Understanding and Challenging Stigmatization of People With Pedophilia

Fakultät Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften der Technischen Universität Dresden

Jahnke, Sarah; Feb 06 2015
Extent208 pp.
UniversityTechnischen Universität Dresden
Place PublishedDresden
Type of WorkDissertation


zur Erlangung des akademischen Grades Doctor rerum naturalium
(Dr. rer. nat.)
der Fakultät Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften der Technischen Universität Dresden
Dipl. Psych. Sara Jahnke
geboren am 8.12.1986 in Zwickau eingereicht am 6.2.2015
verteidigt am 4.6.15


Prof. Dr. Jürgen Hoyer Prof. Dr. Roland Deutsch


The present thesis is based on several published peer-reviewed articles, as listed below [...]

Section 4.1: Jahnke, S., & Hoyer, J. (2013). Stigmatization of people with pedophilia: A blind spot in stigma research? International Journal of Sexual Health, 25(3), 169-184. Adapted with permission from Taylor & Francis.
< https://www.ipce.info/library/journal-article/stigmatization-people-pedophilia >

Section 4.2: Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R., & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigmatization of people with pedophilia: Two comparative surveys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 21–34. Adapted with kind permission from Springer Science and Business Media.
< https://www.ipce.info/library/journal-article/stigmatization-people-pedophilia-t-0 >

Section 4.3: Jahnke, S., Schmidt, A., Geradt, M., & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigma-related stress and its correlates among men with pedophilic sexual interests. Manuscript submitted for publication.
< https://www.ipce.info/library/journal-article/stigma-related-stress >

Section 5.1: Jahnke, S., Philipp, K. & Hoyer, J. (2014). Stigmatizing attitudes towards people with pedophilia and their malleability among psychotherapists in training. Child Abuse & Neglect. Advance Online publication. Adapted with permission from Elsevier.

List of Abbreviations

CBT Cognitive behavioral therapy
CI Confidence interval
FESAP Framework for the Effects of Stigma-related Stress among people with Pedophilia
LGB(T) Lesbian, gay, bisexual, (and transgender)
M Mean value
PSS/PAT People with sexual sadism/antisocial tendencies PWP People with pedophilia
RWA Right Wing Authoritarianism
SD Standard deviation

Research Summary

For decades, researchers have documented how stereotyping and unfair treatment affect the lives of people with stigmatized characteristics. Pedophilic sexual interests, however, have received remarkably little academic attention. This research gap should be closed for two important reasons. 

  • First of all, people with pedophilia have a particularly high risk of experiencing negative stigma-related consequences as, arguably, one of the most feared and despised groups in Germany and many other Western countries. 
  • Secondly, vulnerability factors that are hypothesized to contribute to a higher risk of sexually abusive behavior towards children (e.g., low self-esteem, emotion regulation problems, and reduced motivation to seek mental health services) are likely to be enhanced by stigma-related stress. 

That means that stigmatization of people with pedophilia might not only have a negative effect on members of this group but may also compromise child sexual abuse prevention.

This thesis aims at laying the much-needed groundwork for the scientific study of stigma against people with pedophilia by 

  1. conducting a systematic and comprehensive review of the literature on stigma against people with pedophilia, 
  2. assessing the prevalence and strength of public stigma against people with pedophilia compared to other despised groups, 
  3. developing and testing a theoretical framework for the study of stigma-related stress and associated problems among people with pedophilia, and 
  4. creating and evaluating an anti- stigma intervention program.

(1) Our literature review documented a lack of research on this issue as well as the need for theoretical concepts and methodological designs conceptualized specifically for this field of study. 

(2) A scale to assess public stigma against people with pedophilia was designed and used to survey a sample of German pedestrians and US American workers from the Internet marketplace MTurk. A parallel set of items was employed to measure public stigma against other groups (people who abuse alcohol, sexual sadists, and people with antisocial tendencies). Results of these surveys documented people with pedophilia to be massively disadvantaged by stereotyping beliefs, negative affective reactions, and social distance, even compared to the three other stigmatized groups. 

