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Pedophilia and Conflict

Research on the conflicted relation between the presence of pedophiles and Dutch society

Author: R. Padding

  • BSc. Student number: s4494156
  • & 
  • Master: Human Geography.
  • Specialization: Conflicts, Territories and Identities Radboud University Nijmegen.
  • Supervisor: dr. H. W. B. Bomert. 
  • Second reviewer: dr. G. Hekma
  • Date of publication: November 27, 2015

Dedicated to the respondents who were brave to trust me with their life stories. Thank you.


This research is centered on pedophiles and their place in Dutch society and based on the question: To what extent is there a conflict due to the presence of pedophiles in Dutch society?

Data was gathered and analyzed through

  • a qualitative content analysis of newspaper articles and
  • semi-structured interviews with pedophiles.

In this research pedophiles are defined as people with a sexual age orientation directed towards children younger than sixteen years old. A sexual orientation does not only revolve around sexual feelings, but romantic feelings as well.

Two main results were found.

First, newspapers present a generalized image of pedophiles as people who have engaged or are likely to engage in a form of pedosexuality. This overgeneralization leads to the formation of a stigmatized stereotype, that of a criminal sexual child abuser.

Second, the respondents experience that stigma in their daily life, since they do not feel accepted by society. Instead they experience structural conflict to some extent in the form of unequal life chances. The fact that they are unable to speak out about their sexual identity can lead to difficulties in the social life, in asking for protection and professional help, and in living without fear of discovery. The latter is a form of latent violence.

This research builds further on both classic and recent literature, yet is innovating in the sense that it connects conflict studies to the concept of pedophilia. Conflict is being used as a fluid and broad concept, instead of keeping it static and narrow. This research shows how conflict studies can be relevant in addressing conflict that is not directly visible, since it helps in understanding societal developments and structures.

Keywords: pedophilia, conflict, identity, territory, stigma, moral panic, anxiety, moralization and responsibilization of citizenship

1 Introduction

Pedophilia: conflicted in itself, conflicted in society. Conflicted in itself, because of the changes in definition, diagnosis and treatment. Conflicted in society, since it seems as if society in general does not to want to be confronted with what pedophilia is and with those persons that are classed as pedophiles. Pedophiles are often thought of as child molesters that are dangerous for society and its children. There is a hardening of the general opinion about pedophilia. Overall, it seems as if people do not want to understand what pedophilia really is, while they point at extreme cases of child abuse in order to make generalizations concerning the larger group of pedophiles.

This is remarkable, since, on the one hand, based on scientific findings it is possible to understand more and more about pedophilia, while, on the other hand, societal conflicts surrounding issues of pedophilia seem to be increasing. In order to better understand pedophilia and its place in society, it is necessary to do more research on the topic. (Violent) incidents of harassment, have become more common, especially in the living spaces of pedophiles. Given the changes in the way pedophiles are treated, it is interesting to start from the perspective of conflict studies and to conduct a conflict analysis of the issue of pedophilia in the Netherlands.

There is not a single scientific answer to the question how many pedophiles there are in The Netherlands. The website  mentions that it is difficult to count pedophiles, since most of them do not present themselves as being pedophile openly.

In addition there has not been many research about pedophiles in The Netherlands. Estimates vary from one in thousand to one in twenty-five people that are pedophile ( ). To illustrate this in numbers that would mean that in the Dutch population of seventeen million people, between 17.000 and 680.000 people are pedophile.

The goal of this research is to assess the complex phenomenon of pedophilia and present it as a conflicted theme within society. More insight in the conflict will be helpful in a better understanding of both the society’s as well as the subjects’ struggles. The research findings will give a general overview of why there is a conflict and what consequences this conflict has for the everyday lives and fundamental human rights of pedophiles. After finding out what the foundations for conflict are, possible improvements can be presented. The research sets out to give a more in-depth analysis of the relationship between society on the one hand and individuals with a sexual orientation towards children on the other.

1.1 Scientific relevance

Within the relevant scientific community it has only recently been accepted that pedophilia is not a psychiatric disorder as such (Gijs, 2013; Black & Grant, 2014), but a sexual (age) orientation (Seto, 2012).

The discussion about this issue is ongoing and the debate is primarily being held within the scientific disciplines of psychology and psychiatry. However, there is a lack of scientific research in other relevant disciplines within social sciences. Since issues regarding pedophilia often lead to conflicts within society, an interdisciplinary approach based upon the scientific field of conflict studies is useful in addressing the conflicted issue of pedophilia in (Dutch) society.


1.2 Societal relevance

An analysis of the ways in which society has treated pedophiles is relevant, since these ways can explain the changing character of conflict within society. During the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, some pedophile groups were at least tolerated in parts of Europe, whereas nowadays tolerance is less and groups have been banned (Seto, 2012: 235).

Pedophilia is mainly looked upon as if it is a human choice, a choice made by the individual. As stated before, recent scientific debates address pedophilia rather as a sexual orientation than a psychological disorder (Seto, 2012). In an international context there is a trend towards more intolerance within societies when it comes to pedophilia.

In the Netherlands, in particular, since the ‘Dutroux case’ in 1996 (referring to the kidnapping, sexual abuse and killings of several victims), there seem to be generalizations of everything and everyone that has to do with pedophilia. The Netherlands is clearly heading towards more and stricter regulations and exclusion of pedophiles (as well as pedosexuals). The psychological treatment that aims on the one hand to help pedophiles and, on the other, to prevent child abuse, actually calls for the opposite, however: more inclusion and openness in society (Mulder, 2012).

