"Pedophilia" ( Greek pedos, "child," and philia, "affinity") represents - as all recurrent sexually exciting fantasies - impulsive desires and behaviors that include sexual acts with a child and that occur over a period of at least six months.
Some 89,000 American children were sexually abused in 2002, and the numbers could be far higher.
This is the most detested sexual deviation, and the public does not take chances with pedophiles. Among convicted pedophiles, especially those attracted to boys, the recidivism rate is high. Some of the abusers are not, in fact, pedophiles but target children because they are weaker and more pliable than adults.
And not all people who have pedophile tendencies act on them or turn violent: the fear of being identified keeps many pedophiles undercover, surrounded by children while struggling with their secret wishes.
Researchers see pedophilia as a psychological disorder that calls for study and treatment; this mental state should be separated from criminal acts of child abuse, because the two do not always go hand in hand. This could be the only way to attract into treatment many undiscovered pedophiles and decrease the chances that any of them will ever harm a child.
Hard-core pedophiles experience that from puberty while non real pedophiles use children as substitutes for adults, later in life, after an adult relationship has failed or they realize that the possibility of one is remote; these ones include also the "situational molesters", who have ongoing contact with children because of their work, and thus may be drawn into situations in which they use their charges for their own sexual gratification.
Pedophilia is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Several studies have confirmed that pedophiles are very likely to have been victims of violence and sex abuse as children, in a victim-to-perpetrator cycle. If the victims of the perpetrators are neglected and lack supervision, along with abuse by a female, and witness violence among family members (as it often happens), they are more likely to develop real pedophilia, becoming the sexual aggressor as an adult to accomplish this emotional shift.
In other cases, however, the pedophile seeks rather to dominate than to establish a "genuine" relationship with a child; these ones feel strongly with the thought patterns and lives of children, something fueled by a lack of education and of self-esteem.
In cases of "emotional congruence", a man feels the happiest and most secure when he spends most time with children and may even act childish himself.
In other cases, pedophiles experience such deep-seated sexual anxieties that they cannot develop normal sexuality. Driving pedophiles to act can be a lack of inhibition determined by psychosis, poor impulse control or alcoholism. Pedophiles indeed present different action patterns in the frontal lobe compared with normal men, a brain region critical for impulse control.
Pedophilia can also have biological causes, like brain trauma before six years old, accidents also associated with lower intelligence and educational level (of course, not every early brain trauma causes pedophilia).
Scientists also suspect the existence of genes provoking brain defects that render the individuals more prone to pedophilia. Researches found higher rates of pedophilia inside some "pedophile" families members than among the families of nonpedophiles.
Treating pedophilia implies psychotherapy and medication. Freudian psychoanalysis would identify traumatic events from a patient's childhood so that such problems may be discussed and resolved. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses in identifying and avoiding situations that trigger patients to engage in harmful behaviors. Therapists can also try to fix the patient's cognitive distortions, like the notion that "the kid liked it." Pedophiles that complete a psychological treatment program are less likely to commit another offense, or if they do the crime is typically non-sexual in nature; however, not all pedophiles respond to psychotherapy.
Drugs used against depression, anxiety and compulsive disorders can be prescribed, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These control their sexual urges, decreasing sexual fantasies, sexual desires and compulsive masturbation in pedophiles and have a positive effect on a person's emotional state. Drugs that decrease testosterone production induce a drop in the sexual drive of the pedophiles.
These drugs can enable patients to feel sufficiently unburdened to talk openly about their compulsive and often agonizing sexual impairments. But psychotherapist must help a pedophile find a suitable replacement for the emotional stability he had received from his pedophilic sexuality, otherwise they experience a major personal crisis. However, even when successfully treated, most pedophiles must struggle to restrain their predilections for the rest of their lives.