A child molester is described as an older person, male or female, which experiences any type of sexual act with another person who is a child. The majority of child molesters, more than 95 percent, are male.
America’s most famous female child molester, Mary Kay Letourneau, is currently serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence in a Washington state prison for her sexual involvement with a 13-year-old boy(3). The relationship began when the victim was a student in her sixth-grade class. Letourneau has given birth to two daughters fathered by the youth. One was born in prison. But Letourneau’s case is rare. It does not seem to be part of the psychological composite of females to sexually molest a child. That compulsion, whatever its origin, seems to lie deep within the male psyche.
Molesters engage in sex with children for a variety of reasons and sometimes these reasons have little to do with sexual desires. This type of offender, called a situational child molester, does not possess a genuine sexual preference for children. Rather, the motivational factors are criminal in nature. In some cases, the offender’s sexual abuse of young people is a natural outgrowth of other forms of abuse in his life. That abuse is a continuation of a process by which he has mistreated his friends, colleagues, spouse and family members. He will have low self-esteem, maintain poor moral standards and view sex with children as an opportunity to prolong the violence that is already an active component of his existence. Other situational offenders see children as a substitute for an adult partner. Although these types of offenders do not harbor a singular sexual desire for children, they may react to a built up sexual impulse or anger, that to them, is irresistible. However, the victim is incidental. It could have been a store clerk, an elderly person or simply a woman walking down a lonely street. Because of the circumstances at hand, such as the Polly Klass incident, the victim happened to be a child. His main criteria for a victim is availability. The situational child molester will usually have few victims, sometimes only one, and never repeat the event again. He could be a social misfit or a psychopathic personality who harbors a seething resentment and hostility toward society in general.
The second classification of sexual offender is defined as a preferential child molester. These offenders have a sexual preference for children and usually maintain these desires throughout their lives.
Preferential child molesters can have an astounding number of victims and these crimes can remain undiscovered for many years. In 1995, a child molestation case in Texas caused a national uproar when the suspect was due to be released from prison after serving a six-year sentence for the rape of a 6 year-old boy. He told the police that he got away with abusing over 240 children before getting caught for molesting a single child and if released, would do it again(4). One long-term study of hundreds of sex offenders found that the pedophile child molester committed an average of 281 acts with 150 partners. These types of offenders wreak havoc upon society far out of proportion to their numbers.
The preferential child molester exhibits distinct patterns of behavior that are common among his kind. They will seduce children by buying gifts and appealing to their emotional weakness. This requires the offender to develop a friendship with the child or utilize an existing relationship with the victim. In more than 90 percent of the rapes of children less than 12 years old, the offender knew the victim (U.S. Department of Justice). Other offenders will engage in self-exposure or personally harass children. Simply stated, the preferential child molester is a pedophile who has carried his fantasies and desires into reality. A small minority of these types of offenders may be sadistic in nature and inflict pain or torture upon their victims. These individuals, like any other criminal, can be brutal and sadistic. Such an individual was Britain’s most famous and despised child molester, Bill Malcolm.
In 1981, Malcolm was convicted of raping a 3-year-old girl and sent to prison. When he was released in 1984, he returned to rape the same terrified girl who was then 6 years old. Malcolm was angry that she had identified him as the rapist. He later told cops he wanted revenge. He was charged again in 1994 with rape and assault on four children who he allegedly tied to a bed and forced to perform sex acts. A judge later made a favorable ruling in Malcolm’s case and he walked out of the courtroom a free man. But child molesters evoke little sympathy from the general public. On February 18 2000, two men showed up at Malcolm’s doorstep and promptly put a bullet in his head. One person said what a lot of Londoners were feeling: “Whoever did this deserves a medal!” N.Y. Post, February 20, 2000).
It should be said from the very beginning that no one knows how many pedophiles exist in America since the overwhelming majority never fulfill their fantasies, nor do they come to the attention of law enforcement agents. They seem content to fantasize in the safety and comfort of their own homes. The most common type of pedophile personality is the immature model. These people have never been able to maintain a successful interpersonal relationship with others. At some point in their lives, they discover that sexual activities with pre-pubescent children can be achieved and they feel a sense of fulfillment they cannot obtain anywhere else. They are classified as loner deviants and usually will not associate with other deviants. Since they lack social contact with others, they spiral downward into deeper recesses of pedophilia and fantasies(5).
