The data presented here are unique in that this paedophile sample was drawn neither from medical case records nor from prison files. Rather, they were self-confessed paedophiles ‘at large’ within the community and to some extent committed to their lifestyle. Our impression was that their responses to both the questionnaires and the interviews were fairly honest and uninhibited, and this belief is supported by the fact that their EPQ Lie scores were not inflated in relation to a suitable control group. We do, however, concede the possibility that, given the political and proselytising element of P1 E, some of the subjects may have been concerned to justify themselves and present their motives as more altruistic than in fact they were.
Because of the unique aspects of the sample there is no reason to expect that our results will necessarily concur with previous findings. Nevertheless, it seems worthwhile to recap on some of our central and more interesting findings and see how they compare with those from previous studies in the area.
First, consider the descriptive details of the men themselves. They were distributed fairly randomly across age groups from 20 to 60, with no evidence of the trimodal (three-peaked) distribution observed in offender groups by Mohr, Turner and Jerry (1964). As regards occupation, the P1 E members were over-represented at professional levels. This may mean only that more literate individuals were more likely to hear about P1 E and to take an academic interest in their own predilection, but it does negate any idea that paedophiles can be associated with the ‘village idiot’ syndrome. There is some indication that men with paedophile interests gravitate towards jobs which bring them into contact with children. Ingram (1979) studied a sample of 79 men who had been sexually involved with boys; of these 34 per cent were social workers and teachers, 24 per cent were clergymen, choirmasters and Sunday School teachers, and 16 per cent were described as youth leaders, scout masters, etc. This intake of subjects was certainly influenced by Father Ingram’s position as a priest offering counselling under the auspices of the Catholic Child Bureau, but it still could be taken as confirming these occupations as being particularly ‘at risk’. It is not really clear to what extent paedophiles use their professional position to further their sexual career. Interview data revealed great variation on this point.
In terms of personality, we found our group of paedophiles to be markedly introvert, but their scores on psychoticism and neuroticism were only slightly elevated compared with controls. There were indications of deficient social skill and confidence (e.g. shyness, sensitivity, loneliness and some depression) but the majority showed no sign of clinically significant psychopathy or thought disorder. A fairly comprehensive review of studies concerning the personality and mental health of paedophiles is given by Howells (1981) who concludes that social difficulty of one sort or another is the most consistent finding. Paedophiles were variously discovered to be timid, isolated, dependent, submissive, effeminate, sexually inhibited, and generally not adequate to the task of competition with other men for hetero-sexual adult conquests. Most of these studies were conducted on incarcerated or institutionalised paedophiles, so it is reassuring that our own results tend in the same direction. Our results are also consistent with previous findings in failing to discover any obvious links between paedophilia and aggressive or psychotic symptoms (Quinsey, 1977). The majority of paedophiles, however socially inappropriate, seem to be gentle and rational.
Although the connection between paedophilia and social difficulty seems clear, we cannot be certain of the direction of cause and effect. Given that scores on Eysenck’s introversion factor are partly determined by heredity, as also are some aspects of sexual behaviour (Eysenck, 1976), it seems likely that a common constitutional factor underlies the connection. In support of this idea is the interview data suggesting that feelings of isolation and inadequacy began very early in the childhood development of our subjects. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possibility that some part of the social anxiety and withdrawal that has been so consistently observed in paedophile men is a reaction to experienced (or anticipated) social hostility - an effect of the paedophilia rather than a cause. There is good evidence that a homosexual orientation has a genetic basis, but so far only tentative evidence to support the idea that other sexual preferences are partly heritable (Gosselin and Wilson, 1980).