This research focuses on those individuals that are considered to be pedophiles, but have no intention to abuse children, irrespective of previous conviction(s) of sexual acts with minors. Both

  • pedophiles that were previously sentenced for pedosexuality as well as
  • pedophiles that have never been convicted

are part of this research, since they might be viewed differently by society.

In that way it should become clear what it is exactly that infuriates certain groups of people about pedophiles. It is important to analyze their place in society. There is a misconception of pedophiles as being a major risk to society, given the societal belief that the chances of recidivism are invincible (Mulder, 2012: 8).

As a consequence of this belief, pedophiles are being excluded and there is a continuation of hate and fear, whereas a better understanding of the sexual orientation is needed. In the end a better understanding is necessary to prevent sexual exploitation of children (Seto, 2012: 235).

2. Theoretical Framework [...]

2.1. Identity

2.1A What is a pedophile?

[... ... About the DSM V definition and the problems with this definition ... ...]

Recent literature shows that pedophilia shares some of the same characteristics as other sexual orientations (being heterosexuality and homosexuality). A pedophile usually discovers his/her sexual orientation at an early age. Pedophile feelings are, just as heterosexual and homosexual feelings, usually related to emotional and romantic feelings. And, lastly, pedophilia is not something that can be ‘cured’ or simply ‘goes away’, it is unchangeable (Seto, 2012).

Seto (2012) makes an interesting distinction between

  • hetero-/homosexuality as sexual gender orientations, and
  • pedophilia as a sexual age orientation.

This distinction is interesting, since it serves two goals:

  • it does set pedophilia apart from hetero- and homosexuality, since they are not the same,
  • but on the other hand it brings us closer to an understanding of pedophilia; pedophilia as something similar to hetero- and homosexuality.

According to Seto (2012) the debate about the exact nature of pedophilia is important, since it can take away far-reaching misperceptions with grave consequences for individuals. Seen from various perspectives it is important to know whether or not pedophilia is a sexual age orientation.

  • On a scientific level the answer to this question impacts research questions about, for instance, sexual development and neurobiological causes.
  • On a clinical level, the answer shapes approaches to assessment, prognosis, and treatment. Past experiences have shown that reorientation therapy for homosexuals does not change sexual preferences.
  • On a policy level, the answer affects societal perceptions, but it may also affect criminal and civil law.

“Anti-discrimination laws and policies refer to sexual orientation, but with the implicit understanding that one is referring to sexual gender orientation. But what might happen if the definition of sexual orientation were to expand to include sexual age preferences such as pedophilia?” (Seto, 2012: 232).

2.1B Pedophilia as an identity


It is relevant to note here that there is a difference between pedophilia and pedosexuality.

  • Pedophilia stands for the sexual orientation towards children without engaging into sexual relations with minors, while
  • pedosexuality stands for practicing sexual relations with minors by adults.

Individuals might be a pedophile and never sexually offend a child, while other individuals might not be a pedophile, but do sexually offend a child. In the latter case psychological problems are the reason for the sexual act (Mulder, 2012).

In general, there are several misconceptions about pedophilia.

  • First is the wrong assumption that anyone with a sexual orientation towards children will act upon it when an opportunity arises (Seto, 2009).
  • Another misconception is that if an individual has been convicted and returns into society, he or she will pose a major risk. Contrary to the popular belief that the chances of recidivism are invincible, in reality, according to for instance practicing psychiatrist Mulder (2012), with the right treatment the chances of recidivism can be brought back to only ten per cent.

Pedophilia is not equal to sexual child abuse, though in public, political and media accounts these concepts are often used interchangeable. Approximately fifty per cent of the total of child abuse happens not because a person is a pedophile, but because of other reasons; for instance, a high sex drive, a lack of restraints because of use of alcohol or drugs, or antisocial tendencies (Seto, 2008).

Lautmann (1994) even claims that only five per cent of sexual child abuse is committed by ‘real’ pedophiles. The ‘real’ pedophiles are those persons who have feelings towards children and are aware of the difference between a child and an adult at the same time. The other ninety-five per cent of sexual child abuse is committed by persons who are either unable to associate with adults or by individuals with pathological problems (Lautmann, 1994).

The fact that pedophiles are not equivalent to sexual child abusers also applies when it comes to watching child pornography (Sheldon & Howit, 2007).

It is important to make these distinctions, since pedophiles who do not perform sexual contacts with children are unfairly placed in the same group of people who have done that. In addition those pedophiles who have been convicted for sexual child abuse differ in their risk to reoffend from non-pedophilic child abusers. As a consequence they need different forms of therapy after an offence (Seto, 2008). When media representations ignore treatment successes, the public is left with the false impression of treatment efficacy.


2.1C Changing attitudes towards pedophiles in The Netherlands

[..... History ....]

The variations in the judgment of pedophilia and pedosexuality show how important societal rhetoric is when it comes to acceptance and/or exclusion. It illustrates that generalizations of cases where children have been abused, can lead to a misperception of everybody and everything that only slightly refers to pedophilia.

In addition, changes in the law illustrate that pedophilia is not something that is intrinsically seen as bad. The discourse analysis that will be executed in this research in the form of a qualitative content analysis, will need to explain more about the relationship between discourse in society and the acceptance of pedophiles.

2.2 Territory

2.2A Citizenship in a nation-state


It can help explain the shift in acceptance of pedophiles in the Netherlands: since pedophiles do not fit the dominant values and norms, they are not seen as good citizens. Therefore it is very difficult for them to claim citizenship; they are being excluded. Formally, they have Dutch nationality and are citizens according to the law, but informally, in societal rhetoric, they are not seen as members of the same society. [...]

2.2B Neighborhood

[... Examples ...]

The previous notions are interesting for the case of pedophiles in two respects.

