What to do when someone tells you they have a sexual attraction to children
If someone close to you has come to you concerned about their sexual attraction to children, it is likely that this disclosure came as a surprise and was unexpected. It is likely shocking to hear, as it may be the first time in your life anyone has ever shared this type of attraction with you. Here are some important things to remember as you process this information:
Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel
Experiencing a range of emotions and thoughts in response to this information is a very normal reaction. Confusion. Fear. Uncertainty. They’re all perfectly okay to feel.
Take some time to process
Throughout this, it’s important to process and understand where these feelings come from as you begin to digest this new information. It’s okay to ask for time and space from this person to understand what this information means about your relationship and how you want to move forward.
Understand their point of view
It likely took a lot of courage for the person to have shared this information with you. You may be the first person they have ever told and even if you are not, they may have been concerned about sharing it with you and how you would react. It may also be the case that this type of confession is a plea for help, and even if you don’t feel you personally can be of help, there are many resources you can point this person toward to learn more about themselves. There is also support available through our program to get immediate help.
Educate yourself on the topic
What is important to understand about pedophilia (a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children) is that this attraction was not chosen by the person who made this disclosure to you. The best research we have so far suggests that these attractions are developed before birth, and this is not something that was chosen purposefully.
Everyone is responsible for their actions. While an attraction is likely not under the person’s control, their behaviour is. Not everyone who has a sexual attraction to children will have offended or viewed child sexual exploitation material (CSEM; often referred to as child pornography). It also doesn’t mean it’s only a matter of time before they cross boundaries, either online or offline.
If you are able, asking questions of the person who told you, about how and why they decided to share this information with you, will be important. Questions you can consider asking:
- Are they looking for you to support them in finding therapy?
- Are they hoping that this disclosure won’t change your view of them so that you will continue to accept them and your relationship?
- How do they want you to support them?
- Do they want you to ask more about their attractions, how they are doing with it, or what this means for the future?
- Is this a one-time conversation or are they hoping that the two of you can have future conversations?
- Are they asking you to help them address challenging situations so they can stay committed to their goals of living offence-free and keeping children safe?
Communicate your needs and boundaries
Communicating your needs is also important. Even though it may be difficult, you may want to communicate to them how you feel about hearing this information, what you might be concerned about, and what you might need from them in deciding whether or not (and how) your relationship continues.
Take action if you believe someone is at risk
There are times that some people with a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent or pubescent children will have a difficult time resisting urges to view child sexual abuse material or to cross boundaries with a child. If you believe there are children in this person’s life who might be at risk of harm, then you will want to think about ways in which you can help keep that child safe. You may also want to talk with the person about steps they can take to stay safe and how not to do things that put them in close, unsupervised contact with children. A more detailed safety plan may also be important depending on the situation. Depending on where you live, you may be required by law to report this potential risk to a child protection agency, so they can also help keep the child safe.
Reach out to us at Talking for Change
You can reach out to our helpline to talk about how you can support the person who made this disclosure, how you can help prevent child sexual abuse, or how to understand the information that was shared with you. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday from 12pm-6pm EST via telephone and chat. If you are interested, we can also help you to access fee-for-service therapy to explore this in more detail through our resource list of clinicians across Canada.
Overall, the experience of someone in your life coming to you with their concerns about their attractions can be a lot to process. If you have any questions about any of these tips above, reach out to one of our trained clinicians today – completely free and anonymous.