Pedophilia in the Correctional System

By Musk, Henry; Swetz, Anthony et al. | Corrections Today, August 1997 | Go to article overview

Pedophilia in the Correctional System


Musk, Henry, Swetz, Anthony, Vernon, McCay, Corrections Today


No subject generates more strongly held opinions and fewer facts than pedophilia, not only in the correctional system but in society outside the walls. As their numbers grow, pedophiles begin to rep-resent a major issue for prisons. Between 1988 and 1990, the child molester population increased by 48 percent. Today, 43,522 child molesters are in state prisons. In some state systems, one-third of inmates are sex offenders, two-thirds of whom committed their crimes against children. The issue is far larger in society as a whole because 80 percent of convicted child molesters serve no prison time and therefore remain in the community. Very few of the remaining 20 percent receive sentences of more than one year.

What is Pedophilia?

Pedophilia is a sexual orientation, just like heterosexuality or homosexuality. It involves a sexual attraction to children, with an erotic arousal pattern and fantasy life centered on them. Just as males who prefer women as sexual partners do not choose to be this way, pedophiles do not ask to be sexually attracted to children. In fact, neither group has a choice. For most pedophiles, their condition is a curse which can destroy their lives, sometimes leading to decades of imprisonment. At other times, it ruins their careers, friendships and standings in the community.

The pedophile's sexual behavior is a heinous crime perpetrated against helpless victims, who in many cases, experience trauma and lasting psychological and interpersonal consequences. Just as no therapy is likely to change the sexual orientation of a woman who prefers a man, it is improbable that therapy will change the desire of a pedophile for a child.

Researchers know little about pedophilia's causes. Early sexual exposure, sexual abuse, certain biological pathologies (e.g. Klinefelter's syndrome or hermaphroditism), hormonal abnormalities, imprinting (the critical time in an animal's development when stimuli become capable of eliciting mate behavior), genetic defects, hypersexuality, specific mental illnesses and structural brain damage may be causes or contributing factors.

Common Traits

Pedophilia takes many forms, and there are different systems of classification for each. Pedophiles can be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or incestuous. Some prefer children within narrowly defined age ranges.

Incarcerated pedophiles come from all walks of life, including Nobel Prize winners, clergymen, teachers, Boy Scout leaders, members of Big Brothers, child psychologists, child psychiatrists, correctional officers in juvenile facilities, police officers, adult bookstore clerks, roofers, air conditioning mechanics, the unemployed, welfare recipients, ad infinitum. They vary tremendously in many other respects, too, such as personality dynamics, prognosis for treatment, types of sexual preferences among children, number of victims, education and criminal records. Recognizing this diversity, it is still possible to point out some traits that seem to be shared by a significant percentage of pedophiles.

Most have more than one area of sexual deviance, including such activities as voyeurism, frottage (robbing up against people), sadism, homosexual as well as heterosexual pedophilia, and rape. Child rapists and child sexual assaulters are less likely than other inmates to have a prior arrest record. In fact, one-third have no previous arrests.

Surprisingly, those who rape children receive an average sentence of 180 months, while those who rape adults receive sentences averaging 240 months. Similarly, the average inmate incarcerated for sexual assault on a child is sentenced to 132 months, in contrast to 185 months for someone who sexually assaults an adult. Some experts suggest that this happens because most (81 percent) of those who sexually assault children do not physically injure them in other ways, but instead use bribery and seduction to gain the child's trust.

Sixty to 80 percent of adult incarcerated pedophiles started acting on their pedophilia as juveniles. …

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