  • First, the problems in the living space illustrate that contact in the sense of encounter is not enough for a reduction of prejudice. On the contrary, encounter has regularly resulted into cases of violence (physically, material or emotional).
  • Second, it becomes clear that what is needed in order to break through patterns of mistrust and anxiety is real contact and understanding.


2.3 Conflict

The previous sections have shown a number of issues that will come together in the following section on structural violence. The outline of the discussion about what pedophilia entails, has shown two major misperceptions;

  • first, the idea that everyone who is a pedophile is a sex offender; and,
  • second, the idea that once someone has committed some form of sexual offense, he/she will recidivate.

The outline of the changing discourse and policies around pedophilia has shown the importance of societal developments in relation to a general understanding of, reactions to, and openness towards pedophiles.


2.3A Different forms of violence

What is violence and what different forms can it take? This will be illustrated by explaining in what way people can be harmed by a structural or cultural form of violence. The founding 17 father of the concepts of structural and cultural violence is Galtung (1969; 1990). As a starting point, Galtung (1969) claims

“violence is present when human beings are being influenced so that their actual somatic and mental realizations are below their potential realizations” (Galtung, 1969: 168).

This broad notion not only entails intended violence committed by an actor, but also includes highly unacceptable social orders. Six dimensions of violence [....] [...]

2.3B Escalation of violence

After addressing the different forms of violence, it is important to explain why it is that people come to use violence against each other or violate one another. The process of stigmatization plays an important role in this respect.

The notion of social stigma is the overarching concept here,

“of being labeled, negatively stereotyped, excluded, discriminated against, and low in social status and power” (Major & O’Brien, 2005: 410).

Stigmata can be associated with gender or ethnic groups, but also with, for instance, mental illnesses.

  • A stigma is public, since the general public stigmatizes people with particular characteristics;
  • it is also personal, in the form of self-stigma, since the public stigmata get internalized and the person who is stigmatized loses self-esteem.

According to Corrigan et al. (2003), public stigmata have three dimensions:

  • stereotypes,
  • prejudice, and
  • discrimination.


The misperception

“of the pedophile as a predatory sex offender is so commonly evoked in public debate that it has become a truism in Western cultures” (Jahnke, Imhoff & Hoyer, 2015).

Since pedophilia is associated with criminality (being sexual abuse of children), it is related to discrimination. According to Jahnke et al. (2015), discrimination comes in the form of social distance, which represents a rejection of people with the stigma of pedophilia at various levels of personal contact.

A quantitative study by Jahnke et al. (2015) shows that in comparison with attitudes towards other deviant groups (alcohol abusers, sexual sadists and people with antisocial tendencies), pedophiles have always received more negative reactions. Approximately twenty per cent of the respondents agreed that pedophiles should better be dead, even if they had never committed any criminal acts. Affective reactions towards pedophiles that were given, were strongly related to social distance. Overall, the results show that pedophiles are a stigmatized group of people that most likely suffer from fierce discrimination (Jahnke et al., 2015).

[... Discrimination ... forms ... spiral ...]

A social phenomenon that fits this attitude, comes in the term of ‘moral panic’. Moral panic is

“a high level of agitation about phenomena that on second thought seem to be less malicious and less exceptional” (Ten Hag, 2012: 190).

Moral panic can be divided into several phases. [Summarized:]

  • First, ... incidental cases ... enlarged .... the phenomenon, in this case pedophilia, is being broadened to pedosexuality.
  • Second, .... new legislation. ... leads to a large group of both offenders and victims that are affected disproportionally. [...]

3. The Research

3.1. Methodology [...]

3.2 Research methods

The gathering of data consisted of two parts;

  • first a generalized structural approach through a quantitative/qualitative content analysis,
  • followed by a more personal, subjective part based on in-depth interviews.

3.2A Qualitative content analysis

In order to answer the question: ‘What is the discourse surrounding pedophilia in Dutch society?’, an overview of the content in newspaper articles that concern pedophilia is given by conducting a qualitative content analysis... [...]

[Summarized: ... of newspaper articles in four Dutch newspapers ... about "pedophilia" ... Jan. 2004 - Dec. 2014.]

As part of the analysis I have also selected twenty articles for a further, more in-depth interpretation of the text. They will serve as an illustration of the way themes and words are being presented. [...]

3.2B Semi-structured interviews [...] In-depth interviews of about one hour were conducted with ten different people. The subjects are individuals who describe themselves as pedophiles. [...]

3.3. Ethical issues


An [...] aspect I had not expected, was the uncomfortable feeling I sensed at times when visiting a respondent. That was not because the respondents made me feel uncomfortable, but because of the fact that my name can be found on the internet in relation to this subject. At times that made me wonder whether people with bad intentions were to track me down. This turned out to be an unnecessary worry, but it does illustrate how fear of the response of others can develop and be of influence mentally. It made me experience, albeit in no comparison, a small sense of how the respondents can feel at times.

4. Results

4.1 Qualitative content analysis

4.1A General results

[... ... ...]

In total, only 40 out of the 719 articles that were found present a nuanced image of pedophiles through deepening articles, scientific research or articles about possibilities to help pedophiles and/or pedosexuals. The rest of the articles, in general, present a rather one-sided image of pedophiles and pedosexuals and the reactions to them.

In the following sections these results will be elaborated upon, by making a distinction between the recurring concepts of identity, territory and conflict.

4.1B Identities

[...] First of all, it should be stressed that in all of these articles the word ‘pedophile’ has been used. [...] It is clear not every pedophile is a sexual child offender and not every sexual child offender is a pedophile (Seto, 2010; Lautmann, 1994). By definition a correct image of a pedophile would then be that of a person with a sexual interest in children, which is not equivalent to a sexual child offender.

