A pedophile is a person who engages in or fantasizes about sexual acts with children. Though the age of consent is different in every state, federal law dictates that thirteen is the absolute minimum.
The word comes from the Greek: παιδοφιλία (paidophilia): παῖς (pais), "child" and φιλία (philia), "friendship". Paidophilia was coined by Greek poets either as a substitute for "paiderastia" (pederasty), or vice versa.
The term paedophilia erotica was coined in 1886 by the Viennese psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his writing Psychopathia Sexualis. He listed the following characteristics:
- The sexual interest is toward prepubescent youths only. This interest does not extend to the first signs of pubic hair.
- The sexual interest is toward prepubescent youths only and does not include teenagers.
- The sexual interest remains over time.
Adults sexually attracted to prepubescent youths were placed into three categories by Krafft-Ebing:
- surrogate (that is, the prepubescent youths are regarded as a substitute object for a preferred, non-available adult object)
These types have been expanded upon and updated over the years into a variety of typologies
The cause or causes of pedophilia are not known. The experience of sexual abuse as a child was previously thought to be a strong risk factor, but research does not show a causal relationship, as the vast majority of sexually abused children do not grow up to be adult offenders, nor do the majority of adult offenders report childhood sexual abuse. The US Government Accountability Office concluded, "the existence of a cycle of sexual abuse was not established." Until 1996, there was greater belief in the theory of a "cycle of violence," because most of the research done was retrospective—abusers were asked if they had experienced past abuse. Even the majority of studies found that most adult sex offenders said they had not been sexually abused during childhood, but studies varied in terms of their estimates of the percentage of such offenders who had been abused, from 0 to 79 percent. More recent prospective longitudinal research — studying children with documented cases of sexual abuse over time to determine what percentage become adult offenders — has demonstrated that the cycle of violence theory is not an adequate explanation for why people molest children.
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