MOLESTATION THEORY: SEXUAL ABUSE CYCLES
It is a simple equation to suggest that sexual abuse in childhood is a cause of paedophilia. There could be a variety of reasons why this might occur:
None of these is particularly convincing when assessed against the available research on childhood abuse among paedophiles. This is especially so in the light of the limited support coming from studies of the rates of abuse in the childhoods of paedophiles, in which no massive differences between abuse rates in paedophiles' and non-paedophiles' childhoods are found. A cycle of abuse is sufficient to explain only a small proportion of paedophile careers.
The available evidence may not be robust as it appears. Frequently the recognition of abuse in childhood involves a slow unveiling of the truth; it is not usually something that could be assessed by ticks and crosses on a self-completion questionnaire.
For example, one offender who was regularly sent as a seven-year-old to watch an adolescent female relative bathing found it difficult to see in
this the possibility of abuse of himself and the girl. Some offenders describe how they see themselves as the initiator of the sexual activity rather than being abused.
Although Finkelhor (1984) argues that research shows relatively low reported frequencies of abuse in offenders' childhoods, and Hansen and Slater (1988), in a review, concluded that sex abusers did not differ from other sex offenders and non-sex offenders in respect to abuse, the data needs more careful examination before abandoning the possibility.
Five types of non-psychotic males were obtained from the sexology department of Clarke Institute
of Psychiatry in Toronto (Freund, Watson and Dickey, 1990). Sex offenders against
both female and male minors were excluded. Using physiological measures of erection to various sorts of explicit
sexual materials, as well as other procedures, Freund, Watson and Dicke also separated
thir offenders against children into what they describe as child molesters and true paedophiles (those
with little response to adults). Their early experience revealed abuse by men
The major differences were thus between paedophiles' and controls' rates of abuse by adult males.
Others have obtained substantially higher levels of reported abuse in the childhoods of offenders. Comparing non-violent child molestation offenders with rapists, Tingle et at. (1986) noted that molesters (56%) were rather more likely to have been sexually abused as a child than rapists (38%). Despite the differences in incidence, the patterns of abuse were similar. About 60%, in both cases, involved oral sex, about 50% anal sex and about 45% fondling. The average age of first abuse was similar for both groups -- for child molesters it was 8.5 years and for rapists 9.2 years.
Lang an Langevin (1991) indicated that 50%, more or less, of heterosexual paedophiles, homosexual paedophiles and incest offenders reported having been sexually abused in childhood compare to 0% of their community control group.
Breer (1987) reports data on a number of sexually abusive adolescents whom he had classified as pre-paedophiles (likely to become adult paedophiles against boys). Virtually all of them had been sexually molested by men. Only 1 out of 17 repeatedly denied abuse in childhood. In contrast, for the boys who were either incestuous abusers or only abused by females the findings are virtually reversed. Just a little over a quarter of them admitted being abused and half of these had been molested by females.
Many paedophiles may falsely claim to have been abused, so the molestation theory of paedophilia is essentially untenable (Freund, Watson and Dickey, 1990).
There is some support for this point of view in Hindman's (1988) study of paroled adult male offenders. Those interviewed in the period 1980-1982 were compared with those interviewed between 1982 and 1988. In the later period she explained to them that they would undergo lie-detector tests to evaluate their claims. If their self-reports of abuse were proved false then they would immediately go back to prison. Without the threat of the test, claims of childhood abuse were made by 67% of the offenders, but this figure dropped to 29% when re-imprisonment for lying was threatened.
It is an open question as to why these differences occurred. While they might imply that offenders' claims of childhood abuse are simply self-serving excuses, this is clearly not the only explanation. Another possibility is that the tentative acceptance that they have of their childhood abuse is insufficiently strong to survive the threat of imprisonment. Furthermore, given that the lie-detector is a controversial instrument, it might well be that offenders calculated that denial was the safest course of action since no one would take action against them if they had denied their abuse despite it having occurred. Given the longitudinal nature of the research, the results could also be an artefact of other changes occurring over this period of time.
One might speculate about how paedophilia is transmitted intergenerationally in families. Are men with a paedophile in their family themselves more likely to offend? Like all studies of families, outcomes can be difficult to interpret -- is paedophilia genetically transmitted or does abuse within the family affect several members of that family?
A rare example of a study of family inheritance patterns of paedophilia compared those of diagnosed paedophiles with those of a sample of clinically depressed men (Gaffney, Lurie and Berlin, 1984). The clinical records of inpatients at the Johns Hopkins sexual
deviance clinic over a 39-month period commencing in 1980 were examined. Those not meeting the standard psychiatric diagnostci criteria for paraphilia (DSM-III) were discarded from the research.
Morbidity is the risk or probability that another member of the family will also show the same clinical syndrome. One finds out how many relatives are also paedophiles as a percentage of the total number of relatives the individual has. Thus, a morbidity rate of 2 means that one in fifty relatives of paedophiles are also paedophiles. The morbidity risk for paedophiles was 5 for paedophilia and 0 for any other paraphilia; for non-paedophile paraphiliacs the morbidity was 11.5 for paedophilia and 6.1 for non-paedophiliac paraphilia; and for the controls, 0 for paedophilia and 0.7 for other paraphilias.
The morbidity risks were stronger for male relatives than for females. So, for example, for the families of paedophiles there was a 10.3% chance that at least one male family member would be paedophile. In contrast, no females in these families had any paraphilia including paedophilia. For men in the families of other paraphiliacs, the morbidity rates were 3.7% for paedophilia an 14.8% for any other paraphilias. For the women there was a zero probability of paedophilia but a 3.2% chance of any other paraphilia.
The genesis of these family trends cannot be ascertained from morbidity data. The trends are compatible with genetic, family pathology and childhood molestation theories of paedophilia. The authors note that 27% of their sample of paedophiles were on record as having been molested in childhood against 14% of the of the other paraphiliacs but this was not statistically reliable.
Others have suggested that aspects of paedophiliac leanings emerge relatively early in the development of a child, but this is for gender preference rather than age preference. Freund and Kuban (1993) asked male paedophiles, homosexuals and heterosexual adult
about their curiosity concerning the bodies of other people when they were children aged between 7 and 11 years. They regarded this as a measure of erotic interest. In the heterosexual males' childhoods, erotic interest in other children, especially girls, seemed very common, and relatively few had their erotic interest solely in adults. For heterosexual paedophiles, the data suggest that the commonest form of childhood interest was in adult females. In the case of homosexual paedophiles, the commonest sexual interest was indiscriminate as to age and sex.
Freund and Kuban suggest that erotic sex fixation comes earlier in life than does age fixation. The authors regard this as being compatible with the view that for some paedophiles, paedophilia is laid down early in life since some men remember erotic interest in children but not adults at this age. Nevertheless, the data seem bet to support the view that erotic age fixation occurs largely in late childhood.