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Emotions and Cognitions Associated with the Stigma of Non-Offending Pedophilia: A Vignette Experiment


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Cognitive and affective antecedents of the desire to avoid or punish non-offending pedophilic individuals are not well understood. In this article, we examined the effects of non-offending motivation (internal vs. external) and sexual orientation (pedophilic vs. teleiophilic) on cognitive apprehensions (amorality, dangerousness, abnormality), emotions (fear, anger, disgust), punitive attitudes, and social distance towards a man experiencing a sexually transgressive impulse. Two hundred and five US-based MTurk workers were randomly assigned to one of four groups in this 2 x 2 factorial vignette study. As expected, pedophilic orientations and extrinsic non-offending motivations led to stronger negative apprehensions and emotions, as well as higher social distance and punitive attitudes. When controlling for the other emotions, disgust mediated the effect of pedophilic orientation on social distance, while anger and fear mediated the effect of non-offending motivation on punitive attitudes. Disgust, fear, and anger were furthermore differentially associated with perceived amorality, dangerousness, and abnormality. This research helps clarify why desires to punish or avoid non-offending pedophilic men are so strong, even when they never commit sexual crimes.
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Emotions and Cognitions Associated with the Stigma of Nonoffending Pedophilia: A
Vignette Experiment
Sara Jahnke
Technische Universität Dresden, Institute for Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy
Address for correspondence:
Sara Jahnke, Technische Universität Dresden
Institute for Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy
Hohe Str. 53, 01187 Dresden, Germany
The author is indebted to Dr. Ralph Massarczyk for his help with the data collection
and Brittany Smelquist for her excellent copy-editing.
Cognitive and affective antecedents of the desire to avoid or punish non-offending
pedophilic individuals are not well understood. In this article, we examined the effects of non-
offending motivation (internal vs. external) and sexual orientation (pedophilic vs. teleiophilic)
on cognitive apprehensions (amorality, dangerousness, abnormality), emotions (fear, anger,
disgust), punitive attitudes, and social distance towards a man experiencing a sexually
transgressive impulse. Two hundred and five US-based MTurk workers were randomly
assigned to one of four groups in this 2 x 2 factorial vignette study. As expected, pedophilic
orientations and extrinsic non-offending motivations led to stronger negative apprehensions
and emotions, as well as higher social distance and punitive attitudes. When controlling for
the other emotions, disgust mediated the effect of pedophilic orientation on social distance,
while anger and fear mediated the effect of non-offending motivation on punitive attitudes.
Disgust, fear, and anger were furthermore differentially associated with perceived amorality,
dangerousness, and abnormality. This research helps clarify why desires to punish or avoid
non-offending pedophilic men are so strong, even when they never commit sexual crimes.
Key words: Stigma; pedophilia; paraphilia; social distance; discrimination
Few human characteristics are as feared and despised as a sexual attraction to
prepubescent children (pedophilia). Recent research has documented that the mere
information that someone has pedophilic interests is sufficient to elicit strong desires to avoid
or punish this person, even when no offenses are mentioned (Imhoff, 2015; Jahnke, Imhoff, &
Hoyer, 2015). Yet, Jahnke and Hoyer (2013) have cautioned that it is “uncertain if and how
much the label paraphilia influences people’s perception of individuals tainted with it when
other personality traits […] are brought into play” (p. 178). As the aforementioned studies did
not provide further information about the person experiencing a sexual interest in children,
participants might have attributed the non-offending status to a lack of opportunities for
offending, or selfish reasons like fearing punishment. As the present study is intended to help
understand what it is about pedophilia that elicits such stigmatizing reactions, we will assess
the effect of a person’s motivation to resist sexual urges (intrinsic vs. extrinsic) and sexual
orientation (teleiophilia, that is, a sexual interest in adults vs. pedophilia) on negative
apprehensions and emotions as well as social distance and punitive attitudes. Since research
on sexual morality has found desires to avoid or punish to be focused on different kinds of
emotional and cognitive elicitors (Giner-Sorolla, Bosson, Caswell, & Hettinger, 2012), we
will furthermore test whether negative emotions (fear, disgust, and anger) differentially
mediate the link between our experimental conditions and desires to avoid or punish, and
explore associations between these emotions and perceived amorality, abnormality, and
Pedophilia has been referred to as the sexual orientation of men or woman who “report
a subjective awareness of being erotically attracted (either exclusively or in part) toward […]
prepubescent children” (Berlin, 2014, p. 406). Labeling a sexual interest in children as a
sexual orientation is controversial. The American Psychiatric Association has stated its
intention to no longer refer to pedophilia as a sexual orientation in forthcoming prints of the
DSM-5 as a response to public criticism (Berlin, 2014). However, as we believe that
pedophilia is essentially a sexual orientation (as defined by certain characteristics such as
stability, start in early adolescence, and the existence of corresponding romantic interests,
Seto, 2012) and that acknowledging this can help to decrease stigmatization and to
differentiate between sexual attraction and criminal behavior (Berlin, 2014), we will refer to
pedophilia as a “sexual orientation” throughout this article. Only when sexually arousing
fantasies or urges involving sexual acts with prepubescents lead to marked distress,
interpersonal difficulty or corresponding sexual behavior (i.e., sexual offenses against
children or child pornography offenses), diagnostic criteria for a pathological form of
pedophilia (termed pedophilic disorder) are fulfilled (American Psychiatric Association,
2013). Although pedophilic men are at an increased risk of committing corresponding sexual
offenses (Mann, Hanson, & Thornton, 2010), pedophilic fantasies are neither necessary nor
sufficient to explain sexual offending (M. J. Bailey, Hsu, & Bernhard, 2016; Dombert et al.,
Nevertheless, negative reactions towards people with a pedophilic sexual orientation
are intense and widespread. This fierce stigma has been assumed to not only create distress
among pedophilic individuals, but also to undermine efforts to prevent sexual offenses against
children, as emotional problems and social isolation increase the risk of such offenses
(Harper, Bartels, & Hogue, 2016; Jahnke & Hoyer, 2013; Jahnke, Schmidt, Geradt, & Hoyer,
2015). People from the general public report strong intentions to discriminate against these
individuals by socially avoiding them (Feldman & Crandall, 2007; see also Jahnke, Imhoff, et
al., 2015), or by calling for harsh punishments (Imhoff, 2015). These discriminatory
behavioral intentions towards pedophilic individuals might be based on fear, anger, or disgust
(see, e.g., Giner-Sorolla et al., 2012 and Rüsch, Angermeyer, & Corrigan, 2005 for a
discussion of the role of different emotions in producing stigma or moral condemnation). As
basic emotions (Ekman & Cordaro, 2011), fear, anger, and disgust have been proposed to be
associated with different cognitive elicitors and to serve different social and non-social
functions (Keltner & Haidt, 1999; Marks & Nesse, 1994). In the following sections, we will
discuss the potential role of these emotions in creating the desire to avoid or punish people
with pedophilic interests who do not commit sexual offenses.
Are Desires to Avoid or Punish Based on Fear?
Fear motivates the individual to avoid or withdraw from potentially dangerous
situations (Ekman & Cordaro, 2011; Marks & Nesse, 1994). This emotion has been associated
with perceived dangerousness of people with mental disorders (as potential cognitive elicitor)
and intentions of social avoidance (as potential behavioral consequence) by several
independent research teams in different countries (e.g., Angermeyer & Matschinger, 2003;
Corrigan, Markowitz, Watson, Rowan, & Kubiak, 2003). Fearful or avoidant reactions
towards non-offending people with pedophilia might be based on the apprehension that the
mere fact of never having acted on pedophilic interests does not guarantee that a person will
continue to do so in the future. Given that age is one of the most important predictors of
offending behavior among pedophilic men (J. M. Bailey, Bernhard, & Hsu, 2016), this is an
understandable concern. Hence, it is not surprising that about 62% of the German and 59% of
the US-American respondents in Jahnke, Imhoff, et al. (2015) felt afraid when thinking about
people with pedophilia. Parents of children below the age of consent, who have more reason
to fear child sexual abuse, reported an increased likelihood to avoid non-offending pedophilic
men on a social distance scale (but note that the effects were small, Jahnke, Imhoff, et al.,
2015). Yet, it is important to take into consideration that in addition to predicting fear and
desires to avoid, the stereotype of dangerousness has also been consistently shown to predict
anger and/or calls for punishment regarding pedophilic individuals (Feldman & Crandall,
2007; Imhoff, 2015; Jahnke, Imhoff, et al., 2015).
