Child abuse perpetrators, sad to say, are most of the time our fathers, mothers, uncles, grandfathers, stepfathers, brothers, cousins, or mother’s boyfriends. Because these perpetrators did not get their own developmental needs met when growing up, they turned to their own children, especially when there was marital strife, to get their emotional and distorted power needs met. Add to this picture drug abuse (which includes alcohol) and you can understand the high level of dysfunctional families in America.
As I have stated before, the rate of child abuse and neglect is 10 times as high (40 children per 1,000 per year) as the incidence rate for all forms of cancer combined (3.9 individuals per 1,000 per year).1
And, half of all children (35.6 million) live in a household where a parent or other adult drinks heavily or uses illicit drugs.2
The diagnostic criteria for pedophilia in the mental healthcare manual DSM-V is:
- Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).
- The person has acted on these urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies caused marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.
- The person is at least age 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child or children in Criterion A.
In the DSM-V, the name of the disorder has been revised from pedophilia to pedophilic disorder.
The DSM-V also states: Note: Do not include an individual in late adolescence involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a 12- or 13-year-old girl. Also note that to meet the criteria for the diagnosis, it is not required that the person act on the fantasies/urges at all—if they cause “marked distress.”
This note is disturbing because it is unclear as to how it relates to sibling incest which is not uncommon. Research shows that 60% of outpatient psychiatric patients report having engaged in sibling incest when they were children.3
What are some of the reasons or situations perpetrators use to justify their behavior to themselves?
- Child sexual abuse satisfies some emotional or sexual need he doesn’t feel he can get anywhere else. And so, children are a handy release. He uses the excuse later that he was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. I always ask: “Did you ever rob a bank while you were using drugs or alcohol?” No, because they know that is wrong, just like they know molesting children is wrong. It’s just that they can scare the hell out of a child to make them keep their mouths shut.
- Predators have easy access to children and can hide their behavior. I keep saying, the most unsafe place for children in America is at home, in church or at school.
- Child molesters pick on people who can’t defend themselves. They seek out children who are insecure, needy, uneducated about sex, and/or have a trusting relationship with the perpetrator which lowers their resistance.
And yet, when I read about prevention, I usually read about empowering children. To me, this is highly problematic because it is fundamentally impossible to empower a child to overcome the psychological and physical power of child molesters. The focus needs to be the other way around. We need to intervene in ways to prevent adults from abusing children.
Child molesters want to keep doing what they are doing without paying the price. Their rationale being, “My love justifies my behavior.” What has been done in the way of prevention over the past 400 years has not worked. When perpetrators look at their own victimization and take responsibility for how they are continuing to victimize others, then we will be getting somewhere.
1 Child Welfare League of America, “Testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on Select Education of the Committee on Education and the Workforce for the hearing on CAPTA: Successes and Failures at Preventing Child Abuse, August 2, 2001
2 Family Matters: Substance Abuse and The American Family, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, March 2005
3 “Crisis Intervention Handbook: Assessment, Treatment, and Research,” by Albert R. Roberts, Oxford University Press, 2000.