There are problems ,with the proposition that sexual abuse in childhood leads to paedophilia in adulthood. In particular , the mechanism by which it might do so has been left to conjecture rather than systematically investigated. While, as yet, it has not been explored in relation to paedophiles, re-enactment theory does have implications for understanding the aetiology of paedohilia.
Burgess et al. (1988) studied serial rapists, each of whom had attacked a minimum of ten women. Notably, when asked whether they had ever been sexually abused in childhood they overwhelmingly denied it. However, their self-reported earliest sexual experiences were assessed for abuse without relying on their own perceptions.
"Force" was apparently widely interpreted -- Brurgess et al.'s example was that of a child who had oral sex repeatedly for money. While forced sex mostly involved male perpetrators, it was also commonly employed by female abusers. Although nearly half of the aggressors were males acting on their own, nearly a third were lone females. One in eight episodes involved a man and a woman together.
These serial rapists frequently re-enacted their own abuse on their
victims although it is unclear whether re-enactment was carried out on men. Re-enactment means the "direct replication" the abuse that offenders suffered themselves:
Over half of the serial rapists seem to have re-enacted before adolescence. Nevertheless, offenders themselves had not made their connection in their own minds. Comparing their abuse with their earliest self-initiated sexual activity reveals re-enactments involving family members, acquaintances and also strangers.
One fairly detailed illustration is provided by the following:
The re-enactment process is an attempt to deal with the "confusion and stress" generated by the sexual aspects of the abuse. Re-enactment may well be either ignored or punished by the family or community, neither of which deals effectively with the trauma. The child becomes unable to control his own arousal and becomes preoccupied with sex and sexually arousing aggressive thoughts:
It has been suggested that the age of an offender's own sexual victimization may be an important factor in determining his choice of victims (Greenberg, Bradford and Curry, 1993). Although there did not seem to be any difference between men who erotically preferred children under 11 years of age and those who preferred pubescents (hebephiles) in terms of their recall of abuse in childhood (under 40% recollection in both cases), those who preferred older children were themselves first abused later in childhood. Recollection of abuse was higher in boy-orientated hebephiles than girl-orientated ones.