.66.2.348.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Haslam, N. (2005). Dimensions of folk psychiatry. Review of General Psychology, 9, 35–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herek, G. M. (2002). Heterosexuals’ attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the United States. Journal of Sex Research, 39, 264–274. doi:10.1080/00224490209552150.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Imhoff, R. (2014). Punitive attitudes against pedophiles or persons with sexual interest in children: Does the label matter? (submitted).

  • Irish, L., Kobayashi, I., & Delahanty, D. L. (2010). Long-term physical health consequences of childhood sexual abuse: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 35, 450–461. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jsp118.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Jahnke, S., & Hoyer, J. (2013). Stigma against people with pedophilia: A blind spot in stigma research? International Journal of Sexual Health, 25, 169–184. doi:10.1080/19317611.2013.795921.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jenkins, P. (1998). Moral panic: Changing concepts of the child molester in modern America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kerner, H.-J., Weitekamp, E. G. M., Stelly, W., & Thomas, J. (1997). Patterns of criminality and alcohol abuse: Results of the Tuebingen Criminal Behaviour Development Study. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 7, 401–420. doi:10.1002/cbm.197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • King, B. R. (2001). Ranking of stigmatization toward lesbians and their children and the influence of perceptions of controllability of homosexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, 41(2), 77–97. doi:10.1300/J082v41n02_05.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kirsch, L. G., & Becker, J. V. (2007). Emotional deficits in psychopathy and sexual sadism: Implications for violent and sadistic behavior. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 904–922. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2007.01.011.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kite, M. E. (1984). Sex differences in attitudes toward homosexuals: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Homosexuality, 10(1–2), 69–81. doi:10.1300/J082v10n01_05.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kite, M. E., & Whitley, B. E. (1996). Sex differences in attitudes toward homosexual persons, behaviors, and civil rights: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 336–353. doi:10.1177/0146167296224002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kuyper, L., & Fokkema, T. (2010). Loneliness among older lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults: The role of minority stress. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1171–1180. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9513-7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lagrange, R. L., & Ferraro, K. F. (1989). Assessing age and gender differences in perceived risk and fear of crime. Criminology, 27, 697–719. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.1989.tb01051.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leaf, P. J., Bruce, M. L., Tischler, G. L., & Holzer, C. E. (1987). The relationship between demographic factors and attitudes toward mental health services. Journal of Community Psychology, 15, 275–284. doi:10.1002/1520-6629(198704)15:2<275:AID-JCOP2290150216>3.0.CO;2-J.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Liekens, S., Smits, T., Laekeman, G., & Foulon, V. (2012). Factors determining social distance toward people with depression among community pharmacists. European Psychiatry, 27, 528–535. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2010.12.009.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Link, B. (1982). Mental patient status, work, and income: An examination of the effects of a psychiatric label. American Sociological Review, 47, 202–215. doi:10.2307/2094963.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Link, B. G., Phelan, J. C., Bresnahan, M., Stueve, A., & Pescosolido, B. A. (1999). Public conceptions of mental illness: Labels, causes, dangerousness, and social distance. American Journal of Public Health, 89, 1328–1333. doi:10.2105/AJPH.89.9.1328.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Looman, J., Abracen, J., DiFazio, R., & Maillet, G. (2004). Alcohol and drug abuse among sexual and nonsexual offenders: Relationship to intimacy deficits and coping strategy. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 16, 177–189. doi:10.1177/107906320401600301.

    Google Scholar 

  • Malón, A. (2012). Pedophilia: A diagnosis in search of a disorder. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1083–1097. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9919-5.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • McCartan, K. (2004). ‘Here there be monsters’: The public’s perception of paedophiles with particular reference to Belfast and Leicester. Medicine, Science and the Law, 44, 327–342. doi:10.1258/rsmmsl.44.4.327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Murray, J. B. (2000). Psychological profile of pedophiles and child molesters. Journal of Psychology, 134, 211–224. doi:10.1080/00223980009600863.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Osterheider, M., Banse, R., Briken, P., Goldbeck, L., Hoyer, J., Santtila, P., … Eisenbarth, H. (2011). Frequency, etiological models and consequences of child and adolescent sexual abuse: Aims and goals of the German multi-site MiKADO project. Sexual Offender Treatment, 6(2), 1–7.