The newspaper data that was found, shows a different image, however, since the large majority of the articles directly connects the word ‘pedophile’ with sexual child abuse.

Overall it can be stated that only in those articles dealing with the themes of help, Martijn or PNVD, deepening, television and scientific research, the word ‘pedophile’ was being used correctly; meaning that the definition of pedophile is in line with the content of the article.

The other articles refer to ‘pedophile’, and at times ‘sentenced pedophile’, incorrectly, since those themes revolve around cases in which a form of pedosexuality is being presented. That is incorrect, since it is taken for granted that those who commit a form of sexual child abuse are pedophiles, whilst that does not have to be the case.

In addition, the term ‘sentenced pedophile’ is misleading, since it is based on the underlying implication that being a pedophile is prosecutable. By presenting it in that way, being a pedophile is unnecessarily connected to a criminal offense.

[.... Examples ....]

In short, the word ‘pedophile’ is used primarily in newspaper articles with a negative content.

In addition, there is an overgeneralization of the word ‘pedophile’, since it is being used to address both pedophiles and sexual child abusers. The image of pedophiles as presented in the analyzed newspapers can therefore be seen as stereotyping.


4.1C Territory

As noted, the notion of ‘territory’ plays an important role in the newspaper articles, since it concerns 213 out of 719 articles. Substantively the articles revolve around problems in specific areas or cities, because of the presence of someone who has been convicted for a form of sexual child abuse.

There is a clear recurrence of negative emotional reactions in the form of physical group protests, property that is being destroyed or in a few cases direct physical harm. It is important to note that in all these cases there is no evidence of a clear government policy about how to react to problem in the neighborhood, since it is the local mayor who decides whether or not a pedophile can stay or not.

In addition, there is a reaction against to those who have been convicted for sexual child abuse in the form of taking verbal action through precautionary and/or legal measures, such as residents who spread pamphlets or mayors who want the legal authority to be informed about the return of a convict. The latter can be compared to the definition of discrimination by Corrigan et al. (2003), since there is hostile behavior and segregation towards specific persons who share the characteristic of having a history in sexual child abuse.

[... Examples ...]

All in all, the various examples presented show how rhetoric can present a negative stereotype of a pedophile as someone who is a danger to a specific territory. In these cases the pedophile is not only a sexual child abuser, but also someone who causes distress to people in a certain neighborhood.

Given this, combined with the fact that a large amount of newspaper articles is concerned with territorial issues in general, it is interesting to return to Sibley (1995) who claims that the home and the neighborhood are both potential spaces of exclusion. Segregation as a form of discrimination (Corrigan et al., 2003) is evident, given the fact that the newspapers illustrate the neighborhood as a place of conflict between residents and those who have a history in sexual child abuse.


Therefore, even though the themes and the rhetoric that are being used to present issues surrounding pedophilia can seem as ordinary, this should not be accepted without critical reflection. The image that is presented in the newspapers is a social construction and does not have to be taken for granted.

41.D Conflict

In total, ten articles were found to describe the murdering of a pedosexual and 29 describe visible violence. The violence at display is not direct violence targeted at the pedosexual physically, but consists of the racking or burning of the subjects’ belongings, such as a house or a car. An exception is the physical violence directed against the daughter of a sentenced pedosexual, who got beaten up because of her father’s situation.


The results of the qualitative content analysis have shown pedophiles are presented as pedosexuals. The truth about pedophiles as a diverse group with many plural identities is being left out. Even though the largest part of the articles that were found in fact revolve around issues due to the presence of pedosexuals, they are relevant for this research, since pedophiles and pedosexuals are presented as one and the same group. In what way this stigmatization effects pedophiles themselves will be illustrated in the following section, which describes the interviews that were held with the respondents.

4.2 Semi-structured interviews

[...] The interviews serve to answer both the sub-question: ‘In what way are pedophiles able to live their lives?’, as well as the main question: ‘To what extent is there a conflict due to the presence of pedophiles in Dutch society?’

4.2A Identities

In total, ten respondents were interviewed. One of them is female, the other nine are male. The way they live their lives is very diverse. [...]

Sexual identity

What pedophilia is and what it entails differs for every respondent. For seven out of ten respondents pedophilia is a feeling of love towards children. Those respondents have been or are able to fall in love with a specific child or children. There is also a sexual dimension, but the feelings of love are more important to them.


Four respondents clearly state pedophilia is something a person is born with. Four others think pedophilia develops through both inborn as well as ambient conditions. The other two are in doubt about how it arises. Two out of ten think it is not even important to know how pedophilia occurs. None of the respondents thinks pedophilia is a disorder that can be cured or changed.

Four respondents made it clear they did not experience any troubles growing up, which could have triggered pedophilia. Two respondents had a negative sexual experience as a child, while one respondent had a positive sexual experience as a child. For them, it is not clear whether or not those experiences triggered pedophilia.

Eight respondents became aware of their sexual age orientation during puberty, one respondent became aware of his orientation when he was 12 and the last one became aware of his orientation after puberty. Becoming aware of one’s sexual age orientation does not mean the feelings did not exist before, it is only during and after puberty the respondents recognized that (at least part of) their sexual and/or emotional attraction is oriented towards children.

Eight respondents clearly state they do not want sexual relations with children. Two out of those eight have been convicted in the past because of sexual child abuse. For one of them it was thirty years ago for an offense with one boy, while the other has been convicted twice for offenses with several children. Both of them now think their offenses should and will not happen again.

Two respondents are more open towards sexual relations with children [...]. It should be noted that children’s sexual rights, according to them, do not revolve around sex as penetration, but more around sexual learning and development.

