A Psychosocial Profile of a Serial Pedophile

I live less than an hour from Penn State University, and I taught there for two years. It is located in a region of Pennsylvania commonly referred to as “Happy Valley.” Under the specter of the Jerry Sandusky criminal proceedings wherein he is found guilty of 45 criminal counts of “child rape”, the Valley is experiencing shock, shame, confusion, and division. This circumstance prompted me to develop and implement a training workshop for professionals. In this workshop I discuss the pathogenesis of pedophilia and how to care for the victims of this trauma. This article reflects my synthesis of research and clinical experience regarding the identification of a pedophile.

About 90% of adults who abuse children are not mentally ill, and the very vast majority of those who sexually abuse children are male. Research indicates a dichotomy between the “situational” and the “preferential” pedophile. I professionally regard Jerry as a “preferential” one.

Preferential pedophiles are considered to be intellectually brighter, more likely to be of a higher socioeconomic status, are more compulsive, show a stronger preference for certain prospective victims, show greater grooming behaviors, are less violent, and traumatize more victims. In addition, these preferences are more likely to be described as ego-syntonic (relatively comfortable this way). And, when they demonstrate disordered personalities, they are of the “worried” and “wild” personality subtypes.

If married, preferential pedophiles are likely to have adopted and foster children. They have a spouse who has minimal expectations of them, particularly sexual. Their acts often emerge in early adolescence — a year of two after entrance into puberty.

Further characteristics show that they are excessively interested in children, groom their prospective victim, and single-parent. Specifically, they choose victims who are known to be vulnerable; and they leverage these children with affection, gifts/material benefits, and special privileges. They often collect child erotica and porn. And finally, they are adept at rationalizing all the “good” they do for their prey.

Based on my culling of a number of news accounts of these crimes, Jerry very closely resembles this particular profile of a “preferred profile”.


Gray NS, Brown AS, MacCulloch MJ, Smith J, & Snowden RJ (2005). An implicit test of the associations between children and sex in pedophiles. Journal of abnormal psychology, 114 (2), 304-8 PMID: 15869360

Eichenwald, K. (2006, August21). On the web, pedophiles extend their reach. New York Times.

Profile of Child Sexual Predators. Office of Juvenile Justice Department of Delinquency Prevention, 5th Ed.

Seto MC (2009). Pedophilia. Annual review of clinical psychology, 5, 391-407 PMID: 19327034

Image via Minerva Studio / Shutterstock.

Richard Kensinger, MSW

Richard Kensinger, MSW, has over forty years of clinical experience in behavioral healthcare as a psychotherapist, trainer, consultant, and faculty member in the Psychology Department, Mount Aloysius College. He has also taught at Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, and Temple University. He is also a lover of "football", known in the USA as soccer. He is currently associated for over 30 years with youth "football", 26 as a referee.
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