Among our subjects we found that the majority were attracted to boys rather than girls (71 per cent exclusively homosexual and another 17 per cent describing themselves as bisexual). This contrasts with several other large scale studies of paedophilia which have found female-oriented paedophiles outnumbering the homosexuals, often by a factor of about two to one (Frisbie and Dondis, 1965; Groth and Birnbaum, 1978). This, of course, still represents a higher proportion of homosexual paedophilia than would be expected on the basis of the incidence of homosexuality in the general population, but it is much less than that emerging in our sample of P I E members. Since the predominantly heterosexual samples were drawn from court and prison records, and are therefore based upon convictions for child assault, there may be some bias towards registering girl victims. It is widely supposed that young girls are seen as more vulnerable and accorded more protection under the law than are boys (who indeed are more likely to be willing participants in sexual encounters with adults). On the other hand, PIE’s early recruitment was largely through homosexual publications such as Gay News, so this is bound to have attracted a disproportionate number of homosexual members. In fact, the only two women to join were both lesbians.
Because of these different sampling biases, as well as inconsistencies in the definition of paedophilia, it is impossible to estimate the true proportions of homosexual and heterosexually oriented paedophiles in the general population. An additional complication is the fact that some men who have sexual contact with boys are heterosexual in their adult preferences, and are quite often married. Such men seem to use sexual contact with boys as a substitute for, or supplement to, an unsatisfactory sex life with their wives. Sex with boys may provide the element of novelty that other men find in extra-marital affairs. Many heterosexual men convicted of child molestation are probably ‘situational offenders’ (Howells, 1981) rather than committed paedophiles. While we could not agree with Newton’s (1978) conclusion that there is no connection between homosexuality and paedophilia, it could be that the proportion of boy ‘victims’ is greatly inflated by their tendency to be more willing participants than girls in sexual adventures of any kind. Many paedophiles claim they are actively seduced by the boys involved rather than the other way about (Ingram, 1979).
Although the number of girl-oriented paedophiles in our sample was fairly small, it was nevertheless clear that they were maximally attracted to younger children than were the typical boy-oriented paedophiles. This is also consistent with most previous findings. Groth (1971) noted that the average age of girls molested by men was in the range of 6 to 11, while the average age of boys molested by men was in the range of 12 to 15. The best interpretation of this finding is probably in terms of the more striking physical (and possibly mental) transformation that occurs in boys at puberty, compared with girls. Most boy-oriented paedophiles found the arrival of puberty, with the broken voice, hairiness, assertiveness, etc., to be a total turn-off; but they liked boys to be as close to puberty as possible. This means that the preferred age of boy targets reaches a strong peak around the ages of 12 to 14, after which it drops off almost completely. By contrast, the heterosexual paedophile is less deterred by the changes at puberty. He is more often interested in adult women as well, though their attraction fades slowly as they get older. In fact, most normal men are capable of being attracted to girls below the legal age of consent, particularly if they are displaying secondary sex characteristics like breast development, but they would not regard themselves as paedophiles and would not seek to join an organisation to support this interest.
This may go some way towards explaining why our sample was so heavily loaded with homosexual paedophiles. Because these men perceive a distinct cut-off in sexual interest at the time a boy reaches puberty, they cannot fail to be aware of their paedophilic condition. The heterosexual paedophile is in a different position; he is less of a ‘specialist’ in that his interest in young females frequently extends upwards to well beyond the age of puberty, but of course, it is his adventures with very young girls which get him into trouble. As suggested above, heterosexual paedophiles are much more likely to be ‘situational offenders’ than committed child-lovers. They are more often married men with children of their own, and more likely to commit offences with members of the family or near relatives (Groth and Birnbaum, 1978).
Examination of the characteristics of children that the paedophiles found most attractive points to the conclusion that the ability to achieve social dominance over the child may be the key to understanding the paedophile’s choice of sex target. Naive innocence (otherwise described as softness, simplicity, openness, and willingness to learn) was the quality of the child that was of primary attractiveness. There were also many direct admissions from our subjects that they found children easier to approach than adults. If the male sex role requires a degree of social dominance for adequate arousal and performance, and paedophiles are not highly competitive or competent in personality, then this might explain why they feel more comfortable in sexual interaction with children. Some research evidence in support of such an idea has been provided by Howells (1979), who found that paedophiles were more prone than normal men to classify other people with respect to their dominance and submission.
