The roots of paedophilia lie in childhood. Although few would contest this, precision about which aspects of childhood are involved is the difficulty.
A number of studies, of varying quality, have looked into the parent-child relations and other family circumstances in the childhoods of offenders.
Among the best is a study of the childhoods of girl-orientated paedophiles, boy-orientated paedophiles and incest offenders; all had admitted their offending (Lang and Langevin, 1991). A control group was drawn from men in the local community. Although the different groups were similar in age, the community controls were better educated than the offenders. Sexual and physical abuse were common in the childhoods of all groups except the controls. About half of the offenders had been sexually abused and at least a third of them physically abused, although this exceeded 50% for incest offenders. Double victimization involving both physical and sexual abuse was not unusual, at between one-fifth and two-fifths of offenders:
Exceptionally high (clinically deviant) scores were found for offenders' mothers being aggressive to their partners, especially in the boy-orientated paedophile group. Paedophiles' mothers also tended to be stricter.
The research sought the criteria that predicted the men most likely to use violence in the course of their offending. A statistical categorization technique (discriminant function analysis) was used to determine the best predictors to identify violent offenders. Only the offender's mother's strictness and the offender's aggression towards his father proved influential. Disappointingly, only half of the violent men were correctly classified by these criteria. Classification was best for heterosexual paedophiles and controls, and worst for the incest
offenders. Only a third of these who used force were correctly identified, compared to 87% of non-violent offenders.
A similar attempt was made to differentiate between sex offenders and community controls using the variables
This met with little success:
In exploring the childhood and adolescence characteristics of non-violent paedophiles (excluding incestuous fathers) and rapists, consecutive admissions to the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center were reviewed (Tingle et al. , 1986). Rapists were compared with perpetrators of non-violent sexual crimes against children (excluding incestuous fathers).
Abusers were older than rapists and more likely to have an intact marriage. Domestic upheaval in childhood was common:
The fathers or both groups were relative insignificant in their domestic roles, and about half of both groups reported not being at all close to them. Despite about 83% of molesters claiming to be close and attached to their mother, only 23% said that she was someone with whom they could discuss personal problems.
Emotional loneliness of this sort was also characteristic of peer relationships: three-quarters of molesters and even more of rapists had few or no friends when they were growing up. A greater proportion of rapists showed this characteristic. It would not be forgotten that similar patterns of disruptive family life can be found in many offender groups.
Turning to adolescent sex offenders, Saunders, Awad and White (1986) took three different categories of offending:
About two-thirds of the paedophiles' victims were boys; the courtship disorder offences involved older females in two-thirds of cases; and for sexual assaulters, two-thirds of the victims were the same age as the offender. The offenders had been referred to the Toronto Court Clinic in the early 1980s and had either been convicted or had admitted their guilt. They and their parents were interviewed separately and as a family unit.
Demographic characteristics, including social class, family size and order of birth, were similar in all groups of offenders. Paedophiles (like assaulters) came from disorganized family systems; they had fewer legally married parents, more parental conflict and violence towards each other, and greater separation from their parents in adolescence. Violence between parents was commoner in paedophiles, as was sibling truancy from school.
The sexual assaulters and the paedophiles were the least well adjusted at home, at school and in the community. Thus, only about 40% of the paedophiles were seen as "good" boys at home. Social isolation was common, with 60% of the courtship disorders, 32% of sexual assaulters and 72% of paedophiles having no close friends. A third of the paedophiles (and relatively few of the others) were seen by their parents as not being cuddly as infants.
In summary , more paedophiles:
Birth order may have a bearing on the likelihood of paedophilia. Paedophiles and homosexual delinquents were more frequently the
last of three or more children according to a study of Czechoslovakian offenders (Raboch and Raboch, 1986). The researchers do not provide explanation.
Bernard (1985) found that only 32% of his Belgian sample of paedophile club members had
Perhaps sexual involvement with siblings is much more likely for the youngest child of the family, which leads to adult offending in the victim of the elder siblings.
Psychodynamically orientated theorists take a radically different view of the role of family background. The functions and maintenance of repetitive paedophile fantasies have concerned some of them (Protter and Travin, 1987). Fantasy is an organizing theme in the offender's life, which can provide an entry point into deeper conflicts.
The case of "Mr D", a 42-year-old laboratory chemist, who had been arrested for masturbating his eight-year-old nephew, is illustrative:
When he was nine he attended summer day camp where a male helper sexually interfered with him several times. Two years later he began to wear his mother's underwear while masturbating in front of the mirror when he felt lonely and helpless at the emotional demands of his mother and his father's prolonged absence.
His attraction to young boys surfaced while babysitting a six-year-old; he rubbed the boy's back in the bath. Although initially distressed by his sexual arousal during this episode, 18 months later it became part of his masturbatory fantasy.
He had few friends, and his wife, whom he met at college, was his first sexual partner. She appeared to him as fairly domineering, unaffectionate and little interested sexually. Their rare acts of sexual intercourse were accompanied by his paedophiliac sexual fantasy of sex with young boys.
His fantasy was of a young boy
with red-tinged hair, which he combed prior to removing the boy's clothing in fantasy in order to masturbate him. The boy's hair was just like his father's. Laboratory assessment showed that he had erections to slides of prepubescent males and to girls to a lesser extent.
The authors suggest a number of "heuristic" strategies for understanding the perversion:
While there is some evidence that the childhoods of paedophiles are frequently stressed in some way - -relationships between and with parents are not always ideal, and they seem isolated and lonely children -- we have no great insights into how family dynamics might cause paedophiliac offending.
Just what pathway leads from such family circumstances to offending? Perhaps a likely possibility is that these factors encourage the child to early sexual experiences. A child who is unhappy at home and lonely might be particularly prone to the sexual approaches of paedophiles or older children. Through this mechanism, family dynamics might lead to a cycle of abuse.
In our case study of Graham (Chapter 1), for example, although he had been abused earlier, the trail of involvement with paedophiles really began with him seeking a replacement for his father. There is no direct evidence for this process. Knowledge of family dynamics alone leaves big gaps in our understanding of paedophilia's development.