3.2.5 Reconstructing Paedophilia
an analysis of current discourses and the construct of close relationships
Thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Science at the University of Stellenbosch
Supervisor: Mr C. Petty
Given here are the Abstract and Chapter 9, Conclusion.
[Page 3] There is a growing need for research to facilitate a better understanding of paedophilia. This study aims to make a contribution in this regard by providing an analysis of current discourses in paedophilia research as well as a phenomenological exploration of how the male paedophile constructs his close relationships with children.
Analysis reveals how the dominant positivist approach to paedophilia research embeds and perpetuates moral and often prejudicial positions that in turn influence the validity of empirical findings and theory, and tend to marginalise contradictory evidence.
In an attempt to circumvent these obstacles, it is argued that the psychological need to form close relationships is a universal one. On this basis the central components of close relationships are presented as a conceptual framework. These components are then applied to an exploratory phenomenological investigation and analysis of the ways in which three paedophilic men interpret, understand and construct their relationships with children.
Tentative conclusions include the suggestion that, since there was strong evidence that the participants constructed their relationships with children in terms of the constructs of close relationships, the framework of close relationships is useful for separating the psychological needs of paedophiles from 'deviant sexual behaviour'.
Furthermore, it appears that the framework opens a discursive space in which the psychological dimensions of paedophilia may be problematised in ways that are less susceptible to implicit prejudice and bias, and therefore empirically more sound. The implications hereof for research, theory and psychotherapeutic intervention in the area of paedophilia are discussed briefly.
It aimed to do so by
This study began by outlining and analyzing current theories and approaches to paedophilia both in terms of their paradigmatic underpinnings and their specific content.
The analysis suggested that, due to their implicit moral and deterministic nature, underlying positivist assumptions might partially be to blame for the apparent impasse in generating theory on paedophilia.
In an attempt to address these issues, the alternative framework of the close relationship was presented. In applying it to the qualitative data gathered from three convicted paedophiles, it emerged that the forming of paedo-relationships is informed and motivated by expectations that their psychological needs for close relationship could be met with a child.
There was strong evidence to suggest that paedophiles experience the same universal psychological needs for forming close relationships as anyone else and that, from the paedophile' s perspective, these needs are more likely to be met in a relationship with a child, than with an adult.
As pointed out, the participants' experiences of paedo-relationships
could be viewed as unstoried knowledges [not told knowledge] as they
evidently experienced an acute lack of legitimate social narrative by
which they could express their experience. This then manifests in the
attempt to draw on fundamentally incompatible social discourses and
resulting confused and often cognitively convoluted personal narratives
such as marriage and family or criminality and pathology. It appears
that the framework of the close relationship might serve as a tool to
assist in the narrating and understanding of these
This study did not attempt to provide etiological explanations or to
answer why a paedophile prefers a child in close relationships. The
question "why?" evokes the need to search for an answer,
cause, or an excuse (Jenkins, 1990). Instead, the study is an attempt to
ask how and what it is to be in a close relationship with a child,
thereby minimizing the need for self-justificatory explanation on
This fundamental position could also be extended to the area of psychotherapeutic intervention with paedophiles. Acknowledging wrongdoing and taking full responsibility have been central to therapeutic interventions for sexual offenders (Jenkins, 1990). However, taking responsibility in an authentic manner is a slow and painful process (Van Greunen, Kotze, & Kotze, 2001).
As demonstrated in this study, the positivist underpinnings of most current therapeutic interventions for paedophilia contain moral, social, legal and pathological assumptions. These assumptions reinforce splitting (McLean, 1996), psychological conflict and tension, and the psyche-fragmentation noted during treatment. As the paedophile has no other cognitive framework for processing his experience, he cannot feel heard or understood, and his psychological needs remain unmet. This, consequently, may decrease the chance of effective, lasting behavioural change.
The themes and interpretations offered in this study might contribute to supportive therapeutic strategies. I would like to draw attention to the nonnative nature of the identified themes
As such, these themes may enable the paedophile to relate to normative ideas and concepts. This could aid his process of creating a personal narrative from his experiences.
Key to the issue of normative concepts would be the creation of a platform where the paedophile can approach and acknowledge his psychological needs as well as his ego-systonic and ego-dystonic behaviour. Once acceptance, acknowledgement and integration have occurred, the freedom of choice and change becomes more possible. Constructive strategies may then be developed and employed to create different scripts and mechanisms for meeting his psychological needs.
the discourse of close relationship and themes provided in this study might contribute to less dualistic and more supportive therapeutic approaches. This will enable the therapist to explore with the paedophile how he experiences his paedo-relationships and to support him in acknowledging possible psychological conflict before, during and after the relationship.
Consequently, the therapist and paedophile can work together to
integrate the simultaneously arousing and distressing needs and emotions
he previously has had to manage with limited cognitive and interpersonal
resources. Ultimately, these approaches could contribute to the way in
which we communicate with and treat any perceived 'deviant' phenomenon
in our society.
A limitation of the current study was that all three participants were convicted and incarcerated male child sexual offenders, and were thus unrepresentative of the general population of paedophiles (Cossins, 2000; Howitt, 1995).
As a qualitative study, no attempt was made to generalize to a population. However, the participants had all been subjected to therapeutic programmes such as the "sexual offenders group", which could have influenced their authentic perceptions and account of their experiences.
In addition, a larger sample could enhance the validity of themes from the data. The emergent need for additional data to test the usefulness of close relationship as a framework allows me to conclude in support of Levett's (2004) request for more stories of paedophiles' experiences, as they will give us access to