Viewed in this way, paedophilia would seem to be one of several alternative adaptations to the problem of lack of success (or perceived inability to succeed) in intermale competition for access to females. It has been often noted by ethologists that the males of any species are thrown into strong Darwinian competition with one another. Those that are most successful monopolise an unequal share of female resources, and the others have to make do with various substitute sexual outlets. Following this model, we would not expect to find any genetic predisposition toward paedophilia per se, but as with homosexuality and certain other sex deviations, some degree of heritability would be mediated by the constitutional basis of dominance versus submissiveness. In other words, paedophiles may inherit their submissive nature, which in turn makes for difficulties in establishing normal sexual roles. (For a fuller discussion of this ethological theory of male sex deviations see Wilson, 1981 (Chapter 7).)
Certain other qualities of children that paedophiles find particularly attractive show that their sexual arousal mechanism is in many respects normal. The vitality, energy, playfulness and vivaciousness that was often cited as attractive to paedophiles is an important basis of attraction between adult partners, both heterosexual and homosexual. In ethological terms, these are important indicators of health, and the evolutionary advantages of breeding with a healthy partner are apparent. The liking for a smooth, clear complexion that was so high on the paedophiles’ preference list could be explained in the same way — a clear skin is another sign of good health and therefore of reproductive fitness.
We also noted that many of the qualities of boys that were attractive to paedophile men were, paradoxically, female characteristics. In many respects, the prepubescent boy is more like a woman than a man, and it was these very attributes (hairlessness, soft skin, unbroken voice, smallness, charm and understanding) that were so often given by paedophiles as the reason for their attraction to boys. As we suggested, it is as if, having rejected women as sex targets for some reason, the arousal mechanism seizes on the next best available approximation to women, which may well be thirteen-year-old boys. Whereas some men gravitate towards photographs, rubber blow-ups or high-heeled shoes as substitutes for women, the paedophile prefers a sex object with whom he can communicate and establish some social relationship.
Finally, our research revealed that the fantasies of paedophile men have a lot in common with those of normal men, e.g. the emphasis on group sex and compliant partners (Wilson, 1978). Even the prime defining characteristic of paedophilia, the preference for extreme youth in a sex partner, can be seen as an ex-tension of the normal tendency of men to seek partners younger than themselves. When all these factors are considered it is clear that the sexual preferences of the paedophile are not so far removed from those of the normal man as they might at first appear.
Some of our subjects claimed that their feelings towards children were very paternal and protective. While this could be dismissed as an attempt to throw favourable light upon their predilection, it is possible that parental feelings are often involved and that some paedophile men confuse them with sexual feelings. Although the instincts underlying sex and parental care probably have separate evolutionary origins there is sufficient overlap in the cues that evoke them (particularly for men) that such confusion is quite possible. Thus large eyes, smooth skin and submissiveness are infant signals that seem to have been adopted by adult women (through natural selection) to evoke protective instincts in men (Wilson and Nias, 1976) and
this has perhaps resulted in some coalescence of these two major mechanisms of intra-specific attraction. Such an effect might be enhanced with homosexual men who see no prospect of having children of their own, and men who were deprived of unambiguous models of adult-child attachments in their own infancy. Some psychoanalysts (e.g. Storr, 1964) suggest that paedophiles sometimes give love to children in order to compensate for their feeling of being unloved as children. It is, however, very difficult to evaluate such theories.
This leads to the question of the role of family experiences in the development of the paedophile preference. Response to our questionnaire yielded the classic picture of the domineering, overprotective mother and weak or absent father that has so often been implicated, theoretically and empirically, in the origins of homosexuality and other sexual disturbances (Davison and Neale, 1978). We also noted a tendency for our paedophiles to produce more negative descriptions of their parents (particularly the father) than did a normal sample of men. While it is tempting to view these observations as implying that difficulties in relating to or identifying with the parents were in some way causally responsible for the manifestation of paedophilia, there are several reasons for reserving judgement on this point. First, there is doubt as to whether we can place full reliance on descriptions of parents provided by subjects who are being clinically or scientifically investigated. Our subjects may be responding partly in order to explain or justify their condition or to support some psychoanalytic theory of aetiology with which they are familiar. It would be more convincing if objective personality scores could be obtained from the parents them-selves, but this has not been achieved to our knowledge. Another problem is that the negative attitude of the parents may be a reaction to the perception of their son as deviant, rather than a prior cause of that deviance. Thirdly, it is possible that the difficulties in social communication which contribute to the development of paedophilia are shared in the family by genetic constitution. All things considered, while it is useful to have information about the way paedophiles perceive their parents, we can have little confidence regarding its aetiological significance.
