Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Paedophile: Misleading language & child sexual abuse.

We have become increasingly concerned about the (mis)use of the word 'paedophile', particularly on social media. We wanted to write a short and succinct piece about the problems with using this word, and we've referred to Prof Liz Kelly's piece Weasel Words: Paedophiles and the Cycle of Abuse and the Child & Women Abuse Studies website.

It has become clear that the term 'paedophile' is now most commonly used to collectively describe child sexual abusers. It seems to refer to a type of abuser - usually one who is abusing children outside of the familial setting, the 'loner' with uncontrollable sexual urges, who appears 'different' to others within the community.

One issue with this is the assumption that most abuse takes place outside the family. This is not the case. Children are most at risk from adults who are in a family caring role - usually fathers or step fathers. The description of 'paedophile' is a move away from those men we know are most likely to abuse - our fathers, grandfathers, brothers, family friends. They are the men sharing our lives and and this term takes us into the more comfortable place of 'other'. It presumes a fundamental difference between men who sexually abuse children and 'ordinary' men; a difference that does not exist in reality.

The dichotomy of 'paedophile' vs 'ordinary men' is a dangerous one. Ordinary men are the ones abusing children. Generally, these men do not only have a sexual attraction to children. These men have wives and partners and girlfriends and maintain successful sexual relationships with adults as well as abusing children.

Using the clinical definition of paedophile, that of these men only having a sexual interest in children, stops us looking at strategies of abusers. These strategies are the same regardless of whether the abuser fits the clinical definition. Abusers choose the children they abuse and they make a deliberate attempt not to get caught - they make strategic decisions in order to facilitate abuse. The 'paedophile' discourse prevents us from discussing this and also helps the abusers avoid responsibility.

Describing men who sexually abuse children in this way focuses on their 'deviance' - an 'abnormality', a 'sickness'. It stops us looking at men's entitlement, the notions of ownership and we lose the option to talk about choice & responsibility for our own abusive actions. If 'paedophilia' is thought of in these terms, we become distracted away from the real issue, which is actually one of ordinariness.

Abusing others is a choice, as is not abusing others. If we use terms that allow abusers to say 'I can't help myself', what does that say about the likelihood of preventing child sexual abuse? Child sexual abusers describe themselves as such; using terms preferred by abusers means we collude by using their language. We must challenge the notions of ownership, sexuality (especially that of men) and ensure that choice and agency of abusers is acknowledged and discussed. Othering them into 'paedos' or 'sickos' prevents that.

Let us call them what they are - sexual abusers of children or child rapists.

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6 thoughts on “Paedophile: Misleading language & child sexual abuse.

  • Bobette says:

    While I agree wholeheartedly with whats written, its important not to state that its is a 100% male label. We all know it is predominantly male but not exclusively and we must be careful not to do the same with female paedophile as your article asks for family members.

    • Admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. This piece was about male sexual abusers, hence its focus.

      • R Carey says:

        If the peice is about male sexual abusors, why does the title say it is about paedophiles?

        • Admin says:

          Is your comment a joke?

          The article is about use of the word ‘paedophile’, which we would clearly have to use in order to discuss it.
          Please don’t waste your time or ours with nonsense comments such as this one.

  • Sam Barnett-Cormack says:

    Then there’s the fact that the clinical use of the term is narrower than the way it’s used in the media; there are separate terms depending on the age of the children the individual is attracted to (or the gender, depending on the theorist you’re referring to).

  • Hecuba says:

    Paedophile is a term used to define adult males who sexually prey on pre-pubescent girl children and a to a much lesser extent, prepubescent male children. Paedophile is also a clinical term meaning the male sexual predator is suffering from an illness so hence he cannot be held accountable for his choice and agency in sexually preying on females. Ergo: if male sexual predator is suffering from an illness he cannot be held accountable for his crimes against women and girls.

    However, most male sexual predators make no distinction between whether or not the female victim is a pre-pubescent child; an adolescent child or an adult woman. The common factor is the victims are all female and hence male sexual predators are merely enacting their male sex right to female bodies.

    Paedophile is a term used by malestream media to deflect attention away from the fact it is males overwhelmingly who are the ones sexually preying on women and girls rather than those supposed ‘loners’ who live outside of society and are not normal respectable men. Savile was a serial male sexual predator not a paedophile because Savile sexually preyed on female children, adolescent female children and adult women. Likewise convicted male sexual predator Stuart Hall also sexually preyed on young women and female children.

    But male supremacist system and its tool, malestream media always claims only ‘paedophiles’ (sex of perpetrator is never stated unless the perpetrator is female) are the sexual predators because it is essential women do not make the connection between normal male sexual behaviour towards women and girls which is very similar to male sexual predators. The commonality is pseudo male sex right to female bodies.

    Read Liz Kelly’s essay on Weasel Words: Paedophiles and (male) child sexual (violence) abuse because she succinctly debunks mens’ claims that paedophiles are the dangerous monsters not that nice respectable family man who is merely enacting his pseudo male sex right to females of all ages.