Vol. XXVIII, No. 2
Spring 2016
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In This Issue
Regular Features
Editor's Note
President's Message
FAQ
Risk of sexual recidivism among women: The importance of base rates
ATSA Forum Survey
Results from the ATSA Research Column Survey
Frequently Asked Questions Column
Featured Articles
Juvenile Sex Offender Registration: Its Relationship to Depression in Adulthood
What Does the General Public Know and Want to Know About Sex Offenders?
Help Wanted: Lessons on Prevention from Non-Offending Young Adult Pedophiles
A Meta-Change Maintenance Model: Effective Strategies to Maintain a Pro-Social Lifestyle
Students' Voice
An Examination of the Construct Validity of Hebephilia
Book Review
Open Dialogues and Anticipations: Respecting Otherness in the Present Moment
ATSA News
Call for ATSA Board Nominations
35th Annual Research and Treatment Conference
Update from the ATSA Adolescent Guidelines Committee
Research Awards and Grands
Call for Article Submissions
New ATSA Members
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Forum Team
David Prescott
Book Review Editor

Sarah Gorter
Production Editor

Forum Editor
Contact the editor or submit articles to:

Heather M. Moulden, Ph.D.
Forensic Program
St. Joseph's Healthcare
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
E: hmoulden@stjoes.ca
P: (905) 522-1155 ext. 35539
Help Wanted: Lessons on Prevention from Non-Offending Young Adult Pedophiles
Cierra Buckman, MHS
Amanda Ruzicka, MA
Ryan T. Shields, PhD

Recent research shows that adolescents are the perpetrators in about a third to a half of all child sexual abuse (CSA) cases (Finkelhor et al., 2014, Finkelhor, et al., 2009), and in some, but not all, of these cases, the adolescents were motivated by an attraction to young children.  Adolescents who are attracted to prepubescent children, but have not offended, have very few resources or mental health assistance available to help them manage their attractions. As a result, many of these adolescents become isolated from their families, peers, and communities, and often struggle with their developing acknowledgement of their attraction and what it means for their future. The “Help Wanted” study was created as the first step in the development of a public health prevention intervention to help non-offending youth manage their attractions to prepubescent children and lead more fulfilling lives. 

Background

Emerging research is exploring the prevalence and etiology of pedophilia. Some research on adults indicates that between 1-3% of men, (or approximately 1.18 million to 3.54 million U.S. men), are sexually attracted to prepubescent children (Seto, 2008).  This attraction develops at an early stage, perhaps in utero (Blanchard et al., 2000, Blanchard et al., 2007, Cantor et al., 2007) and typically emerges at the same time as gender preferences become clear – that is, in early adolescence.  There is also some evidence that serious head injuries sustained during childhood (i.e., prior to age 13) may be associated with adult sexual interest in children. Despite the fact that an attraction to children may be more akin to an unwanted affliction than a choice, individuals who voice their attraction are often viewed as monsters that are unwilling and unable to change, whether or not they have an offense history. Little is known about the prevalence and development of pedophilia[1] in adolescents, especially in those who have not offended.  Research in this area is a necessary first step in identifying ways to help non-offending youth manage their attractions, as well as further to the prevention of CSA. 

Luke Malone, a journalist studying at Columbia University, recognized the need to learn more about adolescents and young adults who identify as “non-offending pedophiles”. This led him to meet and interview a young man, “Adam” who is sexually attracted to young children, and this meeting informed his award-winning podcast for This American Life, also titled, "Help Wanted”.  “Adam” described his adolescence as being characterized by loneliness, isolation, self-loathing, depression and fear.  The "Help Wanted" podcast and subsequent article on Medium.com further highlighted the lack of scientific literature and resources for adolescents with a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Malone’s pieces featured Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, a longtime ATSA member and a public health researcher who has worked to effectively address CSA victimization and perpetration.

Although it’s been nearly two years since Malone’s “Help Wanted” podcast aired, Dr. Letourneau still continues to receive emails, letters, and phone calls from adults, young adults, and youth (as well as their family members) looking for guidance on how to manage their attractions.  Many of the adolescents and young adults who contacted Dr. Letourneau were desperate to find help either online or in person, but could find nothing.  Some were turned down by counselors and therapists who claimed that there was no help available and warned them that admitting their attraction to children could cause them to be reported to the authorities.  The stigma and shame surrounding an attraction to younger children, the fear of being reported to the authorities, and the lack of availability of mental health assistance forces many of these adolescents to manage their attraction in isolation.  Consequently, very little is known about how young people with an attraction to prepubescent children navigate adolescence.

To address this important knowledge gap in CSA, members of the ATSA Collaborative Project, led by Dr. Letourneau, created a timeline for the development of a public health prevention intervention aimed at adolescents who realize they have a sexual interest in young, prepubescent children.  The current “Help Wanted” study was created as the first step – by interviewing young adults (ages 18-30) to establish a clearer understanding of (a) the impact of adolescents’ attraction to prepubescent children on their own adolescence; (b) effective coping strategies adolescents have used to avoid acting on their attraction to prepubescent children; and (c) additional resources that could have made it easier for participants to manage their attraction to prepubescent children and to navigate adolescence and young adulthood.

