Help wanted: Lessons on prevention from young adults with a sexual interest in prepubescent children

Ryan T. Shields, Sarah M. Murray, Amanda E. Ruzicka, Cierra Buckman, Geoff Kahn, Aniss Benelmouffok, Elizabeth J. Letourneau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Adolescents and young adults with a sexual interest in young children represent an underserved population. The needs of this group, and their implications for child sexual abuse prevention program development, are not well understood. Objective: The objective of this research is to advance knowledge about adolescents and young adults with a sexual interest in children to better inform the development of effective prevention and mental health efforts. Participants and setting: The sample consisted of 30 young adults, ages 18–30, from North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. Methods: Researchers conducted telephone interviews with participants, and asked about when their interest in children emerged, how they responded to this sexual interest, and what resources could have been helpful during this process. Participants also completed a brief, online survey. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using Dedoose software. Results: Participants reported that their sexual interest in children emerged during adolescence, and as part of that process, they experienced a variety of emotions, including fear, shame, and feelings of isolation. Participants also noted the need for role models who are sexually interested in children and successfully navigating life, positive messaging, and support from families and the community. Conclusions: Young people with a sexual interest in children are largely hidden, vulnerable, and looking for help. Findings from this research can be used to direct the development of the prevention and mental health programs that are responsive to the needs of this community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104416
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Adolescent
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Pedophilia
  • Prevention
  • Young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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