When we hear a term as controversial as Paedophilia, there can be a justified confusion in understanding the very crux of it. Some consider paedophilia to be a crime, some think it is another evil sexual fantasy, some call it child molestation or child abuse and some just don't know enough about it.
What exactly is Paedophilia?
Paedophilia, an outright taboo topic that is very rarely discussed by people, is important to be understood. According to Harvard Health Publishing, paedophilia is the sexual attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty. It is classified as a paraphilia, a mental disorder or condition characterised by abnormal sexual desires that typically involve extreme or dangerous activities. After years of study and research on the pedophilic tendencies and behaviour, it has been found that there is no effective treatment for paedophilia just like any other sexual orientation. With no cure available for this disorder, we can only prevent unfortunate harm to children by protecting them. But how do we know if this is a mental disorder?
Paedophilia is considered a paraphilic disorder. Studies show that paraphilias are when an individual is suffering from frequent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies or behaviours that involve inanimate objects, children or non-consenting adults, or suffering or humiliation of oneself or the partner. It is a condition in which a person's sexual arousal and gratification depend on fantasizing about and engaging in sexual behaviour that is atypical and extreme. Paraphilic disorders thus cause distress and problems in the everyday functioning of the person having the condition or may harm another person. Similarly, paedophilia involves having sexual urges and a sexual preference for a prepubescent child. The individual having such sexual arousal for children tends to act on these urges, causing grave harm to them. Performing any such sexual activity that harms another being, is identified as a mental illness or mental disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a number of publications by the American Psychiatric Association for the classification of mental disorders using a common language and standard criteria. Paedophilia is included in this collection along with mental disorders like bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and other sexual disorders. DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR define paedophilia as "recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviours involving activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally 13 years or younger)." These feelings urges, or behaviours must persist for at least 6 months.
What counts as a pedophilic behaviour?
We learn about the sexual preference of a person by learning about their sexual orientation. An individual's sexual orientation is their identity in relation to the gender to which they are romantically or sexually attracted. When the sexual arousal, urges, fancies and fantasies of a person are intended for children, typically under the age of 13 (as that is the age for when an average adolescent starts experiencing puberty), it is classified as pedophilic sexual orientation. These individuals may have sexual desire for young boys, young girls or both. A Pedophile may simultaneously be attracted to both children as well as adults.
Watching child pornography considered to be pedophilic behaviour or not has been extensively debated upon. Consuming any amount of child pornographic content is thought to be not only unethical but also an abominable source of pleasure for paedophiles. The morality of such an act is under question, but not conclusively settled.
It has been argued that popular films like Call me by your name and Lolita, glorified as heart-wrenching love stories, are evidently normalising pedophilic tendencies and behaviour, in a way decriminalising the pedophilic behaviour which is fraudulent and dishonourable.
How can Paedophilia be diagnosed?
Indulgence in any kind of sexual activity that is non-consensual is an offence in the eyes of the law. Committing any such acts, as per a paedophile's sexual desire, is detrimental for the children. Any such harm caused to any child by an adult is called child abuse. Child abuse includes abuse that is caused by intentionally injuring them mentally, physically or sexually. A paedophile's sexual contact with children can be called child molestation or child rape. Those suspected or caught committing such an offence, are termed as sexual offenders and hold them as punishable by law in most countries.
According to DSM-IV, paedophiles can be diagnosed even in the absence of any pedophilic behaviour. Because of the potential legal risks of reporting one's pedophilic tendencies and inclinations, the majority of paedophiles are only diagnosed when convicted of committing any sexual offence. The research on this disorder is conducted with participants who are already identified as having the pedophilic disorder. Experts estimate that only one in 20 cases of child sexual abuse is reported. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows only 1.6 per cent (sixteen out of one thousand) of children between the ages of 12 and 17 were victims of rape and sexual assault. It remains unclear how prevalent paedophilia is in the general population. Research on convicts may not apply to people with pedophilic tendencies who live without detection in the community or suffer silently while controlling their impulses.
According to the DSM-5, the following criteria must be met to officially diagnose Pedophilic disorder in an individual:-
- Recurrent, intrusive thoughts and intense sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviours that involve sexual activity with a prepubescent child for a period of at least 6 months.
- The individual has acted upon these sexual desires or has caused significant distress or impairment in the person's social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
- The person is at least 16 years old and is at least five or more years older than the child in the first category. However, this does not include an individual involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a 12 or 13-year-old.
The diagnosis of pedophilic disorder should mainly specify whether the individual is exclusively attracted to children or not, the gender that the individual is attracted to, and whether the sexual urges are limited to incest.
How to manage Pedophilic disorder?
As discussed before, there is no cure or a full proof of effective treatment for this disorder. However, clinicians have a few techniques to manage the issue at hand.
- Psychotherapy is primarily used to treat paedophilia, which incorporates the techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The main intention of the therapy is to enable the patient to recognise and overcome rationalisations about their behaviour. The therapy may involve empathy training and techniques in sexual impulse control. The most common type of cognitive-behavioural therapy used with sex offenders, known as Relapse Prevention, is based on addiction treatment. Relapse prevention is intended to help the patient anticipate situations that increase the risk of sexually abusing or assaulting a child and to find ways to avoid or more productively respond to them. Aversive Conditioning or Aversive Therapy, a method that aims at associating a pedophilic fantasy or desire with an unpleasant sensation such as nausea, an electric shock, or a bad smell, was once popular.
- A potential Drug Treatment that suppresses the production of the male hormone testosterone, is used to reduce the frequency or intensity of sexual desire. It may take three to 10 months for testosterone suppression to reduce sexual desire. It requires regular follow-ups to make sure of the dosage and hormone production.
Prevention of child abuse
Most children who suffer from childhood sexual abuse, do not realise that they have been abused until they are adults. It so happens due to the lack of awareness, education and protection of these children. In a world where the rate of crimes cannot be controlled, the education of each individual is instrumental in the prevention of child abuse. From parental guidance, school provided seminars and sex education, to volunteering in awareness programmes and reporting possible signs of abuse, all of it are important to safeguard the children who may find the victims of sexual abuse.