Jerry Sandusky was recently convicted of 45 charges of child molestation involving 10 boys over a 15-year period. He faces 442 years in prison. His behaviors have alternately horrified and disgusted an entire nation.
Jerry Sandusky is a pedophile, a person described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as having “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child.” According to this definition, perpetrators must be at least 16 years of age and at least five years older than their victims.
Pedophiles are nearly always adult males. But women and adolescents can also be offenders.
Pedophiles are found in all segments of society and in all racial and ethnic groups. The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study found that 77 percent of admitted molesters were married, 46 percent had attended some college, nearly 70 percent were employed and 93 percent described themselves as being religious.
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Pedophiles are most likely to prey on children they know. Most victims are friends or neighbors. One in three is a stepchild, an adopted child or a foster child. Nearly 20 percent are biological children and 35 percent are other family members, including siblings, nieces, nephews or grandchildren.
Pedophiles are usually attracted to children in a specific age group and prefer one gender over the other. Even if they don’t have their own children, they may keep toys or activities geared toward their preferred population in their homes. They volunteer in groups, such as scouts or youth sports, that interface with their preferred targets. They also offer to baby sit and spend time around others’ children.
They may even marry or date women with desirable children in order to have access to those youngsters.
Pedophiles rarely need to coerce their victims to engage in sexual acts. Rather, they spend time building trust and friendship. Then, they gradually introduce physical contact, beginning with hugging, tickling, holding children on their laps and kissing.
Some pedophiles offer rationalizations or excuses that prevent them from assuming any responsibility for their actions. They might blame children for being too provocative. Or they profess that they are teaching the child about “the facts of life” or “love.”
Treatment of pedophilia is difficult because few pedophiles seek treatment unless they’re mandated by a court to do so. According to Harvard Health Publications, the most common method is psychotherapy that focuses on recognizing and overcoming rationalizations about the pedophile’s behavior as well as impulse control and empathy training.
Tips for protecting your children from pedophiles
In order to protect our children from pedophiles, the Office of the Attorney General of California offers these suggestions:
Inform children that it is wrong for adults to engage children in sexual activity.
Let kids know they can tell you anything, especially if it involves another adult. If they don’t feel completely comfortable sharing with you, find a trusted third party whom your youngsters can confide in.
Know the people your children spend time with.
Teach children about their bodies. Give them correct language for use when describing their private parts.
Keep tabs on your kids. Know their friends and be clear about the places and homes they can visit.
Be involved in your children’s activities. As an active participant, you can observe how the adults in charge interact with the youngsters under their care.
Listen to your children. Pay close attention if they tell you that they do not want to be with someone or go somewhere. This may be an indication of more than a personality conflict or lack of interest in the activity or event.
Notice when someone shows one or all of your children a great deal of attention or begins giving them gifts. Take the time to talk to your children about this person and find out why the person is acting in this way.
Teach kids they have a right to say no to any unwelcome, uncomfortable or confusing touch or actions by others. Encourage them to tell you immediately if this happens. Reassure them that you are there to help and it is OK to tell you anything.
Be sensitive to any changes in your children’s behavior or attitude. Encourage open communication, and learn how to be an active listener.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.