If we learn nothing else from the Duggar situation, we should learn that child sexual abuse can happen in any family and that identification of someone who will act inappropriately cannot be based on appearances. Therefore, we must take the time to understand this next step.
STEP TWO: We educate ourselves on who perpetrates this crime.
Sex offenders, in the broadest sense, fall in to two categories: adults and juveniles. And like all categories, there are unique as well as overlapping factors.
Let’s start by looking at their similarities.
Those who perpetrate this crime could be anyone. Convicted child sex offenders have been everyone from teachers, coaches, ministers, parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, and celebrities. They have come from all religious backgrounds as well as professing no religious alignment at all. They represent every race, culture, and economic level. They are EXCELLENT at leading a double life. Generally speaking, perpetrators of this crime know how to present themselves positively in public arenas to cover and misdirect from their private activities. Many times they are likeable people which makes relying on our 6th sense so dangerous. They are good at establishing trust and being what we would expect them to be in front of us.
Now, to the differences.
Not all “offenders” are acting out of the same motivation. Some adults are doing it because they have a true sexual attraction to children. These individuals are called pedophiles. Some adults are doing it because they are aroused by the power and control piece that is part of any sexual assault. These are broadly referred to as sex offenders and could have either adult or child victims. Some are doing it because they are sexually reactive children. This last group receives the least attention; however, if we want to make systemic changes, we, as a society, have to pay attention to these individuals.
Sexually reactive children are kids, under the age of 18, who have been sexually victimized by an adult and are trying to make sense of what happened to them by acting it out on someone else. Part of the consequences of child sexual abuse are the blurred lines between right and wrong. When a child is acted out upon sexually, they are taught that their bodies are not their own, that sex is something to be used and manipulated, and that people are entitled to take things – with or without permission. And this is all taught in a sexual way. Sexual acts performed on even the youngest children often produce pleasurable physical responses. So this love/hate relationship forms with their bodies all the while recognizing that they are still in the middle of development. Recognizing development’s roll is crucial in terms of effectively responding to adult and juvenile offenders.
Adults, when they make these choices, are further in to development. Many of their patterns, sexual identities, etc. have been set. This doesn’t mean that they can’t relearn behavior, because obviously, we are all capable of that as long as we are breathing. However, for adult sex offenders, it becomes more complicated because so much of their identity is tied into the way their brain is working. Juveniles are different in terms of relearning behavior.
Our brains do not fully develop until we reach our mid 20s so those who are sexually reactive are trying to figure out what happened to them while their brains do not fully understand sex, consequences, or impact of choices and do not have solid self-control skills in place. For the teenagers in this group, all of this is compounded by a rush of hormones. Unlike adult sex offenders and pedophiles, this group is more impulsive and is likelier to be motivated by exploration. It is critical to understand that this group needs qualified, professional intervention and help and it is equally critical to understand that the victims have an impact no matter what the motivation of the person acting out on them. Therefore, it is imperative that referrals be made to individuals who have training in this field. Trying to scare a child straight or relying on someone with a different professional background is not going to work; likewise, ignoring or minimizing the actions of the sexually reactive child will be just as effective as putting a band-aid on a severed limb but unlike the severed limb which will only impact the injured person, denying this behavior produces many casualties. The Duggars are living this out in a very public way right now.
But here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be this way. According to Mark Chaffin, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, juvenile offenders with non-sexual crime charges are just as likely as juvenile offenders with sexual crime charges to commit a future sexual crime. The rate is 6% and 7% respectively. Those numbers tell us that not all hope is lost and that this problem can be addressed IF we just step up and help connect these kids to assistance when we know there is a problem.
For information on who treats this problem in Tennessee, please visit http://www.tn.gov/correction/tsotb/tsotb.html
COMING UP: PART 3 – WHAT MAKES SEXUAL ABUSE A BIG DEAL?
Written by: Valerie Craig, Co-Founder and Director of Education