Recent figures show that online images of children being sexually abused have exploded over the past year. But who is fueling this sickening epidemic? What kind of person enjoys seeing horrific crimes committed against the most vulnerable members of our society - our children?
Researchers piecing together the facts are uncovering some surprising truths - and debunking some widely held myths.
Myth: People choose to become paedophiles
Fact: Paedophilia is a largely biological condition
Experts studying the psychology of paedophilia say most offenders have one thing in common: their sexual preferences get stalled at an early stage of development, and never mature.
Why this happens remains a mystery. But scientists are convinced the “preference” is not actually a choice but a biologically based condition with roots in prenatal development.
Observes Dr. Fred Berlin, director of the US-based Johns Hopkins Sex and Gender Clinic, “People don’t choose what arouses them - they discover it. No one grows up wanting to be a paedophile.”
Myth: Paedophiles have usually been abused themselves as children
Fact: The vast majority of offenders deny this
Those charged with paedophilia may look to get sympathy from judges and juries by claiming they were victims, too. But the evidence shows otherwise.
According to a recent New York Times investigation, “Child victims are at far greater risk of future substance abuse, depression, persistent traumatic stress or criminal aggression than of becoming molesters.”
“Child victims are at far greater risk of future substance abuse, depression, persistent traumatic stress or criminal aggression than of becoming molesters.”
Myth: Only a small fraction of those who collect child porn will actually commit abuse
Fact: New evidence shows more than half have molested children in the real world
Until recently, experts believed that only five to 20 percent of people caught viewing child pornography also committed physical abuse. That view has now changed.
One study based on the confessions of 155 online offenders found that 85 percent had raped or otherwise sexually abused children - although this sample was drawn from convicts that had sought out therapy.
Research now shows that paedophiles share certain physical characteristics suggesting the condition is biologically based. (image source: nbcphiladelphia.com/news)
But other studies have supported the finding that many more online offenders are also offline offenders. In one, only admitted to molesting children in the physical world.
But once they were followed up with lie-detectors and other in-depth interview techniques the figure rose to nearly 60 percent.
Myth: Paedophilia is untreatable
Fact: Treatment is difficult but can be successful
While individuals do not appear to “choose” to be paedophiles - they can definitely choose to commit to treatment to manage their compulsions and to ensure that they don’t cross the line to real-life sex with children.
Treatment can include drug therapy to inhibit testosterone production, substance-abuse interventions - 40 percent of sex offenders use drugs or alcohol while committing crimes - and software that filters online browsing.
Want to learn more? Watch Family Zone cyber expert and former internet detective Brett Lee as he takes you inside the mind of a predator.