Human sexuality is complex. Who we are attracted to, what we prefer to do, how we prefer to do it, and what drives our sexual behaviour varies from individual to individual. We know this to be true for adults who engage in consensual sex with each other. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the same holds true for adults who molest children. Yet, the public tends to view all child molesters as pedophiles. That is, they believe that all adults who molest children are sexually attracted to them. However, this is not the case. While some child molesters are pedophilic, others are not (Robertiello & Terry, 2007).
Pedophilic child molesters have a preferential sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. This preference may be exclusive (i.e., they are only sexually attracted to children who have not yet developed secondary sexual characteristics) or non-exclusive (i.e., they are sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children and adults). It is important to note here that not all pedophilic individuals act upon their sexual urges. Therefore, the terms pedophile and child molester are not synonymous.
Non-pedophilic child molesters are sometimes referred to as situational sex offenders because it may be particular circumstance that triggers their offending, rather than their sexual orientation. There are different types of situational offenders. For example, some situational offenders lack adequate relationships with adult partners. Consequently, they turn to children to fulfill their unmet emotional needs and, in the process, transgress into sexual activity. Others are hypersexual, opportunistic individuals for whom children are just another sexual outlet. Still others may molest children in times of great emotional distress when their thinking and judgment have become severely distorted and their normal coping skills overwhelmed.
Anyone working with child molesters, be it police, child protection workers, crown counsel, correctional staff, or mental health professionals needs to understand the variability in this population of sex offenders. Only then can we effectively investigate, prosecute, evaluate, and treat these offenders – all of which will enhance our ability to protect children.
Robertiello, G. & Terry, K.J. (2007). Can we profile sex offenders? A review of sex offender typologies. Aggression and Violent Behaviour. 12, 508-518.