Empathy in pedophilia and sexual offending against children: A multifaceted approach.

Empathy is regarded as dynamic risk factor of child sexual offending. However, empathy research in the context of child sexual abuse suffers from various problems. First, prior studies failed to differentiate between pedophilic and nonpedophilic sexual offenders. Second, there is no distinction made between cognitive and affective empathy. Third, cognitive and affective empathy toward emotional states of specific age groups (children and adults) has not been adequately addressed. The current study tackles these shortcomings investigating offending and nonoffending pedophiles and multiple aspects of empathy using self-reports and objective behavioral measures. Participants included 85 pedophilic men who committed hands-on child sexual offenses (P+CSO), 72 pedophilic men who never committed hands-on child sexual offenses (P−CSO), and 128 nonoffending teleiophilic male controls (TC). Several affective and cognitive aspects of empathy were assessed using the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET) and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Whereas in self-reports (IRI) P+CSO scored lower than TC (P−CSO intermediate) in cognitive perspective-taking abilities, a performance-based measure (MET) revealed evidence for a better differentiation of emotional states in P−CSO as compared with P+CSO (TC intermediate). In addition, P+CSO and P−CSO showed significantly higher affective resonance while observing children (MET), which was paralleled by higher self-reported levels of personal distress in social situations (IRI). The results indicate evidence for higher general affective empathic resonance to children in pedophilic men but superior cognitive empathy abilities in nonoffending pedophiles only, which may act as a protective factor in the prevention of sexual offending. Together, these findings underline the importance of accounting for multiple facets of empathy when targeting pedophilia and child sexual offending. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)