Are Desires to Avoid or Punish Based on Anger?
In contrast to fear, anger is associated with a tendency to approach and punish the
perpetrator of an immoral act (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2013). The strength of angry
reactions has been shown to depend very much on the person’s cognitive apprehension of an
event as harmful or unjust (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2013; but note that perceived
dangerousness has also been found to be associated with anger, Angermeyer & Matschinger,
2003). Because of anger’s flexibility and context-sensitivity as well as people’s greater
awareness of why they feel anger as opposed to disgust, anger has been dubbed a relatively
“reasoned” emotion (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2013). The great majority of participants in
Jahnke, Imhoff, et al. (2015) experienced anger (even more so than fear) when thinking about
individuals experiencing sexual interests in children, although there was no mention of
offending or other unjust acts. The intensity of punitive behavioral intentions regarding
pedophilic individuals has also been described as remarkable (Imhoff, 2015). For instance,
some authors have argued that beliefs about the perceived intentionality of or personal
responsibility for pedophilic interests might have elicited anger (but note that empirical
evidence has produced mixed results regarding the link between this stereotype and
discriminatory intentions (Feldman & Crandall, 2007; Imhoff, 2015; Imhoff & Jahnke, 2017;
Jahnke, Imhoff, et al., 2015). An alternative hypothesis that has not been assessed in previous
research is the assumption that sexual abstinence among pedophilic individuals may be
perceived as having been chosen for the wrong (e.g., selfish or immoral) reasons. If somebody
does not sexually offend against children because this person dreads negative consequences
for the self (extrinsic non-offending motivation), others are probably more likely to react
angrily than when this person shares society’s moral rejection of the act (intrinsic non-
offending motivation).
Are Desires to Avoid or Punish Based on Disgust?
Modern theories on the role of emotions in shaping moral judgments suggest that
disgust has evolved beyond its function to motivate the avoidance of, for instance, rotten
fruits, dead bodies, and other sources of pathogens into regulating moral and sexual behavior
(Tybur, Lieberman, Kurzban, & DeScioli, 2013). Rather than signaling “abstract
contamination threats that are not associated with the physical body,” there is compelling
evidence to support the claim that disgust is linked to “concrete, categorical violations of
bodily norms,” such as violations of sexual taboos (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2013, p. 336).
Previous observations indicate that avoidance of morally objectionable people is often fueled
by disgust (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2013). Experimentally induced disgust (e.g., via bitter
fluids, disgusting smells, hypnosis) has consistently been shown to lead to stronger
condemnation of moral transgressions (see Chapman & Anderson, 2013 for an overview of
the evidence). People who report to feel more disgust toward a variety of repulsive stimuli
also report more dislike of immigrants, ethnic minorities, and low-status groups (e.g., gay
men, poor people), even after controlling for fears of contracting disease (Hodson & Costello,
2007). In combination with the finding that a person merely desiring counter-normative
sexual acts is sufficient to increase disgust towards this person (Russell & Piazza, 2015),
disgust is likely to play a central role in motivating social avoidance of non-offending people
with pedophilia. While disgust has not been assessed in previous studies on stigmatization of
people with pedophilia, some authors have reported links between perceived rarity (Feldman
& Crandall, 2007) or deviance (Imhoff, 2015) of sexually desiring children and
discriminatory behavioral intentions. Both rarity and deviance are conceptually related to
abnormality, which has been demonstrated to mediate the effects of sexual immorality on
experiences of disgust (Giner-Sorolla et al., 2012; Russell & Piazza, 2015).
The Present Study
In the present vignette-based study, we manipulated the type of non-offending
motivation (intrinsic vs. extrinsic) and sexual orientation of men with sexually transgressive
impulses towards a female stranger. Previous research has established that fear (as opposed to
anger) plays a less dominant role in predicting social distance and punitive attitudes towards
people with pedophilia. Therefore, we will not manipulate aspects of the situation that might
have a primary effect on fear, such as dangerousness. We expect that punitive reactions are
stronger when the non-offending behavior is motivated by external (i.e., fear of being caught
and punished) rather than internal (i.e., having a corresponding moral conviction) factors.
Anger should primarily account for the effect of non-offending motivation on punitive
reactions, as it promotes aggression and is elicited in situations in which moral norms about
fairness or other people’s rights are violated (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2013). Desires to avoid
on the other hand are assumed to be elevated when the sexual orientation is pedophilic rather
than teleiophilic because the idea of (even non-offending) pedophilia violates normative rules
about the use of the body, which should activate disgust, irrespective of whether social norms
about harmfulness, fairness, or other people’s rights are violated (Russell & Giner-Sorolla,
2013). As disgust and fear also motivate avoidance, we expect these two emotions to explain
the link between sexual orientation and social distance. We furthermore explore the effects of
abnormality, amorality, and dangerousness appraisals on the link between sexual orientation,
non-offending motivation, and negative emotions.
Participants and Procedure
Two hundred and five Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) workers followed the link
to the survey, attaining the minimum sample size required to detect small to moderate effect
sizes (f = 0.2, α = .05, β = .20), which was determined before data collection using G*Power
3.1 (Faul, Erdfelder, Lang, & Buchner, 2007). Participants were then randomly assigned to
one of the four experimental conditions in a 2 (non-offending motivation: internal vs.
external) x 2 (sexual orientation: pedophilic vs. teleiophilic) design. We included a
preemptive warning in the title that the task contained material which might be offensive to
some. Participants were predominantly male (58%), White (not including Hispanics, 69%),
heterosexual (85%), and held an Associate or Bachelor’s degree or higher (57%). On average,
participants were 33 years old (mean age, SD = 9 years, ranging from 20 to 60). Also, 20.5%
had children below the age of 14. Seventy-six percent of the participating men and women
rated themselves as liberal (i.e., indicated values of 6 or higher) on a one-item 10-point Likert
scale for political orientation ranging from conservative (1) to liberal (10). They received $1
for completing all questionnaires.
Experimental Manipulations
After giving informed consent to participate in the survey, participants read one out of
four vignettes describing a pedophilic or teleiophilic man (“Jim”) experiencing a sexually
transgressive impulse towards a girl/woman. Two aspects were manipulated orthogonally:
First, whether the vignette described Jim as pedophilic or teleiophilic and second, whether his
motivation to live offense-free was portrayed as intrinsic or extrinsic (all vignettes are shown
in the Appendix). After reading the vignette, participants rated their thoughts and emotions
towards Jim in the order that they appear in the Instruments section.
Cognitive antecedents
Based on similar measures in Giner-Sorolla et al. (2012), we developed a scale to
assess amorality (item 1: “Jim is a bad person,” 5: “Jim has a flawed character”), abnormality
(item 3: “Jim is abnormal,” 4: “Jim is a pervert”), and dangerousness (2: “Jim is a dangerous
man,” 6: “Jim poses a threat to other people”) asking participants to which extent they agreed
with the presented statements regarding Jim on a 7-point Likert scale from not at all (1) to
very much (7). Although consisting of only two items each, internal consistency for the three
scales was excellent (amorality: α = .87, abnormality: α = .87, dangerousness: α = .97).
Fear, disgust, and anger
Participants rated nine different items describing the emotional states of anger (angry,
outraged, furious), fear (nervous, afraid, scared), and disgust (disgusted, grossed-out,
sickened). Afterwards, they viewed three photographed faces of the same woman portraying
fear, anger, and disgust (i.e., pictures KP_1148, KP_0760, and KP_0351 from the Warsaw Set
of Emotional Expressions, Olszanowski et al., 2015), rating the extent to which they felt each
of the three depicted emotions. We followed the approach described in Giner-Sorolla et al.
(2012) and conducted average scores from verbal ratings and their respective facial
counterparts (note that the three verbal ratings were averaged first to decrease their influence
on the sum score). All items are rated on a 7-point Likert scale (1-7) from do not agree at all
to completely agree. To help differentiate between these emotions, assessing linguistic and
non-linguistic indicators of moral anger and disgust (and, presumably, fear as another
negative emotion that might arise when judging scenarios involving the threat of bodily
violations) is recommended because English-speakers do not always differentiate well
between anger and disgust when describing their feelings (e.g., using the term “disgust”
metaphorically when speaking about a situation that is more likely to elicit anger, Gutierrez,
Giner-Sorolla, & Vasiljevic, 2012). Cronbach’s alpha indicated high internal consistencies for
the emotion words (fear: α = .95, anger: α = .96, disgust: α = .96) as well as the word/picture
compounds (fear: α = .78, anger: α = .92, disgust: α = .95). As expected, intercorrelations
between the three emotion compounds were high (between .75 for fear and disgust and .86 for
disgust and anger).
