My original intention for this essay was to research the effects of stigma on the most vulnerable amongst us – young persons in the process of realising that they may be paedophiles.
Searches for relevant studies have turned up nothing that properly addresses this issue.
There are some scientific papers that address the more general issue of ‘paedophilia and stigma’. But these feel distant and unfocused, as if the researchers were investigating the psychology of insects and making generalisations whose sole purpose is to stop the chitinous critters eating the furniture. The purport of these papers generally amounts to little more than recommendations that paedophiles have better access to therapy.
This lacuna in the research literature can be explained partly by the fear of Courtesy Stigma which makes researchers, faculties, funding bodies and publishers reluctant to engage with this subject on any but the most hostile terms; and partly because, in the popular mind, describing paedophiles as ‘stigmatised’ is to commit a category error: the attribution of stigma is predicated on the stigma being seen as in some way ‘undeserved’ or ‘excessive’. If society perceives a group’s or individual’s stigmatisation as deserved, then what they suffer is not ‘Stigma’ but ‘Justice’. After all, was Rudolf Hess being ‘stigmatized’ by his trial at Nuremberg?
On finding so little useful research I set aside my original intention and instead started work on another essay, part of which required me to investigate the effects of stigma not on paedophile youth, but on homosexual youth.
There is, not surprisingly, an embarras de choix of studies on this subject. And, surprisingly, these studies have taught me more about the stigmatisation of paedophile youth than have the few existing studies that actually focus on paedophiles and stigma. Compared to paedophile studies these have an exhilarating ‘graininess’ to them that comes from an proper engagement with their subjects as human beings, not merely as vectors of a problem. They treat Stigma as an evil in itself, not (as is the case with paedophile studies) a problem only insofar as it increases the bearer’s risk of offending.
The instruction that these studies has provided hasn’t, however, been spoon-fed or linear. Rather they have confronted me with a multitude of considerations that escape the radar of paedophile studies – romance, friendship, role models, culture, happiness, school curricula and policy…
I have hesitated about how best to share all this with you. I have tried to smelt and isolate the paedophile-related insights from the LGB ore. But the resulting text lacked the urgency and impact of my original perceptions. The comparative perspective allows one to gauge the size and shape of the problem: society acknowledges that LGB discrimination is a mountain. But a little inductive wind directed at the clouds beyond this mountain reveals another mountain whose immensity makes the ‘LGB-stigma mountain’ look like a valley – the mountain of paedophile-stigma.
One becomes the measure of the other. Anyone who climbs the smaller mountain will be in a better position to experience the sublime terror proper to the greater mountain. With this in mind I have decided to show you this mountain by taking you along the route by which I discovered it. That way you can make your own observations, inferences and extrapolations, and draw your own conclusions.
But first I’d like to alert the reader to a couple of caveats, and also outline the factors that determine the age at which young people can become subject to paedophilia-related stigma.
Tom O’Carroll has alerted me to a significant sampling error in the LGB youth studies. In Tom’s words:
“the surveys of LGB youth are bound to include a number of participants who are actually child-oriented, especially men who are B[oy] L[over]s. It is to be expected that these hidden participants disproportionately contribute to the reported levels of depression, suicidality, etc. They are hidden [because] no one is keen to ask questions that would reveal their politically unwelcome presence.”
Tom then goes on, in this private message, to give a startling instance of a researcher refusing to factor in the existence of paedophile youth in a study that aims to include all sexual minorities – a refusal that persisted even after the size of the paedophile population was made clear to him, and how such an omission would weaken the validity of his study (for a more details of this ‘exchange’ see Tom’s comment below).
Given the homophilic social context of these ‘LGB’ studies, and so long as ‘P’ is excluded when thinking about LGBT+ youth, it is likely that some, maybe most, of the stigma-damage they pick up is in truth damage endured by paedophile youth.
There is a second room-filling elephant the sight of which we should never lose: you will find no references in these studies to the (fear of) prosecution of LGB youth; and few to harassment or persecution at the hands the legal system or its agents.
Engaging in intimacy with peers of your own sex and the accessing of gay/lesbian porn are both legal in the societies where these studies were conducted. And questioning or challenging homophobia is also relatively risk-free.
