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Can Child Molesters Ever Be Rehabilitated?

Feet walking a white line on the pavement

Common wisdom is that once someone molests a child, that person is doomed to repeat this crime over and over again until the criminal justice system stops him or her. And while the position that child molesters deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison is certainly an understandable one given the terrifying harm they do, the reality is that most child molesters will eventually be released from jail. There are also some people with attractions to children who may seek help before they harm a child. Psychologists differ on whether to define pedophilia as a sexual orientation, a mental illness, or a behavior, making child molestation one of the most difficult social problems to understand. So can child molesters be rehabilitated? There are several perspectives on this issue.

What Is a Child Molester?

Psychological perspectives on child molestation vary greatly, but experts do agree on one thing: there are at least two types of child molesters. True pedophiles are people with sexual attractions to children, while opportunistic child molesters may prey on available children in an attempt to feel powerful or out of misguided sexual urges. In the latter case, treatment may focus on self-control and anger management, while in the former case, treatment is likely to focus on eliminating the attraction to children.

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Talk Therapy

Sex writer Dan Savage has published several accounts of people, mostly men, who struggle with attractions to young children but who avoid children and have not molested anyone. It seems that it takes a great deal of self-control to avoid offending and that pedophiliac inclinations typically mean a person will never have normal adult relationships. Savage points out that, in several European countries, people with attractions to children are able to seek treatment and receive confidentiality, whereas in the United States seeking treatment may mean arrest. Some European countries also do have lower child molestation rates than the United States. It may be that pedophilia is a misguided sexual inclination that, with a willing participant, can be redirected.

Chemical Castration

Chemical castration has replaced actual, physical castration as the final punishment of choice for preventing child molesters from reoffending, and many states in the U.S. offer voluntary chemical castration in exchange for earlier release. Chemical castration has had mixed results. For people who have already molested a child, it may actually increase violence toward children, perhaps as a result of extreme frustration. For people who have not yet harmed a child and who are committed to avoiding doing so, however, it may provide some relief from their desires. It’s important to note that sexual desire cannot be completely eliminated by castration.

Group Therapy

Many therapists use group therapy for people with pedophiliac tendencies. Groups provide a safe environment to discuss inappropriate urges and may give people the strength to avoid reoffending. However, when someone is involuntarily enrolled into group therapy, the group may actually provide a set of peers who provide support for inappropriate sexual behavior. Thus group therapy should be entered into carefully, and all participants should be carefully screened prior to entry and during treatment.

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy pairs an unpleasant stimulus such as an electric shock, pinch, or flick along with a pleasant stimulus. Sex offenders may use aversion therapy to attempt to eliminate their attractions to children. While this therapy can be effective, it poses ethical problems. Therapists cannot shock their patients, and it’s difficult to maintain consistency with aversive treatments. Further, when aversion therapy does work, it is unlikely to cause people to be attracted to age-appropriate adults if they do not already experience these attractions; rather, it merely eliminates the attraction to children.

Fake Porn

Psychologists have still not reached an agreement about whether pedophilia is a sexual orientation (albeit an inappropriate and immoral one) or a behavior. Among those who believe it is a sexual orientation, fake porn using animated or computer-created children is often advocated as a way to provide sexual release. Some therapists have reported success with using this method to reduce desire for children. However, other therapists point to studies demonstrating that sexual images affect sexual desire and have expressed concern that such pornography may actually create or increase a desire for children. Further, there are substantive ethical questions about whether it is acceptable to make such pornography, even when it does not involve real children.


  1. Goode, S. D. (2010). Understanding and addressing adult sexual attraction to children: A study
    of paedophiles in contemporary society. New York, NY: Routledge.
  2. Jenkins, P. (2004). Moral panic changing concepts of the child molester in modern
    America. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ Press.
  3. Kincaid, J. R. (1998). Erotic innocence: The culture of child molesting. Durham, NC: Duke
    University Press.
  4. Seto, M. C. (2008). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment, and
    intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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  • Ian B June 16th, 2012 at 11:52 PM #1

    Never thought about things from a molester’s point of view.Its like a criminal right? Everybody says put him behind bars but nobody wants to know why the crime occurred or what the problem was.

    If we are able to investigate and derive something from this I am sure it will have much better results than any stringent punishment ever can.

  • emma t June 17th, 2012 at 11:56 PM #2

    as much as it is a complex thing,we should try to send a firm NO to child molestation as a society. it starts right at home. most molesters are known to kids before hand and effective parenting can prevent a lot of those cases.effective parenting not only means monitoring your child but also making them aware of thing and talking to them about possible issues and asking them to alert you invade anything even close to the warning signs happens.