Social distance scale
This version of the social distance scale was introduced by Jahnke, Imhoff, et al.
(2015) to assess the desire for social avoidance of people with a sexual interest in children. Its
six items (e.g., “would accept these people as friends”) are rated on a 7-point Likert scale (1-
7) from do not agree at all to completely agree. Retest reliability of the German version of the
social distance scale is high (r = .89 with a test-retest interval of one week among 34 students
of the Technische Universität Dresden, Jahnke & Hoyer, 2017), and previous research could
establish that the scale was able to detect attitude changes in response to an anti-stigma-
intervention (Jahnke, Philipp, et al., 2015), providing strong evidence for its validity. As the
two last items from the scale appear to indicate more desire to punish than to socially avoid
(“should better be dead” and “should be incarcerated”), we did not include them in the
analyses to achieve a “purer” measure of social avoidance (note that internal reliability of the
remaining four items was excellent within the present study, α = .95). The first four items are
inversely recoded, so higher values reflect higher social distance.
Punitive attitudes
This scale was developed by Imhoff (2015) to assess desires to punish people with
pedophilia. Psychometric properties of the German version of the scale were tested among 34
students of the Technische Universität Dresden (Jahnke & Hoyer, 2017). Within the tested
student sample, retest-reliability was high (r = .84 with a one-week test-retest interval) and
concurrent validity could be established with a short form of the right wing authoritarianism
scale (Zick et al., 2008) assessing the desire to conform to group norms and to punish social
deviants and offenders (r = .54, p < .001). In this study, we only used items 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 11,
and 13 of this 13-item scale, as some of the original statements (e.g., “Citizens should have a
right to get informed if pedophiles move to their neighborhood”) did not make sense when
applied to non-offending teleiophilic men (see Appendix for a list of the items used in this
study). Furthermore, items were reformulated to refer to the man in the vignette, Jim (i.e.,
“People like Jim should be preemptively taken into custody”). Participants indicated their
agreement with all statements on a 7-point Likert scale (1-7) from do not agree at all to
completely agree. One item (“One should not condemn people like Jim too harshly”) needed
to be reverse-recoded, so that higher values on the mean score indicate stronger punitive
attitudes. With Cronbach’s α = .90, internal consistency within this study was excellent.
Social desirability
This 8-item scale (adapted from Ray, 1984) measures participants’ tendency to give
responses that are socially desirable but unlikely to be correct (e.g., disagreeing with the item
“Do you sometimes feel resentful when you don’t get you own way?”). Participants rated
statements as either false (1) or true (2). Item 1, 2, 5, and 6 were recoded before calculating an
average score. Internal consistency was high (Cronbach’s α = .80). Test-retest reliability is not
available for this measure. Participants scoring higher are considered to be more likely to give
responses that make them appear more favorably.
Due to randomization, the four experimental groups did not differ with respect to
participant sex (χ2 = 1.83, df = 3, p = .608), age (F(3) = 0.58, p = .632), social desirability
scores (F(3) = 0.27, p = .846), or the likelihood of being White (χ2 = .18, df = 3, p = .981),
heterosexual (χ2 = .35, df = 3, p = .950), having children (χ2 = 2.23, df = 3, p = .526), or
holding a Bachelor’s degree (χ2 = 2.45, df = 3, p = .484).
Analyses of variance were conducted to compare the effects of non-offending
motivation and sexual orientation on apprehensions, emotions, social distance, and punitive
attitudes (see Table 1 for a summary of means, standard deviations and statistical parameters
for comparisons). We found significant main effects of sexual orientation and non-offending
motivation on all tested variables. Thus, relative to respondents in the teleiophilia condition,
those who were told that Jim had pedophilic interests reported significantly more social
distance, punitive attitudes, fear, anger, and disgust as well as higher perceived abnormality,
amorality, and dangerousness. Participants in the external non-offending motivation condition
were more likely to report social distance, punitive attitudes, fear, anger, and disgust, and to
rate the man as more amoral, abnormal, and dangerous. Also, we observed an interaction
effect between sexual orientation and non-offending motivation for social distance and
perceived abnormality. Receiving the information that Jim did not commit a sexual crime
because he considered it immoral was associated with a smaller reduction in social distance
and perceived abnormality when Jim was described as pedophilic instead of teleiophilic. This
invites speculation whether the pedophilia label produces a reverse halo effect, in which
strongly negative apprehensions of one aspect of a person influence judgments about other
characteristics of that person’s character.
We conducted separate mediation analyses for social distance and punitive attitudes
using the PROCESS macro for SPSS. Each mediation analysis contained multiple
independent variables and mediators, following the guidelines for PROCESS described in
Hayes (2014). While negative emotion variables usually show overlapping variance, previous
research has detected unique effects of anger, while controlling for disgust and unique effects
of disgust, while controlling for anger (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2013). Following this
principle, we performed mediation analyses with fear, anger, and disgust as simultaneous
mediators. We tested the significance of indirect effects using bootstrapping procedures.
When the bias-corrected 95% confidence interval did not contain zero, statistical significance
at α < .05 was assumed (see Table 2). Disgust was the only significant mediator of the link
between sexual orientation and social distance (see Fig. 1 and Table 2), while fear and anger
were the only significant mediators of the effect between non-offending motivation and
punitive attitudes (see Fig. 2 and Table 2). Except for the role of fear as a mediator of the
association between non-offending motivation and punitive attitudes (instead of mediating the
link between sexual orientation and social distance), these results confirm our mediation
hypotheses. As sexual orientation also influenced anger and punitive attitudes, and non-
offending motivation influenced disgust and social distance (see Table 1), we explored
whether these effects were also mediated by fear, anger, and/or disgust through mediation
analyses. While we found that sexual orientation increased punitive attitudes through fear and
anger, we could not detect emotions that significantly mediated the effect of non-offending
motivation on social distance (see Fig. 1, Fig. 2, and Table 2).
We conducted multiple regression analyses to detect the unique contribution of
abnormality, amorality, and dangerousness (entered simultaneously as predictors of fear,
anger, and disgust, cf. Table 3 for bivariate correlations). Findings revealed that amorality, b
= 0.38, t(201) = 4.26, p < .001, and dangerousness, b = 0.49, t(201) = 7.46, p < .001,
significantly predicted anger, while abnormality did not, b = 0.10, t(201) = 1.43, p = .155.
Fear was significantly linked to dangerousness, b = 0.42, t(201) = 5.03, p < .001, and
abnormality, b = 0.21, t(201) = 2.43, p = .016, but not amorality b = 0.07, t(201) = 0.60, p =
0.551. Disgust was predicted by amorality, b = 0.48, t(201) = 4.96, p < .001, and abnormality,
b = 0.43, t(201) = 5.79, p < .001 but not dangerousness, b = 0.09, t(201) = 1.24, p = 0.217
(note that all b-values are unstandardized).
In Table 3, we explored links between all assessed variables, which revealed high
intercorrelations between apprehensions, emotion variables, social distance, and punitive
attitudes (with rs ranging between .58 - .88). Interestingly, only social desirability, participant
sex, and having children below the age of 14 showed some significant associations with
apprehensions, emotion variables, social distance, and/or punitive attitudes, while political
orientation, ethnicity, age, and participant sexual orientation were found to be unrelated to
these variables. Specifically, a higher tendency to give socially desirable responses was
associated with higher punitive attitudes and higher perceived dangerousness. On a
descriptive level, these associations were smaller, albeit in the same direction, when Jim was
portrayed as rejecting adult-child sex on moral grounds (r = .11, p = .281), as compared to
selfish reasons (r = .19, p = .061). Female participants were more likely to experience fear and
disgust and had a greater desire to punish Jim, which might be explained by the fact that the
transgressive impulses in the vignette were directed towards a female person. Lastly,
participants who had young children below the age of 14 had a higher probability to report
fear and punitive attitudes regarding Jim.
