CSA FAQ by Arpan Part 4 : Abusers/Offenders
Q11. Why do people sexually abuse children?
It is difficult to give a simple and straightforward answer to this question. But what is important to understand is that child sexual abuse is not just about sex, it is also about power and control. Our society is structured in a way that places certain kinds of people in positions of privilege and power over others. The power and privileges that people hold in this social structure depend on various factors such as gender, class, caste, ability, mental health, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity etc. Abusers are usually aware of the power they hold over their victims based on these factors. The violence is almost always purposeful and deliberate and the abuse is inflicted to feel a sense of dominance over the victim. It is important to recognize this aspect of power as the root of sexual violence. Child Sexual Abuse is NEVER the fault of the child. It is NEVER caused by the way the child behaves or the way the child presents himself/herself.
It is also possible that some people, who have themselves been abused in childhood, tend to want to regain control by abusing other children. This could be a way to cope with the sense of powerlessness and helplessness that they felt at the time of their abuse.
But, sexually abusive behavior is most often learned behavior. A lot of cultural and social norms often validate and encourage inappropriate behavior. For instance, when we say “boys will be boys”, we are allowing male children to feel entitled to other people’s bodies and we are denying them a chance to learn empathy and respect and to take accountability for their actions.
Q12. Don’t you think children invite abuse by dressing “provocatively”?
The way someone dresses or behaves has nothing to do with sexual abuse. Sadly, offenders are often excused when we shift the blame on the victim. If provocative dressing were a cause for children getting sexually abused, then children as young as 3 months old would not get abused. The onus of sexual abuse of children is entirely on the abusers alone – only people who have the motivation to have sex with the child will sexually abuse children. We must give children the freedom to choose what they would want to wear with a sound sense of responsibility and freedom and an appropriate sense of dressing for each occasion. We must understand that an abuser will choose those children who are most likely to be blamed by the society for not meeting societal norms and standards.
Q13. Are Child Sexual Abusers mentally ill/sick individuals?
Very few Child Sexual Abusers are mentally sick individuals. Most abusers have faulty thinking and inappropriate sexual arousal patterns. These sexual abusers are generally regressed in nature – regression means that a part of their development has not caught up with their age so at times of stress certain behaviors could appear as a younger person‘s (an example is when an elementary school child will suddenly suck his thumb even though he has not done so for many years, because of some stress or trauma). A lot of sex offenders also lack impulse control and healthy avenues to release stress. For these people sexually abusing children become the pathway to release stress. Very often once they have sex, this relieves their stress, and they promise never to do it again – but then their unfulfilled needs crop up again and their quest for sex with children continues. Stress is a common thing that pushes many people to do something they might know is wrong.
Q14. Who are pedophiles?
Pedophiles are people who are sexually attracted to children and prefer to have sex only with children. They don’t get any or little sexual pleasure with adults. Pedophiles can be anyone – old or young, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, non-professional or professional, and of any race. Mostly it is seen that pedophiles are males. Pedophiles can have their own preferences such as, children of particular ages or sex.
Early warning signs of offenders include:
a) appearing to be more comfortable with children than adults.
b) referring to children as seductive or sexy.
c) trying to get children alone with him/her,
d) rewarding children for specific behaviors,
e) singling out particular children for attention.
But these are merely indicators and it should not be assumed that individuals with these characteristics are pedophiles. Knowledge of these characteristics coupled with constant vigilance can be used as an alert.
It is important to note that all men or women with the desire for sex with children may not follow through with their desire. Most know it is wrong or do not want to be imprisoned or publicly shamed. Many do not want to hurt children. And when adults around the child are alert to early warning signs and have the courage to approach adults with these behaviors, they may be able to provide a safe environment for children.
Q15. What do you have to say about minors making sexual advances towards minors?
All people, including children, are sexual beings – psycho-sexual development is as important as physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual and social development. We generally tend to overlook sexual development in children. Children who engage in sexual behavior that is based in developmental curiosity are generally embarrassed, giggly, and doing so with other children of their own age. In this case, both the children are involved in the ‘sexual play’ out of curiosity and one child is not necessarily making advances towards the other. When these children are told to stop, they generally do. When children do not stop, when they coercively make advances towards another child or when they exhibit fear or unusual interest, they could be doing so for several reasons. For example, children might have experienced sexual abuse or are otherwise confused about sex and sexuality because of age-inappropriate sexual messages reaching them.
The child could be in the early stages of being a sex offender. It is important to know how to respond to sexual misbehavior in children and youth. Catching misbehavior and teaching appropriate sexuality at early stages helps in their own appropriate development and also prevents them from becoming sex offenders in the future.
Q16. Is it possible to convince the abuser and counsel them? How far does it really help?
There are several effective ways to counsel and manage sex offenders. We are still doing research about what will work in India. It is important that sex offenders get help from everyone (including police authority). They need to learn to understand and control their sexual urges (sometimes with medication); they need to learn good decision making techniques; they need to stop making excuses and accept responsibility for their behavior; and they need to learn that what they do hurts others (empathy). The younger the client, the less difficult it is to help them change. We have found that it is easier to work with younger clients and help them change since they are more open to supervision and advice.