Can Child Molesters Ever Be Rehabilitated?

Feet walking a white line on the pavementCommon 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.

© Copyright 2012 by Elm Grove Bureau - All Rights Reserved.

Permission to publish granted to The preceding article was solely written by the author name above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ian B

    June 16th, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    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

    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

    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


  • Bonnie

    June 18th, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    @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

    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

    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

    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

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

  • bern

    March 30th, 2015 at 5:18 PM

    I think child molesters should be institutionalized for the rest of their lives. They cannot be helped. They should loose all their rights especially when they hurt and manipulate a child. They are grown adults that can seek help before they take advantage of a child they know about patient confidentiality they have no excuses. Being afraid of what society thinks of them is a useless excuse. Society will judge them a hell o a lot more of they take action on their impulses rather than seek help. Child molesters and pedophiles are all monsters.

  • Kristie

    April 25th, 2015 at 5:18 PM

    Idk. But my mother left me with my grandmother which was her mother from the time I was 1 until the time I was thirteen. My Grandmother was a child molester she done a lot of evil things to me. She put her hands all in my private parts and the she touched me and I was so scared of her. She was very evil. I am a female and I am only attracted to men. When I got 14 I reported the molestation to my counselor and they got help for me I was able to go to a group home. I was scared of her so I told them my daddy was the guilty party because I think I trusted him and victims usually blame who they trust. Plus I did not want people to think I was gay because my grandmother looked inside my body everyday and told me to. She finally died in 2001 and God made a way for me to go see my dad and apologize to him for blaming him but I was scared of her not him.

  • Brittany

    May 22nd, 2015 at 8:33 PM

    Hi Lori, I am sorry that happened to you, no one deserves that to happen to them. You are incredibly brave to stand up to keep other children safe yes anytime you suspect a child may be in danger, you may call your local child protective (or family) services If a person hurt a young person in the past, we want to prevent it happening again to another child. Be ready to provide information about the perpetrater and the victim (or potential victim).

  • Brittany

    May 22nd, 2015 at 8:40 PM

    Based on information provided, the intake specialist/social worker will determine whether or not a case will be opened.

  • Hurt mother

    May 24th, 2015 at 5:04 PM

    I finally filed the report that my boyfriend molested my daughter. I still don’t know 100% for sure if it happened and I feel so guilty for reporting it and the fact that I can’t let him know I did so untill they do the investigation. Why do I feel this way? I love him so much but if he hurt my daughter why do I feel guilty for turning him in? Is there something wrong with me?

  • Hurt mother

    May 24th, 2015 at 5:06 PM

    I also don’t understand why I can’t stop hurting over the loss of our family (we have a daughter together as well)…. Help please

  • Diana

    June 15th, 2015 at 2:27 AM

    I guess you feel guilty because you never thought you’d be in this position before. But you are doing nothing wrong to wanna make sure your daughter is safe or not. Your children are always your first priority. Especially in this situation.
    Besides, if your bf did nothing wrong, he shouldn’t worry. And WILL go on with the investigation! Trust me on this one. Don’t let him try to control you in to making you not continue with this investigation. Always listen to your guts as well. Better safe than sorry, no?

  • Diana

    June 15th, 2015 at 4:13 AM

    I know this is an old post but….for ME I would not want my family to accept my father back when he gets out of prison. If they take him back I’d feel very betrayed. Like they picked HIM over me! Idk what’s the real good answer on what is right or wrong but with us… I feel like he just really took us for granted. He was never a good father! Even if he never abused me, he was still a bad father with a bad temper! A bad father! A bad husband!! He failed us!
    Im 27, and literally he took my whole childhood away. During all that time, he failed as a husband to take care of the family. For me, he should of worried about us before he did the stuff to me like that.

    Since I’m the victim, I’m worried that I might end up seeing him. He has been locked up since I was 14. I think he gets out next year. I still have trouble telling him to stay away from us… I wrote two different letters to send him and I still have not… it’s harder than you think…but I think I finally made up my mind of what to write…

  • Diana

    June 15th, 2015 at 4:27 AM

    It’s ok… that’s how I feel with my dad.
    I used to wish he would be raped by the people in prison. So he knew how I felt.
    But now I don’t. I actually will forgive him…so he can peacefully be able to change, if he means what he says… all I know it’s between him and God. God is the only one that can really see how his heart is.
    With me and my “dad”… we are not a family. I don’t see him as my dad… but I do sadly have this feeling of worry of him. Like when he gets out of prison. But after really thinking about it, he should be the one doing all the worrying. He should have thought of that before he did that to me. So why let that kind of responsibility with me? I do feel bad how he is gonna have a really hard time to get back to this world after prison. But I shouldn’t worry about that! I shouldn’t have to have him in my mind after all these years!! It’s not fair! He still tries to wanna be in our lives! He still sends us letters when we don’t reply.
    It’s like he has the nerve to think we would just let him back in our lives! It’s like… don’t I matter? What about me?!! Why be so selfish?

