Thursday, May 8, 2008

Are Child Molesters an Anomaly?

I recently got a temp job at the local newspaper. I get a lot of time to read the news now and I'm glad. However, this morning a coworker pointed out a story to me that made me mad, and sad, and a little depressed. A ten year old girl from a nearby town gave birth to a baby in the hospital about two weeks ago. She was raped. No one even saught help for this girl until she went into labor. The rapist was thirty-seven. I have a few questions. What factors go in to making a person decide that they want force sex on a ten year old? Are people like this an anomaly? Or do they have severe sexual entitlement issues? Were they sexually abused as children (in general)? Are cultural values to blame? Perhaps my readers could give me some stats, some information, some understanding of what leads to behavior like this so that we can take active steps toward eradicating it.

I know that the media can sometimes make different crimes seem more common than they really are because they only publish the worst crimes--but really, it seems that child molestation is becoming more common, and I want to know why. I also want to know what contributes to it, because I have two boys and I don't want to screw up so badly that they decide it's okay to have sex with ten year olds. Can you imagine the trauma that this young girl and her family (although why the hell didn't they seek help earlier) must be going through after all this? I don't want to be responsible for perpetuating hell.


angryyoungwoman said...

Oh, I heard about this on the radio today (on the way to see my counselor, actually). I couldn't tell you why this stuff happens. I wish I knew. Sometimes the perpetrator is a past victim of abuse, but most victims of abuse just go on to lead the usual life of self-loathing and quiet desperation without doing any harm to anybody. I think most perpetrators are just people who want to exert power and control so they look for someone they can control.

Gosh, I hate men. There's a reason I'm celibate.

(chandelle) said...

god, that's a hard one. i double-majored in college as pre-med and psychology with an emphasis on forensics. so i was pretty heavily steeped in this stuff. i'm really happy now that i never ended up actually becoming a coroner and forensic psychologist, which is what i intended, because now i have kids, and having kids is hard enough with all those pictures in my head without actually working in that field every day. i couldn't have known it before, but that power of compartmentalization? yeah. i don't have it.

most violent offenders, sexual or not, were abused in some way in childhood. serial killers and rapists have notoriously received the worst treatment in childhood. this runs into some pretty tricky consideration, because when you think of some famous cases, like the menendez brothers, who were severely abused by their father and used that as a defense at their murder trial after they shot him to death, you'll get some pretty divisive responses. plenty of people in the field feel that severe physical and, especially, sexual abuse in childhood does to a certain degree prevent these people from being able to make the right choices. some of that may be physiological as well as psychological. but most people in the public do not want to believe that. when a terrible crime occurs, the public wants blood, and that is that. that's why the mentally retarded have been, and continue to be, given the death penalty, even some people who could not have possibly known what they were doing: you have to appease the public, or the blood they take will be from the attorneys, judges and police departments.

what can we do to prevent it in our own homes? well, a molester or serial rapist or killer with a happy childhood is almost unheard-of. of course, that's true for most of us, i think. the inverse here is of course untrue: most violent offenders had a violent childhood, but most people with violent childhoods do not become violent offenders. figuring out what makes the difference is a question that will probably never be answered satisfactorily. there are so many variables: socioeconomic standards, the presence of mentoring relatives or friends, education, accessibility, etc. to a certain degree, it has to be a question of choice for most of us. i grew up with a violent childhood and i did make a very assertive, conscious choice to avoid violence myself - but i'm well aware of that potential within me, especially with my children. in fact, my obsession with forensic medicine, with murderers, child molesters, rapists and all the others, with death in general, was probably an expression of the violence i'd internalized. but i made the choice to turn away from it, and i know many others who have as well. is that possible for everyone with a violent past? i really can't say.

what can we do to prevent it? the best we can do is to raise our children with healthy attitudes about conflict resolution and sexuality. that sounds pretty small, but it isn't.

Lessie said...

Thanks for your responses you guys. AYW--even though I escaped any sexual or physical abuse as a child, I went through a period of hating men as well. It's amazing that my marriage survived. I think it's inevitable when one sees the degree of oppression present in history and even in our own current culture to go through such a period. Ultimately for me, it came down to my desire to eradicate the anger I was harboring. But that's sometimes easier said than done, and yes, it took professional therapy. Good luck on your own journey.

