New research published in 2014 has made a controversial claim – most people who commit sexual offences against children are not in fact paedophiles, but sex obsessed men looking for instant gratification.

The report focuses on the effectiveness of drugs to stem obsessive sexual desire amongst offenders. It also says that most paedophiles (as defined by modern psychiatry), do not go on to assault children despite feeling attracted to them.

The research, which was published yesterday by New Zealand site Stuff, and originally put out on 17th May over on The Conversation UK, has already begun to attract strong criticism from victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. No wonder, given that the geographical locations of these media outlets – New Zealand and Britain, respectively – have strong connections to the subject. Britain is currently engaged in an in-depth review of institutional child sexual abuse, whilst New Zealand continues to be blighted with serious allegations of past abuse.

But read the data a little more carefully, and what the researchers say makes some sense, and is genuinely not designed to belittle victims of child sexual abuse.

In effect, the research suggests that whilst 90% of the men they worked with had committed offences against children, most had assaulted adults as well, some showed no preference for gender and crucially, appeared to display a broad pattern of offending. The academics producing the study took this to mean that children who go on to be assaulted are simply casualties of an intense sexual urge, which does not care about gender, or age. The findings translated in this way also suggest that children are often targeted due to their vulnerability – they are smaller in size, less strong and easier to prey upon.

This train of thought, however, raises some interesting questions:

Should we accept the view that a lack of discrimination in this context automatically means we should disregard any feelings of arousal the offender experiences when assaulting a child?

Could we take the view that offenders who assault across a wide range of demographics (men, women and children of both genders) should also be labelled paedophiles, despite a willing to assault children which is not mutually exclusive to other forms of sexual violence?

If these offenders are targeting children to satisfy an ambiguous sexual urge, are they also engaging in other forms of intercourse, for example bestiality or sexual gratification through inanimate or every day objects, and if not, why not? 

We feel answers to these questions are hugely important when trying to define paedophilia in its clinical sense.

Currently, medical professionals use the following Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria to diagnose paedophilia:

– Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviours involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).

– The person has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.

What do you think? Does the research make a fair point, or is it too simplistic? And is the working definition of paedophilia above, also too basic?  

A very big thank you to Grant Low for sharing this news item on Facebook.

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