01 March 2012

Dear Dr. James,

I am a professional Canadian woman aged 33 with a high awareness of issues relating to addiction and pedophilia, due to an alcoholic mother and father who was convicted of inappropriately touching his girlfriend’s young boy.

My problem is that I have a long list of ‘suggested traits’ of a pedophile written down on my notepad that appear to be present in my current boyfriend. My boyfriend hasn’t shown any overt signs of being a pedophile or having been abused himself, but he is only 30 and I guess I fear that something will emerge later, as it did with my dad later in his life.

Could you possibly tell me whether you feel that someone can technically tick all or most of the biological or social ticklist boxes of traits and not be a pedophile? The things that make me nervous about my boyfriend are learning issues/poor grades in school, poor memory, short in stature, left-handed, and a strong view that men should be able to interact with children and not be called pedophiles. He is constantly injuring himself and funnily enough he sometimes reminds me of a brain injured person—I worked with acute brain injury patients for four years.

Thank you so much in advance for taking the time to read my email.

Kind regards,
T. C.
Dear T. C.,

I cannot make any clinical judgment, but I can say that none of the clues we have so far uncovered should be interpreted as substantial risk factors.  The differences that have been identified between pedophiles and nonpedophiles—handedness, physical height, and so on—help lead us to how pedophilia might develop, but they tell us only very little about any individual person.  Pedophilia is rare, statistically; even if some effect were very large, telling us that someone had double the chance of being pedophilic, a small chance doubled is still only a small chance. The effects we have discovered so far are large enough to tell us something important about pedophilia as a phenomenon, but not large enough to predict anything meaningful about pedophilia in any individual person. Even though left-handedness is statistically more common among pedophiles, the great majority of left-handed people are not at all pedophilic.

It is also important to note that the clues we have discovered so far are only very general ones. That pedophiles—as a group—are physically shorter on average than nonpedophiles is an important sign scientifically; it tells us that, whatever link there is between pedophilia and biology, that link must have existed during the growth periods of life. We still have no idea what that link might be, however.  Very many things influence growth, and it is probable that only very few or only one of those is at all involved.  My personal guess is that many factors are involved in what makes a person’s brain develop a sexual interest in children, and having only some of those “ingredients” will not trigger it.

So, although the research from my and other teams holds scientific promise for what causes pedophilia, the best method available for detecting pedophilia is still a formal assessment from a qualified professional.  I wish you the best of luck.