Compare this to the condition of paedophile youth: it is highly illegal to engage in even the mildest consensual intimacy with someone they love, as is accessing erotic material. It is also difficult and effectively illegal to seek out the society of those to whom they are attracted. And the consequences of just questioning or challenging paedophobia can be more grievous than those of actually committing certain serious crimes.
Studies into homosexuality conducted in the 1940s and 50s, when it was still illegal, would better represent the intensity and institutional nature of the stigmatisation of paedophilia today; as would contemporary studies conducted in societies where superstition and ignorance still fuel a hatred of homosexuality as intense as (and even more lethal than) the hatred of paedophiles in WEIRD societies. Such societies see stigmatisation not as a problem but as a solution to the problem of the ‘aberrant’ sexuality.
the onset of stigma
In the my previous post on stigma I mentioned two factors that determine the age at which a person can become subject to paedophilia-related stigma:
Firstly, the desirer must have reached an age at which society is willing to consider them as having sexual preferences: generally puberty. To attribute a chronophilia to a child before then would implicitly violate society’s taboo against child sexuality.
Secondly, the desirer’s age must have pulled away from the age of the desired by a significant margin.
If one accepts doctors Michael Seto and Ray Blanchard’s categorisation of chronophilias (see The seven ages of sexual attractiveness at HereticTOC) we can postulate ages at which it is possible to first realise that one has a particular chronophilia.
earliest age(s) of preference awareness
0 – 2
3 – 10
7 – 12
11 – 14
15 – 17
‘Younger’ chronophilias (such as nepiophilia) are more intensely stigmatised than ‘older’ ones. If we factor this in, then we can hypothesise that the earlier a child becomes aware of having chronophilic desires the more intense the stigma they are likely to find themselves subjected to: an 11-year-old who realises they are chronophilic will do so out of a desire for babies, toddlers or young prepubescents; a 17-year-old discovering themselves to be chronophilic could be experiencing less stigmatised desires for older prepubescents or young adolescents.
The extracts come from the following studies:
(1) – ‘Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth‘ – Stephen T. Russell and Jessica N. Fish (2016)
(2) – ‘Adolescent sexual orientation‘ – Canadian Paediatric Society (2008)
(3) – ‘Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence ‘ – Ilan H. Meyer (2003)
(4) – Chapter 4 ‘Childhood/Adolescence’ in ‘The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People : Building a Foundation for Better Understanding‘ – the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities (2011)
I have edited the excerpts for readability and removed references. I have kept my own comments to a minimum (they are non-indented and in Roman type): most extracts yield their full purport if read critically and with the following two questions in mind:
- Is the stigma faced by paedophile youth different in nature (rather than in intensity) to that faced by LGB youth?
- If this is the experience of LBG youth in the homophilic West, then how much worse must things be for paedophile youth?
It also helps to read these extracts wearing the sardonic sneer of one who knows himself about to win a bout of misery one-upmanship (The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch).
The challenge for gay and lesbian youth is to develop a healthy and integrated identity in the context of negative stereotypes and prejudice, often without family or societal support. (2)
The teen may experience identity confusion – being aware of same-sex attractions but in turmoil about it. This confusion is influenced by the stigma attached to homosexuality, inaccurate knowledge, lack of role models and minimal opportunity to socialize with other youth who are having similar feelings. (2)
There is even less opportunity for paedophile youth to socialise with one-another. Unlike with LGB youth there is no style (such as ‘camp’ or ‘butch’), through which they can make their sexual identity known. And if there were it would be too dangerous to adopt.
Support specifically related to and affirming one’s sexual orientation and gender identity appears to be especially beneficial for youth. Sexuality-related social support from parents, friends, and community during adolescence each uniquely contribute to positive well-being in young adulthood, with parental support providing the most benefit. (1)
The early adolescent years are characterized by heightened self- and peer regulation regarding especially gender and sexuality norms. During adolescence, youth in general report stronger prejudicial attitudes and more frequent homophobic behavior at younger ages. Young adolescents may be developmentally susceptible to social exclusion behavior and attitudes, whereas older youth are able to make more sophisticated evaluative judgments regarding human rights, fairness, and prejudice. (1)
After they accept their stigmatized sexual orientation, LGB people begin a process of coming out. Optimally, through this process they come to terms with their homosexuality and develop a healthy identity that incorporates their sexuality. (3)
Paedophilia has become very visible in the media and the popular discourse, and I suspect that consequently children are adopting society’s knowledge and conception of ‘the paedophile’ at ever younger ages. If this is the case, then this will ratchet up the intensity and damage of the stigma the youngest paedophiles will endure: they may suspect themselves of being paedophile earlier, the stigma will be of a stronger nature (see final paragraph of ‘the onset of stigma’ above) and their peers will be ready to stigmatise them at younger ages too.