Methodology

The “Help Wanted” study consists of two parts:  an anonymous qualitative phone or computer-based (i.e., Skype or Google Hangout) interview and a brief anonymous online quantitative survey, taking about an hour and ten minutes to complete, respectively.  Participants consist of individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 (inclusive), who have self-identified as having an attraction to prepubescent children during their adolescence and are fluent in English.  We chose these perimeters to limit recall bias and to make sure that the culture and advancements that modern youth grow up with would be more closely reflected. For the purpose of this study, we have defined prepubescent children as those 12 and younger and adolescents as those ages 12 to 17.

Study staff distributed a recruitment flyer to individuals who have contacted Dr. Letourneau in response to the “Help Wanted” podcast and article, and to online self-help groups (e.g., Virtuous Pedophiles).  The recruitment script provides interested and eligible participants with a website where they can use a non-identifying email address to sign up for an interview time.  The qualitative interviews are audio recorded and transcribed before being examined for emerging themes.  A link and password to complete the online quantitative survey are provided to participants at the completion of the qualitative interview.

During the qualitative interviews, trained interviewers ask participants questions with the goals of developing a prevention intervention as well as obtaining general information that would be informative to individuals working with this population of youth and young adults. Question domains include:  peers and family, describing the attraction, how the attraction affected their childhood, addressing the attraction, and addressing the needs of adolescents attracted to children. The post-interview online quantitative survey asks participants more detailed demographic information as well as items from the Adverse Childhood Experiences scale. We have currently completed 13 interviews, and recruitment remains ongoing. Below, we summarize emerging themes from our first three interviews, which were presented at last year’s ATSA Conference in Montreal (Appendix A).  

Preliminary Results

Our initial review of the interview transcripts focused on broad, generalizable themes to help our team identify important areas to probe on in future interviews. While our sample of participants varies across nationality, age, exclusivity of attraction, and sexual preferences, trends are emerging among them. The preliminary analyses have led our team to probe for further information on each of the following topics: harmful labels, need for role models, and barriers to therapy.

Labels are Harmful

One theme that emerged from our interviews was that participants struggle with how they are viewed in society. They reported feeling as though society will always judge them based on their attractions, rather than their actions. During some of their most formative years, participants noted that the only feedback they received from society was that they would never amount to anything; they were essentially destined to become criminals who harm children. One participant phrased it as, “...the only thing you hear about pedophiles is that they’ve been sent to jail for acting on a horrible crime. It’s easy to fall into the belief that that’s inevitable, and that’s what you’re expected to do...” This idea of inevitability continues to make it challenging for our participants to remain hopeful about having a fulfilling life. Furthermore, not only did participants seem to be aware of this ‘ticking time bomb’ concept, but they also faced the societal perception of what it means to be a pedophile. While the term “pedophile” holds many negative connotations and stereotypes in our culture, it often comes with an even worse accompanying label: monster. As another participant conveyed it, “I would never do anything [to harm a child], but...society just accepts that it [the attraction] makes me a monster. Regardless of action, regardless of anything...I’m a monster.” Though they grappled with these labels as adolescents, many rose above the negative mentality and found that while the attraction might be frustrating and isolating at times, it was manageable. Through their newfound hope, participants reported being able to recognize the distinctions between themselves and the offenders often associated with their attraction. One participant recognized that “…children are not best served if we remain mired in myth and sort of bogeyman stories.” To help these youth, one of the many challenges we must overcome is the common rhetoric and labeling used by society, the media, and ourselves.

Regardless of the way news and social media portray pedophiles, being a pedophile and being a child molester are not one and the same. A participant emphasized, “Having these attractions doesn’t mean that you have to act on them. You can be a pedophile and not be a child molester. It’s the most important thing for [adolescents] to learn.”

Role Models are Needed

Beyond negative labeling, participants struggled to find others, like them, who have successfully managed their attractions and lead happy, healthy lives. This lack of role models made it incredibly difficult for participants to find hope. As adolescents, participants worried about whether they could maintain committed relationships, if they could have families, and if they could ever be open with their loved ones. When many of their peers had stellar mentors and parents to confide in and model, our participants saw their fate as a slow decent into criminality and harmful behavior, ultimately, becoming what society rumored they would become. “There was nothing from the cultural sphere to encourage me to believe that you could be a decent person, irrespective about who turns you on,” a participant claimed. Another participant commented, “There’s nobody to talk to about that [the attraction] for a teenager. You can’t tell your parents. You can’t tell your teacher, your community...there’s no support for them.” The lack of support and role models lead many adolescents into internal and external isolation and degeneration, which compounded feelings of depression and the inevitability of committing an offense, feelings that could have been abated with examples of how to deal with the attraction in a safe way and examples of others who successfully manage their attractions to children. 

Participants found connecting with fellow pedophiles, who were also committed to not harming children, especially helpful in bridging the gap they felt in their interpersonal relationships. These connections allowed them to glean insight into the lives of others who had successfully managed their attractions and gave them hope for their own futures. Online self-help groups, such as “Virtuous Pedophiles,” have been particularly helpful in allowing youth to see that they are not alone and that many others suffer from the same attractions.

