We are forever warning our children not to talk to strangers, to stay close to whoever they are out with, and to always tell their caregiver where they are going. Our biggest fear is the stranger lurking in the darkness-the pedophile that will target and sexually assault our children. The numbers tell us, however, that the person we fear most is rarely a stranger. Over the past several years the media has bombarded us with cases of coaches, teachers, and religious authorities taking advantage of their positions and sexually abusing the children that are supposed to trust them. Pedophilia is an illness, but pedophilic actions are a crime. And by understanding what this illness truly is, the traits and behaviours associated with it, and the laws surrounding it, parents and caregivers will be better able to recognize warning signs and protect their children from these individuals.


Pedophilia is a paraphilia, the sexual arousal by objects, situations, or persons that are not part of normative stimulation that may cause distress/problems for the paraphilic individual or persons associated with him/her. Pedophilia is a clinical diagnosis and is listed in the DSM. An individual who is a pedophile fantasizes about and is sexually aroused by pre-pubescent children (children under the age of 13) for a period of at least six months. Pedophilia is a long-term disorder and the attraction usually first sets in when the pedophile hits puberty. Pedophiles can be categorized as homosexual pedophiles, bi-sexual pedophiles, and heterosexual pedophiles. Those that are attracted to females usually choose victims between the ages of 8 and 10, while those attracted to males usually choose victims between the ages of 10 and 13. Perhaps surprisingly, only about 7% of pedophiles are exclusively attracted to children.

Pedophilic acts are often thought of as oral sex or penetration but can also include exhibitionism (exposing private parts of the body to others), frotterism (rubbing genitals against a non-consenting person), or voyuerism (watching people undress or engage in sexual acts without their knowledge). Pedophilic acts are crimes under the criminal code, but pedophiles often don’t understand why what they have done it wrong. There are five typical defence patterns used by pedophiles.

  1. Defense – “Is it wrong to hug a child?”
  2. Minimization – “It just happened once.”
  3. Justification – “I’m a boy-lover, not a pedophile.”
  4. Fabrication – “The activities were research for a scholarly project.”
  5. Attack – character attacks child, police etc.

Profile of a Pedophile

A pedophile can be anyone: a parent or other family member, teacher, sports coach, neighbour, or family friend; more often than not the children are familiar with their attacker. They may be single, married, or even have children of their own. Pedophiles can be any age, male or female, although there are a few common characteristics that may help set them apart:

  • Pedophiles are usually males (only 1-3% of pedophiles are estimated to be females).
  • Pedophiles are usually around thirty years of age.
  • Pedophiles are often single, or if in a relationship then the partner is usually more of a companion.
  • Has child-like hobbies such as collecting expensive toys or building model-airplanes.
  • Fascinated with children and refers to them in exaggeratedly pure and angelic terms.
  • Works in a position that is somehow related to children.
  • Displays emotional immaturity.
  • Prefers the company of children to the company of those in a similar age group.
  • Displays low self-esteem.
  • May feel inferior or isolated.
  • May have another major psychiatric disorder.
  • May demonstrate narcissistic and anti-social personality traits.
  • Lacks remorse and does not understand the harm they have done.

What Makes A Pedophile?

Does someone choose to be a pedophile, or are these individuals born that way? This question causes a lot of medical controversy and the answer is still unknown. Experts have, however, found both neuropsychiatric differences and environmental and social factors that separate pedophiles from the average individual.

Neuropsychiatric differences
  • Lower IQ (though this is controversial)
  • Prominence of left-handedness
  • Impaired cognitive abilities
  • Neuroendocrine differences
  • Brain abnormalities
  • Possible neurochemical differences, especially in serotonin levels
  • Other psychiatric disorders
Environmental and Social Factors
  • Pedophiles often report that they themselves were victims of sexual abuse as a child. This is known as the “victim to abuser cycle”. However, this information is based of self-reporting so it is possible that the offenders interviewed were only trying to gain sympathy.
  • Pedophiles often had academic difficulties as children which resulted in either repeating a grade or requiring special education.


A pedophile is often someone that the child knows, and because of this is able to create a relationship through what is referred to as ‘grooming’. The purpose of grooming is to cement a relationship that will ensure compliance and this process is used by the majority of pedophiles. There are five stages to the grooming process:

Stage 1: Identifying a possible victim

Although pedophiles differ in their “type” regarding age, appearance, and gender, all pedophiles will look for a victim who seems in some way vulnerable.

Stage 2: Collecting Information

The next step is for the pedophile to collect as much information on the targeted victim as possible. This is most commonly done through casual conversations with both the child and the parents or care-taker.

Stage 3: Filling a Need

Once the individual has the information he needs he then becomes a part of the child’s life by “filling a need”. If the victim is poor, for example, the pedophile will provide him/her with expensive toys. If the victim is lonely, the pedophile will act as a friend.

Stage 4: Lowering Inhibitions

The pedophile will then start to lower the child’s inhibitions concerning sexual matters. He may come up with games or activities that involve getting undressed, make sexual comments, or show the child pornographic images or pictures.

Stage 5: Initiating the Abuse

At this final stage the pedophile begins to sexually abuse the child.