  • Page, S. (1977). Effects of mental illness label in attempts to obtain accommodation. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 9, 85–90. doi:10.1037/h0081623.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Plöderl, M., Wagenmakers, E. J., Tremblay, P., Ramsay, R., Kralovec, K., Fartacek, C., et al. (2013). Suicide risk and sexual orientation: A critical review. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 715–727. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-0056-y.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Poteat, V. P., & Mereish, E. H. (2012). Ideology, prejudice, and attitudes toward sexual minority social policies and organizations. Political Psychology, 33, 211–224. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00871.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22–53. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.127.6.715.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rusch, N., Angermeyer, M. C., & Corrigan, P. W. (2005). The stigma of mental illness: Concepts, forms, and consequences. Psychiatrische Praxis, 32, 221–232. doi:10.1055/s-2004-834566.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Schmidt, G. (2002). The dilemma of the male pedophile. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31, 473–477. doi:10.1023/A:1020651130148.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Schultz, P. D. (2008). Naming, blaming, and framing: Moral panic over child molesters and its implications for public policy. In C. Krinsky (Ed.), Moral panics over contemporary children and youth (pp. 95–110). Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  • Seto, M. C. (2008). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment, and intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Seto, M. C. (2012). Is pedophilia a sexual orientation? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 231–236. doi:10.1007/s10508-011-9882-6.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Shapiro, D. N., Chandler, J., & Mueller, P. A. (2013). Using Mechanical Turk to study clinical populations. Clinical Psychological Science, 1, 213–220. doi:10.1177/2167702612469015.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Silton, N. R., Flannelly, K. J., Milstein, G., & Vaaler, M. L. (2011). Stigma in America: Has anything changed? Impact of perceptions of mental illness and dangerousness on the desire for social distance: 1996 and 2006. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 199, 361–366. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e31821cd112.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Smolenski, D. J., Stigler, M. H., Ross, M. W., & Rosser, B. R. S. (2011). Direct and indirect associations between internalized homonegativity and high-risk sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 785–792. doi:10.1007/s10508-010-9705-1.

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Stadtland, C., Hollweg, M., Kleindienst, N., Dietl, J., Reich, U., & Nedopil, N. (2005). Risk assessment and prediction of violent and sexual recidivism in sex offenders: Long-term predictive validity of four risk assessment instruments. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 16, 92–108. doi:10.1080/1478994042000270247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steffens, M. C., & Wagner, C. (2004). Attitudes toward lesbians, gay men, bisexual women, and bisexual men in Germany. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 137–149. doi:10.1080/00224490409552222.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Stickler, G. B., Salter, M., Broughton, D. D., & Alario, A. (1991). Parents’ worries about children compared to actual risks. Clinical Pediatrics, 30, 522–528. doi:10.1177/000992289103000901.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Stiels-Glenn, M. (2010). The availability of outpatient psychotherapy for paedophiles in Germany. Recht & Psychiatrie, 28, 74–80.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ward, T., & Beech, A. (2006). An integrated theory of sexual offending. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 11, 44–63. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2005.05.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92, 548–573. doi:10.1037//0033-295X.92.4.548.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Weiner, B., Graham, S., & Chandler, C. (1982). Pity, anger, and guilt: An attributional analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 226–232. doi:10.1177/0146167282082007.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weiner, B., Perry, R. P., & Magnusson, J. (1988). An attributional analysis of reactions to stigmas. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 738–748. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.55.5.738.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • West, D. (2000). Paedophilia: Plague or panic? Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 11, 511–531. doi:10.1080/09585180010002669.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whitley, B. E. (1990). The relationship of heterosexuals’ attributions for the causes of homosexuality to attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, 369–377. doi:10.1177/0146167290162016.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whitley, B. E. (1999). Right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, and prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 126–134. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.77.1.126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whitley, B. E., & Lee, S. E. (2000). The relationship of authoritarianism and related constructs to attitudes toward homosexuality. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 144–170. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2000.tb02309.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wright, S. (2006). Discrimination of SM-identified individuals. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(2–3), 217–231. doi:10.1300/J082v50n02_10.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Zick, A., Wolf, C., Kupper, B., Davidov, E., Schmidt, P., & Heitmeyer, W. (2008). The syndrome of group-focused enmity: The interrelation of prejudices tested with multiple cross-sectional and panel data. Journal of Social Issues, 64, 363–383. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2008.00566.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

This publication was realized within the MiKADO project (Osterheider et al., 2011) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth. We would like to extend a special thanks to Sylva Friedrich, Kathleen Philipp, Carolin Zettler, Konrad Rädlinger, and Wenke Kummer (all Dresden) for their help in the data collection and to Agustín Malón and Maximilian Geradt and for their continued support.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sara Jahnke.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R. & Hoyer, J. Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys. Arch Sex Behav 44, 21–34 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0312-4

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0312-4

Keywords

  • Stigma
  • Pedophilia
  • Paraphilias
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Social distance