Research to help prevent child sex abuse

Massey News – 

A researcher looking into how to help prevent people who are sexually attracted to children from acting on this attraction is surveying adults who feel the attraction but have never sexually abused a child.

The Massey University School of Psychology doctoral student, who wants to be identified only by her first name, Sophie, wants to gain a better understanding of people who experience this attraction so that support services can be developed in the future to help them continue managing it without offending.

The research highlights a gap in the way New Zealand’s child sexual abuse problem is being addressed.

“Efforts have been focused on teaching children how to identify and disclose abuse, and into providing treatment for those who have already been sexually offended. These efforts are highly important, but another important group has been missed – those who may be at risk of sexually abusing a child, but have not done so,” Sophie said.

Common confusion

Although there is very little similar research, international studies indicate many are very distressed by their attraction and want to prevent themselves from acting on their desires, she said.

“People often confuse those who are attracted to children with those who have sexually offended against a child. However, there is an important distinction between the two – not all adults who are sexually attracted to children will sexually offend against a child. Many people in this group uphold a life that doesn’t involve offending,” Sophie said.

She is interested in hearing about the experiences about this group.

Potential controversy

She acknowledges that the research is challenging and potentially controversial. Because of this, a key concern in planning this research has been staying mindful of the discomfort the topic may cause for some, while also being considerate to the insecurities of those she is interviewing.

“It is vital that it is addressed so that the future victimisation of children can be prevented. Stigmatising and marginalising these adults may exacerbate the problem. Their experiences need to be explored so that interventions and supports can be developed. This would give them somewhere to reach out to for help, rather than acting on the attraction. The ultimate goal of the project is to contribute to creating safer communities,” Sophie said.

A project webpage has been set up with an anonymous online survey, information about participating in confidential interviews, as well as information on current available support at:


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