Barriers to Getting Help

One of the primary aims of the “Help Wanted” study is to learn more about effective coping strategies participants have used to manage their attraction to children.  Discussion around this topic uncovered one major commonality amongst our participants – they shared barriers to receiving help with their attraction.  These barriers included cost, confidentiality, and finding therapists who are proficient in working with individuals with this attraction.  One participant remarked, “Therapy? It’s pretty expensive. I’ve never gone to therapy...” For youth who realize they are attracted to children during middle school or early high school, they likely do not have the financial resources to pay for therapy on their own.

Participants who did seek out therapy refrained from disclosing their attraction to the therapist, instead seeking therapy for related problems (i.e., depression, anxiety, emotional isolation).  With fear of parents being told, or worse, law enforcement being informed, participants refrained from establishing an open relationship with their therapist.  “If [the therapist] would have presented himself as somebody I could talk to that wouldn’t go out and tell my parents everything...I don’t know how he could have done that but bottom line, I didn’t trust him.”

Parental consent was also a big deterrent to seeking help. As a participant pointed out, “I think therapy should be available also for minors themselves because you realize that you have this attraction before you grow up and you're a child yourself when you realize you have that attraction.” Since the age of consent varies and in many places and often does not align with early adolescence, when attractions begin to develop, many youth may realize they have the attraction before reaching the age of majority, and are therefore unable to receive help without parental involvement.

Therapist knowledge about attractions and how to manage them is another issue that arose from participants. One participant explained, “I’ve been looking at therapists for a while and had actually taken the plunge and told a few people about this, a few therapists. None of them had any idea what to do about it, or had no experience.” Nothing seems worse than an adolescent finally seeking help for the attraction and overcoming the cost, parental consent, and trust issues only to find that the therapist isn’t equipped to help them.

Conclusion

Although the themes presented here were only developed from preliminary analyses, several consistent themes emerged:  labels are harmful, role models are needed, and barriers to getting help.  Through these interviews, we have learned a number of steps that could improve the lives of adolescents living with an attraction to children, while helping them to better manage their attractions: educating society about attractions, thus removing harmful labels; providing helpful role models; and providing access to affordable, confidential therapists who are adept at helping adolescents living with an attraction to young children. 

Future qualitative interviews will involve more in-depth questions surrounding these themes. We hope to gain additional information about the best ways to implement the changes necessary to allow  adolescents who are sexually attracted to children to better manage their attractions while navigating the challenges outlined in these themes.  The “Help Wanted” study will continue with an additional 17 interviews. As new themes emerge, we will continue to flesh them out with probes and guided questions. We may explore such differences as exclusive and non-exclusive attractions, female and male pedophiles, and adolescent experiences. After all the interviews have been transcribed, they will be coded by two team members and further analyzed.

While this study remains ongoing, our understanding of the issues faced by adolescents with a sexual attraction to children is already notably broadened. We have been pleasantly surprised by how forthcoming our participants have been with sensitive topics such as describing their sexual preferences and the difficult emotions they have faced as an adolescent with an attraction to young children. Through continued conversations with non-offending pedophiles and the ATSA collaborative, we hope to make the conversation surrounding pedophilia a more positive one and develop a universal prevention intervention to help youth experience a fulfilling adolescence, while successfully managing an attraction to young children. 

Recruitment for this study remains on-going.  We are particularly interested in young adults who have not committed sexual offenses and are committed to not harming children. Participants must be between 18 and 30 years old, fluent in English, and developed their attraction during or prior to their adolescence. Participation is entirely anonymous and voluntary. If you or a colleague has a client that is eligible to participate, please refer them to our study website: http://www.jhsph.edu/helpwantedstudy or have them reach out to our research team directly at MooreCenter.JHSPH@gmail.com

References

Blanchard, R., Kolla, N., Cantor, J., Klassen, P., Dickey, R., Kuban, M., & Blak, T. (2007). IQ, Handedness, and Pedophilia in Adult Male Patients Stratified by Referral Source. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 285-309.

Blanchard, R., Klassen, P., Dickey, R., Kuban, M., & Blak, T. (n.d.). Sensitivity and specificity of the phallometric test for pedophilia in nonadmitting sex offenders. Psychological Assessment, 118-126.

Cantor, J., Kuban, M., Blak, T., Klassen, P., Dickey, R., & Blanchard, R. (2007). Physical Height in Pedophilic and Hebephilic Sexual Offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 395-407.

Finkelhor, D, Ormrod, R., & Chaffin, M. (December, 2009). Juveniles who commit sexual offenses against minors. Juvenile Justice Bulletin (1-12). U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/227763.pdf

Finkehlor, D., Shattuck, A., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2014). The lifetime prevalence of child sexual abuse and sexual assault assessed in late adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health.

Malone, L. (2014, August 11). You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now? Medium.

Seto, M. (2008). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment, and intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.



[1] We use the clinical diagnostic term “pedophilia” with reluctance when describing teens; however, this is the language that has been adopted by many of the young people with whom we have spoken.


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