(3) To reach the third sub-goal, the author of this thesis formulated the “Framework for the Effects of Stigma-related Stress among People with Pedophilia”.
It contains a set of assumptions highlighting the relationship between the stigma-related stress and the risk of child sex offending, which is assumed to be mediated by impairments in emotional and social areas of functioning, as well as cognitive distortions, and the person’s motivation to seek mental health services.
The model was tested in an online sample of men with a sexual interest in children. Overall, results provided preliminary evidence for the hypotheses previously laid out. 

(4) Finally, these ideas were put to practical use in the development of an anti-stigma program for psychotherapists in training that was experimentally validated online. Findings indicated that a number of stigma-related beliefs, affects, and behavioral intentions can be changed at a cost-effective level. Motivation to treat help-seeking patients with pedophilia, however, could not be increased within the sample.

In summary, this thesis shows that stigma against pedophilia is a serious and widespread problem, and offers concrete propositions to promote a more realistic and empathetic view of this group. By approaching the emotionally charged concept of pedophilia from a stigma perspective, the research presented in this thesis challenges the way in which not only people from the general public, but also scientists and health care professionals think about pedophilia, and corroborates the importance of stigma reduction within the wider context of child sexual abuse prevention.

[... ... ... ...]

Final Conclusions

G. Schmidt (2002) described the (male) person with pedophilia as stuck in the tragic dilemma of either living out “a form of sexuality that [...] is in conflict with a central social covenant based upon sexual self-determination and consensual sexuality” or “denying himself the experience of love and sexuality” (pp. 476). Taking the present research into consideration, the dilemma appears intensified, as the person with pedophilia is ostracized even in the case of law-abiding behavior.

Despite the fact that no one can choose to be sexually attracted to children any more than one can choose to have depression or a bisexual orientation, the understanding and presentation of pedophilia by the public often implies a degree of deliberate evil that would attach to very few other conditions. The biggest confusion seems to lie in the failure to distinguish between having a particular condition and showing an overt behavior that might partially be caused by that condition. Although PWP are a highly diverse population, many people from the general public seem to assume that virtually none of them are capable or willing to cope with their sexual impulses in ways that do not cause harm to children.

Despite the fact that research on stigma effects on PWP is still at a very early stage, it is hard to imagine such a strong negative public response not having any negative effects on PWP. This dissertation broke new ground by investigating links between stigma-related stress and other adverse consequences for the individual with pedophilia (and, indirectly, also for children). More research is needed to substantiate the hypothesis that fear of discovery has a detrimental effect on PWP’s emotional and social level of functioning, with special care taken to clarify the causal nature of this phenomenon. It is possible that the prejudice and discrimination surrounding pedophilia are an important issue not only with respect to the human rights of individuals with pedophilia but also to children’s safety, which might indirectly be compromised by public stigma towards PWP.

These conclusions suggest that PWP have little reason to be hopeful in our society. Yet, as research from this dissertation has also uncovered, there is reason for tentative optimism. As one study showed, stigmatizing assumptions might be alleviated by developing and implementing anti-stigma interventions for mental health professionals, journalists, and other groups. Moreover, while this phenomenon needs yet to be explored in further detail, many PWP can be expected to have found ways to cope with the stigma surrounding their sexual interests, as has been documented for other stigmatized groups (e.g., people from the gay and lesbian community) as well.

With the Internet paving the way for researchers interested in the experiences of PWP drawn from community samples, there is also hope that the scientific community will become more and more familiar with portrayals of PWP that challenge common stereotypes.

 In a few years from now, the image of these individuals as deeply disturbed people primarily motivated by insatiable urges to engage in sexual activities with children may continue to falter, giving rise to innovative studies focusing on pedophilia as a phenomenon worthy of study in and of itself. 

If PWP from community settings become aware of researchers’ growing acceptance, this may boost their motivation to participate in studies. Such a development could in turn increase the feasibility and representativeness of many research endeavors dedicated to the study of pedophilia in a non-forensic context

This may set in motion a self-reinforcing process of de- stigmatization, growing interest in PWP’s experiences, and growing trust between researchers and PWP. In the wake of these new and promising developments, it remains to be seen whether researchers will overcome their blind spot and realize the merits of acknowledging and studying stigma against PWP - not least of all the potential to prevent child sexual offending.