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Protecting children from sexual abuse by pedophiles, from the Harvard Mental Health Letter

Parents can take several steps to protect children from becoming victims of sexual abuse by pedophiles, reports the July issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

Few disorders are as repulsive to the public as pedophilia, defined as sexual attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty. Although researchers once thought that it was possible to cure pedophilia, the consensus now is that this type of sexual behavior is unlikely to change.

That has led to an emphasis on trying to prevent sexual abuse by pedophiles, mainly by educating and empowering children, parents, and caregivers. Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, recommends that parents start by educating their children about appropriate and inappropriate forms of physical contact, and encouraging them to talk about any interactions with adults that make them uncomfortable.

The Harvard Mental Health Letter also explores several persistent myths about pedophilia. One of the most common myths is that pedophiles are predatory strangers. In fact, in about 60% to 70% of child sexual abuse cases involving pedophiles, the perpetrator is a relative, neighbor, family friend, teacher, coach, or someone else in regular contact with the child.

Pedophiles seldom attack children out of the blue. More often, they try to desensitize a child to inappropriate behavior and then gradually escalate the physical contact. This means there may be time to stop sexual abuse before it occurs.

Read the full-length article: "Pessimism about pedophilia

Also in this issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter

  • References for "Pessimism about pedophilia"
  • References for "Dementia syndromes in the elderly"
  • References for "The evolving understanding of stigma"
  • Pessimism about pedophilia
  • Dementia syndromes in the elderly
  • The evolving understanding of stigma
  • In Brief: Treating depression along with alcohol dependence
  • In Brief: The Quirky Brain: Why people hear voices
  • Ask the doctor: How does health care reform affect mental health parity?

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.