Learn About Sexuality

Child sexual abuse, incest and paedophilia

Men rarely appreciate that they tend to have control in sexual situations. Men may start with innocent activity but inevitably this leads to a desire for penetrative sex. Children of both sexes and teenage girls do not have the physical strength or the mental assertiveness to fight off unwanted advances from men. Many children who have been molested never recover from the shame of being involved (even though against their will) in sexual activity that they did not invite or enjoy.

When sexual activity occurs between adults and children in institutions, it is called sexual abuse. About half of all child sexual abuse victims are 12 to 17 years old so their abusers don’t fall within paedophilia. Experts estimate that only one in 20 cases of child sexual abuse is reported.

If a man is sexually constrained for some reason (he may be very timid or lacking in drive) he is more likely to prey on those who are less able to defend themselves. Some men prey on children not necessarily because it is their first choice but because they know they are more likely to succeed. Some men who touch others are impotent. They may only want to hold hands. Men often consider genital exposure to be harmless because it is a natural male urge. Although there is no physical harm, a non-responsive person still feels threatened by the potential threat of penetrative activity.

Paedophiles blatantly challenge the concept of consent. Paedophilia is the sexual attraction a man feels towards pre-pubescent children. Many paedophiles control their urges and avoid coming into contact with children. Others do eventually act on their urges by exposing themselves to children, watching naked children, masturbating in front of children or touching children’s genitals. Oral, anal, or vaginal penetration are rare.

Most paedophiles who act on their impulses manipulate children by gradually desensitizing them to inappropriate behaviour. Then they escalate it. In about 60% to 70% of child sexual abuse cases involving paedophiles the perpetrator is someone in regular contact with the child.

The paedophile is clearly attracted to a child as an object. A child does not remain a child for ever. So a paedophile is not attracted to the individual but to the body and vulnerability of a child. Paedophiles try to justify their actions, by insisting that a child acted seductively or enjoyed the encounter. This reflects the predator’s inability to empathise with the victim. Similarly, other men say women were ‘asking for it’ when they rape.

Paedophilia is now categorised as an orientation. Paedophiles are born that way. Their sexual response of being attracted to children cannot be changed by therapy or any other technique. Paedophilia cannot be cured. Treatment involves preventing access to children or providing close supervision. Paedophiles tend to be attracted to children of one gender.

Men are not usually attracted to members of their own family. Incest may occur when men do not have another available sexual outlet. There may also be sexual feelings between siblings. There are more likely to be genetic problems for offspring of parents who are closely related. For this reason, the Christian Church forbids people to marry close relatives.

There are sometimes bystanders: people who suspect that a child is being sexually abused but they may not know how best to intervene.
Children are often silent because of fear or shame. Women around them either know about the abuse but feel powerless to intervene. Or they may not be aware of the abuse because they cannot imagine that such a thing is possible. Most women are intensely embarrassed by all aspects of sexual behaviour.

Women can be motivated by sexual interest in children but they are only a tiny proportion of female sex offenders. Sex crimes perpetrated by men are crimes of power over the victim. Female offences can be control-driven but the need for intimacy seems to play a larger role than domination. Most women are looking primarily for an affectionate relationship. They may feel that they have more control over a relationship with an adolescent rather than with a grown man. A third of cases involve women who abuse children alongside a male partner. Some of these women have been coerced by their partners using emotional or psychological pressure.

Many small girls reflect the public hysteria over the prospect of ‘being touched’ by a strange person. (Alfred Kinsey 1948)

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