Desires to punish and to avoid men with sexually transgressive impulses are stronger
when these impulses are directed at girls instead of women, and when non-offending behavior
is motivated by desires to avoid punishment, as opposed to being motivated by a
corresponding moral conviction. Also, desires to avoid or punish a pedophilic man remain
elevated even when it is made clear that, in addition to not acting upon sexually transgressive
impulses, the person agrees with societal norms about adult-child sex and will never commit
sexual crimes. Nevertheless, further information about personal reasons for choosing not to
offend have the potential to alleviate negative views and emotions, as well as social distance
and punitive attitudes concerning pedophilic and teleiophilic men. Yet, knowing that someone
is believing in (and consistently acting in accordance with) societal norms does not produce
strong enough effects to counteract negative attitudes elicited by the information about
pedophilic (vs. teleiophilic) interests. This represents a novel contribution to the literature on
sexual morality, as it shows that moral anger also responds to “acts that harm others or
infringe on their rights or freedoms” (Giner-Sorolla et al., 2012, p. 1208), when these acts
remain restricted to fantasy and do not lead to actual injustice.
It is noteworthy that although we explicitly stated that the person in the vignette is
never going to commit a sexual crime, most participants were reluctant to believe this when
pedophilic desires were concerned, as evidenced by dangerousness ratings averaging around
the midpoint of the scale. While dangerousness ratings in this study were lower than in
previous research using US-American MTurk samples that did not mention future (sexual)
behavior (Imhoff, 2015; Jahnke, Imhoff, et al., 2015), the notion that a man with pedophilic
interests could manage to refrain from sexual offending appeared to be particularly hard to
believe. One participant in the pedophilia/intrinsic non-offending motivation condition sent us
a note stating that he was not convinced that it is possible for a man with pedophilic interests
to never “act out on his desire.” This indicates that many people are unaware of the fact that
numerous men with pedophilic interests have learned to deal with their desire within lawful
(and ethical) boundaries (J. M. Bailey et al., 2016; Beier et al., 2015; Dombert et al., 2016).
As a side note, participants reported rather accepting attitudes towards a heterosexual
man who resisted sexual offending against an adult woman because he thought it was
immoral. Although it is unlikely that participants considered sexually assaulting an adult
woman a trivial matter, they had no trouble believing in the man’s ability to resist offending,
as indicated by low rates of perceived dangerousness and fear. This suggests a general
awareness that most people are at some point subject to immoral sexual impulses and that
they are usually able to overcome them, at least when “common” heterosexual interests are
concerned. Also, dangerousness levels were generally elevated in the extrinsic motivation
condition, indicating beliefs that moral convictions regarding the wrongness of a desired yet
immoral behavior, rather than fear of punishment, are a better predictor of lawful behavior.
Yet, high dangerousness ratings may also reflect tendencies to reduce cognitive dissonance
(Festinger, 1957), which might arise when feeling a strong urge to reject or to punish a
person, who, at least by standards of liberal morality, does not deserve punishment or
This study also corroborated hypotheses about the processes underlying the link
between sexual orientation and non-offending motivation on one hand and desires to shun and
to punish on the other hand. Using mediation analyses, anger and fear were identified as the
primary emotions mediating the effect of non-offending motivation on punitive reactions,
while disgust mediated the effect of sexual orientation on social distance, which resonates
with the findings discussed in Russell and Giner-Sorolla's (2013) overview of the literature.
Therefore, while the three negative emotions were highly correlated, all appeared to be play a
unique part in shaping the public’s reaction towards men with sexually transgressive
impulses, especially pedophilic men, which manifests itself both in terms of social distance
and in terms of punitive attitudes. The three emotions were in turn associated with distinct
patterns of cognitive apprehensions, with fear being predicted uniquely by dangerousness, and
anger by amorality and dangerousness. Disgust was the only emotion predicted by
abnormality, which is again in line with previous research (Giner-Sorolla et al., 2012; Russell
& Piazza, 2015, but note that amorality was another significant predictor). Exploratory
analyses showed that anger and fear were also significant mediators of the link between
sexual orientation and punitive attitudes, while non-offending motivation did not exert an
effect on social distance through anger, fear, or disgust. Hence, while causality cannot be
assumed based solely on cross-sectional correlations, our research tentatively suggests that
discriminatory behavioral intentions towards pedophilic men are based on an interplay of
different negative emotions and cognitive apprehensions.
The present study could furthermore solidify the evidence that higher social
desirability is related to stronger punitive attitudes towards pedophilic men or, on a more
general level, non-offending men with sexually transgressive impulses (Imhoff, 2015).
Although one might expect that social desirable responding would be associated with inflated
reporting of tolerance, reactions towards non-offending men with pedophilia appear to be a
unique exception to this rule. Correspondingly, having a minority status (with regards to race
or sexual orientation), liberal values and a higher level of education did not affect ratings of
the man in the vignette, which resonates with previous observations that people with
pedophilia are strongly rejected even by people who otherwise express accepting attitudes
towards minority sexual orientations or paraphilic sexual interests (Furnham & Haraldsen,
1998; Imhoff & Jahnke, 2017).
Limitations and Outlook
Recruiting study participants via MTurk, we managed to achieve a sample that was
considerably more heterogeneous and less WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich,
and Democrat, Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010) than typical samples in social
psychological research. However, MTurk samples are neither representative of the US
population as a whole, nor of the MTurk workforce, as workers self-select the tasks they want
to work on. Participants in this study were younger and more educated than the general US-
American public. In line with MTurk policies, we included a warning in the title of our task
that it may contain adult content and set the requirement that workers possess an Adult
Content Qualification to confirm their willingness to work on content that might be offensive.
This requirement, along with the warning, might have precluded or deterred conservative or
religious MTurk workers, which might explain why most of our participants self-identified as
liberal. Furthermore, while our results and the high psychometric properties of our scales
generally speak for sufficient worker motivation, we cannot rule out that some participants
might have answered items at random or were inattentive (but note that a recent review of
opportunities and challenges involved in using MTurk comes to favorable conclusions
regarding data quality, Chandler & Shapiro, 2016). Also, the experimental setup of our study
cannot guarantee that the emotions identified as mediators are indeed causally related to
desires to punish or to avoid, which is a precondition for assuming mediation. This means that
we cannot rule out that other emotion variables or nonemotional factors not assessed in this
research might have been the true mechanism through which sexual orientation and non-
offending motivation indirectly exerted their effects (e.g., sadness, contempt, or decreased
levels of positive emotions like happiness, see also Marzillier & Davey, 2004 for a list of
emotions elicited by descriptions of sexual abuse). This criticism of course also applies to our
regression-based analyses of the links between cognitive apprehensions and emotional
reactions. Furthermore, we cannot rule out that making changes to the two main outcome
measures, social distance and punitive attitudes might have had a significant impact on the
results (but note that internal consistencies indicated good psychometric properties).
Recently, there has been an increased interest in anti-stigma campaigns that attempt to
reduce the stigma attached to pedophilia (Harper et al., 2016; Jahnke, Philipp, & Hoyer,
2015). As some may fear that stigma reduction increases the risk of child abuse, we would
like to address why we think that seeking to reduce the stigma attached to pedophilia is
worthwhile and ethical before discussing the implications of our findings for such programs.
Attempts to destigmatize pedophilia can be justified ethically because people with pedophilia,
like anybody else, deserve to be judged by their actions. As a pedophilic sexual attraction is
often conflated with sexual abusive behavior due to stigma, anti-stigma campaigns are a
legitimate strategy to help people from the general public or mental health personnel
understand the differences between these concepts and be more accepting of pedophilic
individuals who do not commit crimes. Aside from that, de-stigmatizing pedophilia might not
be detrimental for child abuse prevention, but in fact complement such efforts, thereby
providing another, more utilitarian, argument for the moral legitimacy of anti-stigma
campaigns. According to this perspective, stigma interferes with outreach and treatment,
promotes assimilation into subcultures that support adult-child sex as a way of finding
acceptance and self-worth, and creates a constant source of distress, which may, in turn,
reduce the ability to cope with problematic sexual impulses (Lasher & Stinson, 2016).
To intensify the effectiveness of anti-stigma campaigns, a deeper understanding of the
mechanisms leading to stigma, which the current study attempted to provide, are of pivotal
importance. Based on our findings, we suggest putting a stronger emphasis on providing
information about how pedophilic men can successfully desist offending, as this part appeared
to create incredulity among participants. Researchers should also be aware that reported
intentions to avoid appear to be primarily based on disgust, rather than fear or anger. Disgust,
as the current study, in line with as recent studies, suggests, is focused particularly strongly on
the perceived abnormality of an action or desire. It is also more likely to result from
associative learning and less likely to be based on external reasoning when compared to anger
(Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2013), which implies a higher resistance to education-based anti-
stigma campaigns. While attitudes against sexual minorities like gay men or lesbian women
have changed tremendously over time, this was usually associated with more open attitudes
and less disgust towards the type of the desired sexual activity (e.g., same-sex intercourse
between consenting adult partners). If disgust is less likely to be influenced by reasoning or
changes in circumstances (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011), it is probably less responsive to
being informed about differences between having a sexual interest in children and engaging in
sexual activities with children. Thus, in the context of pedophilic interests being incompatible
with moral ideals in current Western society, the ability of anti-stigma campaigns to reduce
disgust and social distance might be limited.
