In my teacher training we have a textbook about student behaviour in which we are told some aspects of child sexual abuse. How to recognise it and what supports are available and so on. It also lists statistics which shocked me. The incidence is higher than I expected. My textbook says that adult abusers molest about 150 times before being detected. That about 20% of men and 7% of women report having some sexual interest in children. 7% of males and 3% of women would act on this interest if they believe they wouldn’t get caught. Most abusers are known to their victims. Between 20 and 50% of offences are committed by adolescents, half of which is sibling incest. Most abusers were not abused themselves. Basically, we are being told that we will be teaching children who are being, or have been, sexually abused.
I watched Louis Theroux’s documentary last night. It is about the inmates of a Californian psychiatric hospital for convicted paedophiles and rapists. The men are kept there after they have served their prison sentence. Only 30% are involved in the rehabilitation program. The rest are appealing through legal channels, or just being kept there until they die.
A graduate of the rehabilitation program had authorities looking for a place for him to live in the community. So far, 1100 prospective landlords or communities had rejected him. This man had been castrated, at his own request. Only 13 inmates had graduated out of the hospital and into the community.
It was hard to watch. The men seemed very normal. For some, decades had passed since their crimes. For others, there were many more victims of their crimes than the legal system was aware of. One man said he had about 50 victims. Some acknowledged the damage they had done.
As well as group therapy and working with social workers, the men in the program are subjected to lie detector tests and a test where their physical reaction to various types of visual stimulus is recorded. An implement is attached to the penis to measure this reaction. The stimulus can be adult sexual material, or material that suggests children are sexual. They can’t use child pornography, so, the clinicians said, they use pictures of children in bathing suits playing with water or eating fruit. Playing with water or eating fruit. I admit I didn’t see the actual photos, and didn’t see how suggestively children were playing with water or eating fruit. But really. Water and fruit? Whether a response would be recorded by showing child beauty pageants or children in skimpy costumes bumping and grinding at the local dance school concert or children in French Vogue, I don't know.
The whole discussion leads me to lots of questions.
Images of children in advertising, and in our culture generally. The pornification of our culture. We can’t pretend it is harmless. What are the messages that people are receiving that encourage sexual abuse, and that don’t encourage respect for women, girls and boys as whole people who have a right to be safe? I think we already know the answer to that one.
Empowering kids. We need to train kids to stand up for themselves. To speak out and be confident. Which leads to the issue of connection. It is more likely that kids who lack a strong social network are the kids targeted by opportunistic abusers and paedophiles. Isolated kids are at risk kids.
The question of justice. I understand that these men are not welcome in the community. But are their rights being violated? After serving their prison sentences, should they be returned to the community? Perpetrators of other crimes - murderers, embezzlers, armed robbers - are returned to the community. These men are being held on the basis that they might re-offend. Other types of criminals are not treated the same way. Or is holding these men indefinitely sending a clear message to potential offenders that their crime will cost them their futures?
This is a shocking question, but I have to ask it. In Ancient Greece, men had sex with adolescent boys. It was considered normal. And we know that children are trafficked into the sex trade all over the world. Are there any cultures in which child sexual abuse hasn’t happened? If not, then we have to ask if adult sexual interest in children is part of a range of normality, as abhorrent as that idea may be. Is child sexual abuse something we can prevent with education and laws and respect and kindness? Or will there always be people who have the urge and take their opportunities, and the best we can do is try to keep children, not just our children, but all children, out of their way? If there are or have been cultures in which adult sexual interest in children didn't exist, keeping in mind that in some cultures childhood ended earlier than our current age of consent, what was it about those cultures that may have contributed to the sexual safety of children, and what can we learn from them?