    Long post…just stuff I had to take off my chest…

  • Shandell

    June 28th, 2015 at 6:07 PM

    Well,My ex- husband was arrested in Aug. 2013 and sentenced on a lesser charge of indiscent behavior of a minor under the age of 13, in april 2015. my son was 8 at the time and was diagnosed with Autism at age 3. We r in couseling! Recovery is in the early stages. Our story is mind blowing! I’ve cycled thru many emotions. At first Hate and very ashamed to admit I even cared about the monster I once loved dearly. Now? I except his call’s from prison. at fist we wrote back and forth. Mostly for questions that needed answering. He is sorry now! NOW after getting 12 years hard labor. He has a chance 4 parol in Aug. 2017. My son is 10 now. He is happy his father is in prison and still has nightmares. Wonders if his dad will escape… Which brings me to the most difficult part. I still do not know how he truly feels or thinks about the whole story of his life. His Dad wants to recover and seek professional help. U see! Most people who do such evil things to a child was once done to them ata very young age. I uncovered some secrets that should not have been kept in his family. It’s all in the pattern of abuse, but not all who have been abused in such ways become the monster. Some like myself become the protectors which is why I felt shame in not being able to protect my children. He hid it very well. I am very proud of my son 4 coming forward about this. In some ways I am relieved. some ways I still miss the man I thought he was. I so want and prey that a pedifile can just stop being a pedifile. But how can u love with out trust is the big question. we r going to be in theropy 4 years to come. To NOT forgive only hurts one person. Yourself! Who know’s maybe I will write a book.

  • Lyc

    July 3rd, 2015 at 6:11 PM

    Agree completely.

  • sara

    July 14th, 2015 at 5:42 AM

    After reading your story I felt I was reading about myself. My ex molested my daughter who was 6then. We just had our own baby who was 3mos when this happened. I fell deeply in love. I went thru the cycles of emotions also. Never saw it coming. He was good. I’ve lost so much trust. He got a life sentence. Found out later sexual abuse was going on in his own upbringing.but my first responsibility is safety for The children. He even taught the kids about bad touches. He was very smart in manipulating. With some I believe its a learned behavior. I don’t plan on seeking counceling with him. I need to preserve my own life. It was too devastating and hurt so deeply. I forgive but hard to trust again. I will never understand the attraction to children

  • jennifer

    July 18th, 2015 at 11:46 PM

    Yes iam a mother with a son who is in jail right now on a child molestation charge but has not been indicted yet he also haves mental and psylochogal problems they just got my son sitting there he haves a public defender also no my son isn’t a child molester is just the way Georgia laws are if one is older then the other one I was reading this article and yes there are two diffreant kinds of people but my son doesn’t pray on younger people I just wish I knew what to do to help him out becz has a mother it would be diffreant if he like did something like most of these people have done to children but his story is complety diffreant then a lot of em he doesn’t even member doing anything I just wish people would tell me what is child molestion cmon now i just want my son to get help and not be locked away like no monkey or anything like that can someone help me please.

  • Heidi

    July 25th, 2015 at 10:50 PM

    I was molested by my uncle when I was 4. Horrible life changing experience. Never fully talked about it with my family but everyone knew. I feel mossy terrible about not exposing him and stopping his addiction. I went through major periods of anger, shame, etc. But the worst was the obvious secrecy around my experience. I wish I was safe enough and encouraged to talk. I don’t believe at this point life imprisonment is the right solution. I think intervention, counseling, breaking the cycle is the only way to truly heal. As perpetrators and victims.

  • Heidi

    July 25th, 2015 at 10:53 PM

    I use to feel that way too. But i don’t want to be that ugly. I want awareness. I hate hate

  • Heidi

    July 25th, 2015 at 10:54 PM

    Thank you I agree

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