The way the respondents perceive their sexual identity reflects the way Seto (2012) describes pedophilia as a sexual age orientation. He claims pedophilia has the same characteristics as sexual gender orientations (heterosexuality and homosexuality).

Indeed, the respondents discovered their sexual orientation at an early age. Also, for eight out of ten respondents pedophilia is strongly related to emotional and romantic feelings. And, lastly, the respondents unanimously agree on the fact that pedophilia cannot be ‘cured’ or simply ‘goes away’ (Seto, 2012).

In accordance with Diamond (1995), sexual orientation is not always the same as the way someone identifies him/herself sexually. Indeed, even though the respondents are sexually oriented towards certain ages, that does not mean they identify themselves as sexually active pedosexuals.

Nevertheless, their sexual orientation does play an important role in the development and adoption of their identity. The way in which sexual identity is experienced not only depends on personal experiences, but also on the connection to and opinion of others. Therefore the following section centers on the respondents’ social identity.

Social identity

In this section, the social identity is explored in relation to the sexual identity. To what extent are the respondents able to speak about their sexual orientation? And how does this influence their social life? The respondents differ a great deal in how they cope with their social environment in relation to their sexual identity. Overall, it can be stated that pedophilia is experienced as a taboo. The taboo influences both close relations (family and friends) as well as other relations (social activities, such as work and church).

[... ... Examples of what the respondents have said ...]

From this summary it can be derived the social environment does play an important role in the respondents’ identities.


It seems that those respondents that are able to speak about their sexual identity feel good about that. Recognition of who they are by the people around them gives them a sense of internal and external acceptance. The respondents who do not speak about their sexual identity to others, except for one, are the respondents who feel the most solitude. In addition, even when respondents do have friends and family to speak about who they are, that does not mean they feel accepted by society.

The respondents all agree that it is difficult to be open about their sexual identity, since it is a taboo topic. They are very careful about who they speak to about their sexual identity. Therefore it is necessary to examine why they feel the topic is taboo and in what way their sexual identity leads to problems in their daily lives. The overarching concept of conflict will therefore serve as the leading subject-matter in the following section.

4.2B Conflict

Since conflict can arise in several aspects of someone’s life, this section is divided into different types of conflict. Those are only illustrated for those respondents that particular type of conflict is relevant to. Again, the way in which conflict plays a role in the respondents’ lives differs.

Internal conflict

For two respondents, being in love leads to internal conflict.

[... Quotes ...]

Two respondents do not experience internal struggle from their sexuality anymore, but did while growing up.

[... Quotes ...]

What becomes clear is that for some respondents their sexual identity is something they struggle with themselves. They find it difficult to cope with their feelings. An interesting addition is made by Respondent #4, who claims that although he is able to accept his sexual identity, acceptance or acknowledgement of who he is, is not what he sees around him.

[... Quotes ...]

Social conflict

[... Quotes ...]

In general, it can be stated that the respondents that are open about their sexual identity, have received fairly positive reactions from the people they know well. Yet, the respondents do not all feel safe to speak about it, or do not feel safe to speak about it with certain people they know. The social conflicts that have arisen, are mostly due to prejudice and rejection.

After addressing personal forms of conflict, it is necessary to analyze to what extent there is conflict on a broader level. Is there conflict on other aspects of the respondents’ lives?

Direct conflict

There is no case of structural direct conflict. Yet, the respondents did speak about some examples and about the possibility of direct conflict.

[Actual conflicts - here summarized:

  • Publicy known as a pedophile > great problems with his neighborhood, no protection from the authorities.
  • 'Outed' by a 'pedo-hunter' who infiltrated a chat list > those data have been sent to his employers > from one of his jobs he had to resign.
  • Sentence > local newspaper published > excluded from his neighborhood and local community > he moved. Stones through his windows, he said, were incidents; he usually has lived in peace with his environment, including the local police.
  • Threats on Twitter
  • Never physically threatened, but emotionally he did.]

None of the respondents experienced direct physical violence, yet Respondent #3 did and does experience psychological violence: the destruction of things that can serve as a threat of possible destruction of a person and/or the destruction of something that is dear to a person who owns that something (Galtung, 1969: 170).

The fact that all respondents know about the situation Respondent #3 is in, serves for them as an example of what would happen if the general public were to find out about them being pedophile. The latter can be described as latent violence, since violence does not occur yet, but might easily happen (Galtung, 1969: 172).

The mechanism that keeps a stable situation without a manifestation of direct violence, is the fact that the respondents keep their sexual identity a secret from a wider public than their loved ones. If that mechanism were to be broken, the respondents feel that there are no clear other mechanisms that would prevent direct, visible violence to occur.

An interesting addition is the fact that there is not only a threat of possible violence, but also the threat of not getting the protection that is needed, if violence would occur. The cases of Respondents #4 and #5 illustrate that whether they want to or not, authorities are dependent on the public opinion. At the same time, the respondents are dependent on authorities to handle their personal details with discretion.

Structural conflict

In this section, occurrences and feelings that can indicate structural conflict are presented. First of all, it is important to note that all respondents think it is very important to be in control of who knows about their sexual orientation and who does not. [...]

Respondent #3 is the exception, since he is a well known pedophile on a national level. The fact that Respondent #3 is known as a pedophile has as a direct consequence that he is unable to find a job. The other respondents choose not to speak about their sexual orientation at their jobs, since they fear they would get fired, or that it would at least raise a very problematic situation, while that is not necessary.

To the question whether they feel they are deprived of their basic human rights, the respondents’ answers differed. Overall they feel free to go and do what they want to do, except for Respondent #3; he is limited.