  • Mike June 18th, 2012 at 4:25 AM #3

    Look, you can try to rehab them all you want, but from my point of view, there ain’t nothing in the world that you can ever say about or do to one of these skanks that will ever make me trust them around my kids. How could you ever be sure that they are not gonna turn on your kid and harm them? There is just not enough of a guarantee that this wouldn’t happen for me to ever feel safe around them. You can say that’s harsh, but I feel that way about pretty much any criminal. You do the crime, you do the time, and that needs to be times 100 for anyone who thinks its ok to hurt a child.

  • End June 18th, 2012 at 10:41 AM #4


  • Bonnie June 18th, 2012 at 11:13 AM #5

    Let’s just say that the potential is there for rehabilitation, then what? What I would like to know is what therapist is going to want to serve this population and how will you ever really be sure that they have been completely changed? It’s like trying to change someone who is gay. If this is what he really is to the core then how are you ever really going to change that?

  • JackBlack June 19th, 2012 at 4:34 AM #6

    If you feel that this is your calling, to rehab these sick minds, then feel free to do it. However just know that you are doing this without the blessing and encouragement of most of the rest of the sane society members. I think that any of us with half a brain think that you should just lock them up and throw away the key. From my perspective, there are far more deserving people who could use some free therapy then these guys who use kids and then throw them away.

  • nancy t June 19th, 2012 at 3:47 PM #7

    This whole Penn State scandal has really put this issue in the limelight once again. I am not sure how I feel about whether or not they can get treatment and benefit from that, in that they will never harm a child again. But I think that for most of us who can in no way ever understand or condone this behavior it is so hard to rationalize even trying this. I think that as a Christian I want to say that I don’t judge and it is not up to me to condemn, but it so hard when it comes to situations like this.

  • Alayna June 20th, 2012 at 4:36 AM #8

    As a child who was abused by my uncle, I feel so torn because there is a part of me that really does not care at all what happens to him.

    Then there is a part of me that does care, because that is family and my mom’s brother. It feels weird to even say that, and I am not sure that I have ever told anyone that before. definitley not my parents.

    But what can I do? I have to accept that this happened to me, work through my own demons and move on. I can’t stay in the past reliving it all of the time because that does not get me anywhere.

  • mytwocents August 30th, 2012 at 6:04 AM #9

    We are only as strong as our weakest link. What we do to the least of our brother we do to ourselves. Get it?

    No, ok let me explain this way: The way we treat others has a direct link on the kinds of energy that we as a collective society create. Hating what we can’t understand will only insure that it won’t go away. If we really have any sympathy for our children and our future children we will care to solve the problem, ask the questions “where does this desire, behavior originate?”

    When you treat the underlying cause in individual as well as society, you treat the whole. You have to remember that energy doesn’t die it only changes form. When you cut off what doesn’t fit, you create the kind of energy that creates monsters that sprout up to infest and attack the weakest of society. And that is why anger wont fix any kind of evil. Only love with wise actions behind it will do anything of value. I understand the desire for revenge and feelings of anger but logic shows that responding in a way that spiritually creates more of what you don’t want is illogical. And that is why more must be done to solve the problem rather than add to it.

  • mythoughts April 25th, 2013 at 6:01 PM #10

    Yes its a bit different isnt it…we say that peodophiles shouldnt be near children..Yet again we allow bank robbers to vist banks?????

  • julie May 15th, 2013 at 2:26 PM #11

    This has given me hope.
    My son was molested by my brother, and no one believed me. All I could do was keep him away. Now he is back in my son life thank to my mother how gave my son number to him. I have been told that I have not got proof of anything, again. But in my heart I know what with all the grooming and manipulation that my brother has done.
    But I need to know there is hope because was I can brake the bond that my brother has with my son.
    My son will need all the help he can get.

  • ralph c. May 20th, 2013 at 10:22 PM #12

    We must focus on the children to hell with the abusers.keep kids safe and abusers dead or locked up”

  • Al Green January 18th, 2014 at 5:09 PM #13

    Yes, I ruined a life by molesting a young teen. porno, drugs, depression, an unhappy marriage… my fault. I blame no one else for my act. And when I came to realize what I had done I wanted to take my life. But that was too easy.

    Twenty years later I am an advocate for the abused. And while I avoid all the things that led to my moral collapse, I believe it is like alcohol addiction. One slip and I could descend again. I would take my life before I ruined another.

    So I guess I am not cured. But I lost my family, my friends, my self respect, and carry around the knowledge of what I did. Life has never be the same.

    The story of what I did has been ballooned. Things I never did… its still no excuse. I did not deserve a second chance but I got one, and I am not going to blow it.

