Pedophiles are attracted to prepubescent children and act on their sexual fantasies. It is a startling fact that etiology of this paraphilia is unknown. Pedophiles comes from all walks of life and have no common socio-economic background. Contrary to media-propagated myths, most of them had not been sexually abused in childhood and vast majority of pedophiles are also drawn to adults of opposite sex (are heterosexuals).
Only a few belong to Exclusive Type - ones who are tempted solely by kids. Nine tenths of all pedophiles are male. They are fascinated by preteen females, teenage males, or (more rarely) both.
Moreover, at least one fifth (and probably more) of population have pedophiliac fantasies. The prevalence of child pornography and child prostitution prove it. Pedophiles start out as "normal" people and are profoundly shocked and distressed to discover their illicit sexual preference for prepubertal. The process and mechanisms of transition from socially acceptable sexuality to much-condemned (and criminal) pedophilia are still largely mysterious.
Pedophiles seem to have narcissistic and antisocial (psychopathic) traits. They lack empathy for their victims and express no remorse for their actions. They are in denial and, being pathological confabulators, they rationalize their transgressions, claiming that children were merely being educated for their own good and, anyhow, derived great pleasure from it.
The pedophile's ego-syntony rests on his alloplastic defenses. He generally tends to blame others (or world or "system") for his misfortunes, failures, and deficiencies. Pedophiles frequently accuse their victims of acting promiscuously, of "coming on to them", of actively tempting, provoking, and luring (or even trapping) them.
The pedophile - similar to autistic patient - misinterprets child's body language and inter-personal cues. His social communication skills are impaired and he fails to adjust information gained to surrounding circumstances (for instance, to kid's age and maturity).
Coupled with his lack of empathy, this recurrent inability to truly comprehend others cause pedophile to objectify targets of his lasciviousness. Pedophilia is, in essence, auto-erotic. The pedophile uses children's bodies to masturbate with. Hence success of Internet among pedophiles: it offers disembodied, anonymous, masturbatory sex. Children in cyberspace are mere representations - often nothing more than erotic photos and screen names.
It is crucial to realize that pedophiles are not enticed by children themselves, by their bodies, or by their budding and nubile sexuality (remember Nabokov's Lolita?). Rather, pedophiles are drawn to what children symbolize, to what preadolescents stand for and represent.
To pedophile ...
I. Sex with children is "free" and "daring"
Sex with subteens implies freedom of action with impunity. It enhances pedophile's magical sense of omnipotence and immunity. By defying authority of state and edicts of his culture and society, pedophile experiences an adrenaline rush to which he gradually becomes addicted. Illicit sex becomes outlet for his urgent need to live dangerously and recklessly.
The pedophile is on a quest to reassert control over his life. Studies have consistently shown that pedophilia is associated with anomic states (war, famine, epidemics) and with major life crises (failure, relocation, infidelity of spouse, separation, divorce, unemployment, bankruptcy, illness, death of offender's nearest and dearest).
It is likely - though hitherto unsubstantiated by research - that typical pedophile is depressive and with a borderline personality (low organization and fuzzy personal boundaries). Pedophiles are reckless and emotionally labile. The pedophile's sense of self-worth is volatile and dysregulated. He is likely to suffer from abandonment anxiety and be a codependent or counterdependent.
Paradoxically, it is by seemingly losing control in one aspect of his life (sex) that pedophile re-acquires a sense of mastery. The same mechanism is at work in development of eating disorders. An inhibitory deficit is somehow magically perceived as omnipotence.
II. Sex with children is corrupt and decadent
The pedophile makes frequent (though unconscious) use of projection and projective identification in his relationships with children. He makes his victims treat him way he views himself - or attributes to them traits and behaviors that are truly his.
The pedophile is aware of society's view of his actions as vile, corrupt, forbidden, evil, and decadent (especially if pedophiliac act involves incest). He derives pleasure from sleazy nature of his pursuits because it tends to sustain his view of himself as "bad", "a failure", "deserving of punishment", and "guilty".
In extreme (mercifully uncommon) cases, pedophile projects these torturous feelings and self-perceptions onto his victims. The children defiled and abused by his sexual attentions thus become "rotten", "bad objects", guilty and punishable. This leads to sexual sadism, lust rape, and snuff murders.
III. Sex with children is a reenactment of a painful past
Many pedophile truly bond with their prey. To them, children are reification of innocence, genuineness, trust, and faithfulness - qualities that pedophile wishes to nostalgically recapture.
The relationship with child provides pedophile with a "safe passage" to his own, repressed and fearful, inner child. Through his victim, pedophile gains access to his suppressed and thwarted emotions. It is a fantasy-like second chance to reenact his childhood, this time benignly. The pedophile's dream to make peace with his past comes true transforming interaction with child to an exercise in wish fulfillment.
IV. Sex with children is a shared psychosis
The pedophile treats "his" chosen child as an object, an extension of himself, devoid of a separate existence and denuded of distinct needs. He finds child's submissiveness and gullibility gratifying. He frowns on any sign of personal autonomy and regards it as a threat. By intimidating, cajoling, charming, and making false promises, abuser isolates his prey from his family, school, peers, and from rest of society and, thus, makes child's dependence on him total.
To pedophile, child is a "transitional object" - a training ground on which to exercise his adult relationship skills. The pedophile erroneously feels that child will never betray and abandon him, therefore guaranteeing "object constancy".
The pedophile – stealthily but unfailingly – exploits vulnerabilities in psychological makeup of his victim. The child may have low self-esteem, a fluctuating sense of self-worth, primitive defence mechanisms, phobias, mental health problems, a disability, a history of failure, bad relations with parents, siblings, teachers, or peers, or a tendency to blame herself, or to feel inadequate (autoplastic neurosis). The kid may come from an abusive family or environment – which conditioned her or him to expect abuse as inevitable and "normal". In extreme and rare cases – victim is a masochist, possessed of an urge to seek ill-treatment and pain.