The fact that association Martijn got banned, bothered several respondents. It made Respondent #4 feel like a second-range citizen. Although he was not a member of the association and did not endorse their principles, it really did hurt him. Also, Respondent #6 said:

“I especially find the prohibition of the association Martijn an example of that. Not that I find the association very great, but the fact that there was a principal statement to not validate freedom of speech and association in such cases, while I find the arguments very insufficient, well, that is a very clear example.”

Respondent #2 notes:

“I already have no freedom of association, freedom of speech; I actually have neither and if it continues like this, I won’t even have the freedom of thought, since people don’t allow that either. I may, different from others, I may be seen as an animal by many. So eh, and it may not be official by law that I am sentenced beforehand, but that is the case. In practice that is the case.”

This discrepancy between the official laws and everyday reality, was also made by Respondent #4. [...]

Respondent #5:

“Of course there is freedom of speech, but you will be lynched because of it. […] Lawfully the right is there, but in practice, that is simply impossible.”

[...] Respondent #1 mentioned:

“Other sexual orientations are being protected by law, this one is not. It is still too sensitive, the time is not there yet.

This view can be linked to Seto (2012), who noted

“Anti-discrimination laws and policies refer to sexual orientation, but with the implicit understanding that one is referring to sexual gender orientation. But what might happen if the definition of sexual orientation were to expand to include sexual age preferences such as pedophilia?” (Seto, 2012: 232).

The above can also be linked to Galtung (1969) and his theory on structural violence. There is no direct, or personal violence committed by any actor, but the violence is there, albeit indirect. This means violence is built into the structure and manifests itself as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances (Galtung, 1969: 170, 171).

It would be unjustified to claim the respondents experience structural violence on a daily basis. Yet, for Respondent #3 that is the case, since his life drastically changed once he presented himself as a pedophile. [...]

The other respondents feel that with the banning of association Martijn, the freedom of association was taken away based on insufficient grounds. It felt as a personal banning of the association of pedophiles in general. Even though there is legal freedom of speech, speaking openly about their sexual identity would have grave consequences. Freedom of speech is concerned with latent violence, as was explained in the section dealing with direct violence.

The fact that pedophilia is a topic that is very difficult to discuss in the general public, also presents itself in the fact that respondents spoke about insufficient professional aid directed towards pedophilia. Therefore a separate section about that is added below.

Professional help

A theme that turned out to be important and can be added to the larger topic of structural conflict, is the possibility to get professional or other help if needed. Again, privacy is very important.

According to Respondent #1 it is difficult to ask for professional help, since he cannot be certain whether or not the physician can be trusted to keep professional confidentiality. He once visited a psychologist:

“Well it took six sessions before I spoke out. First I examined how it all works. I didn’t want it to be registered as a pedophile at my health insurance. I never told my family doctor either. I find it hard it has to be so sneaky. I have a fairly good life now, but all the adolescents at secondary school, are unable to do anything with it.”

In the same way, Respondent #10 found keeping his privacy a difficult task. He needed a letter of referral from his family doctor in order to get his sessions via Stop it now! insured. Luckily, the practitioner was able to keep the letter of referral in a personal archive. [...]

 Respondent #10 has had help from two therapists and is still in therapy via Stop it now!. He is very positive about that, even though the way to get there was difficult.

Five respondents have had a negative experience when they asked for professional help.

Respondent #1 mentioned the psychiatrist he visited admitted to lack knowledge about pedophilia. During his studies he had only read a few pages about it. For the respondent that lack of knowledge is what makes it so risky to ask for professional help.

Respondent #2 experienced caregivers are willing to display understanding and support, but they do not know how to deal with pedophilia, since there is not enough knowledge about it.

Respondents #8 and #9 experienced a lack of understanding as well.

Respondent #8 visited her family doctor at a time she was mentally confused, but the practitioner did not speak about her feelings. Instead, the practitioner only warned her she should not look at children taking a shower; something that was never her intention anyway. The family doctor never performed a follow-up conversation.

Respondent #9 asked for help at Elios, a church related mental health care facility, but they did not help him since he was unable to put his feelings and thoughts into words. He did write a letter to explain what was going on with him, but the letter was not accepted; instead he was obliged to speak about it. The respondent left. This happened before he committed sexual offences.

Another way in which professional help turned out to be incorrect, is when caregivers try to ‘cure’ people.

[... Examples ...]

After his first conviction, Respondent #9, was in forensic psychiatric therapy (De Waag).

"Well, they simply say we are heterosexual and you will think heterosexual as well. […] Well, then you just start giving answers they want to hear. Well, then you succeed with flying colors for the therapy, while you didn’t make any real progress at all. That was a big mistake.”

His second therapy, after his second sentence, also at De Waag, but at a different facility, has however been very helpful. He is able to understand his faults and feelings and has learned how to accept and cope with them.

Respondent #7 is positive about the professional help he received. He consulted a therapist during his studies, after he got divorced and after his sentence. His last therapy was individual, voluntary and took five years.


Respondents #4 and #6 never asked for professional help.

Respondent #4 visited the NVSH support group a few times when he was about thirty years old. Looking back, professional help would have been welcome between the ages of 16 and 21. He did not get help, since he had no clue it was possible, whether it was allowed. He would have had to tell his parents, since they would have had to pay.
Respondent #6 still visits the NVSH support group and is very positive about that.

The most recent development in professional help for people who are pedophiles, is the anonymous phone line Stop it now!.

Three respondents clearly state Stop it now! comes across as an organization that is only there to prevent child abuse and not to help people with pedophile feelings to live their lives.

Respondent #4 called it a ‘perpetrator therapy’; according to him it is not for people like him who wonder: What is my perspective? Can I be happy with this orientation? How can I handle these feelings without transgressing the law?