Gay and lesbian adults often describe their adolescence as a time when they felt isolated, ashamed and afraid of being discovered that they were different – all of which can have an impact on self-esteem and identity formation. (2)
Almost 18% of lesbian and gay youth participants met the criteria for major depression, 11.3% for PTSD, 31% of the sample reported suicidal behavior at some point in their life. National rates for these among youth are 8.2%, 3.9%, and 4.1%, respectively. (1)
The risk of suicide appears to be highest when a teen acquires a gay identity at a young age, when there is a family conflict, if the teen has run away or been thrown out of the house, if he or she is conflicted about his or her orientation, or if he or she has not been able to disclose his or her orientation to anyone. (2)
Gay teens are more likely to be kicked out of their homes and living on the streets than their heterosexual peers. (2)
Gay youth are more likely to start using tobacco, alcohol and other substances at an earlier age. Possible reasons for increased risk may include self-medication for depression and low self-esteem, or increased tendency toward risk behaviours in response to rejection by family and peers. (2)
LGB youth were 1.25 to 3 times more likely than their heterosexual peers to receive punishment from schools, police, or courts. (4)
Parents’ support of sexual orientation and gender expression was related to higher levels self-esteem, less depression, and fewer reports of suicidal ideation or suicide attempts. (1)
LGB youth often hate the idea that they are lying, by omission, to their parents, but also worry about how their parents will react. (2)
Many LGB youth fear coming out to parents and may experience rejection from parents because of these identities. Those who fear rejection from family and friends also report higher levels of depression and anxiety (1)
Although not all youth experience family repudiation, those who do are at greater risk for depressive symptoms, anxiety, and suicide attempts. (1)
Some parents suspect that their teen is gay, but may feel as awkward as the teen in bringing it up. Teens can introduce the subject of homosexuality by bringing up a book that they are reading or something that is in the news, and seeing what their parents have to say. (2)
Few paedophile youth will be lucky enough to need such subtle strategies to elucidate their parents’ attitudes.
Health and health-care
The teens may ask their family doctor for their advice. The teen can be helped to explore their parents’ possible reactions by thinking about how they talk about gay people, how they interact with gay people they meet and how they deal with unexpected information. (2)
LGBT youth may lack access to health care professionals who are able to provide appropriate care to LGBT patients. (4)
There appears to be some unease among physicians about addressing sexual orientation with their adolescent patients. (4)
Studies have shown that suppression, such as hiding secrets, is related to adverse health outcomes and that expressing and disclosing traumatic events, or characteristics of the self, improve health by reducing anxiety and promoting assimilation of the revealed characteristics (3)
Conversion or reparative therapy, where attempts are made to turn gay males or lesbians into heterosexuals, are clearly unethical and should not be provided by physicians, nor should physicians refer patients for such therapy. (2)
Minority stress theory posits that sexual minorities experience distinct, chronic stressors related to their stigmatized identities, including victimization, prejudice, and discrimination. These distinct experiences disproportionately compromise the mental health and well-being of LGBT people. (1)
Studies show that minority individuals experience a high degree of prejudice, which causes stress responses (e.g. high blood pressure, anxiety) that accrue over time, eventually leading to poor mental and physical health.
There are three stress processes (a) actual instances of structural or institutionalized discrimination, and face-to-face victimization or prejudice; (b) expectations that victimization or rejection will occur and the vigilance related to these expectations; and (c) the internalization of negative social attitudes e.g. internalized homophobia.