This is in line with recent evidence revealing that an educative clip on pedophilia (as
explained by a sexologist) did not lead to a change in viewers’ automatic affective responses
(Harper et al., 2016). A second video about a pedophilic man who speaks about his sexual
interests from a first-person perspective, however, significantly improved automatic affective
responses towards people with pedophilia. More research is needed to address whether these
effects would persist over time as well as if different types of antistigma campaigns
differentially influence different types of negative emotions. Nevertheless, Harper et al.’s
(2016) study raises hopes that even automatic, unreasoned responses might be changed by
carefully set-up antistigma campaigns. Yet, even if pessimistic accounts of disgust’s
responsiveness to change turns out to be more accurate, decreasing anger and punitive
attitudes and educating the public about the differences between sexual desires and sexual
offending remain valid and promising goals for such programs.
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Vignette 1: Pedophilia, intrinsic nonoffending motivation
While going on a walk, Jim sees a 9- or 10-year old girl, whom he has never met before,
walking towards him from the opposite direction. Jim, who is sexually interested in female
children, realizes that he finds her very attractive and feels a strong impulse to touch her
buttocks and her genital area while she is walking past him. As there are no witnesses it is
unlikely that he would be punished for this action. He does not do it though because he thinks
it is wrong and morally unacceptable. As he always behaves like that in similar situations, Jim
will never in his life harass another person or commit a sexual crime.
Vignette 2: Pedophilia, extrinsic nonoffending motivation
While going on a walk, Jim sees a 9- or 10-year old girl, whom he has never met before,
walking towards him from the opposite direction. Jim, who is sexually interested in female
children, realizes that he finds her very attractive and feels a strong impulse to touch her
buttocks and her genital area while she is walking past him. As there are no witnesses it is
unlikely that he would be punished for this action. He does not do it though because he is
afraid that he could possibly still be identified and punished. As he always behaves like that in
similar situations, Jim will never in his life harass another person or commit a sexual crime.
Vignette 3: Teleiophilia, intrinsic nonoffending motivation
While going on a walk, Jim sees a young woman, whom he has never met before, walking
towards him from the opposite direction. Jim, who is sexually interested in women, realizes
that he finds her very attractive and feels a strong impulse to touch her buttocks and her
genital area while she is walking past him. As there are no witnesses it is unlikely that he
would be punished for this action. He does not do it though because he thinks it is wrong and
morally unacceptable. As he always behaves like that in similar situations, Jim will never in
his life harass another person or commit a sexual crime.
Vignette 4: Teleiophilia, extrinsic nonoffending motivation
While going on a walk, Jim sees a young woman, whom he has never met before, walking
towards him from the opposite direction. Jim, who is sexually interested in women, realizes
that he finds her very attractive and feels a strong impulse to touch her buttocks and her
genital area while she is walking past him. As there are no witnesses it is unlikely that he
would be punished for this action. He does not do it though because he is afraid that he could
possibly still be identified and punished. As he always behaves like that in similar situations,
Jim will never in his life harass another person or commit a sexual crime.
Punitive Attitudes Scale
How do you think that society should deal with people like Jim?
(1) People like Jim should be preemptively taken into custody.
(2) One should not condemn people like Jim too harshly.
(3) People like Jim should be castrated.
(4) People like Jim should be sentenced for life as deterrence.
(5) People like Jim should be forced to undergo therapy.
(6) People like Jim should be chemically castrated.
(7) People like Jim should be sentenced to death as deterrence.
Item 2 is reverse-coded.
Figure 1. Unstandardized regression coefficients for the link between sexual orientation and
social distance/punitive attitudes. The unstandardized coefficients for the link between sexual
orientation and social distance/punitive attitudes, controlling for the effects of fear, anger, and
disgust, are in parentheses. Differing coefficients for the model involving punitive attitudes as
the dependent variable are bolded (note that coefficients for the links between sexual
orientation and the three mediators are shared, as both models were conducted on the same
bootstrapped samples).
* p < .05, *** p < .001
-0.02/ 0.14*
0.13/ 0.49***
1.39*** (0.14) / 1.18*** (0.27)
0.55***/ -0.07
Sexual orientation
0 = teleiophilia
1 = pedophilia
Figure 2. Unstandardized regression coefficients for the link between nonoffending
motivation and social distance/punitive attitudes. The unstandardized coefficient for the link
between nonoffending motivation and social distance/punitive attitudes, controlling for the
effects of fear, anger, and disgust, is in parentheses. Differing coefficients for the model
involving punitive attitudes as the dependent variable are bold (note that coefficients for the
links between nonoffending motivation and the three mediators are shared, as both models
were conducted on the same bootstrapped samples).
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
0.85** (0.47**)/ 0.52* (0.15)
0.56***/ -0.05
0.11/ 0.49***
-0.02/ 0.15*
0 = intrinsic
1 = extrinsic
Table 1: Descriptive statistics (M, SD) and results of analyses of variance for the effects of sexual orientation and nonoffending motivation
1df1 = 1, df2 = 201
2complete 6-item social distance scale as reported in previous studies (Imhoff, 2015; Jahnke, 2015), including two items assessing whether Jim “should be incarcerated” or “better
be dead” (Cronbach’s α = .89); to achieve a “purer” measure of social distance as opposed to punitive attitudes, all further analyses are based on the reduced 4-item social
distance scale.
Note that social distance is scaled from 1 to 7 (instead of 0 to 6) for better comparability with the other instruments in this survey.
Analyses of variance
Intrinsic (n = 54)
Extrinsic (n = 56)
Intrinsic (n = 48)
Extrinsic (n = 47)
Sexual orientation
Sexual orientation
x nonoffending
M (SD)
M (SD)
M (SD)
M (SD)
Social distance
3.45 (1.79)
4.79 (1.95)
5.37 (1.71)
5.69 (1.49)
< .001
< .001
Social distance
complete scale2
2.87 (1.41)
3.96 (1.58)
4.58 (1.51)
4.92 (1.38)
< .001
< .001
Punitive attitudes
1.68 (1.10)
2.34 (1.42)
3.00 (1.49)
3.39 (1.64)
< .001
2.00 (1.36)
2.70 (1.69)
3.65 (1.80)
4.00 (1.81)
< .001
2.52 (1.71)
3.69 (2.09)
5.10 (2.07)
5.03 (1.96)
< .001
2.02 (1.59)
3.17 (1.99)
4.24 (2.14)
4.39 (1.97)
< .001
2.13 (1.63)
3.05 (2.02)
4.31 (2.06)
4.50 (1.86)
< .001
2.56 (1.76)
3.72 (1.93)
5.48 (1.64)
5.32 (1.71)
< .001
2.32 (1.63)
3.52 (1.86)
4.50 (1.71)
4.81 (1.71)
< .001
Table 2: Mediation of the effect of sexual orientation and nonoffending motivation on social distance and
punitive attitudes through fear, anger, and disgust
DV: Social distance
DV: Punitive attitudes
95% CI*
95% CI*
IV: Sexual orientation
IV: Nonoffending motivation
Note. IV = independent variable, DV = dependent variable
*bias-corrected confidence interval for indirect effects based on 10,000 bootstrapped samples
1 the exact value is 0.004, so the confidence interval for the indirect effect of fear does not contain 0.
Table 3: Bivariate Pearson or point-biserial correlations between all tested variables
Social distance
Punitive attitudes
Educational level
*** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05
1categorical variables: Sex: 1 = male, 2 = female; educational level: 0 = lower than Bachelor’s or Associate degree, 1 = holding Bachelor’s or Associate degree or higher;
participant sexual orientation: 0 = homosexual or bisexual, 1 = heterosexual; ethnicity: 0 = non-White or White of Hispanic origin, 1 = White (not of Hispanic origin), children: 0
= no children below the age of 14, 1 = having children below the age of 14.
