In the last article, we explained how a sexual preference differs from a sexual behaviour, and that many people with a sexual attraction towards children refrain from acting on this preference.
In this article, we talk about how stigma can increase the risk of sexual offending and explain how stigma is associated with sexual offending. Let us begin with an example: X is a 15 year old boy who realises that he is sexually attracted towards children. Would you be willing to engage in a small conversation with him? Would you like to be friends with X? Or do you think X is dangerous and it would be better to maintain some distance from him?
If your answer to the first two questions was No, you may have attitudes similar to many people. Many people have similar answers to these questions. Have you ever thought that the views that we hold about people with pedophilia (PWP) can have an impact on them?
Let’s go back to the example of X introduced in the beginning of this article. He realizes that he is sexually attracted to children. The word ‘pedophile’ comes to his mind. All he ever read about “pedophiles” is that they are ‘monsters’ and an enemy of society. He might even start to believe that, sooner or later, he will inevitably act on his attraction. With the sexual attraction towards children being a societal taboo to discuss, he would be discouraged to confide even in his close friends and family. He would probably try to isolate himself from others and strive hard to keep his sexual preference a secret because of fear of rejection. He might be too scared to seek professional help, even for his emotional problems (if not for his distress because of his sexual attraction). This might lead to further problems such as mood disorders, anxiety and/or substance abuse disorders. Factors like loneliness or substance abuse can increase the vulnerability for sexual offending and this is how the stigma can not only be unjust but also indirectly harmful.
Research has shown that people generally have a strong negative attitude toward PWP1. Often, PWP are perceived as ‘monsters’ who are a threat to society and should be punished. Furthermore, the general public is of the opinion that PWP could change their attraction towards adults if they wanted to. They express feelings of anger, disgust, and hostility towards PWP. These kinds of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions of the general public stigmatise PWP.
PWP may find it difficult to seek professional help because of the fear of being judged, doubts about the professional’s understanding of their problem, and concerns related to not receiving ethical treatment. Thus there are very few options available for those in need. However, it is important they seek help from the right people.
In short, stigma can increase the risk of sexual offending.
In the next blog, we will talk about the risk factors for sexual offending.
1. Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R., & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigmatization of people with pedophilia: Two comparative surveys. Archives of sexual behavior, 44(1), 21-34.
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