Romantic relationships are understood as important developmental experiences for adolescents, but LGB youth may experience a number of social barriers related to dating same-sex partners that may have implications for their development during adolescence. These barriers include potentially limited access to romantic partners, minority stressors specific to pursuing relationships with same-sex partners, and the restriction of same-sex romantic behavior in educational settings. (1)
LGB youth who reported having a romantic partner experienced less depression over time, and the presence of LGB friends attenuated the effects of victimization. (1)
How to meet someone who may be interested, how to flirt, what to do on a date or how to introduce a sexual element to the relationship are all things that may mystify a young person. The stakes are high – if a heterosexual male teen asks a girl out and she says no, he might feel rejected, but he does not risk being labelled as a pervert or being assaulted. (2)
Some youth may have fewer intrapersonal skills and resources to cope with minority stress experiences or may develop maladaptive coping strategies as a result of stress related to experiences of discrimination and prejudice. Same-sex-attracted adolescents were more likely to ruminate and demonstrated poorer emotional awareness compared to heterosexual peers; this lack of emotion regulation was associated with later symptoms of depression and anxiety. (1)
One thing paedophile youth have to deal with is Age Apartheid. This has no equivalent in the LGB-youth experience. Age Apartheid keeps paedophile youth isolated from those whose friendship and affection they most need. LGB youth can conceal their romance under the guise of friendship. This is a much harder thing to pull-off for paedophile youth since society views friendships between adolescents and younger children with great suspicion.
‘Internalized homophobia’ refers to the internalization of societal antigay attitudes in lesbians and gay men. (3)
In the absence of overt negative events, and even if one’s minority status is successfully concealed, internalized homophobia means that lesbians and gay men may be harmed by directing negative social values toward the self. (3)
Although it is most acute early in the coming out process, it is unlikely that internalized homophobia completely abates even when the person has accepted his or her homosexuality. Because of the strength of early socialization experiences, and because of continued exposure to antigay attitudes, internalized homophobia remains an important factor in the gay person’s psychological adjustment throughout life. (3)
Research has shown that internalized homophobia is a significant correlate of mental health including depression and anxiety symptoms, substance use disorders, and suicide ideation. (3)
In the absence of any positive narratives, depictions, associations or role models in our culture – ‘internalised paedophobia’ amongst paedophiles is likely to be highly prevalent, normative and ingrained (viz. Virtuous Pedophiles). This is likely to create great problems for paedophile youth, who are corralled into adopting the ‘monster’ and ‘predator’ persona, because society makes no other identity available to them.
Adopting such identities is hardly conducive to mental health, self-respect and responsible action, and is likely to cause alienation and self-loathing, isolation and offending.
Concerns about their safety have consequences for the academic achievement of LGBT youth. Compared with other students, LGBT students were more likely to report low grades, to miss school because they felt unsafe, and to report less support from teachers and other adults. (4)
LGB youth living in counties with fewer sexual orientation and gender identity-specific antibullying policies are twice as likely to report past-year suicide attempts than youth living in areas where these policies were more commonplace. (1)
LGBT-inclusive curriculums introduce specific historical events, persons, and information about the LGBT community into student learning and have been shown to improve students’ sense of safety and feelings of acceptance and to reduce victimization in schools. (1)
Whether or not to come out at school is a rare instance in which paedophile youth may have it better, or at least simpler, than LGB youth, for whom the decision is something of a 50/50 gamble, with many pros and cons to be weighed up. For paedophile youth, the cost/benefit calculation of coming out is so simple – being so cost-heavy – that its hard to imagine a situation where it might be the better option.
Another factor is that homosexuality has its associated cultural markers: ‘camp’ for male homosexuals, ‘butch’ for lesbians. These markers facilitate the identification of possible sexual partners and like-minded people. Unlike homosexuals, paedophiles don’t have an existential need to meet those who share their sexuality. This means that there is little need for such markers of identity (however, if there existed markers that allowed adultophilic children to identify paedophiles, undoubtedly most of us would be greatly tempted to adopt those markers).
An LGB youth can adopt aspects of these markers and express an LGB identity without actually coming out (though even this poses an increased risk of being identified as LGB by peers).
But there is a danger that these identities be adopted unconsciously by LGB youth – I have known boys as young as 6 who are ‘camp’. This means that, unbeknownst to the child, his/her sexuality identity is already on display, ‘outing’ them to the world before they are properly ‘out’ to themselves, and leaving them vulnerable to stigmatisation.
The ubiquity of false conceptions of ‘the paedophile’ also makes it much harder for the young paedophile to inadvertently ‘out’ him or herself: people on the look-out for ‘peados’ generally assume that he is a child-scaring ‘monster’, when a much more reliable indicator of someone being a paedophile is that they are good with children and that children like them.