The Unfortunate Truths of Child Sexual Abuse

NOTE: The following post also deals with ideas, concepts and realities not suitable for children. Please be aware of the media your children are digesting. Please contact your school board if you believe your child has inadequate access to information on inappropriate touching and abuse, or check the following link. These writings are also merely the opinions of the author.

The problem with pedophilic behaviour really shouldn’t require elaboration, but unfortunately it does. For the average person it’s as plain as day; children do not feel sexual pleasure, they are not capable of presenting themselves in the power dynamics that are inherent in sexual encounter, or of representing themselves in power dynamics with individuals far more developed both intellectually and physically. They are vulnerable, and there are few things more frightening than an individual capable of repeatedly and premeditatedly taking advantage of the most vulnerable. For this we reserve our highest stigma and greatest fear. To the normally developed adult the abhorrent nature of these acts are as plain as day. What is it that operates so completely differently in the mind of a pedophile?

Margaux Fragoso, author of ‘Tiger, Tiger’, her personal memoir as the 15-year victim of a pedophile. Photo courtesy of the Globe and Mail.

Most resources are centered on the treatment of victims, and very well should be. We seek here to explore prevention which requires we look primarily at the offenders.

To write them off as sheer monstrosities may be unjust, but more importantly it is largely unproductive. A pedophile who has already offended has behavioural patterns so deeply ingrained that it’s difficult to expect that we can rely on our current reformative technologies (psychologists, therapists, the correctional system) to really remove them from danger of reoffending. Pedophilia is in many ways a self-replicating social illness which cannot be cured so much as prevented. Programs directed at the after effects are symptomatic treatments, stopgaps designed to mitigate for damages already done. The best path to prevention is early intervention, and this is where most efforts are currently concentrated. Yet the risk of further victimization by adult offenders and the lifelong trauma this can impart is too important to ignore.

So how are we to go about preventing pedophilia? Previous generations have toyed with the idea of castration, be it physical or chemical, permanent incarceration, shock therapy, lobotomy and the like. These treatments are largely ineffective and cruel, they could even increase the risk of other (or more clandestine) victimizing behaviours by the perpetrator.

Newer techniques are centred around intensive treatment programmes, awareness raising and registration of repeat offenders. These techniques are much more effective and in line with our modern conceptualizations of human rights (remember, inalienable means inalienable), but treatment programmes are useless without continual – and costly – follow-ups with highly trained professionals. Unfortunately most pedophiles are very sociable and do not exhibit common signs of criminal behaviour such as obvious substance abuse, problems holding down employment or generally violent or anti-social behaviour. Vigilance is the only option. Our current approach to criminal justice puts this burden on the state and experts it is expected to employ and keep in regular contact with offenders. This is often economically impossible, especially in remote locations, and instead the burden falls ironically enough to children to report behaviours they understand even less than we do. Our prisons become overcrowded and ineffectual mental hospitals.  Awareness raising and sex-offender registries risk may encourage a culture of fear and misunderstanding, but remain the only viable option. The only worry is that these contribute to stigma and the culture of silence that allows these behaviours to perpetuate.

How then do we remove the conditions that allow pedophilia to persist? The shift must begin at the very foundations of our social order, with interpersonal interactions and the media we ingest. Frankly, we need to talk about these things. We need to make it part of an every day dialog on the range of sexually inappropriate actions (violence, objectification, ogling, date-rape, risky sexual behaviour) that still persist, especially amongst youth. The advances in gender and racial equality did not come from on high with a political pen-stroke. They came, and continue to emerge, from changes in acceptable humour, what we talk about around the water cooler, what we let our children watch, what we are willing to vocally admit offends us. Enshrining equality into law was the paramount first step, but it is taking decades for the actual shifts in behaviour to occur.

I put forward three changes that I see as necessary if we are to advance:

1)      Sexual Equality: While gender equality has advanced by leaps and bounds, sexual equality – that is the actual ability of men and women to pursue their valid (read: legal and reasonable) sexual desires – has lagged behind. For examples of this we need only look to the remaining prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

2)      The Rights of the Child: Children are under-respected in our society. The do not participate in political life to any meaningful extent and are excluded entirely from legitimate economics. Do I in any way want children as political leaders or legal employees? God no. But we do need to realize that our societies current focus on politics and economics, as well as growing worries regarding population pressure, mean children can be seen as an unproductive and even problematic sector of society.

3)      Personal Responsibility: While this behaviour is arguably  endemic in our culture (how else could it be so prevalent?) it is not just that the responsibility fall on children to ‘spot a predator’ to report it to their parents or the authorities. It often threatens they very innocence and right to normal development that the prevention of sexual seeks to maintain. Offenders and potential offenders alike need to take responsibility. That is why it is primarily a criminal justice matter. But just like there are socio-economic factors in theft or murder, so there are here. And here, more than those other cases, the weight on the individual to control their behaviour is even grater. Pedophiles don’t do what they do because they need to eat, or because they feel they live in a ‘kill or be killed’ culture. That illogic is obvious enough even for a mentally sound person to see as universally understood, sick or not. Anti-depressants and testosterone inhibiting drugs have been shown to have some effectiveness. Offenders and individuals with problems of ideation need to consider these. Yet, it is important to remember that most pedophiles have probably been abused or exposed to abuse themselves. Behaviours rarely do not emerge in a vacuum.