  • Jim B April 4th, 2014 at 5:37 AM #14

    That’s the stupidest thing anybody has said about child molestors in a while comparing them to bank robbers

  • Brailee G. August 10th, 2014 at 12:43 PM #15

    my father has not been in my life since I was 3 I’m in my 20s now he is out of prison and he wants to meet me I’m definitely would not consider meeting him by myself I would go with someone else but I’m trying to think of if he even deserves to see me. My mom never let me write to him he has no idea how I look…I just got in contact with his mom my grandma that lives in a diff state she is really nice n cool….she gave him my number the phone conversation wasnot what I expected but he is just near me until he gets parole to move….I would like advice =/

  • uka October 18th, 2014 at 11:02 PM #16

    All criminality originates from sex.To be precise,childhood sex taboos,inhibitions,deprivations,rejections,especially of this kind we’re discussing here.Every human beimg is capable of doing one abominable act or the other,but for the fear of God,or man or both.We are all living under intense self control and should look with pity towards convicts as those who failed to control themselves.I am better than you attitudes,expressions and purnishments towards criminals,only breed new ones.Yes I agree that criminals must pay.But it all depends on what man calls a crime.A victim feels injured later,because society says it’s wrong.So was sodomy,now made legal.My advice is that all sexual acts should be monitored,guided and tutored.Just like sex education in schools have succeeded immensely to curb teen pregnancies.I mean,since we cannot stop them and won’t be there when it always happens,show them how to do it safe.I tell you,because this is the begining of all crimes and is treated well,we might just have discovered a great way of curbing crimes,make society safer and living on this planet most blissful

  • Nancy November 24th, 2014 at 10:03 AM #17

    What has happend to our is children is hurtful and tragic. Does anyone know or understand that there are all kinds of illness . Remember satan is the cause o sickness and death God is our father of love this world is in this condition because lack of love. The molester himself is in pain and is suffering because of some form of abuse that has happend to him maybe at a young age where is his help.It is our responsibility to protect our children and help them when there is an abuse situation, and if it is a family member, don’t we want our loved ones to get some form of healing without being hated, did God say love is partial?

  • Thewife January 9th, 2015 at 10:27 AM #18

    If you would have asked me what I thought about a pedophile or a child molester about a month ago I would have told you a black and white answer. “Run em’ over. No one should harm a child or create a market for child pornography. Ask me today and I answer is now filled with a million shades of gray. I found out my husband after 10 years of marriage was involved in this very situation. The criminal has a real face. A personality. …Ive grown up with him. We met when we were 15…both worked at a grocery store.. he was shy. Nervous about girls and we literally hung out for years before either one of us made a move. I joined the military and he supported me every step of the way. Called me often and sent me care packages. We cited over the phone While I was trapped in Germany for xmas and he divulged things to me that happened to him as a child (molested by his sister and his father)…While I am still incredibly mortified by everything….I believe that it is a combination of nature and nurture…I believe that he is very scared of spending the rest of his life and prison and scared that this will define him the rest of his life…it probably will. I will however visit him and seek rehab for him and a psychologist. Now more than ever he needs help and support. He definitely won’t get to be the parent he wanted to be….or the person he wanted to but I will be here to reassure him there can be a life after prison… You get one life to live. Don’t squander it.

  • Amber January 21st, 2015 at 10:53 AM #19

    @Thewife… Is there life after prison? With this kind of record it is very difficult and almost impossible for these people to get jobs when they get out. They can NEVER be rehabilitated although I think the urges they feel can be controlled. I was like you and used to think these people should be in jail for the rest of their lives but now I am not so sure. Most of these people have mental disorders and let me tell you prison is NOT the answer! If anything it’s making it worse! The abuse they suffer is.. well lets just say there are no words. I know most of you will say that they deserve it and your probably right but these are still someone’s husband, son, father, brother! The whole system is very sad. The prison system is awful!

  • Charlee February 3rd, 2015 at 4:38 PM #20

    It is proven fact that child molesters and pedophiles can not be rehabilitated!!! Stop wasting time and money on jail sentencing!! The only Real way to cure a pedophile and child molester is death. Line them up on the court house lawn and hang them all!!!

  • Nate d. March 6th, 2015 at 6:02 AM #21

    You should be in prison for the rest of your life. It’s not about you. It’s about your victim and their family and the lives you ruined. You should be VERY ASHAMED of yourself. And don’t try to justify it by saying all people fight desires.

  • Lori h March 15th, 2015 at 9:47 AM #22

    Can I report someone I know he is a child molester and I just found out he has a son can I report him because I don’t believe child molesters can be helped and should he be allowed to be around or his son or in his care not sure if the mother of his child knows his history on who he is thank you

  • Lori h March 15th, 2015 at 9:50 AM #23

    This same loser raped me too I don’t think he can be helped

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