... Some scholars have argued that debunking myths and misperceptions about paedophilia and CSA is an important way to prevent sexual offending against children (Harper et al., 2018;Jahnke et al, 2014). It is believed that the mental burden of concealing stigmatised sexuality, fear of negative social attitudes and internalisation of such attitudes (Lievesley et al, 2020;Meyer, 2003) render PWP susceptible to distress (Jahnke et al., 2015b;Jahnke, 2018b). Fear of being discovered leads to diminished social and emotional functioning in PWP (Jahnke et al., 2015b) and also creates a barrier to accessing support services (Corrigan, 2004;Grady et al., 2019;Moss, 2019). ...
... Our findings showed a spectrum of public attitudes and sentiments towards people with paedophilia. The anger, disgust, fear, misperceptions, and negative stereotypes reflected in the Haters theme was consistent with previous studies on public attitudes towards PWP, including observed desires to punish or avoid PWP even in the absence of crime (Imhoff, 2015;Jahnke et al., 2014Jahnke et al., , 2015a or when PWP are described as non-offenders (Jahnke, 2018b). As Sternberg (2008) points out, people sometimes hate certain individuals not necessarily due to their real actions but rather the perception or suspicion of their actions. ...
... While stigma and punitive attitudes towards PWP have been widely studied (Imhoff, 2015;Imhoff & Jahnke, 2018;Jahnke & Hoyer, 2013;Jahnke et al., 2015a;Jahnke, 2018aJahnke, , 2018b, we know little about potential pro-social behaviours such as sympathy and care among the public towards PWP, probably because paedophilia has not been discussed enough in the public sphere with a humanised approach (Theaker, 2015). The media typically portrays a dramatically distorted image of PWP by covering selective and sensational headlines of high-profile, notorious child sex offenders, which perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes (such as the interchangeability of the "paedophilia" and "child molestation" concepts) (Ischebeck et al., 2021;Stelzmann et al., 2022). ...
Full-text available
Quantitative studies have found that although most of the general public holds negative attitudes towards people with paedophilia (PWP), a range of views exist. Nevertheless, these studies provide limited insight into the specific details or variety of attitudes or emotions. This qualitative study aimed to better understand public attitudes towards PWP by exploring how the public reacts to talks about paedophilia given by credentialled experts on social media. Seven such talks, which met our specific inclusion criteria, were selected from YouTube, and public comments on these talks were analysed. The top 100 comments of each video were selected, followed by a saturation strategy. This led to 1234 comments being coded and thematically analysed. Six key themes and eight subthemes were generated, thematically grouped into Haters (sub-themes: ‘violent’ and ‘sophisticated’), Critics (sub-themes: ‘victim erasure’ and ‘not a sexual orientation’), Fence-sitters (sub-themes: ‘ambivalent’ and ‘dispassionate arguers’) and Supporters’ (sub-themes: ‘implicit confirmers’ and ‘compassionate supporters’). These themes reflected a spectrum of views. At one pole, Haters exhibited absolute abhorrence and a desire to dismiss the speaker, whilst, at the other pole, Supporters showed empathy towards non-offending PWP and endorsed the speaker’s perspective. Extremely polarised conversations, commonly evidencing anger and sarcasm and emphasis on the concept of help, were found across dissenting voices. These findings help us better understand the variety of public attitudes and responses to expert-delivered information on paedophilia. The effects of perceived social attitudes on PWP well-being and help-seeking behaviours, which can help prevent offending, require further exploration.
... This response not only shows that the women made positive experiences with her disclosure but also reflects that she saw the need of being aware who she tells about her SIC. As society overestimates the relation between SIC and sexual offending against children, at least, men with SIC are generally seen as dangerous [22]. The stereotype of dangerousness is strongly connected to desires to punish or to avoid the men with SIC. ...
... The stereotype of dangerousness is strongly connected to desires to punish or to avoid the men with SIC. As a consequence, men with SIC fear the disclosure of their SIC and make efforts to cover it up since they are afraid of negative social consequences [22]. Although these results need to be validated in female samples, it can be assumed that women with SIC also anticipate negative reactions and thus decide to not disclose. ...
... Reasons for non-disclosure A total of 44.0% of participants stated that they did not disclose to anyone mainly due to the fear of certain consequences (Table 4). This confirms research on stigma in men with SIC mentioned above (e.g., [22]). One participant described her fear of rejection of her best friend: "I could never talk about it to anyone, not even to my best friend, because I have great fear that she finds me repulsive or that I cannot see her anymore." ...
Full-text available
Research on women with sexual interest in children is still rare, especially regarding women’s own theories about the cause of their sexual interest in children, their experiences with (non-)disclosure, and professional help. In the context of a broader online study, we provided 50 women with a sexual interest in children under the age of 14 years (mean age: 33.6, SD = 11.1) with open questions regarding their own theories about what causes their sexual interest in children, experiences with disclosure and non-disclosure, and experiences with and opinions about professional help. Analyses were conducted using an inductive qualitative content analysis method that aimed at ordering and structuring manifest and latent content by categorizing qualitative data. Results revealed that participants mainly think that past experiences caused their sexual interest in children (Σ = 16), e.g., abusive or non-abusive sexual experiences during childhood. Some participants think that their sexual interest in children is a disposition they were born with (Σ = 8). Disclose of sexual interest in children to another person was reported by 56.0% of the present sample and led to rather positive consequences (Σ = 24, e.g., acceptance or support). Those who did not disclose (44.0%) mainly did so due to fear of rejection and/or stigmatization (Σ = 24). A total of 30.0% already sought help due to their sexual interest in children and frequently reported negative experiences (Σ = 15). A frequent statement participants made on how to reach women with sexual interest in children in order to offer professional help was the destigmatization of sexual interest in children (Σ = 14). We recommend that women with sexual interest in children should be taken more seriously among research and in prevention measures.
... These findings may be surprising for the general public within Western cultures where the terms "pedophile" and "child sex offender" are often conflated and used synonymously [31]. Widespread misunderstanding sees non-offending PWP experience similar amounts of social exclusion and hatred as individuals who do not have pedophilia but have committed child sex offences [32]. ...
... In a mostly female English speaking, and a satisfactorily sex diverse German speaking sample, Imhoff [19] found high levels of perceived dangerousness to be the greatest predictor of punitive attitudes toward PWP. Jahnke [32] found this effect to be present even when participants were explicitly informed that the PWP in question had never and will never commit a sexual offence against a child. It makes sense that PWP are typically seen as more of a danger for children and adolescents than for adults [12,39], given that the object of their sexual desire is prepubescent children. ...
... This effect was exacerbated when PWP were labelled as pedophiles, rather than as individuals with a sexual interest in prepubescent children [19]. Similarly nuanced punitive attitudes were presented by Jahnke [32] in which participant desire for harsher punishment was more pronounced toward PWP who were sexually attracted to younger girls and whose lack of sexual offending was motivated by punishment avoidance, rather than a moral conviction that said behaviour is inappropriate. ...
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Background: Pedophilia is a deviant sexual interest subject to more public stigma and punitive attitudes than others. Pedophilia has received a disproportionate amount of scholarly attention in comparison to other deviant sexual interests. To address this, the present study offers a comparison of the public stigma and punitive attitudes associated with pedophilia, fetishism, and hypersexuality. Methods: Recruited in Australia, one-hundred and twelve individuals participated in an anonymous online survey. Stigmatising and punitive attitudes toward pedophilia, fetishism, and hypersexuality were assessed via sub-scales of perceived dangerousness, deviance, intentionality, and punitive attitudes. Results: Participants held harsher punitive attitudes toward people with pedophilia and thought them to be more deviant and dangerous than people with fetishism and hypersexuality. Participants perceived hypersexuality to be more dangerous and deviant than fetishism. No consistent combination of perceived dangerousness, deviance, and intentionality predicted punitive attitudes toward all conditions. Rather, combinations of punitive attitude predictors were unique across conditions. Conclusions: This research articulates the unparalleled public stigma and punitive attitudes faced by people with pedophilia, compared to people with fetishism and hypersexuality. Findings which suggest that public stigma is stronger for hypersexuality than it is for fetishism are relatively novel, as are the observed predictors of punitive attitudes toward each condition. Knowledge produced by this study contributes to an improved conceptualisation of how the public views individuals who experience deviant sexual interests.
... This means that it often has no basis in logic, such as when people refuse to drink water that has been "contaminated" by a dead sterilized cockroach (Kecinski et al., 2018). In an experimental vignette study Jahnke (2018a) examined the effects of nonoffending motivation (internal vs. external) and sexual orientation (pedophilic vs. teleiophilic) on cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels. The vignettes manipulated sexual orientation by describing a man who wanted to sexually assault either a woman or a girl. ...