According to Respondent #2 that is the wrong approach. On the other hand he does understand the image Stop it now! brings about, since, if the organization were to state that they support pedophiles, that would only lead to problems.

The respondents’ experiences with professional help illustrate that professional mental care is influenced by the general discourse of the pedophile as a sexual perpetrator. Pedophilia turns out to be a taboo topic in the sense that practitioners lack knowledge about it.

Also, the organization that is directed towards treating pedophiles, the phone line Stop it now!, comes across as an organization that wants to protect society from pedophiles and not the other way around, in the sense of being of help to pedophiles. Even though the respondents are aware of its good intentions, the image of Stop it now! makes it not easily approachable.

The organization that is valued the most amongst the respondents, is the self-help group JON, part of the NVSH.

Nevertheless, the respondents also indicate that small changes have occurred in the professional aid.

Seto (2012) acknowledges the debate about the exact nature of pedophilia is important, since it can take away far-reaching misperceptions with grave consequences for individuals. Seen from various perspectives, it is important to know whether or not pedophilia is a sexual age orientation. On a clinical level, the answer shapes approaches about assessment, prognosis, and treatment (Seto, 2012).

The results as presented here can add the idea that it is necessary for professional mental care to let go of societal prejudices, in order to gain objective knowledge about what pedophilia is and how pedophiles can be helped if needed.


The respondents all agree the media present an incorrect image of pedophiles.

  • First, the respondents claim the media stigmatize pedophiles as bad people.
  • Second, the respondents claim the media use words incorrect, which leads to people thinking all pedophiles are child molesters.

The media is sensational instead of neutral. [...]

A side note some respondents added is the idea that not all media sources are the same. Some do use their words correctly. In response to the question whether the media influenced the respondents’ personal life, the answers differed.

[... Examples & quotes ...]

A side effect of presenting pedophiles in such a negative way, is the fact that younger people who are starting to find out they have pedophilic feelings, they are unaware there are also many other pedophiles, who live a normal life as well. [...]

Respondent #5 remembered that when he was young the media gave him a very negative image of people who supposedly have the same feeling as he does. He only heard and read about sexual child abuse.

According to Jahnke et al. (2015), pedophilia is associated with criminality (sexual child abuse), in such a way that it is related to discrimination. Discrimination comes in the form of social distance, which represents a rejection of people with the stigma of pedophilia at various levels of personal contact (Jahnke et al., 2015). To that notion the previous results add that the stigma of pedophilia influences pedophiles personally as well.

5 Conclusion

The goal of this research was to find out to what extent there is a conflict due to the presence of pedophiles in Dutch society. Two sub-questions were formulated to be able to answer this main question.

  • First, the question: what is the discourse concerning pedophilia in Dutch society? had to be answered through a qualitative content analysis.
  • Second, the question: in what way are pedophiles able to live their lives? had to be answered through in-depth interviews with people who describe themselves as pedophile.

The qualitative content analysis has shown that in the four newspapers that were analyzed there is an overgeneralization of the word ‘pedophile’, since it is interchangeably being used to refer to pedophiles and people who have committed various forms of sexual child abuse.

In practice, pedophilia and pedosexuality are not parallel to each other, since not every pedophile is pedosexual and not every pedosexual is a pedophile. In fact, estimates are that fifty to fifty-nine percent of sexual child abuse happens for reasons that concern mental problems or defects, instead of the sexual age orientation pedophilia (Lautmann, 1995; Seto, 2008). The newspapers hardly present this nuanced image and generate the general image of pedophiles as criminals.

The overgeneralization and use of the word ‘pedophile’ in a negative context leads to stereotyping and stigmatization. As a consequence people have created negative expectations about pedophiles which lead to negative emotional reactions. Those reactions can lead to discrimination in the form of for instance segregation, hostile behavior or the withholding of help (Corrigan et al., 2003).

The media discourse has constructed anxiety in society, not only by overgeneralization, but also by leaving out in-depth knowledge about pedophilia. People only hear that they have to fear pedophiles and that makes them want to protect themselves (Hamelink, 2011).

In what way this image influences those who deal with this negative stereotype and stigma on a daily basis was analyzed in the second part of the research by in-depth interviews.

The image of pedophiles that is presented in the qualitative content analysis corresponds with the way the respondents experience media. They find media presents them as ‘bad people’ and are unable recognize themselves in the media image of pedophiles. The stigma influences them personally, since it makes them feel insecure and/or unaccepted.

In addition stigmatization has consequences on other levels as well. Even though, on the surface, the respondents are able to live fairly regular lives in the way they want to, structural difficulties appear when linking their issues to the larger context of conflict studies.

Respondents experience structural violence in the sense that if they were to be known generally as a pedophile, there is a great risk of being excluded in the social, work and/or living space. They would then suffer from unequal life chances (Galtung, 1969).

The one respondent that is generally known, not only experiences exclusion, but also psychological violence in the form of being threatened by the destruction or invasion or personal belongings and space. The respondent serves as an example of this, not only in this research, but more importantly in the mental awareness of the other respondents. Being aware of the possibility of structural, psychological, or perhaps even physical violence leads to the experience of latent violence. Even though the violence does not manifest itself and cannot be observed, the fact that it might easily take place, can have a great impact on people’s lives (Galtung, 1969).

For the respondents latent violence becomes visible through the fact that they are very cautious about who knows about them being pedophile. This influences the way they are able to handle an form close relationships.

On a broader level, the need for privacy of the respondents’ sexual identity leads to problematic situations when asking for professional help or protection, since both cannot be done anonymously.

In conclusion, to what extent is there conflict due to the presence of pedophiles in Dutch society?

