Stigma of pedophilia (Wikipedia archive)

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File:Todos contra a Pedofilia (4996631189).jpg
Brazilian senator displaying a t-shirt that reads "everyone against pedophilia" in the Federal Senate (2010).

The stigma of pedophilia is a form of social stigma or aversion directed toward pedophiles, i.e. people who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children.[1] It takes form in negative emotional reactions (disgust,[2] fear, loathing, hatred, etc.), punitive beliefs and stereotyping.[3]

Anti-pedophile stigma is a worldwide phenomenon.[4] Common sentiments toward pedophiles in the general population include those that they should be incarcerated or murdered, even if they have never committed any sexual offense.[5][6] Popular beliefs regarding pedophilia include those that pedophiles commonly engage with sexual activities with children,[7] that having a sexual attraction to children is something that one chooses for oneself[3][2] and that people with pedophilia are amoral.[8] People included under this category are popularly characterized as "evil, "monsters" and "fiends".[9] This type of stigma may also be extended to other minor-related chronophilic groups, such as hebephiles.[10]

The effects of anti-pedophile stigma among people sexually attracted to minors include the fear of being outed,[1] suicidal ideation,[11] self-loahting,[12] anxiety,[12] stigma-related stress, suppression of sexual thoughts, reduced wellbeing, the internalization of the stigma and reluctance to receive external help when needed.[10][13] Women who are sexually attracted to minors have reported feeling less social stigma than their male counterparts.[10]

Many researchers believe that this form of stigma is detrimental to the prevention of child sexual abuse because it obstructs at-risk pedophiles from coming out to seek mental health care before they potentially commit a sexual offense.[2][14][1] Owing to the recognition of the role of this type of stigma in the sexual victimization of children, as well as its implications for clinical and forensic professionals who provide mental health treatment for pedophiles, the prevalence and characteristics of anti-pedophile stigma became a topic of scientific research.[2]


Up to 2004, very few historical documentations of pedophilia and public sentiments toward to pedophiles have been produced, with Philip Jenkins's 1998 academic book Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America being an exception.[15] In 2013, a research led by Sara Jahnke identified the stigma of pedophilia as a "blind-spot" of contemporary stigma research and suggested several potentially relevant consequences of the widespread stigmatization of pedophiles.[16]

Research into the prevalence and characteristics of the social stigmatization of people with pedophilia started growing in the 2010's.[1][13][3][2] The growth of academic interest in this topic has been influenced by the recogniton of this form of stigma as detrimental to the prevention of child sexual abuse.[17]

Popular beliefs and attitudes

File:Graffiti Poznan Pedofilia.jpg
Anti-pedophile graffiti in Poland, 2011.

Common stereotypes about people with pedophilia include the beliefs that they are amoral,[8] dangerous or in control of their sexual desires.[2] People included in this group are also popularly characterized as "evil", "monsters" and "fiends".[9]

In a pair of joint studies, 14% and 28% of participants felt that it would be better if people with pedophilia were dead, even if they had never commited a sexual offense.[18][6] In the same surveys, 39% and 48% of participants believed that such people should be preemptively incarcerated.[6] In a 2018 study, participants considered a specific pedophilic person to be dangerous even after they were explicitly told by the researchers that the person in question has never and would never commit a sexual crime.[4]

In a 2004 survey, most participants agreed that pedophiles engaged in a variety of sexual (61% for kissing, 90% for fondling, 76% for having sex with) and nonsexual (70% for spending time with, 76% for talking to) activities with children. In the same study, 58% of participants agreed that pedophiles are evil. In another 2010 study, where participants were asked what came to their minds when they think of a pedophile, 68% mentioned "sexually abusing children" and only 11% of participants said that this might not necessarily be the case.[7]

Aside from the general public, pedophiles themselves can also internalize negative social attitudes against pedophilia.[13] Anti-pedophile sentiments have also been observed among mental health providers[19] and prison populations.[20]

Media coverage of pedophilia

File:Martin Van Maele - La Grande Danse macabre des vifs - 32.jpg
Illustration by Martin van Maële with subtitles that read: "Oh you old bastard, I will give you some good sweets." 1905.