... Furthermore, the notion that someone uses child stimuli to masturbate is likely to lead to disgust. Indeed, Jahnke (2018a) found that disgust levels toward pedophilia were predicted by abnormality judgments. This may account for the large effect between the sexual gratification conditions using child-stimuli in both studies and the medication condition for disgust. ...
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People with pedophilia (PWP) can deal with their sexual desires by relieving sexual arousal without sexually exploiting children. Study 1 investigated whether public reactions toward nonoffending pedophilic men are affected by their strategies to relieve sexual arousal (non-sexual pictures vs. child sex dolls) or to reduce their sex drive via testosterone-lowering medication in legally non-problematic ways. A sample of German-speaking participants (N = 143) read three vignettes describing PWP using either of these strategies. Participants (59.4% females) mean age was 39.7 (SD = 15.6). They rated their preferred social distance and affective responses toward the person in the vignette, as well as how dangerous they perceived them to be. Although no significant difference was detected between the nonsexual pictures and sex dolls condition on cognitive (except for dangerousness), affective, and behavioral levels, both consistently elicited more stigmatizing reactions than the testosterone-lowering medication condition. To investigate if this effect was driven by disapproving any relief of sexual arousal or the use of actual child stimuli in particular, Study 2 (N = 151) added two conditions with PWP using adult child-like stimuli to relieve sexual arousal: adult-as-schoolgirl porn and adult partner with childlike appearance. Here, participants (57.6 females) mean age was 28.0 (SD = 13.3). Results indicate that stigmatization was driven by disapproving the use of child stimuli rather than the relief of sexual arousal in general. Individuals with a sexual interest in children face strong stigmatizing reactions, which are only alleviated when they are described as undergoing treatment lowering sex drive or – to a lesser extent – being able to mate with an adult partner or using porn with adult actors posing as schoolgirls.
... The review found that the literature indicated both the existence of prevalent stigma and negative affective responses informing a desire to punish even when the behavior and the sexual interest were distinguished. However, we know little about the origins of negative affective responses, as limited research focuses on understanding the emotional aspects of stigma surrounding sexual interest in children (Jahnke, 2018). ...
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Prevalent conflation between having a sexual interest in children and engaging in sexually abusive behavior contributes greatly to elevated levels of stigma directed at people living with a sexual interest in children. Contemporary quantitative research employing stigma intervention techniques has produced promising results in decreasing stigmatizing attitudes toward this population. This study aims to expand on this research by qualitatively analyzing the impact of two antistigma interventions. Content and thematic analysis were used to examine N = 460 responses to two open-ended questions featured in an anonymous online survey, which explored the cognitive and emotional impact of the interventions, respectively. A total of nine themes were identified. Four themes pertained to positive/supportive views and emotional responses reflecting the challenging of stereotypes, gaining new perspective, personalized reflections, and recognizing the impacts of stigma. Three themes reflected negative views and emotional responses, which concerned minimization and normalization, adverse personal experiences, and disbelief and mistrust. Finally, two themes reflected mixed views and emotional responses, specifically the difficulty in reconciling emotional and cognitive responses. The data indicated that both interventions showed potential to impact participants' viewpoints positively. Findings offer insights into how future research can be designed and interventions can be developed more effectively.
... The high degree of stigma associated with sexual offending creates substantive challenges for CAPs (Imhoff, 2015;Jahnke, 2018;Jahnke et al., 2015a), particularly the experience of stigma-related stress which is associated with multiple negative (mental) health outcomes, including depression and anxiety, feelings of shame and guilt, hopelessness, loneliness and social isolation, and suicidal ideation and behavior (B4UACT, 2022;Cash, 2016;Cohen et al., 2020;Elchuk et al., 2022;Houtepen et al., 2016;Jahnke et al., 2015b;Lievesley et al., 2020). These outcomes adversely impact individuals' wellbeing and can also increase a person's likelihood of sexual offending (e.g., Marshall & Barbaree, 1990). ...
Online support communities are gaining attention among child-attracted persons (CAPs). Though research has largely focused on the negative consequences these environments create for potential offending, they may also provide a beneficial alternative to more formal treatment settings. To assess the utility for clinical and therapeutic purposes, this analysis focused on subcultural dynamics to examine self-reported wellbeing outcomes of participation in a Dutch forum for CAPs. A total of 15 semi-structured interviews were conducted with moderators, members and mental health professionals involved in the community. Thematic analyses demonstrated that by means of informal social control, bonds of trust and social relational education, the network aims to regulate the behavior and enhance the wellbeing of its marginalized participants. Key outcomes include a decreased sense of loneliness and better coping with stigma, to the point that participants experience less suicidal thoughts. Association with prosocial peers also helps to set moral boundaries regarding behavior towards children, although we cannot fully rule out potential adverse influences. Online support networks offer a stepping stone to professional care that fits individual needs of CAPs, while also providing an informal environment that overcomes limitations of physical therapy and that extents principles of existing prevention and desistance approaches.
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is pervasive internationally, and has significant impacts on victim-survivors into adulthood. The most appropriate way to address this problem is prevention and early intervention of perpetration. Stigma experienced by people with paedophilia (PWP) is associated with refusal to seek and engage in therapeutic care, and nonadherence to treatment plans. Fear of rejection or unfair practice by healthcare professionals is a specific barrier. This scoping review aims to examine stigmatisation of individuals with a sexual interest in children or adolescents (paedophilia), and how stigma may impact (a) the help-seeking behaviour and disclosure, and (b) treatment professionals' willingness to treat this population. The influence of stigma on therapeutic outcomes and effectiveness was further explored to illuminate barriers and facilitators to treatment for PWP. In line with the Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis for Scoping Review (PRISMA-ScR) guidelines, relevant databases were searched (e.g., PsycInfo, EbscoHost) and screened independently. Eligible studies were focused on the impact of stigma on help-seeking and disclosure, published between 2000 and 2022, and English-language. Themes reflect experiences of internalised stigma, public and familial stigmatisation, professional stigma, and how these function as barriers to accessing help or disclosing one's sexual attraction to informal (e.g., close friends, family) and formal (e.g., mental health professionals, GPs, religious leaders) supports. As demonstrated by the papers reviewed, there is a clear and timely need for increased intervention and treatment. Specialist training for treatment professionals is needed to improve service accessibility and competences in treating clients who disclose this attraction. Sexual Abuse F o r P e e r R e v i e w Abstract Child sexual abuse (CSA) is pervasive internationally, and has significant impacts on victim-survivors
Purpose Paedophilic individuals are a highly misunderstood and stigmatised group, with the general public tending to equate paedophilia with child sexual abuse. Given that paedophilia is often conflated as a psychiatric/mental health disorder and an extreme violent offence, the current study examined whether the stigma towards paedophilic individuals is related to negative associations with severe mental illness and extreme violence. The authors also used the terror management theory (TMT) to provide further insights into why paedophilia is so highly stigmatised. Design/methodology/approach A sample of 126 participants was split into one of six conditions and provided punitive and moral character judgements, as well as salience of death thoughts. Conditions were divided into three main stigma conditions (paedophilia vs schizophrenia vs homicidal ideation), which were further divided into two conditions (offending vs non-offending). Findings Results showed that judgements were harsher in the offending conditions than the non-offending conditions. Results also showed that the stigmatisation of paedophilic and schizophrenic individuals may be mediated by terror management processes. These findings suggest that paedophilia is believed to be associated with severe forms of mental illness where an individual is not able to control their own state of mind. Research limitations/implications Thus, addressing perceptions of dangerousness towards individuals with severe mental illness is a crucial step towards developing effective strategies to help reduce such stigma. Originality/value As one of the first studies to use TMT in this way, the current study provided much-needed insight into an important and under-researched area using available methods for such a sensitive topic.