Chandelle, your response makes me feel better. I've always been somewhat paranoid, and have always worried that I'm going to totally screw over my sons. However, from what you said, that's highly unlikely given the fact that I try really hard to teach respect, non-violence, and comfort with our bodies.

Another question for you, I try really hard also to be compassionate to every one. I've heard that there's no rehabilitation possible for child sex offenders. Do you know if that's true? Because if these people are suffering, or are capable of being helped, then I'm all about developing ways to help them with these issues.

Oh, and one other question. I've heard that a lot of times, sociopaths have no conscience--they're incapable of knowing that what they've done is wrong, or they don't care if they do know. Is that true? Is that a result of the abuse they suffer as children? Is there a way to rehabilitate such disorders? Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

(chandelle) said...


it is generally accepted to be true that child molesters, and pedophilia in general, is not capable of rehabilitation - or really, habilitating in the first place. i tend to be very liberal on prison issues, but on this one, i do believe that child molesters should be institutionalized for life, not in prisons, but in mental hospitals, because it is a mental disorder. do i believe that can be habilitated? no. in school i definitely learned of these things from a conservative POV, and i've come away from it all with a very liberal POV on everything except molestation, and most sex crimes in general. i suppose in these instances i feel that no chances can be taken since there is no evidence as of yet (that i am aware of) that re/habilitation is effective.

as to your second question, a sociopath by definition has no conscience and no understanding of right and wrong. pure sociopathy is extremely uncommon. and it does not appear to be able to be remediated either, since morality and such are developed in childhood. it appears to be pretty much impossible to teach an adult to be moral. most molesters, serial rapists and murderers contain some shade of sociopathy, but it's very rare for someone to be a "pure" sociopath, utterly incapable of relating to other people, understanding right from wrong or feeling the pangs of conscious.

angryyoungwoman said...

Wow, Chandelle, you're really knowledgeable (gah, I don't know how to spell!)! What about adolescent perpetrators, do you know of any studies about them that tell if they can be rehabilitated?

(chandelle) said...

i have seen a few studies about adolescent crimes, and it does seem that some prevention of recidivism is possible. wilderness camps, for example, and pre-trial diversion programs, have both had statistical success in reducing the crime rate amongst adolescent offenders.

don't take me as too much of an authority on this stuff, since i haven't studied in depth in...geez, five years? i do remember most of what i learned, but something must have changed in that time. the journal of offender rehabilitation, which is uk-based, is a good resource.

shukr said...

I don't believe that offenders can be fixed once they have offended; possibly before an offence if their deviance is picked up at that stage, ( they are rarely spur of the moment crimes and have clear, recurrent cycles of thought to action).

Rape generally is about POWER and dominance, so that's why you get women raped dressed in jeans to minis, beautiful to ugly, old to young; it's not just about sexual attraction.

We had training at rape crisis with rehab workers specialising in the 'far out' extreme end of the spectrum, but also in the local community, and the conclusions they brought were that it's worth trying to educate offenders, ( otherwise they wouldn't be trying to do that), but that the most useful part of rehab is purely in getting to know the mind of the offender more clearly for future cases.

"i do believe that child molesters should be institutionalized for life, not in prisons, but in mental hospitals, because it is a mental disorder. do i believe that can be habilitated? no."
yay that chandelle!

I never have time to write everything I want to - wanted to put in about child protection issues too, teaching children to follow their intuition, following and respecting yours etc...

Lessie said...

Shukr and chandelle, thanks so much for your contributions to this post. I really had no idea from a mental health or sociological standpoint how child molestation and rape "worked". Shukr, if you find the time, I would love to hear more about what to teach my boys about these things. We're working on respect for each other's bodies, about not touching other people's bodies, etc. but anything else you can offer would be more than welcome.

Wheel said...

Hey, lessie, just checking in to leave my new blog details, ( should be able to clicky my name, 'wheel', which has a long story as to why it ended up as that. lol. don't think can change it now....)

lots of love 'Shukr'

and sorry didn't responded to this post again, but in all honesty, just having an awareness of how you want your children to end up is probably the best 'advice' anyone can give.
You know, like the '7 secrets of successful families' says, it's like an aeroplane course, not on track all the time, but so long as we have the overall destination in mind then, ( for me this is intrinsic with an awareness of 'God willing'), our parenting will hold it's course and we will have done our very best.