From the theoretical framework it can be concluded that pedophilia is conflicted in itself, since its definition has been debated and has changed through time. Only recently pedophilia is accepted as a ‘normal’ sexual orientation, directed towards age.

Pedophilia is conflicted in society, since the discourse in Dutch society surrounding pedophiles revolves around negative stigmatization. Society struggles with anxiety due to this stigmatization of pedophiles, which leads to negative emotional responses.

The changing, more negative image of pedophiles (Hekma, 2013), can be explained with reference to the theory about moralization and responsibilization of citizenship in Dutch society.

  • On the one hand, as long as citizens follow the dominant norms and values in society and are actively involved in attaining them, they can be included citizens (moralization).
  • On the other hand, society feels individual responsibility to protect and return to fundamental values (responsibilization) (Schinkel & Van Houdt, 2010).

On a societal level, the effect is that people feel they have to protect themselves, their territory and the people in their territory by excluding those that are a threat. The discourse that was found in the newspapers presents and ascribes that threat.

On a personal level, for pedophiles this means it is difficult for them to feel as accepted citizens in Dutch society. Even though their behavior does not threaten society, their sexual identity is seen as a threat. They are unable to fit all dominant values in Dutch society (Meyer, 1995; Schinkel & Van Houdt).

As long as pedophiles keep their sexual identity a secret they experience latent violence, violence that does not manifest itself yet, but might easily happen. This because, if their sexual identity were to become known, there is the likely possibility of

  • structural violence in the form of exclusion,
  • psychological violence in the form of feeling threatened (for instance because of violations on personal belongings or space), or
  • direct violence in the form physical assault (Galtung, 1969).

The fact that pedophilia is such a taboo leads to a lack of knowledge, not only in societal opinions and reactions, but also resonates in mental health care and other agencies who are likely to have to deal with it pedophiles.

For pedophiles being in contact with organizations that exist to help or protect, then becomes a risk that is difficult to take. It is the spread of knowledge, real contact and understanding that can break through barriers of mistrust (Valentine, 2008).

Anxiety, negative stereotyping stigmatization and moral panic all lead to exclusion, while it is necessary for both pedophiles and the society they are in to feel included and accepted. In the end, people share more similarities than differences, they only have to be willing to hear it.

6 Discussion

The gathering of data and reaching to conclusions has had several limitations. The reader should be careful in making broad generalizations based on this research, since it is only based on an analysis of four newspapers and ten respondents. Therefore, one should be aware of other media accounts that may present a different discourse.

In the qualitative content analysis it was beyond the scope of this study to search for more than the word ‘pedophile’ in the search engine, since the amount of findings was already very large. In a replication of the analysis, it would be wise to exclude several years for analysis and include more diverse words that can be researched.

Also, in the time span of this study, it turned out to be only possible to gather a relatively small amount of respondents, because of the sensitivity of the research topic.

Furthermore, the sensitive and conflicted nature of the subject of the interview, might have led to politically correct answers. Perhaps, respondents felt obliged to keep some elements of their life or opinions back.

Nevertheless, I believe in the sincerity of the respondents and find their conduct very brave. The ten respondents that were willing to be interviewed cannot be viewed as representatives for the whole group of pedophiles in the Netherlands. The group of pedophiles is very diverse and since there are many pedophiles who do not share their sexual orientation with others, it is difficult to get a full image of who they are. The fear of negative reactions, and the uncertainty about whether or not I as a researcher can be trusted with their personal stories, makes it very difficult for them to enter in research like this.

A last limitation of the research, is the fact that if someone were to replicate the data analysis, they might come to slightly different outcomes. Even though a researcher always tries to be as objective as possible, the qualitative gathering and interpretation of data is still, to some extent, personal. Most importantly, another researcher could have had different results with recognizing the main themes in the newspaper articles in the qualitative content analysis. And, since I did not follow a structured interview, but let the respondents and myself speak about the interview topics freely, another researcher would have obtained different interviews outcomes.

With this research I took the challenge to connect the theme of pedophilia in Dutch society to the field of conflict studies. The reason for this choice, was that I wanted to bring the issues around pedophilia into a broad social scientific perspective.

In addition, and not less importantly, I think it is important to view conflict, not as a narrow or static, but as a broad and fluid concept. In that way conflict research can be useful to analyze not only directly visible violence, but violence that is more structural, cultural or latent as well (Galtung, 1969).

This research has led to several insights that were not found in other literature yet. This research takes pedophilia out of the taboo zone at least on a scientific level. Yet, it is also a plea to think about practical solutions to issues that concern pedophiles. The fact that it is difficult for respondents to ask for protection or professional help, since that would breach their privacy, is something rather problematic. It is something that ought to change, since it endangers both pedophiles as well as others, if they cannot be protected or get sufficient help  if needed.

To create more knowledge about what pedophilia entails and take away prejudice at the organizations that are likely to come across people with pedophile feelings, would be the least thing possible.

In line with this, it would be an interesting addition to this research to study those organizations that should be able to handle people with pedophile or pedosexual feelings adequately.

  • In which sections is there a lack of knowledge?
  • And how can that knowledge be supplemented?

Furthermore, it would be a great asset to find out possibilities to strengthen and protect associations such as the NVSH and its self-help group. That way pedophiles can get the help they need, if they need it. Improvements that can help overcome or prevent conflict is the spread of knowledge about pedophiles. This research is a part of that.

More knowledge should help society in understanding and becoming less anxious. It should help professional care with the guidance of pedophiles, if they need it. In other organizations being aware of what pedophilia is and that it there is not one specific type of pedophile, can help them to handle, help and protect.


Appendices - See the original report.


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