From the Newsletter: Michael Seto’s Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children

Editor’s Note: Prostasia is reprinting useful material from our newsletter for blog readers. This review by Jeremy Malcolm first ran in April 2021. To keep up to date on everything happening at Prostasia, you can sign up for the newsletter here.

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Research into the topic of child sexual abuse prevention is indispensable to the fight against child sexual abuse. Interest in such research has increased since the European Commission picked it up as a thread of its future strategy in the fight against child sexual abuse (which is in turn the subject of a current European Commission consultation, as reported elsewhere in this newsletter).

For those who are newly interested in the topic of child sexual abuse prevention, fortunately Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children by Michael Seto is written with you in mind. It summarizes the state of research in a number of scientific disciplines that relate to this stigmatized topic, and doesn’t assume any advanced scientific knowledge.

As someone who is himself relatively new to this field, one of the first benefits that I gained from this book was a deeper understanding of the factors that can lead someone towards abusing a child. Although it is commonly supposed that being sexually attracted to children is the only important factor, Seto points out that this:

is not in and of itself a sufficient factor without antisociality (which is expected to be lower for those who self-refer) and opportunity.

Self-referral to support services, including peer support services such as our own MAP Support Club, is identified as possibly “a useful part of the response to pedophilia and sexual offending against children.” However, Seto acknowledges that:

[S]tigma may prevent many individuals from seeking help, thereby unintentionally increasing the likelihood that some individuals will act on their sexual interests and commit sexual offenses.

This is a theme to which Seto returns frequently, noting for example how stigma impedes school-based primary prevention interventions:

Primary prevention of sexual abuse through school-based interventions is challenging because of the tremendous reluctance to acknowledge the problem—from parents, administrators, and teachers—or even [to] talk about sex with children…

On the other hand he also expresses concern about the difficulty of countering our deeply-ingrained discomfort with the idea of destigmatizing mental health conditions that are associated with child sexual abuse:

Even if one has little or no sympathy for the affected individual, remember that this attitude can put children at risk because the stress of being a sexual minority can exacerbate factors known to be associated with the risk of sexual offending, including emotional dysregulation and social-interpersonal problems…

Not all responsibility for prevention is placed upon interventions with potential perpetrators. Seto in fact concludes his chapter on prevention with a call for:

bystanders to intervene and target situational factors that increase the risk of sexual offending (situational crime prevention): effective parental supervision, guardianship of responsible adults, and school-based education for children, especially vulnerable children.

Prevention is just one chapter of this book—fittingly the final chapter, since it both informs, and is informed by, every other chapter in the book. About half of the book discusses pedophilia—its definition, assessment, approaches to its study, explanations, and etiology (development). The book also devotes a separate chapter to the understudied topic of incest. It then covers the diverse field of risk assessment, covering a variety of tools that are being used today in the criminal justice system. Before moving on to prevention, the book talks about the treatment of those who have sexually offended against children, and provides some revealing information about the effectiveness of those treatments.

Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children is a highly respected standard academic text in its field. Already widely cited by criminologists, psychologists, and social workers, the book is equally accessible to those working in any other field that requires an understanding of the current state of scientific knowledge about child sexual abuse and its prevention. As policymakers are increasingly turning to experts for advice on this topic, this pioneering work has become more relevant than ever.
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