Hopefully in addressing and exploring these factors society at large can come to a better understanding of the root causes of pedophilia and treat it the only feasible way; before it ever happens.

***

I would like to mention Margaux Fragoso’s brave memoir, Tiger, Tiger, which was instrumental in giving me the understanding and the courage to talk about publically in a reasonable and emotionally detached way.

I would recommend ‘ Tiger, Tiger ‘ to anyone who has been affected in any way by pedophilia, to anyone who is interested in considering pedophilia as a social ill, or to anyone who disagrees with any of my points above. I welcome criticism and comment, but unless you have personal experience or a considerable background of knowledge I would beg you to consider that thoughtless commenting or attacking of my arguments. Thoughtless and fear driven commenting is exactly what could contribute to the continued fear of victims to speak out against their abusers, and the continued belief by abusers that what they do (or may be thinking about doing) is not grievously and obviously harmful and wrong.

Click to link to book preview. Please note this book needs to be read in its entirety to be understood in any useful way. Courtesy amazon.ca.

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

-William Blake, ‘The Tiger‘, quoted in the opening of M. Fragoso’s memoir

Please consider the following links:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/two-canadians-arrested-in-global-child-porn-investigation/article1944189/ – Recent bust demonstrating the continuing prevalence of the problem

http://hubpages.com/hub/Understand – Blog of a courageous victim and relative of a pedophile

http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/Publications_NSVRC_Directories_A-National-Resource-Directory-Handbook-Preventing-Child-Sexual-Abuse.pdf – One of many handbooks available on-line detailing how communities can educate children and try to effectively manage child sexual abuse

4 responses to “The Unfortunate Truths of Child Sexual Abuse

  1. Pingback: My Phone Date with a Johns Hopkins Sexologist « The Unqualified Theorist

  2. Sean,

    As I have been reading through your posts, I am sitting in the control room at CTV in Vancouver, and at least one of the headlines tonight is about the sexual exploitation of children. It’s horrible. It is such a huge problem that has (currently) no real solution.

    How hard it must be thoug, for pedophiles to NOT act on their deisres and impulses. It’s impossible to know, but how many pedophiles are there who have never sought out child porn, or who maintain their own vigilance to protect children. I wonder if there is any support for those individuals, it would be such a lonely and terribly challenging way to get through life. i think. Maybe? Because the absolute wrong when it comes to pedophilia is the act, whether creating or using child pornography or the sexualized interactions with a child. Right?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about teledildonics lately (a professional cuiriosity, one could say) and the progress being made in sex toys and technology where you can get a masturbator sleeve hooked up to some software and it will simulate the physical sensations of whatever you see yourself having sex with. I was thinking about this being potentially very beneficial for people with reallly extreme or rare or unrealistic sexual fantasies (zoophiles, for instnace) who are willing to suspend disbelief a little bit more and accept simulations as better than nothing. Sexual preferences are very powerful, and I doubt that virtual reality would be fully satisfactory, but for someone who wants something at all, maybe it could work.

    This then of course demands that someone actually produce, design, animate, such software, but as a measure of harm reduction, maybe?

    Anyhow, I commend you for what you are doing. It’s really important to talk about things we are not comfortable discussing, because usually that is where the most harm happens.

    Cheers,

    Jessi

    • Thanks for your comment Jessi, you raise some interesting points. As for the emerging technologies and the possibilities for the exploration of fantasies in a virtual realm, my feelings are hesitant at best. While sexual preferences can be quite powerful, it is just sex.Pedophilia especially relies on what I believe is a gross misunderstanding of the situation. It misinterprets general responses to attention and power dynamics as desire and sexual pleasure. I worry that any sort of fantasizing could help reinforce the neurological pathways that are also associated with behaviour. I know that this in some ways is a reductive sort of behaviourism, but phenomena such as Mirror Neurons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron) make it a point worth exploring.
      I think if an act is wrong then so is fantasizing about it. The analogy that comes to mind is a vodka loving alcoholic switching to beer. The problem is not the vodka, or even necessarily the alcohol, but more the intoxication-seeking behaviour.
      For pedophilia at least I think what is necessary is more of a cognitive shift. I would think that the simulation of normal healthy sexual interactions between adults would actually be the best for of harm reduction, second of course to actual normal healthy sexual interaction between adults.
      So I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not in how they want it, but in the fact that they want it at all.

      Anyways, as the title up top says, that’s purely my unqualified opinion :)

      Thanks again for writing in.

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