What Perpetrators and Child Survivors Think of Child Sexual Abuse

By Jane Gilgun

Perpetrators rarely think of child sexual abuse as abuse. Instead, they think sexual abuse is love, affection, a thrill, a high, play, comfort, a teaching moment, or payback.

For many, sexual abuse is love. Perpetrators may become angry and disgusted when they hear that someone else is sexually abusing children. "String them up!" they say. In their minds, what they do is love while what others do is abuse. Those who seek thrills and highs experience sex with children as the greatest feeling in the world. They would do anything to get the high that sex with children gives them.

Those for whom sexual abuse is play giggle and joke about the sexual touching they do or have the children do to them. They may play games like "You show me yours, and I'll show you mine." Many men who abuse boys establish a kind of "buddy" relationship with the boys where "horsing" around lead to sexual contact.

Sex abuse is comfort. For these perpetrators, sex with children is a "fix"-it fixes their mood when they are feeling bad. Others say the only time they feel good is when they are being sexual with children.

Sometimes perpetrators believe that sexual abuse comforts children. For them, life is hard, and they think it is hard for some children. They seek children who appear sad to them. Sex abuse becomes an act of kindness. Still others see themselves as teaching children, often their own biological children, how to make love. They would rather that their children learn from them rather than some scruffy teenager.

Some are rough and mean, deliberately hurting children. They believe children deserve to be hurt and damaged. They may confuse children with other people who have hurt them, and they think they have a right to take revenge on children. Children are scapegoats.

Children Understand Sexual Behaviors Differently
Children do not understand sexual behaviors in the ways that perpetrators do. Children do not have the experience or the emotional and cognitive development to do so.

For instance, a thirteen year-old girl believed that her uncle was trying to love her. She said, "I didn't like him the way I like boys." Sexual acts are a mystery to children. A girl whose grandfather abused her for six years, starting when she was three, said, "Grandpa used to do it on the boat. He had sort of a grin on his face. White stuff came out." Another girl, had a similar description about a stranger who molested her: "He took a towel and started wiping me down.
There was white stuff on it." Another girl said her teenage babysitter sort of did push-ups on her.

A six year-old boy told his mother that the anal penetration a fourteen year-old neighbor had perpetrated on him for a year and a half was "how I was made."

These examples show that children do not understand sexuality and sexual abuse the way adults do. They also do not understand that perpetrators take advantage of them. They do not understand adult sexual and emotional gratification. What adults want from them is beyond their comprehension. Children are confused and hurt by sexual acts, whether done by people they know, trust, like, and love or by strangers.

Perpetrators Have Sole Responsibility
Children also do not realize that perpetrators have sole responsibility for sexual abuse. Quite a few adults do not realize this either, and children may be blamed and stigmatized for being sexually abused. At an early age, children learn to blame themselves.

Nothing about children causes sexual abuse. All children are vulnerable to being sexually abused. Those who are sexually abused have the misfortune to be in the presence of perpetrators, and there is no one there to protect them. Children with disabilities that limit their capacities to communicate are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario for survivor recovery is the caring, supportive response of their families and friends. Children recover well when children are surrounded by people who love them, believe them when they say someone abused them sexually, and do not blame them. Children's recovery depends upon empathy, understanding, and education about the true nature of child sexual abuse.

Another important aspect of recovery occurs when others hold perpetrators responsible and accountable for their own behaviors. Accountability means that perpetrators take responsibility for the abuse, accept the consequences for their actions, seek the help they require to stop themselves from sexually abusing again, and apologize to the children and any other persons they have harmed.

Such actions are rare, but when they do happen, children's recovery is given a huge boost. Child survivors are relieved from the guilt, shame, and stigma that are part of being sexually abused. The adults in their lives have evidence in the words and actions of perpetrators that perpetrators alone are responsible, not the children, and that the perpetrators' behaviors hurt the children.

Children can and do recover when perpetrators do not take responsibility, but the road to recovery is made more smooth when they do.

When perpetrators take responsibility, the possibility that they can change their behaviors opens up. They then can report their behaviors truthfully to law enforcement and the courts, can hear what survivors and others whom they have hurt have to say, they can engage g in sex offender treatment, therapy, and they can accept the consequences of their behaviors. When they plead guilty, they relieve survivors of the difficult task of testifying court and enduring cross-examinations.

This is no easy thing for perpetrators to do, but those who take responsibility and stick with it have reason to hope that they can get their lives back and be in a better place. Sadly, some abusers swing back and forth between taking responsibility and blaming others. This hurts survivors and themselves. Such wavering also puts them at high risk to sexually abuse again.

Perpetrators Take Advantage of Children

Over time, recovery means that the survivors understand that someone--often someone they loved and trusted-took advantage of them. Recovery means that survivors understand that perpetrators hurt them psychologically and sexually. They have learned from their own experience that they have capacities to cope with, adapt to, and overcome the effects of the abuse. They deal with and reject the myths that they are "damaged good," dirty, and shameful. They know that they are good persons who other people hurt. They respect themselves and expect respect from others.

When survivors work through the effects of abuse, they have sought and responded to the help of many other people. Often this involves professional help along with meaningful conversations with trustworthy friends and family members. Survivors cannot grapple with the effects of child sexual abuse with the love and support of other people.

Survivors adapt to being survivors. They do not forget that they survived sexual abuse. Being a survivor has become part of who they are, but only one aspect of themselves, a part of themselves that helps them to connect with others who are hurt. Survivors who have accepted the fact of being sexually abused have great capacities for empathy, compassion, and encouragement of others. They understand how complex being alive is, with opportunities for joy, sorrow, rage, and living the everydayness of life with hope and dignity. They live full and rich lives based on their capacities to cope with, adapt to, and overcomes the effects of the abuse.

Some survivors live their lifetimes hurt by the effects of child sexual abuse. If they have other hard times in their lives, overcoming the effects of the abuse is much harder. Some people live their entire lives believing they are bad people when in reality other people have hurt them and these other people have not taken responsibility for their own behaviors. Other survivors are well into adulthood before they find the empathy and understanding that enables them to talk about being sexual abused. This brings them relief and emotional freedom.

Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is professor, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She has two books available at http://stores.lulu.com/jgilgun

One is Unkind Deeds and Cover-ups in Everyday Life that will be available December 7, 2007 and the other is Everything You've Wanted to Know About Child Sexual Abuse, or Maybe You Didn't, available January 1, 2008.

Got to amazon.com/shorts for four short pieces she wrote. One is on Elvis in the Army, another an hilarious story about smuggling drugs into prison, another on the sexual abuse of 12 year-old boy, and the final one are the last thoughts of a man condemned to die for a murder he did not commit. The book will be available soon at http://stores.lulu.com/jgilgun

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Jane_Gilgun

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home