Why might people experience sexual thoughts about children?

Research aimed at identifying the reasons why individuals commit sexual offences against children is largely based on those who have been convicted of such offences. There is little information available about individuals who have not committed offences but who are concerned about their sexual thoughts regarding children. This is likely to be due to many individuals not feeling able to seek help because of the guilt and fear associated with self-reporting.

However research has been undertaken on programmes aimed at treating the problems believed to be associated with committing sexual offences. The objective being to identify treatment targets designed to reduce recidivism (reoffending). This research indicates that four broad risk factor areas are related to sexual offence recidivism in individuals who have been convicted. It seems likely that the treatment targets of these programmes would also be of some benefit to non-offenders.

Sexual interests

  • Sexual preoccupation
  • Sexual preference for children
  • Prefering sex to include violence or humilitation
  • Other offence related sexual interests (paraphilias)

Offence supportive attitudes (that support offending behaviour)

  • Adversarial sexual beliefs (believing men should dominate women)
  • Sexual entitlement beliefs (having a right to sex)
  • Child abuse supportive beliefs
  • Women as deceitful – believing women cannot be trusted

Management of relationships

  • Feeling inadequate
  • Distorted intimacy balance – feeling more comfortable with children than adults
  • Grievance thinking – being suspicious and angry towards others
  • Not having emotionally intimate relationships with adults
  • External locus of control – belief that life is controlled by environmental factors that cannot be influenced

Self-management (coping and problem solving)

  • Impulsive, unstable lifestyle
  • Not knowing how to solve life’s problems
  • Out of control emotions or urges
  • Substance misuse
  • Anti-social lifestyle

Not all individuals who commit sexual offences have problems in each of these areas. Similarly it is likely that individuals who have sexual thoughts about children may have problems in some but not all of these areas. When assessing risk the existence of these factors is explored in the context of other wider issues which relate to the individual’s background experiences and current situation, attitudes and behaviour. The assessment process looks at how these different aspects interact, and considers a person’s strengths as well as the things that might make them vulnerable to re-offending.

For example, a person might have a very strong sexual preference for young children, but firmly believe that acting on such interests would be wrong. Furthermore, they may have people in whom they can confide and receive support. They would therefore have some strengths in the areas of ‘attitudes’ and ‘management of relationships’ to moderate the potential problems in ‘sexual interests’.

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