Similarly, the majority of paedophiles saw their parents as puritanical, strict and non-communicative with respect to matters of sex, but this is probably the way most people perceive their parents, and given the socially unacceptable predilection of their sons it is not very surprising that they came across as intolerant and un-supportive. At most, we could conclude that moral laxity on the part of the parents cannot be held responsible for the occurrence of paedophilia.
The paedophiles in our sample showed rather mixed feelings about their preferences. Some claimed to be proud of loving children thoroughly, in a way that most adults do not, while others confessed to being puzzled and distressed by what they recognised as an abnormal and socially abhorred fixation. But what nearly all of them had in common was a belief that they were saddled with their predilection for life, that it was very central to their psyche, and that no form of therapy was likely to convert them to normal sexual channels. Of those who had tried therapy, either voluntarily or under some kind of legal pressure, not one reported that it had been beneficial in any way at all. Perhaps it was this loss of faith in the possibility of cure that led these men to join a paedophile group. On the other hand, claims of having been cured among incarcerated paedophiles should be regarded with scepticism since they are likely to be motivated by a desire for early release. An excellent review of various approaches to treatment is provided by Howells (1981) who finds little evidence to support the efficacy of drugs, psycho-therapy or group therapy, but is more optimistic about the future of some of the newer behavioural techniques such as social skills training. The latter approach would certainly seem to be most promising in view of the theoretical considerations expressed above.
The subject of paedophilia evokes such powerful emotional reactions in people that it is perhaps necessary for us to declare our own position on the ethical issue involved. In the past, proponents of severe legal restrictions and penalties in connection with paedophile behaviour have based their argument on the supposed harm that is done to the victim. However, numerous empirical attempts to demonstrate that lasting psychological harm is done to a child through sexual contact with adults (e.g. changing his sex orientation, or making him impotent) have generally failed to adduce any such evidence (e.g. Tindall, 1978; Bernard, 1979). Most researchers seem to be agreed that except in the case of physical assault against an unwilling child (tantamount to rape), no lasting harm to the sexual or social development of the child ‘victim’ can be detected (Powell and Chalkley, 1981). This conclusion has led some social philosophers (e.g. Constantine, 1979) to argue in favour of legalizing non-coercive adult-child sexual relation-ships.
Our own feeling is that this would be premature. We are inclined to agree with the argument ofFinkelhor (1979) that the issue of empirical harm needs to be separated from the more directly moral question of whether meaningful consent can ever be obtained from a child. Although modern society has moved towards a permissive stance with respect to any mutually consenting sexual activity that is harmless to the parties involved, we still regard sex as immoral if there is any suggestion that social power has been abused in obtaining it. This applies to doctor-patient relationships, boss-worker (e.g. the fabled ‘casting couch’ in the theatre) and teacher-pupil relationships, even if the pupil is above the age of consent. Adult-child relationships in general fall into this category. Children are trained to respect and obey all adults, not just their parents, and this results in such an imbalance of social power that legalising sex between adults and children could quite easily result in exploitation.
On the other hand, it has been pointed out that heavy-handed intervention by police and legal authorities can result in great trauma and lasting emotional harm to the child involved (when, for example, a favourite uncle is sent to prison and the child feels responsible for this). Therefore, although we do not favour the total abandonment of legal safeguards, we would hope that when appropriate authorities feel that intervention is necessary, some discretion and compassion is exercised, for the sake of the child ‘victim’ as much as the transgressing adult.