Negative attitudes toward pedophiles have been amplified by the popular media.[4][21][3]

Several researchers have theorized that dehumanizing stereotypes have been brought up due to the way that the media presents sexual crimes. A 2017 study stated that, "when asked about 'sex offenders', many [people] are inclined to envision the media-proliferated stereotypical image of a violent, predatory male pedophile." Another 2015 research reported that British tabloid newspapers are particularly prone to using dehumanizing language ("monster", "beast", etc.) to describe sexual abusers, as well as labeling sex offenders as "pedophiles". The study concluded that these actions may be aggravating processes of moral disengagement against pedophiles among the general public.[3] A 2004 British study reported that 58% of participants agreed that the media had created a "witch-hunt" against pedophiles.[7]

A New Zealand study that analyzed 377 news articles regarding child sexual abuse published by three major newspapers over the course of a year found that those articles featured a very small input from experts of the field of child sexual abuse, with 15% featuring input from health professionals and 3% from academics.[22]

Despite the existence of stigmatizing mediatic portrayals of pedophilia and child sexual abuse, there are also evidence-based media reports concerning the treatment of pedophilic disorder and child sexual abuse prevention.[21]

Implications for sexual abuse prevention

Many sexologists and forensic practitioners believe that the stigma of pedophilia might increase the risk of sexual offending against children by, among other effects, damaging the mental health of people who are sexually attracted to minors or discouraging them from seeking mental health care before potentially committing an offense.[21]

Pedophiles and other groups of people who are attracted to children are hesitant to seek out mental health services due to fears of being judged by their providers or being reported to the police.[14] The guilt and shame, as well as the social stigma of pedophilia, can prevent those who are motivated for treatment from voluntarily seeking help.[18]

In a 2010 study, 40% of self-identified minor-attracted persons reported having wanted to seek mental health treatment, but 85% did not do so due to fears of being misunderstood.[18] Another study published in the same year reported that only 5% of its sample of German psychoterapists were willing to provide therapeutical help to pedophiles. In a 2015 survey conducted to mental health professionals, 80% of participants stated that they would not reject pedophile patients, provided that they had never commited a sexual crime.[2]

Mandatory reporting laws

In most U.S. states, social service providers (such as psychologists and social workers) have a duty to warn authorities that their patients pose an imminent danger to themselves or others. Those professionals are also subjected to a mandatory reporting requirements to child protective services if they believe that a child has been abused. These regulations may lead providers to interpret that they are mandated to report any patient that discloses that they are sexually attracted to children.[14]

Mandatory reporting laws also exist in Canada. According to James Cantor, the effect of mandatory reporting policies is that "many people simply don't come [to therapy] in the first place."[23]

Effects among people attracted to minors

The effects of social stigma among people sexually attracted to children include stigma-related stress, suppression of sexual thoughts, reducted wellbeing, internalization of the stigma, fear of being outed[1] and reluctance to receive external help when needed.[10][13]

A 2011 survey reported that people sexually attracted to children often start feeling intense feelings of stigma from an early age. Among the participants who answered the questions related to suicide, 46% reported seriously considered killing themselves, 32% had planned a method of carrying it out and 13% had attempted it.[24]


Pedohebephile females have reported experiencing less stigma than their male counterparts.[10]

In specific countries

United States

File:Wapello sign.jpg
Anti-sex offender sign in Wapello, Iowa.

In the U.S., child protection issues gained social prominence during the late 1980's and early 1990's, with the 1987 case of Earl Kenneth Shriner, who raped and mutilated a 6-year-old boy, the murder of Jacob Wetterling in 1990, the 1993 abduction and murder of Polly Klaas and the rape and murder of Megan Kanka. These cases caused a revival of sexual predator laws and civil commitment statutes, the enactment of sex offender registries in the United States, as well as the ratification of pedophile-free zones.[25]

See also


Further reading