Pediphiles and the Law

Although pedophilia is a clinical diagnosis, any pedophilic acts are against the law and considered to be a crime under both the Criminal Code of Canada as well as under the Child Welfare Act. The most common offences are found in the Criminal Code under the following sections:

§ 151 – Sexual Interference: It is an offence for an individual to touch, for sexual reasons, any part of the body of a person under 14 years of age.

§ 152 – Invitation to Sexual Touching: It is an offence to initiate or council a person under 14 years of age to touch, for a sexual purpose, the body of another.

§ 153 – Sexual Exploitation: This is a specific offence for those in a position of trust or authority (such as a teacher or priest) who touch or invite a touch from those over 14, but under the age of 18.

§ 155 – Incest: It is an offence to have sexual intercourse with someone who is a blood relation including parents, grandparents, and half brothers and sisters.

§ 163 – Corrupting Morals: This section makes it an offence to, or intend to, distribute obscene material. This section can be used against pedophiles to prevent material such as child pornography or pedophile literature from being downloaded (or copied) from the Internet or limit the amount of information, such as pictures, that can be distributed by pedophile groups.

§ 163.1 – Definition of Child Pornography: This section defines and creates several offences relating to child pornography. It is makes it an offence to make, print, publish, or possess any child pornography.

§ 171.1 Transmitting, making available, distributing or selling sexually explicit material to minors.

§ 172.2: using any means of telecommunication to make arrangements for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child.

§ 271 – Sexual Assault: This section prohibits the intentional application of sexual force, directly or indirectly, to a person without consent.

§ 272 – Sexual Assault with a Weapon, Threats to a Third Party, or Causing Bodily Harm: This section increases the gravity of the sexual assault provision when the offender has used weapons or threats.

§ 273 – Aggravated Sexual Assault: This section increases the gravity of the offence of sexual assault when the offender wounds, maims, disfigures, or endangers the life of the victim.

§ 273.1 – The Meaning of Consent: This section defines consent. It states that consent must be given prior to and during any sexual activity. The voluntary agreement must not be obtained by anyone other than the person themselves, from a person incapable of consenting (a child), or within a relationship where trust and authority are present. This prevents pedophiles from claiming that victims “consented” or “chose” to engage in sexual activities. This section also states that children under the age of 12 cannot consent to any sexual activity unless their partner is less than 2 years older than they are.

§ 753 – Dangerous Offenders: This section allows the government to sentence an offender to an indeterminate period of imprisonment. The government must illustrate from previous sexual actions that the offender cannot control their sexual impulses, as pedophiles often cannot. This legislation is often used for persons convicted numerous times of child molestation or sexual assault, rather than for first time offenders.

Pedophile Groups

For all of those that agree with the laws against pedophilia, there are also thousands who believe that the laws surrounding child and adult sexual relationships should be done away with. Groups advocating these relationships can be found across North America. The most prominent group is North-American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) who states that their goal is to “end the extreme oppression of men and boys in mutually consensual relationships by: building understanding and support for such relationships, educating the general public on the benevolent nature of man/boy love, cooperating with lesbian, gay, feminist, and other liberation movements, supporting the liberation of persons of all ages from sexual prejudice and oppression.” NAMBLA is just one of many groups who advocate that sex with children is healthy, educational, and normal. One group even went as far as to say that having sex with young children will prevent them from becoming prostitutes. Advocates from these pedophile groups do not believe that children come to any harm from these practices and compare these accusations to past beliefs that masturbation would make a man insane or that women without children would go crazy. Pedophile groups are known to distribute child pornography, “educational” pamphlets, and NAMBLA has even represented men accused of child sexual assault in court all in an effort to fight against age-based discrimination.

Although pedophile groups claim that nothing they do is against the law, many would argue otherwise. Pedophile groups are considered to be meeting places for pedophiles that provide them with pornographic images and films that would otherwise not be available. Pedophile groups claim to advocate child and youth protection, but many point out that their beliefs and practices only serve to put children in more danger.


There are several option in the treatment of pedophilia. These include sex-drive suppression by pharmacologic means (chemical castration), psychotherapy including empathy training, sexual impulse control training, and relapse prevention. Another possible treatment is aversion conditioning, but this treatment is highly controversial. No form of treatment will be effective unless the pedophile is a willing participant. Recidivism rates are not accurately known and range anywhere from 10-50%. Studies report that recidivism rates vary by category, finding that homosexual pedophiles are the most likely to reoffend while incest pedophiles are the least likely to reoffend. Recidivism seems to depend on personality traits, personal history of pedophilia, and particular sexual practices. Due to the high rate of re-offense among pedophiles and indeed all sex offenders, the RCMP has established a database, the National Sex Offender Registry, to keep track of them after release.

Abel,G. And N. Harlow. The Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study. 2002.

Beyond Psychology. “Pedophilia.”

Department of Justice. “Age of Consent to Sexual Activity. “ February, 2010.

Hall, Ryan C.W. and Richard C.W. Hall. A Profile of Pedophilia: Definition, Characteristics of Offenders, Recidivism, Treatment Outcomes, and Forensic Issues. American Psychiatric Assocition. 2009.

Montaldo, Charles. “Profile of a Pedophile.”

Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “National Sex Offender Registry”.

Ruggles, Tammy. “Profile of a Pedophile.”Mental Health Mattes. Updated September 2010.

Stang, Debra L. “How Pedophiles Groom Victims.” April, 2008.