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Pedophilia is a mental disorder where an individual seeks sexual gratification from children. Spelled Paedophilia in British English. The American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology defines pedophilia as “a paraphilia in which sexual acts or fantasies involving pre-pubertal children are the persistently preferred or exclusive method of achieving sexual excitement.” A 2013 APA News Release stated that the APA maintains that pedophilia is a mental disorder. 

While pedophilia itself does not give rise to criminal liability, acting on it does. Many jurisdictions make it a felony to engage in sexual contact with minors, which would be an example of acting on pedophilia. For example, California Penal Code § 288 states that “any person who willfully and lewdly commits any lewd or lascivious act, upon or with the body, or any part or member thereof, of a child who is under the age of 14 years, with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person or the child, is guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for three, six, or eight years.” Acting on pedophilia by possessing or distributing sexual images of minors also gives rise to criminal liability. For example, California Penal Code § 288.2 states that “[e]very person who knows, should have known, or believes that another person is a minor, and who knowingly distributes, sends, causes to be sent, exhibits, or offers to distribute or exhibit by any means, including by physical delivery, telephone, electronic communication, or in person, any harmful matter that depicts a minor or minors engaging in sexual conduct, to the other person with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of that person or of the minor, and with the intent or for the purposes of engaging in sexual intercourse, sodomy, or oral copulation with the other person, or with the intent that either person touch an intimate body part of the other, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or five years.” Individuals convicted of such crimes relating to pedophilia often must register once they complete their prison sentence. For example, California Penal Code § 290.46 requires convicted pedophiles to register with the California Department of Justice, and their information is made public. 

[Last updated in April of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]