Prevalence and Child Molestation

The prevalence of pedophilia in the general population is not known, but is estimated to be lower than 5% based on several smaller studies with prevalence rates between 3% and 9%.

    "Most sexual offenders against children are male, although female offenders may account for 0.4% to 4% of convicted sexual offenders. On the basis of a range of published reports, McConaghy estimates a 10 to 1 ratio of male-to-female child molesters."

It is believed that the true number of female pedophiles is underrepresented by available estimates, and that reasons for this may include a "societal tendency to dismiss the negative impact of sexual relationships between young boys and adult women, as well as women’s greater access to very young children who cannot report their abuse," among other explanations.

The term pedophile is commonly used to describe all child sexual abuse offenders, including those who do not meet the clinical diagnosis standards, which is seen as problematic by researchers, as most distinguish between child molesters and pedophiles. A perpetrator of child sexual abuse is commonly assumed to be and referred to as a pedophile; however, there may be other motivations for the crime (such as stress, marital problems, or the unavailability of an adult partner). As child sexual abuse may or may not be an indicator that its perpetrator is a pedophile, offenders may be separated into two types: Exclusive (i.e., "true pedophiles") and non-exclusive (or, in some cases, "non-pedophilic"). According to a U.S. study on 2429 adult male sex offenders who were categorized as "pedophiles," only 7% identified themselves as exclusive; indicating that many or most child sexual abusers may fall into the non-exclusive category. However, the Mayo Clinic reports perpetrators who meet the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia offend more often than non-pedophile perpetrators, and with a greater number of victims. They state that approximately 95% of child sexual abuse incidents are committed by the 88% of child molestation offenders who meet the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia. A behavioral analysis report by the FBI states that a "high percentage of acquaintance child molesters are preferential sex offenders who have a true sexual preference for prepubescent children (i.e., true pedophiles)."

A review article in the British Journal of Psychiatry notes the overlap between extrafamilial and intrafamilial offenders. One study found that around half of the fathers and stepfathers in its sample who were referred for committing extrafamilial abuse had also been abusing their own children.

As noted by Abel, Mittleman, and Becker (1985) and Ward et al. (1995), there are generally large distinctions between the two types of offenders' characteristics. Situational offenders tend to offend at times of stress; have a later onset of offending; have fewer, often familial victims; and have a general preference for adult partners. Pedophilic offenders, however, often start offending at an early age; often have a large number of victims who are frequently extrafamilial; are more inwardly driven to offend; and have values or beliefs that strongly support an offense lifestyle. Research suggests that incest offenders recidivate at approximately half the rate of extrafamilial child molesters, and one study estimated that by the time of entry to treatment, nonincestuous pedophiles who molest boys had committed an average of 282 offenses against 150 victims.

Some child molesters — pedophiles or not — threaten their victims to stop them from reporting their actions. Others, like those that often victimize children, can develop complex ways of getting access to children, like gaining the trust of a child's parent, trading children with other pedophiles or, infrequently, get foster children from non-industrialized nations or abduct child victims from strangers. Offending pedophiles may often act interested in the child, to gain the child's interest, loyalty and affection to keep the child from letting others know about the abuse.

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