Pedophiles can be found at every social and economic level and can be established members of the community. Sadly, we have all read stories in local newspapers concerning members of clergy, respected businessmen and schoolteachers who were exposed as pedophiles or child molesters. In 1985, a Roman Catholic priest in Louisiana pleaded guilty to 33 charges of sexual abuse against 33 boys. He later admitted that he molested several dozen others. He was released in 1995 and later arrested again for the rape of a 12-year-old -girl. In one of America’s worst cases of clergy who molest parishioners, the Sante Fe diocese in New Mexico settled 165 sexual abuse cases in 1997. More than 20 priests were removed from their positions and civil settlements may exceed $50 million dollars. Incredibly, an archbishop involved in the case said he didn’t know that sexual abuse was a crime(6). But unlike this priest, the majority of pedophiles never cross that line into active child molestation. They mostly will remain quiet, keep to themselves and pursue their sexual interests at home.
Many of these offenders have extensive collections of child pornography or child erotica that feed their fantasy world. These photos and drawings will typically be cutouts from newspapers and magazines that other people would find inoffensive or even innocuous. Pedophiles will frequently videotape children from television shows and commercials. They will also attend sporting events in schools and surreptitiously tape these events. Undoubtedly, the notorious video clip of Jon Benet Ramsey participating at a Colorado beauty pageant has found its way into the video libraries of pedophiles across the country.
These collections of pornography are often considered the pedophile’s most valued possession (Lanning, p. 28). It represents years of work and symbolizes, in tangible form, his inner most sexual fantasies and thoughts. The collection will consist of slides, commercial photos, souvenirs, toys, Polaroids and virtually any other type of material that relates to or displays any minute reference to child sex. Child erotica collections will vary in quality and quantity, often depending upon the economic status of the collector. Police have found that the older the pedophile, the more extensive the collection will be. Since true child pornography requires a clandestine effort to obtain, the majority of these collections will be erotic in nature as opposed to pornographic. And often the focus will be upon one or two aspects of sexuality. Preferential child molesters especially, preserve these types of collections and will do anything to safeguard them. Offenders have been known to make formal requests to the police agencies to return these items after their case has been adjudicated.
The pedophile collector falls into three general categories: closet, isolated and the sharer. The closet collector maintains and views his erotica in secret and does not molest children. This type of collector builds his collection in a clandestine manner and keeps its existence a secret. Sometimes, he will maintain this collection for years without the knowledge of a live-in spouse. The isolated collector is actually engaged in molestation and will display the material to a victim. The sharer-collector trades and displays the material with others and may do so for profit. He also will molest children and keeps company with other pedophiles. Since other criminals, like burglars, muggers, car thieves, rarely collect artifacts relating to their criminality, why do pedophiles collect? The answer to that question lies in the psychological characteristics of his condition. He has a twisted sexual compulsion for children whose origins are separate and apart from criminality. His deviance is defined as criminal only because society has deemed it so. Some pedophiles believe that they have done nothing wrong and are simply more enlightened than the general public. They feel they are part of a special progressive movement and one day society will come to accept, what they see as, their sacred ritual of adult/child sex.
From a practical standpoint, collections serve crucial needs for the pedophile. First, child erotica and pornography are used in his crimes. The pedophile will display this material to a victim to lower his inhibitions and introduce him to the possibilities of sex with an adult. This is a very important step in the seduction process. Secondly, the pedophile will use the material for his own sexual gratification. Often it is used in the arousal phase prior to sexual activity with victims. Still others will use photographs of the abuse to blackmail their victims into further sexual activity. After engaging in sexual acts with an adult, a complex set of emotions engulfs the victim. These emotions include humiliation, attachment to the offender and fear of exposure. The victim becomes extremely fearful that his friends and family will learn of the sexual activity and he will suffer harsh consequences. Pedophiles are familiar with these feelings and will use those emotions against the child. Pornography plays a pivotal role in the child sex offender’s life. But most importantly, it is the tool of his trade used to induct his victims into his sexual fantasies. This is why law enforcement is always on the alert to the onslaught of pornography on the Web.