In the general press, the topic of sex abuse by priests, clergy, boy and girl scout leaders, jail guards, baby sitters and others in a position of trust is now – finally – openly talked about. Our culture still would like to keep this ugly subject taboo. In doing so, we may not be giving our children the tools to best protect themselves. I will share with the adults some of the amazing characteristics of this long-ranging, social problem that (without psychotherapy) destroys children and families.
I was a sex-offense and victim expert psychotherapist in Utah, but mainly in Las Vegas, Nev. with victims and perpetrators of sexual crimes, mostly by people of trust.
About 18 years ago, when I started working with sex perpetrators who had been caught, they were usually close family members and were male adults whose behavior always accelerated and got worse each time they molested. It does not stop.
In Las Vegas, one of my groups was for healing the men who had been sexually abused. There were 18 men and about one-half had been molested by Catholic priests in various parts of the country. The rest of the perpetrators were males who “helped” the parents (usually a single mother) with watching out for the man when he was a child: teachers, scout leaders, boarders in the home, uncles, grandfathers, big brothers and sisters, neighbors, other clergy; and, of course, mothers and fathers were also offenders. The child was in close contact with – and trusted – the offender. Only one percent of childhood molestation is from strangers.
In their confusion, boys have the most difficult time worrying about whether giving into molestation would mean they are homosexuals. They do not understand that their response to “grooming;” (that is, the molester sets them up and is nice to them to gain their trust) is a kid’s normal response. Their reward is attention: toys and games, feeling very special, being given adult rewards, such as alcohol or marihuana, going special places, having a secret with an adult, and other incentives.
Many are also afraid of themselves and their families being murdered if they tell. And, some have been told by the perpetrator that the molestation would put them in jail; they are usually assured that the child will take the responsibility for keeping them away from the law. In fact, most children tell almost by accident, or when trying to protect a younger sibling.
The more obviously scared parents are of molestation, the less likely the child will be willing to reveal because: the subject upsets a parent and the child doesn’t want to be responsible for causing that; in one case, a little girl reported molestation to the mother who was obsessed about protecting her daughter. The girl actually made a mistake – calling dad’s hug an inappropriate touch.
Her hysterical mother started screaming at her daughter that she had better not be lying. By the time the three year old started to understand, she realized she had been “lying;” using words that she had been taught by a frightened mother. There was no going back. This is a case that was, sadly, still in the courts years later and the child didn’t know what she remembered any more.
If I would give any advice, it would be: be careful of who is in your home, who watches your children, and strive to create a loving, peaceful atmosphere there – one that is safe from the world. A child is more likely to go to a parent they can talk with; and, a perpetrator can spot the one, vulnerable child who feels insecure, alone and not getting positive attention that they crave and deserve.