Pedophilia is a Mental Disorder

Sometimes in the news we hear about individuals, often men, looking for young boys or girls to molest. For every parent this creates anxiety and fear, and finding ways to protect children is essential. Hearing such stories often leads not only to fear, but questions. How could a person commit such acts against children? How can this violent and destructive behavior be conceptualized and addressed?

The sexual abuse of children by adult offenders is called pedophilia. Pedophilia is a mental disorder in which individuals experience satisfaction or pleasure through sexual activities or fantasies involving children. Usually the children are age 13 or younger. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR), these offenders usually seek children between the ages of 8 and 10 years. If the offenders are attracted to female victims, they usually prefer them between the ages of 8 and 10. Offenders looking for male victims often seek slightly older children. However, it is not uncommon to see individuals with pedophilia looking for boys or girls as young as age 3, 4 or 5.

Pedophilia is a very controversial illness, and most people view individuals with this disorder as criminals and wicked. However, there are others who say that these individuals need help and that mental health treatment is appropriate, even in a protected environment such as prison or jail.

Undoubtedly, the sexual assault of a child has serious consequences to the victim and the need for treatment is imminent. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that a total of 80,000 cases of child sexual abuse are reported each year, and the number of unreported cases is even greater. Sadly, most often the perpetrators of these acts are relatives and acquaintances.

Experiences of sexual abuse may prompt individuals to seek therapy from a mental health professional. Some of the effects seen in people who have experienced sexual abuse include posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, and other psychological disorders. Therapeutic support is available and highly recommended, as the psychological and emotional consequences of sexual abuse can be serious if not treated.

Although extremely controversial, there are several treatment approaches that can help perpetrators as well. Some mental health providers recommend the use of medication combined with talk therapies; either individual or group therapy.

Pedophilia is both a crime and a mental disorder. If you sense that you are experiencing sexual attraction or gratification towards children, please seek help immediately before harming others and/or yourself further. If you know someone who is exhibiting symptoms or behaviors of this disorder, report such behavior to authorities immediately as appropriate to help protect children. Reporting this behavior will not only help protect children but can also help ensure that the individual exhibiting such behavior receives treatment. Likewise, if you have experienced sexual abuse by an adult, seek therapeutic support from a mental health professional. Though pedophilia has devastating consequences for victims, perpetrators, and society, therapy can help individuals begin the process of recovery.

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