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Contrary to public perception, child sex offending (CSO) and paedophilia are not the same. Only half of all cases of CSO are motivated by paedophilic preference, and a paedophilic preference does not necessarily lead to CSO. However, studies that investigated clinical factors accompanying and contributing to paedophilia so far mainly relied on paedophiles with a history of CSO. The aim of this study was to distinguish between factors associated with sexual preference (paedophile versus non-paedophile) and offender status (with versus without CSO). Accordingly, a 2 (sexual preference) × 2 (offender status) factorial design was used for a comprehensive clinical assessment of paedophiles with and without a history of CSO (n = 83, n = 79 respectively), child sex offenders without paedophilia (n = 32) and healthy controls (n = 148). Results indicated that psychiatric comorbidities, sexual dysfunctions and adverse childhood experiences were more common among paedophiles and child sex offenders than controls. Offenders and non-offenders differed in age, intelligence, educational level and experience of childhood sexual abuse, whereas paedophiles and non-paedophiles mainly differed in sexual characteristics (e.g., additional paraphilias, onset and current level of sexual activity). Regression analyses were more powerful in segregating offender status than sexual preference (mean classification accuracy: 76% versus 68%). In differentiating between offence- and preference-related factors this study improves clinical understanding of both phenomena and may be used to develop scientifically grounded CSO prevention and treatment programmes. It also highlights that some deviations are not traceable to just one of these two factors, thus raising the issue of the mechanism underlying both phenomena.
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