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Zusammenfassung Herstellung, Besitz und Verbreitung von kinderpornografischem Material (besser „child sexual exploitation material“, CSEM) stellt in Deutschland einen Straftatbestand dar und ist stark im öffentlichen Fokus. Laut Bundeskriminalamt haben sich die aufgedeckten Straftaten in diesem Bereich in den letzten Jahren dramatisch erhöht. Nach einer Gesetzesreform aus dem Jahr 2021 wurden sämtliche diesbezügliche Handlungsvarianten zum Verbrechen hochgestuft. Im Sinne universeller und selektiver Präventionsansätze ist daher wichtig, frühzeitig auf mögliche Risiken bei CSEM-Delikten hinzuweisen. Erste internationale Daten belegen, dass das Rechtswissen in diesem Bereich sehr unsicher ist. Außerdem werden Frauen als Täterinnen bisher wenig beachtet. In einer vignettenbasierten Online-Studie befragten wir 407 Personen zu ihrem CSEM-Rechtswissen. Zusätzlich erfassten wir die Gefährlichkeitsschätzungen sowie die emotionalen Reaktionen gegenüber den beschriebenen Tatverdächtigen (männlich vs. weiblich). Wie auch international zeigt sich für die deutsche Stichprobe eine große Unsicherheit für bestimmte CSEM-Delikte. Die beschriebenen Tatverdächtigen werden überwiegend als gefährlich eingeschätzt, besonders für Kinder und Jugendliche. Frauen als Täterinnen werden weniger gefährlich eingeschätzt und erhalten weniger negative Reaktionen als ihre männlichen Pendants. Wir diskutieren die Ergebnisse vor dem Hintergrund weiterer möglicher Präventionsansätze und der Überlastung der Behörden im Zusammenhang mit dem Anstieg der CSEM-Delikte.
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Recent research has established marked punitive attitudes against people sexually interested in children. These negative attitudes are even more pronounced when such sexual interest is labelled as pedophilia, but are attenuated to the extent that such sexual interest is perceived as beyond one's own control (unintentional). We explored these effects in more detail by separately manipulating the label (pedophiles vs. people with sexual interest in prepubescent children) and degree of intentionality (pedophilia or sexual desire as malleable vs. not malleable). Participants recruited via an online platform (N = 423) were randomly assigned to the experimental conditions and asked to rate degree of intentionality, dangerousness, deviance, and punitive attitudes toward people sexually interested in children. As expected, participants expressed stronger punitive attitudes when the label was present. The manipulation of intentionality, however, was not successful. Further analyses explored whether participants found the notion that sexual interest cannot be altered at will more credible than the opposite, particularly in presence of the pedophilia label. The results are discussed with regard to the significance of and potential intervention against the markedly strong public stigma against people with pedophilia.
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Stigmatization and societal punitiveness about pedophilia have a range of potential consequences, such as the social isolation of people with sexual interest in children, and the formation of policies that are not consistent with empirical research findings. Previous research has shown that people with pedophilic sexual interests use societal thinking to self-stigmatize, which in turn may actually serve to increase their risk of committing a sexual offense. In this study, we compared two attitudinal interventions (first-person narrative vs. expert opinion) using a student sample (N = 100). It was hypothesized that both interventions would lead to reductions in stigmatization and punitive attitudes about pedophiles on an explicit (self-report) level but that only the narrative intervention would lead to reductions of these constructs at the implicit level. Our findings supported both hypotheses. We further discuss the role of narrative humanization in this area and offer suggestions for further research based upon the theoretical and methodological implications of the findings.
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Adults with pedophilic interests are often viewed by the public as a homogenous subgroup based on what we know from those who sexually offend against children. The stigma associated with child sexual abuse may serve to deter such behaviors but may also interfere with the person’s stability and willingness to seek assistance in managing pedophilic interests. This article contrasts the sex offender response and prevention efforts typically employed in the U.S. (i.e., containment, registration, and notification policies and public education programs) with treatment programs aimed at preventing child sexual abuse in Germany, Belgium, and Canada. Five major areas are identified that should be further examined with regard to implementing preventative outreach and treatment programs in the U.S.: barriers to outreach and treatment programs, how to expand or reframe current preventative educational programs, implementation of such programs in light of current mandating reporting policies, promising treatment approaches for pedophilic interests among non-offenders, and ethical concerns relevant to preventative psychological interventions.
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Crowdsourcing has had a dramatic impact on the speed and scale at which scientific research can be conducted. Clinical scientists have particularly benefited from readily available research study participants and streamlined recruiting and payment systems afforded by Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a popular labor market for crowdsourcing workers. MTurk has been used in this capacity for more than five years. The popularity and novelty of the platform have spurred numerous methodological investigations, making it the most studied nonprobability sample available to researchers. This article summarizes what is known about MTurk sample composition and data quality with an emphasis on findings relevant to clinical psychological research. It then addresses methodological issues with using MTurk-many of which are common to other nonprobability samples but unfamiliar to clinical science researchers-and suggests concrete steps to avoid these issues or minimize their impact. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology Volume 12 is March 28, 2016. Please see for revised estimates.
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Consistent evidence exists for sexual interest in children in non-clinical/non-forensic male populations. However, prevalences for community males’ self-reported sexual interest in children involving prepubescent children have been based on indiscriminate definitions including postpubescent individuals, age-restricted samples, and/or small convenience samples. The present research assessed males’ self-reported sexual interest in children (including child prostitution and child sex tourism) on community level and examined the link between strictly defined sexual fantasies and behaviors involving prepubescent children. In an online survey of 8,718 German males 4.1% reported sexual fantasies involving prepubescent children, 3.2% sexual offending against prepubescent children, and 0.1% a pedophilic sexual preference. Sexual fantasies involving prepubescent children were positively related to sexual offending against prepubescent children. Sexual interest in children was associated with subjectively perceived need for therapeutic help. In contrast to findings from forensic samples, men who exclusively reported child pornography use were identified as a subgroup differing from contact sexual offenders against prepubescent children and men who committed both child pornography and contact sexual offenses against prepubescent children. The empirical link between child-related sexual fantasies and sexual victimization of prepubescent children and high levels of subjective distress from this inclination underscore the importance of evidence-based child sexual abuse prevention approaches in the community. Findings are discussed in terms of their relation to pedophilic disorder.
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Despite decades of research on the adverse consequences of stereotyping and discrimination for many stigmatized groups, little is known about how people with pedophilia perceive and react to stigma. In this article, we present a framework that outlines how stigma-related stress might negatively affect emotional and social areas of functioning, cognitive distortions, and the motivation to pursue therapy, all of which may contribute to an increased risk of sexual offending. We tested our hypotheses in an online survey among self-identified German-speaking people with pedophilia (N = 104) using a wide range of validated indicators of social and emotional functioning (Brief Symptom Inventory-53, UCLA Loneliness Scale, Emotion Subscale of the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations, Fear of Negative Evaluation-5, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale). Specific risk factors such as self-efficacy, cognitive distortions and the motivation to seek treatment were also assessed. In line with our hypotheses, fear of discovery generally predicted reduced social and emotional functioning. Contrary to our predictions, perceived social distance and fear of discovery were not linked to self-efficacy, cognitive distortions, or treatment motivation. Results were controlled for the effects of confounding variables (e.g, age, educational level, social desirability, relationship status). We critically evaluate the empirical contribution of this study to research on stigma and child sex offenses, including a discussion of the results in light of the potential indirect effects that public stigma may have on the overall risk for sexual offenses.
We conducted an Internet survey of 1,102 men sexually attracted to children concerning their history of adjudicated offenses related to child pornography and sexual contact with children. Most of the men reported no offenses, but their rate of offenses was much higher than that expected for adult-attracted men. Correlates of offending are consistent with a strong role of the cumulative effects of temptation, especially age. Older men, men who had repeatedly worked in jobs with children, men who had repeatedly fallen in love with children, and men who had often struggled not to offend were especially likely to have offended. Attraction to male children, relative attraction to children versus adults, and childhood sexual abuse experiences were also strong predictors of offending. In contrast, permissive attitudes regarding child-adult sex and frequent indulgence in sexual fantasies about children were not significantly related to offending. Our findings represent the first large study of offending among men sexually attracted to children who were not recruited via contact with the legal system. Because of methodological limitations, our findings cannot be definitive. Reassuringly, however, results are generally consistent with those from the most pertinent existing studies, of recidivism among convicted sex offenders.
To our knowledge, this is the first large study of the attractions of child-attracted men recruited in any manner other than their being charged with legal offenses. We recruited 1,189 men from websites for adults attracted to children. Men in our sample were highly attracted to children, and they were much less attracted to adults, especially to adult men. However, men varied with respect to which combination of gender and age they found most attractive. Men in our sample were especially attracted to pubescent boys and prepubescent girls. Their self-reported attraction patterns closely tracked the age/gender gradient of sexual arousal established in prior research. Consistent with the gradient, men most attracted to prepubescent children were especially likely to have bisexual attractions to children. Pedohebephilia—attraction to sexually immature children—is best considered a collection of related if distinct sexual orientations, which vary in the particular combination of gender and sexual maturity that elicits greatest sexual attraction. Finally, our study reveals the potential power and efficiency of studying highly cooperative child-attracted men recruited via the Internet.